Wednesday, November 4, 2015

DFWCon: That time I lost my Kindle, my driver's license, and STILL had the best weekend

So for two years, I haven't been book-blogging. Know what I HAVE been doing?

Writing a novel.

Yep, I was going to write a real, live book. After a slow start, I worked on it nearly every day. I was on a roll.

Except, suddenly: I wasn't. I just kind of...quit.

My writing had stalled out and I was stranded in the middle of the first draft of my novel. Life had taken a turn toward the overwhelming. Without going into detail, stuff was rough at my house.

Suddenly, writing seemed like one more draining thing I had to do.

The problem was, before this, I'd bought myself a ticket to the Dallas-Forth Worth Writers' Conference. A nonrefundable ticket. And airfare. And a hotel room.

 The entire week before I was set to leave for the conference, my stomach was a twisty, burning dread-pretzel. Who was I kidding? I wasn't a writer. I was an overwhelmed, stressed-out mom who dabbled in writing and would never finish my book. Why was I bothering?

My husband dropped me off at the airport and I boarded, feeling like I could burp a fireball if I really wanted to.

The announcement came that all passengers had to deplane for "twenty to thirty minutes" so the airline could address a "minor" issue.

Seven hours later, I was still chilling in the terminal.

When I accepted my critique partner's offer to pick me up if we could meet half-way (she lived in Dallas and was eagerly awaiting my arrival), a little voice in the back of my exhausted mind suggested "maybe you should just give up on this conference." I didn't, but it was tempting. "This is pointless," that same negative whisper said.

When I finally checked into my little hotel room in the wee hours to catch a few minutes of sleep before the conference, I looked at the ceiling and thought it might've been best to stay home.

I'm glad I didn't.

It felt like the entire conference was for ME. Just me.

Speaker after speaker--whether agent, author, or editor-- all had the same message. It came with different words each time, but the meaning was clear and united: Don't quit.

Charlaine Harris, keynote speaker, world-famous author and thirty-year industry veteran, leaned forward and spoke directly into the microphone and my spirit when she said: "FINISH your BOOK."

I was feeling better when the sessions wrapped up the first night. I'd met another aspiring author who also has three young children and heard her story of pressing on after her first book didn't sell, then having to part ways with her first agent and find another. She's on sub again, and pressing forward with her next book. Perseverance. A key to writerly success.

One of my favorite authors signed a book for me and gave me some solid advice:
"Be strong. Carve out your writing time. Treat writing like it's your job or no one else will."

Basically, the theme of the day was to press on despite obstacles.

That sounds like where the story should end, right?

But no! Like any good novel, the main character can't get to the satisfying resolution too quickly. That would be too easy!

When I riffled through my suitcase in the new hotel I'd checked in to for the second night so I'd be closer to the conference, I discovered my Kindle was missing.

My KINDLE, y'all.

In my scattered thirty-three years on this Earth, I've lost cell phones, credit cards, car keys, and jewelry.

But never, ever, ever my precious Kindle.

 A call to the hotel of the night before connected me with a clerk who claimed that he had no idea what a Kindle even was, yet somehow he could assure me it wasn't at the hotel anymore.

Oh, but my driver's license was....I'd dropped it in their lobby.


The self-doubt that had been plaguing me surged back.  How did I expect to balance my family and home responsibilities AND craft an entire fictional world full of fake people living out interesting stories when I couldn't even keep up with my own personal property?

My friend and I turned in for the night without much chatting. I was in a somber mood. Ok, honestly, I was being a big old Eeyore.  "The way this trip has gone, I wouldn't be surprised if the fire alarm went off during the night."

Fun Fact: Did you know the human body reacts to a being awakened by a fire alarm EXACTLY as it does to being chased by a cheetah? True statement. Probably. Adrenaline and fear and sciencey-science stuff, you know.

 Yes, the fire alarm went off. Along with a recorded voice telling us all to evacuate immediately in tones that suggested IMPENDING DOOM. Getting jammed into the emergency escape stairwell with a few hundred other people didn't help my anxiety. I  have a distinct but invisible halo of personal space around myself at all times. It's an imaginary hula hoop comfort zone that strangers can't breach without me getting antsy. Needless to say, people were all up in my hula hoop in that human traffic jam of an escape route.

My critique partner and I sat on the curb for half an hour, watching the firemen arrive and confirm that there was no fire. Only some prankster who thought it would be funny to pull the alarm.



Day Two of the conference dawned. I was bleary with fatigue.

 But surprisingly, I wasn't ready to call it quits. It felt like I was in a grudge match with discouragement and I was going to kick its butt!

We went to more sessions, learned lots of good stuff, and enjoyed the feeling of being surrounded by other writers. My people.

We were all in different places in our writing journeys--newly published, querying writers trying to find an agent, and newbies like me who didn't have a completed book to pitch.


