Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Review: The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis

About the Book

The Good Luck Girls by Charlotte Nicole Davis 
Published on October 1, 2019 by Tor Teen

GoodReads Description

Westworld meets The Handmaid's Tale in this stunning fantasy adventure from debut author Charlotte Nicole Davis.

Aster, the protector
Violet, the favorite
Tansy, the medic
Mallow, the fighter
Clementine, the catalyst


The country of Arketta calls them Good Luck Girls--they know their luck is anything but. Sold to a "welcome house" as children and branded with cursed markings. Trapped in a life they would never have chosen.

When Clementine accidentally murders a man, the girls risk a dangerous escape and harrowing journey to find freedom, justice, and revenge in a country that wants them to have none of those things. Pursued by Arketta's most vicious and powerful forces, both human and inhuman, their only hope lies in a bedtime story passed from one Good Luck Girl to another, a story that only the youngest or most desperate would ever believe.

It's going to take more than luck for them all to survive.

My Thoughts

What an exciting novel!  It was a combination of Joss Whedon's Firefly, The Handmaid's Tale, and Maze Runner.  This piece is difficult to review because I liked a lot, but I also didn't like some of the same things that I liked.  My opinions and preferences definitely made my job as a reviewer more challenging. I am really hoping that Davis comes out with a sequel soon.

What I Liked

  • The characterization amazed me.  I loved getting to know each character, especially Aster.  This strong heroine and her gang were described more wonderfully than several of the other characters I've read about this year.  Davis has a talent for only releasing information when it's important to the tale.  Her skills of "showing not telling" are especially evident when we learn about Mallow's relationship.  What a skilled author!
  • I truly appreciate that the characterization in this piece extends even to the minor characters.  So many authors will write their minor characters as both flat and static.  It was interesting to see more dynamic minor characters.

What I Didn't Like As Much

  • Arketta fascinates me.  I would have liked to learn more about it, however.  As a place where the history is so vital to the story, the world building is absolutely lacking.  I think this would have been a more engaging novel if the world building was more complete.
  • I flew through the sections about Zee and Clem because I didn't feel like they were very realistic.  This is one romance that felt rushed and forced.  I would be interested to see more development in this relationship in a sequel.

My Rating

Monday, September 9, 2019

Review: Mira, Mirror by Mette Ivie Harrison

About the Book

Mira, Mirror by Mette Ivie Harrison
Published on August 3, 2006 by Speak

GoodReads Description

Abandoned by her parents, and then apprenticed to a witch, Mira is captivated by the other young apprentice, who adopts her as a sister. Mira would do anything for this beautiful girl- and that's just what her sister bargains for. With the utterance of a simple spell, Mira's body is turned to wood, her face to glass. Her only power is the magic her sister gives her, the power to make her sister a queen. 

But the sister disappears, and where one fairy tale ends, another begins. Mira is left to gather dust until a new hope arrives-a peasant girl with troubles of her own. Soon the two are on their way to find a new kind of magic, a magic that gives life instead of taking it.

My Thoughts

I definitely enjoy alternate versions of fairy tales and was excited to come across this one!  As with all books, there were definitely things that I liked about it and things that I did not enjoy. Because of time constraints, today's review will be rather condensed. I am excited to share that this book has been added to my classroom library!

What I Liked

  • I felt like the relationships between characters in this novel were rather believable.  I never felt that one character overshadowed the others.  Even though Mira was definitely the main character, she felt just as important and just as richly written as the other characters.
  • I loved the theme of sisterly love.  I know that many fairy tales focus on romantic love, but it was wonderful to see a piece that spoke about a different kind of love and selflessness.  
  • The ending was beautifully written.  I felt like it was the perfect way to end this novel and both the suffering and happiness therein.

What I Didn't Like As Much

  • While I liked Harrison's style, sometimes the style took away from the meaning.  I found myself reading the same passages over and over again trying to figure out what was happening and who was talking.  
  • The relationship between the two girls was rather puzzling at first.  After all, if someone stole my face I'd be TICKED!

My Rating

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Review: Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler

About the Book

Hunger by Jackie Morse Kessler
Published by Harcourt Graphia on October 18, 2010

GoodReads Description

“Thou art the Black Rider. Go thee out unto the world.”

Lisabeth Lewis has a black steed, a set of scales, and a new job: she’s been appointed Famine. How will an anorexic seventeen-year-old girl from the suburbs fare as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Traveling the world on her steed gives Lisa freedom from her troubles at home: her constant battle with hunger, and her struggle to hide it from the people who care about her. But being Famine forces her to go places where hunger is a painful part of everyday life, and to face the horrifying effects of her phenomenal power. Can Lisa find a way to harness that power — and the courage to battle her own inner demons?

My Thoughts

This was a fast and meaningful read.  I think it is a piece that many high school students should read, albeit a little difficult due to the content that is discussed.  This book will be on my classroom shelves.  Someday soon, I hope to read Kessler's story about another rider, War.

What I Liked

  • I love this cover!  It's simple yet elegant and meaningful!  It's a wonderful reflection of the writing within.
  • I appreciated the honest inside look at both anorexia and bulimia.  I felt it was especially poignant coming from an author who had struggled with bulimia.
  • The character development in this novel is phenomenal! Lisabeth goes from being a weak little mouse to a warrior queen.  She shows strength in many different ways.  Many people need the reminder that sometimes admitting you have a problem and asking for help is the strongest thing you can possibly do.

What I Didn't Like As Much

  • The world building in this novel was very weak.  Several of the hows and whys of the Horsemen are left unanswered.
  • This book felt incredibly rushed.  There was a lot of ground to be covered and a strong story should be allowed to fill the space it needs.
  • I dislike the uncertainty at the end.  Does she deal with both problems or only one of them?  This piece needed a lot more closure.

My Rating

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Review: Everywhere You Want to Be by Christina June

About the Book

Everywhere You Want to Be by Christina June
Published by Blink on May 1, 2018

GoodReads Description

From author Christina June comes Everywhere You Want to Be, a modern tale inspired by the classic Red Riding Hood.

Matilda Castillo has always done what she was told, but when she gets injured senior years, she watches her dreams of becoming a contemporary dancer slip away. So when Tilly gets a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend the summer with a New York dance troupe, nothing can stop her from saying yes--not her mother, not her fears of the big city, and not the commitment she made to Georgetown. Tilly's mother allows her to go on two conditions: one, Tilly will regularly visit her abuela in New Jersey, and two, after the summer, she'll give up dancing and go off to college.

Armed with her red vintage sunglasses and her pros and cons lists, Tilly strikes out, determined to turn a summer job into a career. Along the way she meets new friends ... and new enemies. Tilly isn't the only one desperate to dance, and fellow troupe member Sabrina Wolfrik intends to succeed at any cost. But despite dodging sabotage and blackmail attempts from Sabrina, Tilly can't help but fall in love with the city, especially since Paolo, a handsome musician from her past, is also calling New York home for the summer.

As the weeks wind down and the competition with Sabrina heats up, Tilly's future is on the line. She must decide whether to follow her mother's path to Georgetown or leap into the unknown to pursue her own dreams.

My Thoughts

Once again, Christina June inspires delight and fuzzy lovey feelings in her audience.  I thought that this was a light and entertaining piece that encourages the audience to take a good look at both their choices and their dreams.

What I Liked

  • Tilly is a very lovable character.  She definitely fills the role of the heroine in this novel because of her need for both confidence in herself and the ability to be much easier on herself.  She is a truly relatable character who struggles with very universal issues.
  • I loved the instant friendship with Charlotte who really brought Tilly out of her shell.  My best friends in college were just as instant and just as meaningful.  They are still very important to me.  Once again, June did a terrific job giving breath to a universal topic.  This is one of my favorite things about her writing.  No matter who or where you are, you should be able to relate on some level.
  • I've never been to New York. And yet, June was able to take me sightseeing through this novel. This required terrific world building skills and I was not disappointed in the slightest.

What I Didn't Like As Much

  • The relationship between Paolo and Tilly felt very forced and overly cute. No person I have ever met would forgive so easy or fall as hard as Paolo does after what Tilly did to him.
  • Throughout the novel, the mom is described as a strong-minded and opinionated woman.  At the end, she falls to mush.  It felt like June simply gave up on her characterization at this point.
  • What was the main conflict of this novel meant to be? Was it resolved? I'm not entirely certain.