It didn't really matter. It felt like everyone there was part of some fantastic tribe. Because we all believed that words mattered and stories could change things. We all knew that books are important.

We were all writers.

I love writers.

I'd planned to leave early on Sunday to catch the last flight back home. I was going to miss several sessions I wanted to attend.

And suddenly, I decided that wasn't an option. The entire weekend felt like a test to see if I'd persevere or let that discouragement tackle me to the ground.

I changed my flight to Monday so I could stay for the entire conference. I blew a big raspberry at Discouragement, told the negative voices in my head to sit down and shut up.

And then I came home and got to work finishing my book.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

"A Spark Unseen" by Sharon Cameron Blog Hop!!


The thrilling sequel to Sharon Cameron’s blockbuster gothic steampunk romance, THE DARK UNWINDING, will captivate readers anew with mystery and intrigue aplenty.

When Katharine Tulman wakes in the middle of the night and accidentally foils a kidnapping attempt on her uncle, she realizes Stranwyne Keep is no longer safe for Uncle Tully and his genius inventions. She flees to Paris, where she hopes to remain undetected and also find the mysterious and handsome Lane, who is suspected to be dead.

But the search for Lane is not easy, and Katharine soon finds herself embroiled in a labyrinth of political intrigue. And with unexpected enemies and allies at every turn, Katharine will have to figure out whom she can trust–if anyone–to protect her uncle from danger once and for all.

Filled with deadly twists, whispering romance, and heart-stopping suspense, this sequel to THE DARK UNWINDING whisks readers off on another thrilling adventure.

As part of the Hop, I got to ask Sharon a few questions about her books.

Me: Stranwyne Keep was inspired by Welbeck Abbey in  England. I'd never heard of it but I found it before reading TDU, but I found it fascinating! The scenes set in  Paris in A Spark Unseen are also beautifully described. I wondered if you had ever visited either Welbeck Abbey or been to  Paris? If you haven't been in person, can you explain your research? I was really impressed by the details.
Sharon: Sadly, I’ve never been to either! Welbeck Abbey is still a private home. But since I never intended Stranwyne Keep to be a faithful rendition of Welbeck, or to even be in the same location in England (it was the “situation” at the estate I found fascinating, rather than the exact floor plan) it wasn’t really problematic for me not to have been there. And then, as I moved deeper into my research on Paris in 1854, I realized that there was almost no location planned for A Spark Unseen that still existed! Much of it had been destroyed in either the Franco-Prussian war, WWI, WWII, or by the rioting French. And Napoleon III was undertaking a massive reconstruction of Paris in 1854, so most of what even still is in existence had not been at the time of my story. What I did discover was an 1854 travel guide for Paris (see my previous nerdy gush over at The Book Brats!) and that document was gold. Combining that with personal journals and observations (including Charles Dickens’s account of The Morgue), weirdly I believe I was able to write with more 1854 accuracy than if I’d set foot on the Parisian sidewalks.
Me: The titles are excellent: The Dark Unwinding and A Spark Unseen both capture the mood and tone of the books. I know authors sometimes go through several titles before finding the right one, or their agents, editors, or someone else at their publishers make the final decision. How did your books get their titles?
I’m glad you like them! The Dark Unwinding came hard. I have a file on my computer with literally hundreds of title options that my editor and I went through. My agent and the Scholastic team weighed in as well, and the process took several months. A Spark Unseen took, oh, about ten minutes for us all to agree on. I have no idea why!
Me: I was completely taken in by the characters! They're all so layered, especially Katharine. I loved her character arc and the journey she took through the two books. If your books were made into a movie (or a BBC miniseries, which is kind of how I pictured them :)...who would be your dream cast?
Oooo! A BBC mini-series! Okay, for Katharine I wish I could have had Carey Mulligan about five years ago, when she would have been the perfect age. She’s such a changeling, and could really have shown Katharine “blossoming,” I think. For Lane, I’ve always pictured someone a bit like Ben Barnes, but with the amazing screen presence of Richard Armitage. And for Ben Aldridge, I’ve just discovered there is a young English actor named…Ben Aldridge! A unique qualification, don’t you think?
Me: The books take place in the 1850s. What would you have liked most about living in that time period? And least?
I think I might have liked the slower pace of life, having more time to really think about the details of a thing, and just to be. Or maybe I would have found it boring! But what I wouldn’t like? That’s easy: dentistry, childbirth, corsets, and narrow mindedness.
Me: Writerly question: Are you a plotter or a pantser? There were some great twists, especially in A Spark Unseen, and the pace never lagged or felt rushed to me. I'd love to know a little about your writing process.