My Rating

Friday, July 19, 2019

Book Blitz and Giveaway: The Sin Soldiers by Tracy Auerbach

The Sin Soldiers
Tracy Auerbach
(Fragments, #1)
Publication date: July 23rd 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Red compound makes them angry. Yellow exhausts them. Blue drives them into a state of ravenous addiction. The thief Kai knows about the chemically controlled soldiers of the Eastern forces and their savage, deadly nature. When a robbery attempt at Club Seven goes wrong, Kai is captured by a handler and his bestial soldier-boy. She wakes up inside the military base with no idea what happened to her twin brother, Dex.
Things go from bad to worse when Kai is started on a drug and training regimen, and forced to take injections of blue compound. The scientists in charge plan to make her into a working soldier who will mine the mysterious power crystals beneath the desert. Kai becomes a victim of the bully Finn, a handsome but nasty soldier whose years on red compound seem to have erased his humanity. Still, she begins to pity the Seven Soldiers, including the monstrous boy who tried to rip her to shreds at the club. They appear to be nothing more than genetically enhanced, drug-controlled teenagers.
On the outside, Dex and his tech-savvy boyfriend try to crack the soldiers’ chemical code to find a weakness that will break the system. But Kai has already been drawn deep into her new world. Strong feelings for the soldiers she’s come to know have started to cloud her judgment. Can she escape and find Dex without becoming a monster herself?
The strobe lights and blaring music made Kai’s pulse beat along to their frantic rhythms. She and Dex had worked for Leo before, but never on a hit this big. To steal the night’s earnings from Club Seven took more than the kind of finesse that she and her brother were famous for; it took balls. She looked over at Dex, who squatted in a small patch of shadow by the three steps leading up to the club’s first marble floor. Only he could make squatting look graceful. She strained to see him clearly while the blue-white lights flashed like a detonated bomb with a pause button. The strobes were replaced by a dim red glow, and she held up two fingers to signal the all-clear.
Dex responded instantly, their timing down to an art form. He hoisted himself onto the cold marble and did a quick military crawl to where she was lying flat on her stomach beside the liquor bar, propped on her elbows. His long, spiky hair brushed against her. He smelled like hair gel, but his closeness brought her comfort. No matter what sort of situation Kai found herself in, Dex made her feel safe. He looked up and smiled broadly, showing off teeth so bleached, they nearly glowed in the dark. She narrowed her eyes in warning, and he quickly closed his mouth. He could always tell what she was thinking. Twin power or something like that.
It was important to stay out of sight until they had scoped out the whole scene and gotten a lay of the land. The small service entrance they had used to access the club was situated directly across from the longer of two bars, which ran the length of the club on one side. This bar wrapped neatly along the perimeter, hugging the large entryway’s shiny black walls. It slunk down two steps and kept going all the way across the dance floor. With its white, rounded stone finish and polished glass casings to hold bottles upon bottles of alcohol, it looked pristine. But where Kai was lying at floor level, its fa├žade was shattered by thick patches of dust and some unpleasant-looking stains.
The crystals that powered the club, bringing it to life in all its pulsing, deafening glory, were housed in a nest of wires under the polished stone. They glowed through a transparent square in the bar’s surface with a soft, pale light that somehow stood out even in the midst of the chaotic strobes. Those crystals were the reason this club existed. The ongoing campaign for power over those precious fragments had made Seven Soldiers necessary. Sevens were the front line of the Eastern Forces; the heavy hand that held the public in place and kept all opposition at bay. At Club Seven they were paraded around as spectacles for citizens to gawk at. Kai glanced up toward the enormous body of a soldier walking by the bar, held tightly by his handler as they shoved through the raucous crowd of inebriated revelers. He was so large, he obscured the light from reaching down to where she lay in wait.
Kai shoved herself closer to the bar as a group of giggling women approached the protruding marble above her hiding spot. They surrounded the soldier and his handler, and she squinted up to see them running their hands all over the Seven’s body before leaning close to the bartender to shout for drinks. Kai pulled her hands out of the way of their high heels as they swayed and stepped in rhythm to the hypnotic movement, gyrating against the zombie-like Seven.
Dex reached a hand into his pocket and brought out the tiny camera he treasured. The crystal shard within it was no larger than a pebble, but it had worked for years. He edged his body along the floor away from the people around them and waited for the strobes to give way to red darkness again. When they did, he launched himself from the ground to his feet, fired off a round of pictures, and sunk back down. His movements were so quick, and so well-timed with the lights, that unless one of the clubgoers or bartenders who stood mere feet away were staring straight at him, they would miss his presence completely. Kai knew that from his vantage point, the arc of his leap gave him a clear shot of the club’s raised central stage. On the dance floor, a mass of writhing bodies clamored for a better view of the soldiers above them.
Kai glanced around to make sure nobody had noticed. In the clear, she gave him a thumbs-up to take another round, this time to the left of the club stage where a smaller bar wrapped around a mirrored pole. Lastly, he took some quick shots of the right side’s wooden buffet tables and then crawled back to the shadows of the entryway steps. Kai joined him, and they opened the heavy stone door just a crack before slipping back out into the night.
“I think you got some good ones,” Kai whispered when they were safely outside the club and leaning against the exterior wall. She could feel the vibrations of the music through the stone, and her hearing seemed to have taken a beating as her ears throbbed. But her pulse relaxed as the cool night air and sky of the desert took the place of the stifling sights and smells of the club’s interior.
“Let me have a look first.”
She studied the open plains before them while she waited for him to check out the shots he had taken. The halo of light that surrounded the throbbing stone edifice grew dimmer and dimmer until it faded into total darkness. The silhouettes of desert plants near the light’s border looked like shadowy sentries guarding the empty expanse of sand. Huge saguaros and short, thickly clumped agave cast a parade of midnight black shadows onto the scarcely-lit areas of sand beyond. Further in the distance, Kai could just make out the dimly twinkling lights of Eastern Pless. It was a few miles away, and night lights were a luxury that most couldn’t afford, but being the only other light for miles gave it the illusion of closeness. Above them, millions of stars blinked in and out of existence; only the small red moon and large orange moon remained constant. She shivered—a mixture of the cold air drying the sweat on her skin, and the thought of what could be lurking in all that darkness.
“Hold on a second,” said Dex, keeping the camera out of her reach as she tried to take it. Only a few inches taller, he was still skilled at taunting her by holding things just out of grabbing distance. He continued casually going through the pictures, one by one.
“I’m serious,” she said with a frown. “Give it to me.”
“Not yet,” he snapped. “I’m in man-candy heaven.”
She rolled her eyes.
“You disapprove, sister?”
“They’re Seven Soldiers, Dex. Barely even human.”
“That doesn’t mean they’re not fun to look at,” he protested. “I’m not going to date one. Just having a nice, long stare.”
She tried to glare disapprovingly at him, but he gave her the innocent grin that had always managed to keep him out of trouble. His big, dark eyes seemed to glow in the reflection of the moonlight, and the spikes of his hair cast a funny-looking shadow over his brow. Although they both bore the darker coloring of Northerners, their hair and eyes were so close to true black that their skin paled in comparison. Dex finally relinquished the camera, and she peeked. He wasn’t joking that the soldiers were hot. He nudged her, seeing her expression, and wiggled his eyebrows. She laughed. The two of them very rarely had the same taste in men, thank the Lord, but this was one of those times that it was hard to argue.
“Yeah, well I think the really attractive part of the scene is all the money being thrown at said man-candy,” she retorted. “It looks like the timing will work out in about five minutes. The collection crew should come through to get most of the crystal money out of the way of the dance floor. Clear enough path, right? And dark, so we should be able to blend.”
“Sure,” he agreed.
It was ladies’ night, and the whole thing was super creepy. Kai had known about the club scene forever, but she preferred to stay away. Not that poor-looking thieves like her were allowed in by the bouncers anyway, but it would’ve been easy to pass as a wealthy citizen and have a night out. Dex had done it often, and offered to give her a ‘Club Seven makeover,’ but the whole concept gave her the shivers. Her experience tonight served to confirm her instincts. There was a disturbing aspect to the pictures that sent chills up her spine. She couldn’t decide if it was the predatory, animalistic glare on the faces of the soldiers themselves, or the indifferent smirks of their handlers that unnerved her more.
“Let’s just get this over with,” she sighed. “I don’t like it here.”
“Alright,” agreed Dex, getting serious. He was a great thief because, in the end, he easily shed his usual air of arrogance and got down to business. “Just like we planned with Leo. I’ll go around the side of the smaller liquor bar, and you sneak around to the other wall by the food. That’s likely where a lot of the swept crystals will accumulate since the collection crew hovers around there.”
“Got it,” she said as they slid back through the side door and into the awaiting sensory overload.
This time, Dex walked casually across the stone floor and down the two steps to the dance area. Upon reaching the back of the dance floor, he waited for the strobe lights to give way to dim redness, and ducked into a crouch. He skittered across the last few feet of polished wood, situating himself between the club’s back wall and the smaller, circular bar. Kai watched him disappear behind the smooth rock before she ducked and ran along the nearest wall, cutting close to the guarded front entryway on the right. She slithered through the undulating crowd of eager ladies, and toward the stage.
She paused for a second to look at the young men being held there like circus animals. She had never seen actual Seven Soldiers this close before, and her curiosity got the best of her. Yes, they were attractive; perfectly built and handsome as hell. But they were dauntingly huge, and their eyes were empty; unseeing and unfeeling. Each one had a thick collar around his neck, buzzing with pale blue electrical energy. They were powered by a different sort of crystal, she assumed. Those collars were supposedly the only thing that could keep them docile. She shivered again.
Their handlers, who ranged in appearance from mildly attractive to downright ugly, had a wider range of facial expressions; some attentive and at-the-ready while others were apathetic and bored. The huge throng of screaming women threw small, flat crystals at the performing soldiers on stage, doling out more money than Kai had ever seen just for the chance to interact with a monster. The money they spent allowed them to climb up and pour a glass of liquor down a soldier’s throat or feed him food from the long table to the right of the stage. They could also have a dance with a chained, brain-dampened soldier, or do even less savory things in private rooms upstairs.
Supposedly the young men couldn’t resist the offerings. They were Seven Soldiers, which meant they were sinners, and this was a place to witness their unleashed gluttony. They opened their mouths each time, indifferent but accepting of the food and drink that gorged them through the course of the evening. Their rage, too dangerous to be put on display, was kept in check by the handlers, so supposedly they were as complacent as puppies in this state only. No sex, though. That was too much of a liability. That was the club’s cover story at least, but Kai knew that handlers could be paid off. She had even heard of women scoring tickets for backstage passes to the Eastern Fortress where the soldiers were kept.
She shimmied along the perimeter of the club beside the stage, shaking her hips to the music’s frantic beat, trying to blend in. She darted under the long, beautifully decorated food table once the strobe lights started up again. With quick, fluid movements, she settled herself centrally under the table, where a hanging silvery cloth obscured her from view. She saw Dex across the way, sweeping up handfuls of the crystals that had fallen to the floor, putting them into his cloth sack. Perfect timing was critical, because there had to be enough money to be worth Leo’s while, but not so much that the club collectors noticed something wrong when they came through to bag it up. She pulled out her own sack and started brushing in money that had fallen or been swept under the table by the collectors. Simple.
As she was shoveling the crystals into her take-away bag, the smell of the food on the table above hit her nostrils and her mouth began to water. The soldiers really did get the good stuff. What a waste. There was fresh fruit, cakes and chocolates, and platters of meat and cheese. She couldn’t remember the last time she had eaten something besides dry bread, and even that had been scarce lately. She continued to absentmindedly shovel money into the sack, but now her eyes were focused on a spot where the tablecloth had accidentally gotten tucked up in the corner, affording her a crooked view of the tabletop. There sat a huge piece of cake that hung precariously over the side, shaking as dancing women jostled by. Her breath caught in her throat as it slid off and landed on the floor about a foot to her left.
As her hand seemed to instinctively reach out and grab for the fallen treasure, she saw Dex shaking his head frantically out of the corner of her eye. She felt a boot-clad foot slam down hard on her hand seconds later, and a wave of pain shot through her body. Her head hit the underside of the table and food spilled all around her. Terror gripped her insides like a live wire, and she froze. Quickly, she shook herself out of it and tried to reclaim her hand, but it was too late. The black boot held tight, and she saw a hand reach under the tablecloth, getting ready to lift it and expose her completely. She had to think fast.
Kai shoved herself sideways, toward whoever was standing on her left hand, and bit into the person’s calf, right above where the boot ended. Her teeth sunk easily through the thin cotton uniform into skin and flesh. She didn’t hear any scream over the blasting music, but the booted foot slid sideways just enough as a hand clasped it defensively. That was all she needed. She saw the face of the person who had caught her for only a second. He was young and gaunt, with pasty skin and pointy features. A handler. He must’ve been in the process of escorting his soldier past the front of the stage when he had spotted her fool attempt to grab the damn cake. She could beat herself up later. Now, she had to run.
She darted past the table and away from the stage, choosing the back door across the dance floor as an exit point. She shoved around several club-goers, knocking a few to the floor as she fled through the crowd. She didn’t dare to glance at Dex as she practically jumped over him on her way out. The last thing she needed was the guilt of getting him busted, too. They could reunite back at the rendezvous point. She slammed into the door in her panic, frantically felt around, grabbed the exit bar and pushed, then bolted out into the night.
She was at least twenty yards from the building, sand rising to resist in slow, messy heaps with each crunch of her shoes, when she stole a glance behind herself. Her heart jumped into her throat. Not only was the handler chasing her; he had brought his soldier, too. The man-beast couldn’t have been more than seventeen or eighteen years old, but he was huge. He had to be at least seven feet tall and almost as wide, with muscles popping out everywhere as he bounded soundlessly after her. Taut muscles rippled over his entire body, highlighting the contrast of his distended stomach, and making him appear even more savage as he darted across the sand in his bare feet. He was clothed only in the gold loincloth that was his club outfit, but the blankness in his eyes had given way to something far more primal, his snarling face letting her know that the party was definitely over. Whatever the mental switch was that kept him calm—it had been flipped.
“Get back here, you biting little bitch!” yelled the handler.
She froze for a second, hoping his limping from her bite would slow both him and his monstrous soldier-boy down, but to her horror, the glowing chain slipped out of his hand. He cursed and made a grab for it as Kai screamed. She picked up speed as she headed across the desert sand in the direction of the outer wall of the city. Eastern Pless would hide her in its cesspool of overcrowded streets. She could go back to Leo’s place. The soldier might get his hands on a citizen or two, but he would be stopped. They were always taken down if they got loose inside the city’s walls.
Kai still had her heart and eyes set on the safety of the city’s distant lights when the snarling soldier dove and grabbed her around the legs. She screamed as she fell, and tried to claw at his arms, but he didn’t seem to notice. His fingernails ripped her skin as he flipped her over and dragged her toward his waiting mouth.
He’s going to eat me alive.
His face was very close to her now, and even in this dim light, she could see that he had the pale skin of a southerner, and ear-length blond hair. She was surprised again by how very young he looked. Then she saw his eyes. There was no humanity in the heavily dilated pupils; only death. His open-mouthed roar exposed a straight line of teeth, with four unnaturally sharp, piercing incisors. Now face to face, she saw that the tiny rings of iris around his pupils were light brown, but the pupils themselves weren’t black the way they were supposed to be. The spot in the middle of the brown glowed with an odd blue tinge that lit his face.
Flinching, she prepared to be ripped apart. Instead, a huge jolt that rattled through her body, from the base of her spine to the top of her head, making her teeth clamp down on a shriek. Her eyes flew open, and she saw that the handler had regained control. He grabbed the chain leash around his charge’s neck and pressed a button. Waves of electricity rocked the giant, sending his body into spasms. Kai breathed a sigh of relief, even as she felt the power surge pass through him and into her own body. The last thing she thought before she lost consciousness was that it was far better to be electrocuted than to be torn to shreds by that monster.