I’m both. I definitely plot and plan first, so I don’t waste huge chunks of writing time. But then I change that plot all over the place once I’m writing. So I start with a specific direction and a place I’m going, then proceed by instinct. What I come up with “by instinct” while I’m writing is always ten times better than what I’d planned. But it would have taken me a long time to get there if I hadn’t planned in the first place!
Thank you to Sharon for answering my questions! and

 I highly recommend A Spark Unseen (and The Dark Unwinding, if you haven't read it yet!).  I'll be posting my review soon, but to sum up: It's excellent!

Find Sharon Cameron:
Twitter  -@CameronSharonE


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

ARC review CONJURED by Sarah Beth Durst


Summary from Goodreads:
Eve has a new home, a new face, and a new name—but no memories of her past. She’s been told that she's in a witness protection program. That she escaped a dangerous magic-wielding serial killer who still hunts her. The only thing she knows for sure is that there is something horrifying in her memories the people hiding her want to access—and there is nothing they won’t say—or do—to her to get her to remember.
At night she dreams of a tattered carnival tent and buttons being sewn into her skin. But during the day, she shelves books at the local library, trying to not let anyone know that she can do things—things like change the color of her eyes or walk through walls. When she does use her strange powers, she blacks out and is drawn into terrifying visions, returning to find that days or weeks have passed—and she’s lost all short-term memories. Eve must find out who and what she really is before the killer finds her—but the truth may be more dangerous than anyone could have ever imagined.

When I was just a few dozen pages into Conjured, I said to one of my reader/writer friends that the main character, Eve, felt emotionally blank, and was kind of hard to connect with. I felt badly for her, but I couldn't get a handle on her personality, who she was as a character.
And I knew...I KNEW...Durst was an experienced author and a dang good one, too.  I suspected she used a somewhat remote narrative voice on purpose.
 I just didn't know why.
And as it turns out, there's a really good reason for the sort of bland narration. But figuring out how to explain it without spoilers is impossible...
So, I'll say what I can, and it ain't much!

When Eve uses magic, she blacks out, leading to these  fascinating, creepy flashback scenes told in first person. As Eve begins to unlock more of her memories and make more connections with the people in her life, mainly Zach, her co-worker at the library and love interest, the POV switches entirely to first person (it starts in third person) and becomes more engaging. So hold on if the beginning is rocky for you, because you might enjoy the story more as it progresses.

That said, don't expect a crime drama or action packed thriller, although the book blurb could lead you to expect those things. Magical serial killers.
Paranormal witness protection program.
 Solving murders. Those sound pretty intense and actiony. But in reality, they aren't primary elements to the story. The main thing happening is Eve trying to figure out what the HECK is going on in her life since she loses her memory all the time, and has very little recollection of her past to work with when she has any at all.

 The payoff to the "What's going on here??" comes in the last third of the book, and it's a pretty big one. I can almost guarantee that any theory you come up with about Eve's past will be wrong. Super-duper wrong. If you called it from the start, I'm impressed.
And also scared of you.
 Because of all the many, many YA speculative fiction books I've read where a character was trying to figure out precisely WHAT they were (not who...but what, because clearly the answer wasn't "a regular average human person with nothing extraordinary  or unusual about her whatsoever")...well...the answer to this question for Eve in Conjured is probably the creepiest dang one I've ever come across. Ever.
( People who have read this: Tell me if you thought it was creepy. Is it just me??)

The carnival imagery and the macabre stuff Eve remembers, and later in the book encounters in person, are all pretty awesome. Durst's dark creativity in this area was outstanding, and the highlight of the book for me.

Overall, it was an interesting read, but not one of my recent favorites.

Review copy provided by publisher via NetGalley. Thank you!


Friday, August 16, 2013

The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron: Review Tour!

Y'all!!! Remember how I loved The Dark Unwinding? No??
Here's the review....

A spine-tingling tale of steampunk and spies, intrigue and heart-racing romance!

When Katharine Tulman's inheritance is called into question by the rumor that her eccentric uncle is squandering away the family fortune, she is sent to his estate to have him committed to an asylum. But instead of a lunatic, Katharine discovers a genius inventor with his own set of rules, who employs a village of nine hundred people rescued from the workhouses of London.

Katharine is now torn between protecting her own inheritance and preserving the peculiar community she grows to care for deeply. And her choices are made even more complicated by a handsome apprentice, a secretive student, and fears for her own sanity.

As the mysteries of the estate begin to unravel, it is clear that not only is her uncle's world at stake, but also the state of England as Katharine knows it. With twists and turns at every corner, this heart-racing adventure will captivate readers with its intrigue, thrills, and romance.

Everyone has certain items of interest that will make them sit up, take notice, and possibly start geeking out in a major way.
Case in point: Dwight K. Shrute can't resist discussions about the following:

(image courtesy of

And I will be all over any book with
 and madness.

Maybe it's from my fourth grade obsession with The Secret Garden. Or my junior high love of Jane Eyre (which continues to this day, because let's face it: if you want a strong female first-person YA narrative: Jane Eyre. You can't top that chick.)

You got a creepy old English manor house on the dark, windswept moors and someone off his or her rocker? Giddy up, I am IN!

Did Sharon Cameron get up one morning and say, "I think I'll write a book just for Sarah"? Probably not. But she might as well have.

Things I love about this book:
*Katharine's personal development. She starts out not-entirely-likable. She's kind of a hard case, and it's understandable. She's an orphan, she lives with an uncaring aunt (oh, hey shades of Jane Eyre...just now saw you there!) She is tasked with the distasteful job of declaring her Uncle Tulman mentally incompetent. This would cause him to be placed in an asylum, but would also secure her future means of income.
*How you're never really sure if Katharine is losing her mind or not. I like a little, "Am I going crazy or is there something sinister happening here?" in a book . And I didn't figure out what was really going on until the big reveal.
*It's a "clean" book. No profanity. There's a romance, but it's very sweet and doesn't overtake the main storyline.
*Speaking of romance: I enjoyed the dark broodiness of Lane, although I would've liked just a wee bit more interaction between him and Katharine. However, I do appreciate that they weren't declaring eternal love for one another by the last page. Speaking of which...
*The end! Man, I was trying to figure out how in the world Katharine was going to get out of the situation she found herself in. I couldn't have predicted it. And just like all good Gothic novels, people make choices that have drastic and irreparable consequences. Oh, I am still sad!
*There's a nice setup for a sequel, although it's not exactly a cliffhanger ending. You get closure and the feeling the story is complete, but enough is left unfinished to jump start another book.

Five stars, people!

Here's the deal: The Dark Unwinding releases in paperback this month 
There's a sequel!!! 
A Spark Unseen...It comes out September 24. 

Want to win a copy? Sharon Camerson is giving away 5 ARCs of A Spark Unseen. 

Enter for your chance to win one with the Rafflecopter below: a Rafflecopter giveaway

I'm going to be partcipating in a blog tour for A Spark Unseen, hosted by Hannah at The Book Vortex. It's gonna be fun, and if you want in go HERE

this is a spoiler...look how cool!)


Thursday, July 18, 2013

ARC Review: The Chaos of Stars by Keirsten White

I read and enjoyed Paranormalcy and Supernaturally, but it was a long time ago (and apparently before I got a firm grasp of how to add images to reviews...which still applies, but...anyway...)

 I haven't read the conclusion to that trilogy, Endlessly, or White's  other recent book, Mind Games.  When I saw The Chaos of Stars, with its semi-dark poetic title and the promise of Egyptian gods I thought..."hey, sounds good to me!"

And look how pretty this cover is...
Cover reveal: THE CHAOS OF STARS by Kiersten White

Isadora’s family is seriously screwed up. Of course, as the human daughter of Egyptian gods, that pretty much comes with the territory. She’s also stuck with parents who barely notice her, and a house full of relatives who can’t be bothered to remember her name. After all, they are going to be around forever—and she’s a mere mortal. Isadora’s sick of living a life where she’s only worthy of a passing glance, and when she has the chance to move to San Diego with her brother, she jumps on it. But Isadora’s quickly finding that a “normal” life comes with plenty of its own epic complications—and that there’s no such thing as a clean break when it comes to family. Much as she wants to leave her past behind, she can’t shake the ominous dreams that foretell destruction for her entire family. When it turns out there may be truth in her nightmares, Isadora has to decide whether she can abandon her divine heritage after all.
*Goodreads summary*

First of all, it was a little bit of a mental shakeup to read about the Egyptian gods I knew so well from Rick Riordan's Kane Chronicles with totally different personalities. It took me a while to get acclimated.

Second, it's helpful if you know going in that this book is different than most YA paranormals/fantasies.

 I couldn't quite define what was different about it until I read Kiersten White's description:

"This is a weird book, a sort of hybrid contemporary-family-drama-romantic-comedy-coming-of-age-but-oh-yeah-also-with-Egyptian-gods creature."

(Quote from author's blog)


 For a good deal of the book, we're reading Isadora's feelings about and memories of her family, her thinking she's unloved and unimportant, and her reasons for refusing to love anyone. The "oh yeah, also with Egyptian gods" feels really accurate. Gods and goddesses are not the focus of this book at all, although Isadora relates a story from Egyptian mythology at the beginning of each chapter to illustrate how massively weird and screwed up her family is. The Chaos of Stars is much more about her journey to be brave and let her guard down, and allow herself to fall in love with Ry, who is a likable love interest.

There's a fine line when you're writing about an MC who is resentful and bitter. She can come across to the reader as a wounded character, one who is hiding behind anger and pushing people away for fear of being hurt again. That's sympathetic and understandable.

 OR...she can sound like a jerk.

Isadora most of the time has enough humor to land on the Not a Jerk side of the fence. But it was a close call and this is certainly a YMMV situation.  There were moments when her attitude was a bit much. That said, I always got what White was trying to do with this character. I just wasn't won over  by Isadora, even though I understood where she was coming from.