Author Bio:
Tracy Auerbach is an author of science fiction and fantasy for teens and adults. As an avid reader with a vivid imagination, she chose to study film, English, and education, and went on to teach and write STEM curriculum for the New York Department of Education. This helped to polish her writing skills and ignite her passion for science fiction and fantasy.
Her first scholarly article, published in Language Magazine, was about the value of active, creative learning in science.
On the fiction side, Tracy’s work has been featured in the online literary journal Micro-horror, The Writing Disorder fiction anthology, and the “(Dis)ability” short story anthology, in addition to her novels.
When she is not teaching or writing, Tracy is usually reading or spending time with her family. She lives in New York with her husband and sons.


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Life Update!

Hey guys!

I just wanted to put out a short post explaining where I've been.  In the last couple of months I have accepted a new position in a new city and have been getting ready for a big move.  On top of that, my boyfriend spent a couple days in the hospital and one of my students passed away in a tragic car accident.

With everything that has been going on, I have been trying really hard to stay on top of things.  While things are looking up now, I am still not caught up on my reading/posting.  I am working hard to get back up to snuff as reading is what keeps my head on straight.

Thank you so much for your support and understanding while I work to put some pieces together.  I am doing well and am excited for the new change.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Book Blitz and Giveaway: Skin Hunter by Tania Hutley

Skin Hunter
Tania Hutley
Publication date: June 18th 2019
Genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Young Adult
She didn’t want to do it… But she was desperate.
Trying to escape the dangerous streets of Old Triton, the buried city, Milla takes the ultimate risk
Could a dead girl’s identity be her way out? A ticket to a richer, brighter world high above the muck and gloom of her old life?
Now she’s part of a high tech contest, with a prize beyond money, fame and everything she has ever known. A chance to become something… new.
But if anyone finds out who Milla really is, she’s dead.
The other competitors come from privilege, their faces and bodies tweaked to perfection. Rich and handsome Cale could be the most dangerous of all. Why is he so interested in a scarred, ugly “sinker” like Milla?
To survive, she needs to be brave.
To win, she needs to evolve.
Just try and stop her.
Skin Hunter is an upper YA science fiction novel – a futuristic, dystopian thrill-ride with a spark of romance.

Author Bio:
Tania Hutley is a USA Today bestselling author who loves sci fi movies and wishes she lived in the Whedon-verse.
Tania also writes sexy contemporary romance using a top-secret pen name. She could tell you what that pen name is, but then she'd have to turn you into a chicken.


Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Top Three Reasons I Love The Little Prince

About the Book

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
First published in April 1943

GoodReads Description

Moral allegory and spiritual autobiography, The Little Prince is the most translated book in the French language. With a timeless charm it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behaviour through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures.

The Top Three Reasons I Love The Little Prince

  1. The Little Prince provides its audience with several important moral lessons.  The strongest of these discuss love, loss, and the imagination.  Each of these things are too easily neglected in our adult lives. We look more toward money and daily problems than to the strength of love.  I know that this sounds rather cliche, but these are the small things that turn out to be BIG things.  These are the things that we need to hold onto in order to improve our world. 
  2. Death is handled not as a horrifying thing but as a passage to a new part of life.  I think that this is one of the most beautiful and most peaceful ways to explain death.  I truly think that if we taught our children about death the way that this book teaches it, death would sound less terrifying to our children.  Death is final and it is sad for those left behind, but it is a permanent transition and a part of life.
  3. I am so in love with the illustrations in this book.  I know that most people look for more realistic art or more advanced art skills, but the child-like illustrations truly bring the moral lessons of this novel to life.  I think this book would lose a lot of its charm and meaning if the illustrations were changed at all.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Book Blitz and Giveaway: Silver Batal and the Water Dragon Races

Silver Batal and the Water Dragon Races
K.D. Halbrook
(Water Dragon Races, #1)
Published by: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date: June 4th 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Middle-Grade
Set in a vivid, Arab-inspired world filled with friendly and fearsome water dragons, K.D. Halbrook’s Silver Batal and the Water Dragon Races is a middle-grade fantasy adventure, with illustrations by Ilse Gort, that’s perfect for fans of Tui T. Sutherland, Sayantani DasGupta, and Roshani Chokshi.
Silver’s dreams of becoming a legendary water dragon racer come true when she befriends a rare dragon that can swim and fly.

Thirteen-year-old Silver Batal calls the desert home, but her heart belongs to the waters. Although she’s expected to become a jeweler like her father, Silver harbors a secret and forbidden wish to race water dragons. Destiny comes calling when her friendship with a mysterious old woman leads her to Hiyyan, a baby dragon that can swim and fly.
Risking everything, Silver, Hiyyan, and her resourceful cousin Brajon set off across the desert to join the legendary races in the royal city. But the road to Calidia is filled with danger, and the trio must band together as they encounter ferocious cave beasts, clever desert foxes, and cutthroat competition.
Nebekker whistled. “Come on out, pretty one. My turn to be your mama for a little while.”
Silver waited, pretending not to be watching. Who in the desert was Nebekker talking to? Surely there couldn’t be children down in the cavern.
Nebekker whistled again. Her teeth flashed as she grinned. Silver followed her gaze across the river. There was something moving among the stalactites. Crouched…or even slithering. Something that matched the blue light and pale silver of the cavern.
The thing across the river purred.
The sound touched Silver to her very core. She got to her feet and moved toward the river without thinking, as though a string tied to her middle pulled her. There was no staying away if she’d wanted to. The need to meet the creature on the other side of the river was far too great. She stepped into the river.
The ice-cold water over her boots slowed her down for only a moment. But that was long enough for Nebekker to grab her arm and hold her in place.
“Of course this would happen.” Nebekker sighed wearily.
“Let me go!” Silver had to get to the other side of the river.
“Stay right here. He’ll come to you. The stars know it’ll affect the both of you.”
In the back of her mind, Silver wondered what the old woman meant, but she didn’t ask because the pull to cross the river was still so powerful.
“I have to…”
She struggled to free herself, but Nebekker was incredibly strong. Just then a shadow slipped into the river with a splash and made its way to Silver and Nebekker. Silver knelt into the water, waiting. She didn’t know what for or if she was in danger. She only knew that she had to open her arms and greet it.
When the creature finally burst from the water, it bowled Silver over. She landed on her back hard, rocks digging into her spine. Her arms and chest became even colder than before, soaking in the river water. But she didn’t care. She was awash with euphoria. Within seconds, the warmth of the creature bled into her skin. Its happy heartbeat thudded in time with Silver’s. It purred again and licked her face until the smell of fish and river weeds overwhelmed her nostrils.
Silver laughed and opened her eyes. A pair of obsidian-dark eyes looked back down at her from a sky-blue face ringed with white.
“Another Aquinder,” Silver marveled. “A little one!”
“If your definition of little means the size of a house.” Nebekker stood over them. Her hands were on her hips and she didn’t seem particularly happy. “Kirja’s son. Another troublemaker, if you ask me.”
“No, he’s perfect.” Silver’s heart swelled nearly to bursting. “And I won’t have you calling him names or else.”
Nebekker snorted. “Or else what?”
“I don’t know what. But I’ll think of something. I’d do anything for…for…what’s his name?”
The water dragon licked Silver some more, then rolled over and let his tongue loll out to the side, just like Kirja had. Silver rubbed his belly.

Author Bio:
K.D. Halbrook is an author of Middle Grade and Young Adult novels (as Kristin Halbrook). Her debut Middle Grade book, SMOKE AND MIRRORS (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books) was called "captivating," "enchanting," and "artful" in trade reviews and, in a starred review, the BCCB said, "The novel's wistful prose and a relatable search for the Light will be rewarding for readers who can see in the Smoke any number of metaphors for the things that haunt us."
K.D.'s next Middle Grade is the first in an exciting series: SILVER BATAL AND THE WATER DRAGON RACES, releasing in June, 2019 from Macmillan/Henry Holt BFYR.
K.D. is a graduate of the University of Washington and lives with her family and floofy goldendoodle in Seattle. When not writing and sharing her love of books with readers, she enjoys cooking and baking, running and triathlon training, yoga, gardening, painting, hiking, and travel. She would love a dragon that swims AND flies.


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Review: The Mosaic by Chris Keaton and Rick Taubold

About the Book

The Mosaic by Chris Keaton and Rick Taubold
Published on July 12, 2017

GoodReads Description

Twin girls discover a mystical world contained within a crumbling mosaic, and they must restore it before an evil witch seizes its power, even if doing so could tear their family apart. 

Secrets. It all started while looking for secret passages. Chloe Tozier’s impulsive twin, Zoe, insisted that all old mansions had them. Grandma denied the existence of any here. Except for the boarded-up service elevator that she conveniently forgot to mention before the girls discovered it, the elevator that didn’t seem to go anywhere. They had been living in this private museum with their grandparents since the death of their parents during an archaeology trip to Egypt.