 While I didn't strongly dislike The Chaos of Stars, I also wasn't drawn into the story. It just wasn't my cup of tea.

*Review copy courtesy of Edelweiss. Thank you!*


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Tag Team Review: TEXAS GOTHIC by Rosemary Clement Moore

Amy Goodnight knows that the world isn't as simple as it seems—she grew up surrounded by household spells and benevolent ghosts. But she also understands that "normal" doesn't mix with magic, and she's worked hard to build a wall between the two worlds. Not only to protect any hope of ever having a normal life.

Ranch-sitting for her aunt in Texas should be exactly that. Good old ordinary, uneventful hard work. Only, Amy and her sister, Phin, aren't alone. There's someone in the house with them—and it's not the living, breathing, amazingly hot cowboy from the ranch next door.

It's a ghost, and it's more powerful than the Goodnights and all their protective spells combined. It wants something from Amy, and none of her carefully built defenses can hold it back.

This is the summer when the wall between Amy's worlds is going to come crashing down

NOTE: My funny, brilliant, awesome writerly friend Hannah West and I read Texas Gothic at the same time.
Here's what we thought, minus a bunch of fangirly text messages back and forth :)

Hannah: I'll be honest: the first few pages were rough for me for a couple reasons: 1) I was too excited about the witches and cowboys mentioned in the cover copy to read it properly and realize the book was not based in the 1800s, and would not involve rough-and-tumble outlaws, whiskey, corsets, saloons, and the like. And 2) I had just bought it and was reading while clothes shopping with my mom, which aside from the mom part could be used to torture me for information (“OK, I’ll tell you where the super secret files are, please, please don’t make me go to Kohl’s”) However, once I located a chair in the fitting room and hit a reference to William Wallace, Texas Gothic wooed me fast and hard. 

Amy believes herself to be all that stands between the judgmental world and her weird family, the Goodnights, among whom she is the closest thing to normal. This immediately sets her up as loving and protective, yet practical. Her voice is effortlessly hilarious, smart, and relatable. Her sister Phin is also a charmer in such an offbeat way. Our introduction to her begins with, “Her strawberry-blond hair was coming loose from her ponytail,” and I thought here we go, bring on the typical popular older sister and all the jealousy issues her perfection provokes. But that clause was succeeded by, “possibly because she was wearing what appeared to be a miner’s headlamp. ‘I’m doing an experiment.’” And for the rest of the book my enchantment with this matter-of-fact researcher of paranormal physics did not fade one bit. She is flaky, brilliant, oblivious to sarcasm, and represents all of the Goodnight magic cooky-ness that Amy is unwilling to participate in and would rather keep in the peripherals of her life. 

Sarah: It might've taken a Braveheart reference to hook Hannah, but Clement-Moore had me when Amy described Phin as "Galadriel in an SUV." Be still, my nerdy heart. I loved Amy's POV so much. Fun fact: Ben McCulloch was the name of a real Texas Ranger who lived in the 1800s, but here he's the cowboy-next-door. And for those who are sick of instalove, I'd like to point out that Amy and Ben "meet cute" and then immediately dislike each other. It occured to me that their relationship is reminiscent of Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett. Both guys are like "I think your family is nuts and you're too opinionated and you make me angry but I want to wrestle you down and kiss you breathless anyway." If you like your fictional couple to engage in some verbal sparring before they get to the kissing part, you'll enjoy the romance in Texas Gothic

As far at the plot goes: don't fret, faint-hearted readers. I was a tiny bit worried the book would veer toward the horror side of things. I'm not sure why. Maybe the darkish title and the (gorgeous) kind of intense cover? But I can honestly say I was never scared reading this book. Intrigued, curious, and interested? Yes. Freaked out? Never. The mystery Amy and her friends are trying to solve reminded me of an old Scooby Doo episode, minus the rubber masks and the "I would've gotten away with it too if it weren't for those meddling kids!" I don't mean that in a bad way, though. The mystery of what's going on with the Mad Monk wasn't the main attraction for me. It was the characters, and the search for answers about possible buried treasure and vengeful ghosts was just icing on the cake.

Hannah: A high point for me was the authentic portrayal of the Texan city girl by a Texan. We say y’all. We drink sweet tea. We two-step when country-er folk force us to. Some of us (including me) live in close proximity to cows and horses. But we are not hicks, rednecks or cowgirls. Our hair does not reach Guadalupe Peak elevation. And I’m with Sarah on the gorgeous cover and on the book being just fun. I didn’t expect it to be so funny yet heartfelt – and I had no idea I was really aching for that kind of read in the midst of all the epic fiction I gulp down. In part thanks to Texas Gothic, I’m realizing that there may be a broader spectrum of novels for me to enjoy. I’m very much looking forward to reading Clement-Moore’s more recent titles next. 

View Hannah's blog at


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

ARC Review: Undercurrent by Paul E. Blackwell

A shadowy figure. An intense roar. The sensation of falling—fast.
That's all Callum Harris remembers from his tumble over the waterfall. But when he wakes up in a hospital bed and finds his best friend trying to kill him, Callum knows something is seriously wrong. Unfortunately for him, the mysteries are just getting started.
Why are his parents acting like he's some big sports star all of a sudden? And why are all the buildings in town more run-down than Callum remembers? Worst of all . . . what happened to Callum's brother? Either Callum has gone seriously crazy or something happened when he went over the edge of the falls. Something impossible. Callum needs answers, and now. Because in this twisted new version of the life Callum knew, his former best friend isn't the only one who wants to see him dead.
*summary from HarperCollins*

*Admit turned your head sideways to look at the cover, didn't you??*

You know what sucked me in on this book? This blurb:
Tense and original, Undercurrent is a psychological thrill-ride with sci-fi elements that will appeal to fans of Neil Gaiman and Neal Shusterman.

Neil Gaiman/Neal Shusterman fan, reporting for duty!

The description "psychological thriller" also got me interested. I had a good experience with another book labeled this way (Insomnia by JR Johansson) so I had high hopes...

And for the most part, they were met. I read the book in one sitting, because I didn't want to put it down. The pacing was fast, and the writing felt authentic for a teenage boy.

Callum was a sympathetic lead, although there were times I felt like he was being a wee bit blind to some pretty obvious stuff that was going on. He has some troubling things happen to him, and watching him try to decide if he's crazy or not was fascinating. It makes you wonder, "What would I do if my once familiar life was altered in small but significant ways?"  People who were once his friends now seem afraid of him. Kids from school who never gave him the time of day act like they're best friends. He's kept off balance all the time, and so is the reader.

There are some pretty thought-provoking questions facing Callum, and I wish they had been covered in a little more depth, instead of just hinted at. Do the things that happen to us turn us down a dark path, or is the darkness already inside, waiting for a chance to come out? Is it a combination of both?

I figured out the big mystery well before Callum did, but that's fine. Most of the fun was following his journey to the same conclusions. (Part of the reason I figured things out was from skimming a review where just one key word  tipped me off. So I'm determined to keep this review spoiler free. :)

I enjoyed Undercurrent, but the ending wasn't entirely satisfying. I've read that the book was written as a standalone that could lead to a sequel. It really, really needs a sequel!! Because the fall-out from the last scene would be massive. In a LOT of ways. I worried about where the ending will leave certain characters that I'd come to care about. Hopefully, Paul Blackwell will get the green light for another book. There is much more of Callum's story to be told!

Profanity: quite a bit, would get an R-rating if it were a movie, I think. I prefer not to read books with lots of cursing, so I like to include this info in case other readers feel the same.
Sexual content: Kissing, reference to a party where characters made out in a closet as part of a game.
Violence: There were some pretty violent scenes, including a murder.

**Digital Review Copy provided by Edelweiss and publisher. Thank you!**

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

ARC Review: INK by Amanda Sun

Ink (Paper Gods, #1)
Publication date: June 25

Ink is in their blood. On the heels of a family tragedy, Katie Greene must move halfway across the world. Stuck with her aunt in Shizuoka, Japan, Katie feels lost. Alone. She doesn't know the language, she can barely hold a pair of chopsticks and she can't seem to get the hang of taking her shoes off whenever she enters a building. When Katie meets aloof but gorgeous Tomohiro, the star of the school's kendo team, she is intrigued by him…and a little scared. His tough attitude seems meant to keep her at a distance, and when they're near each other, strange things happen. Pens explode. Ink drips from nowhere. And unless Katie is seeing things, drawings come to life. Somehow Tomo is connected to the kami, powerful ancient beings who once ruled Japan—and as feelings develop between Katie and Tomo, things begin to spiral out of control. The wrong people are starting to ask questions, and if they discover the truth, no one will be safe.
Summary from Amazon

I was so excited for this book. SO excited! I featured it in a WoW post. I stalked ARCs around the internet before finally landing one from NetGalley. (Thanks!)