Mysteries. Why have a museum in a tiny town in the middle of Kansas when what’s on display is nothing unusual? Sometimes packages arrived wrapped in plain brown paper that the girls never saw again. Grandpa disappeared overnight and they haven’t heard from him since. And before going to Egypt their parents had mentioned something about a mysterious mosaic. Maybe Zoe was right about family secrets. Maybe it was time to dig further.

My Thoughts

I really liked this book!  I had it on my TBR for a long time, but I just hadn't gotten to it.  Now that I have, I'm pretty excited that I did!  

Chloe Tozier was a phenomenal character.  She was someone that I could easily relate to as a curious bookworm.  Although she has a twin, she's just more believable.  I can't think of anyone as fearless or as reckless as Zoe Tozier, but I can think of several people who are as reserved and cautious as Chloe.  Together, they make a fabulous team because they balance each other out.

The world-building in this book was done excellently as well.  I loved that I could picture each place that the girls visited to retrieve pieces of the mosaic.  The descriptions of each of the mythical creatures came to life in very vivid ways.  

Unfortunately, I felt like a lot of the action was rushed through.  A lot of time is spent bringing Dahwen to the mosaic.  Once she arrives, however, the battle ends rather quickly.  I think that it would have been a huge improvement if the authors would have brought some more description to the battle.  The audience is so invested in the characters that it would have kept us on the edge of our seats were there more details.

Overall, I thought this was a really good book!  There were parts that made me want to cry and others that I thought were absolutely beautifully written.  I look forward to seeing what Keaton and Taubold give us next.

My Rating

Monday, May 27, 2019

Book Blitz and Giveaway: Kingdom of Sand and Wishes

Kingdom of Sand & Wishes: A Limited Edition Collection of Aladdin Retellings
Publication date: May 24th 2019
Genres: Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Young Adult
Aladdin, but not as you remember it….
On the dusty streets, around the bustling bazaars, being overlooked by a Sultan’s Palace was a land. A land of magic, secrets and treasures buried deep beneath the desert.
Through Arabian nights, dark forces are at work. Dark forces that can threaten the peace of everyone in the Kingdom. Watch our authors as they answer the question, can three wishes save the day?
Join our award winning and USA Today best selling authors for nine action packed fantasy and contemporary retellings with Sultans, sorcerers, romance and more magic than a genie’s lamp can hold.
One click now for your happily ever after….
Three Wishes by J.A.Armitage
Her future was mapped out…
She would one day be queen…
When a curse was cast, trapping Jini in an old lamp, her life ended along with everyone she had ever known and loved. Centuries of darkness passed and then a young man made a wish.
He wanted to be the Sultan.
So did she.
The only problem? There already was a Sultan and his mysterious son had already laid claim to the throne
Read this powerful new rendition of the age old classic, Aladdin, where things are not as they seem and magic might not be enough to save them all.
The Djinn Curse By Margo Ryerkerk
How far will you go to reclaim your freedom?
My name is Roxelana, and my human life was stolen from me.
Turned by force into a djinn, I’ve waited for 100 years for a shot at freedom.
My current assignment in Istanbul presents an opportunity to break the connection to my lamp and escape my eternal slavery. There’s just one problem. Doing so means sacrificing the sultan prince to the king of djinns. I shouldn’t care about the prince, but I can’t stop myself. He has a pull on me I can’t explain. Coupled with his kindness and the care he shows his people, I’m in deep trouble.
When push comes to shove, who will I choose? Him or myself?
Filled with adventure, love, magic, and a strong heroine, this clean YA Fairy Tale is the perfect read!
If you like K.M Shea, Melanie Cellier, and Kiera Cass, you’ll love this!
Granting Wishes (A Once Upon a Curse Prequel) by Kaitlyn Davis
She’s about to discover a whole new world…
“His words come back to me—magic is the law. I guess I’m making my own set of rules.”
Alanna thought rock climbing in Yosemite National Park would be the trip of a lifetime. Until an earthquake strikes and she finds herself plummeting to her death. But instead of slamming into the forest floor, Alanna drops into a secret underground cave where she’s confronted by the impossible—magic.
A mysterious man named Erick uses incredible powers to save her life, then tells her that his magical world has collided with earth, merging the two together. Alanna writes it off as crazy, until he shows her a vision of her brother being dragged down a sandy cobblestone street in chains. Crazy or not, she’ll do anything to save him.
As Alanna and Erick team up to rescue her brother from the clutches of a decrepit sorcerer king, fate intervenes in the form of a handsome prince. Alanna doesn’t know who to trust, but in this foreign land, flying solo just might get her killed…
Don’t miss GRANTING WISHES, a fantasy romance from bestselling author Kaitlyn Davis that reimagines the classic fairy tale of Aladdin.
Sultana of Amethyst Sands by Emma Savant
A beautiful genie craves her freedom. A handsome prince longs to heal his kingdom. And a con artist named Aladdah has big plans for them all.
Between theft, sleight of hand, and her indentured servitude to a powerful magician, Aladdah has always managed to survive the brutal streets of Citron. But survival isn’t enough for a woman of Aladdah’s ambition. She craves more—more food, more power, and more magic than her master has seen fit to teach her.
When she demands a greater challenge, her master sends her on a mission into an enchanted cavern beneath the desert sands. There, in an abandoned garden glittering with the lights of precious jewels, Aladdah discovers a genie whose power and beauty are matched only by her determination to escape the bonds of her servitude.
But the genie is bound by her magic lamp, subject to Aladdah’s every wish, and it’s an opportunity no self-respecting street rat could resist. Aladdah forms a plan to use the genie to destroy the sultan and establish herself as a new ruler who will turn the savage inequality of Citron on its head.
But the sultan has many protectors, from his court magicians to the beautiful, idealistic son who infuriates and enchants Aladdah in equal measure. Her genie fights her at every turn. And her old master will not be dismissed so easily, not when he has a plan to gain power the likes of which the kingdoms have never seen.
Sultana of Amethyst Sands is a romantic, fast-paced adventure through the sands of a faraway kingdom of magic, genies, and wishes come true.