Here's the thing: In recent months, I decided to only review books I REALLY liked. I read about five books per month, but review a tiny portion of those.
 Geeking out levels of hardcore fangirl nonsense are required for me to review a book lately. I have a bazillion kids, and I'm desperately trying to squeeze, contort, and bludgeon my day into some shape that allows time for writing my own work. So to sum up: If I review it here, it's because I thought it was stupendous.
 And INK wasn't one of those for me. However, since I got it from NetGalley I feel like I owe them a review. And I should explain why the book wasn't a huge success with me, as a reader.
And let me kind of bracket all this with another disclaimer: for me as a WRITER, the book is great! Sun does some lovely things with words, creating ink drawings that live and are alternately ethereal and sinister. She brings them all to magical life, and when the fantasy elements of the story are at the front, Amanda Sun really shines. (Y'all, it is so late at night...I didn't even see that pun coming until it hit me between the eyes.) Plotting, structure, placing: all of it's solid.
So to close brackets, I will say my discontent with the book is based solely on 1) my misunderstanding of what its focus would be and 2) me being a thirtyish housewife who wanted to give these young whippersnappers a good sit-down, preferably with a glass of sweet tea, and talk real plain to them both. (That's primarily for my friend, Hannah, who has recently been treated to my Southernism with alarming frequency. And while we're doing sidebars and dancing around the actual review, I'm gonna take a moment to say that Hannah West, writer of YA amazingness, has a new blog and I think y'all should go over and say "HI!"
Hannah West Author's Blog

I went in thinking there would be more god activity. I was expecting lots of mythology and legend, with some romance on the side. Reverse those, and you'll get a better idea of what INK is like.
Is that bad? No, not necessarily. Just depends on what you're in the mood for.
The story itself is well-written, and I think Ms. Sun has done a great job with her debut. The scene with the cherry blossoms is particularly enchanting. My problem with the book was strictly because it wasn't what I was thinking it would be.
And to a certain extent, that's because I'm old. I told my  CP partner as I was reading INK, "I think I'm just too old for this book...I keep wanting to give Katie a "make good choices" speech and some motherly advice."
Because here's the thing:  Katie see this guy fighting with his girlfriend, who just found out he got another girl pregnant. He was cold and kind of cruel to her, like he didn't even care. Then Katie hears he put his best friend in the hospital a few years ago.
Now *MINOR SPOILERS* we find out none of the awful things everyone thinks about Tomo are true, that he's manufactured his badboy reputation to "protect" those he cares about ...BUT...Katie doesn't know this. She is so curious to know more about him, she's following the guy around town, trying to figure out his deal, and musing over his gorgeousness while most of the available evidence suggests he's a cheating dirtbag psycho. She doesn't believe it, and is determined to prove her theory that he's not bad.
Oh, but he really does have a friend who is affiliated with the Yakuza (the Japanese mob). Tomo continues to be his buddy and sometimes helps him rough people up? Me googling Yakuza led me into some weird parts of the internet, people....I don't want to hang out with people associated with the Yakuza, because some of their businesses are pretty bad news.
Therefore: Tomo, you are also in danger of Mama Sarah's "make good choices!" speech.
 For every questionable choice Katie made, I could see her own internal logic, and why she felt she had to do this. But I still felt like she shouldn't!
When the ink and it's mysterious powers are in play, that's when I was most interested in the story. The romance was less of a draw for me, and I would really love more lore and backstory on the Japanese gods, and what exactly Katie's connection is to them. I suspect this is all coming in the second book.
Content: Sexual situations-- A couple of kisses. Tomo makes Katie think he's only interested in her physically in an attempt to make her angry and push her away. (*Oh, hey there, Will Herondale...Just thought about that scene where you did the same thing to Tessa at the end of "Clockwork Angel"'d you sneak back into my mind? I'd made it a whole month without thinking about your wonderful Welsh self...*)
Language: I did a Kindle search on the word "sh**" because it struck me that the characters say this a lot more often than in any other book I've read. I think there were 112 instances highlighted? That might not be exactly right, but if you don't like cursing in books I felt like I should point it out. There are several f-bombs also.
Violence: Must not have been too much, because I can't remember any. But honestly, I can read some pretty violent stuff and not even notice.


Sunday, April 21, 2013

ARC Review: "Insomnia" by J.R. Johansson

Insomnia (The Night Walkers, #1)

Summary courtesy of Goodreads:
Instead of sleeping, Parker Chipp enters the dream of the last person he’s had eye contact with. He spends his nights crushed by other people’s fear and pain, by their disturbing secrets—and Parker can never have dreams of his own. The severe exhaustion is crippling him. If nothing changes, Parker could soon be facing psychosis and even death.

Then he meets Mia. Her dreams, calm and beautifully uncomplicated, allow him blissful rest that is utterly addictive. Parker starts going to bizarre lengths to catch Mia’s eye every day. Everyone at school thinks he’s gone over the edge, even his best friend. And when Mia is threatened by a true stalker, everyone thinks it’s Parker.

Suffering blackouts, Parker begins to wonder if he is turning into someone dangerous. What if the monster stalking Mia is him after all?   

Paperback, 360 pages
Expected publication: June 8th 2013 by Flux

I've got a book hangover from this novel, y'all. I stayed up entirely too late reading it. Then I got up, fixed my children cereal, and hid out in the bathroom so I could have some peace and finish it. (Didn't work...They found me!)

Insomnia, the debut YA novel from J.R. Johansson, is unlike anything I've ever read. The closest comparison I can come up with might be "The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer," We have a protagonist who may or may not be losing his mind, and he's unsure what he's capable of.
Parker's burning obsession with figuring out if he's really the bad guy of the story was engrossing. I was sucked into his story from the first, as he struggled to hold his fracturing sanity together.

The pacing of the book is stellar. Everything just hums along from start to finish, with no middle section sag. There's a dash of romance, and I was pleasantly surprised to realize it wasn't with the girl I assumed it would be. However, the focus of the story is firmly set in Parker's mission to uncover the truth about Mia (the girl whose dreams give him rest), who is stalking her (is it Parker himself?), and his rapid descent into what appears to be psychosis. And when Parker really starts to doubt his sanity, things get pretty dang creepy. I love it when I start a book with no expectations, either good or bad, and end up being really impressed! The world of dreams and of Watchers and Dreamers was unique. I loved how Johansson explained the layers of the dreamworld, and how memories and dreams worked together.
And another thing: I was SO glad when Parker confided in his friends about his problem. I mean, how many times does a character in a YA book have something supernatural and scary going on, and they flatly refuse to tell anyone?? My only very small complaint was: why didn't Parker ever tell his mother? I know he didn't want to worry her, but having her think he was a drug addict certainly wasn't helping. He was able to convince his peers, I felt like he could've at least done the same for his mother.

Language: There's no profanity in this book.
Sexual Content: one kissing scene (maybe two, but nothing too graphic). In Parker's investigation, he learns that a female character has been sexually abused. Reference is made to another character having been raped, although this didn't happen in the storyline.
Violence: There's a considerable amount of violence, some of it pretty disturbing, both in the dreams Parker sees and in real life. One character in particular seems to have trauma after trauma to deal with.

The end leaves the reader with enough resolution to have a sense of closure, while leaving the door wide open for a sequel.

Review copy provided by NetGalley and Flux. Thank you!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Review: The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The Runaway King (The Ascendance Trilogy, #2)
A kingdom teetering on the brink of destruction. A king gone missing. Who will survive? Find out in the highly anticipated sequel to Jennifer A. Nielsen's blockbuster THE FALSE PRINCE!

Just weeks after Jaron has taken the throne, an assassination attempt forces him into a deadly situation. Rumors of a coming war are winding their way between the castle walls, and Jaron feels the pressure quietly mounting within Carthya. Soon, it becomes clear that deserting the kingdom may be his only hope of saving it. But the further Jaron is forced to run from his identity, the more he wonders if it is possible to go too far. Will he ever be able to return home again? Or will he have to sacrifice his own life in order to save his kingdom?
The stunning second installment of The Ascendance Trilogy takes readers on a roller-coaster ride of treason and murder, thrills and peril, as they journey with the Runaway King!

*summary from Amazon*

When I was reading THE FALSE PRINCE and then its sequel, THE RUNAWAY KING, I kept thinking, "Wow,  my son would really like these books." And I thoroughly enjoyed them, too.
Things my 5th grade kid would dig about these books:
1.They're fast moving
2. There's a lot of action and derring-do.
3. There are swords.
4. And knives.
5. And pirates.
6. And lots of fighting.
There's also not a whole lot of the things he doesn't like-- introspection and angst and dwelling on feelings.
We have stuff to DO, folks, and no time to sit around pondering our emotions in this series. Plus, Nielsen doesn't get carried away with romance, although there's a smidge of it for flavoring.
Kevin, relax. It's totally NOT a kissing book

The suggested age range is 10 and up, but I'm going to be honest: some of the political maneuvering in the beginning might be hard to follow for a younger reader. know.... for me. But that's ok, because there is swashbuckling to be done and brave escapes and whatnot!
Jaron shows some great character growth in this book. He matures, and there's a somewhat unexpected redemptive arc with another "bad guy" character that I really liked. Granted, I spent a lot of time echoing the adults in Jaron's life, ie: "This is a TERRIBLE plan and I am quite certain you will DIE!" but at the same time, I sympathized with Jaron. He kind of knew his chances weren't great, but he felt like he had no other options.
Sidebar: did anyone else notice lines from The Princess Bride here and there in the book??
 I can't find my notes (typical), but I for sure noticed "Drop your sword" and "Prepare to die"...
 Gold star stickers for anyone who also noticed them! :) I really hope Jennifer Neilsen did this on purpose as a nod to that movie. Because I adore The Princess Bride.
And I am easily distracted...
Back to the review!
THE RUNAWAY KING was a great addition to the series, and I look forward to seeing what's next for Jaron and his kingdom.
Content: I can't remember any profanity (there might be some milder curse words, though, so don't hold me to it), or sexual situations. There's a fair bit of violence though, given that Jaron spends a good deal of this book with pirates. And let's face it: Those guys have anger management issues.
*Review copy provided by NetGalley. Thank you!!*

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