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Review: Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate

About the Book

Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate
Published by Feiwel & Friends on August 21, 2007

GoodReads Description

Kek comes from Africa. In America he sees snow for the first time, and feels its sting. He's never walked on ice, and he falls. He wonders if the people in this new place will be like the winter – cold and unkind.

In Africa, Kek lived with his mother, father, and brother. But only he and his mother have survived, and now she's missing. Kek is on his own. Slowly, he makes friends: a girl who is in foster care; an old woman who owns a rundown farm, and a cow whose name means "family" in Kek's native language. As Kek awaits word of his mother's fate, he weathers the tough Minnesota winter by finding warmth in his new friendships, strength in his memories, and belief in his new country.

Bestselling author Katherine Applegate presents a beautifully wrought novel about an immigrant's journey from hardship to hope.

Home of the Brave is a 2008 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

My Thoughts

I am definitely becoming a big fan of Applegate's writing!  I love that she finds ways to address important issues in ways that can be easily understood by younger students.  She not only teaches children about these issues, but finds ways to encourage empathy.  I think this is a phenomenal way to encourage our youth to become caring members of society.

I loved that Kek is such a complex character.  He wants to learn and he is so grateful for his new place in Minnesota.  In fact, he is so truly thankful for most things that are generally taken for granted.  Although he is overwhelmed by all that is new and exciting, he strives to hang on to the ways of Sudan.  He wants so badly to be considered a man by his people.  He wants to care for cows and be kind to people.  He is a strong little guy going through challenges that would be hard for most adults.  The fact that he takes it all in stride and does his best with every situation is absolutely inspiring.

I can't say that I had a least favorite character in this book.  However, I would have loved to have heard more from Ganwar.  He was definitely the strong and silent type, but something was eating away at his insides.  I would have loved to see him get a little more resolution as well.  I know that sometimes in life, that resolution just isn't coming.  Perhaps that was the point Applegate wanted to make here as well.

Overall, I absolutely devoured this book.  As a verse novel, it was a quick read.  It was a very meaningful read, however.  I definitely think that a lot of the substance and poignancy would have been lost if it had been in prose form.  I look forward to reading more from Applegate!

My Rating

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Book Blitz and Giveaway: Neliem by Clare DiLiscia

Clare DiLiscia
Published by: Month9Books
Publication date: May 21st 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Half the population of the island of Madera are dead, killed by an unforgiving and indiscriminate plague. Oriana dreams of escaping her life of ruthless cruelty from the people who now rule over those who remain. No telling whom the plague will strike next, Oriana means to find freedom for herself and her people. Drawing strength from ancient tales of her enemy, young Oriana transforms herself from victim to warrior with the help of a mysterious and powerful dagger given to her by a kind and dying boy.
Years later, during her enemy’s betrothal ritual, Ezra, a boy she has never before seen, selects her as his mate. With servitude her only option, Oriana accepts the offer. Whisked away to a seemingly perfect world, Oriana discovers sinister secrets at every turn, including the identity of Tristan, a boy with whom she shares an undeniable but impossible connection.
Why would a boy she doesn’t know wish her to be his betrothed? Why does she feel such a strong pull toward a stranger? Someone in Ezra’s family not only knows the answer to both those questions, but also about the dagger Oriana possesses. He will do anything to stop the union. Now, with everything on the line, Oriana turns inward to find the strength she needs to seize the full power of the dagger so that she may protect herself and save her people.
I cringe; not wanting to confess the extent of my obsession of finding the boy I’ve convinced myself for too long never existed. After I’d miraculously healed from the fever, I went half mad looking everywhere for him. Like a maniac, I searched in every room, closet and under every desk at the schoolhouse for any indication where he might’ve gone. Then I took it one step further. Dressed like Neliem himself, I snuck at the crack of dawn into the Untouchable section of town which we are forbidden to enter. I scourged the marketplace, the temples of their false gods, the fields, the hills, our cave, any place I could think of, going as far as to risk my own life for weeks to find him. Just for the chance to see him and touch him again, I would’ve done anything. Me, who hated to be touched, ached for this boy the way a dying man aches for water in the desert.

Author Bio:
Clare Di Liscia grew up near the hills surrounding Dodger's Stadium. For University, Clare attended KU Leuven, in Belgium. She graduated with a Film Degree from Cal State Northridge, earning Dean's List recognition. Neliem won 1st place HM in SCBWI's Sue Alexander.


Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Review: Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

About the Book

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
Published by Feiwel & Friends on September 22, 2015

GoodReads Description

In her first novel since winning the Newbery Medal, Katherine Applegate delivers an unforgettable and magical story about family, friendship, and resilience.

Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There's no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.

Crenshaw is a cat. He's large, he's outspoken, and he's imaginary. He has come back into Jackson's life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?

Beloved author Katherine Applegate proves in unexpected ways that friends matter, whether real or imaginary.

My Thoughts

After reading The One and Only Ivan, I was absolutely drawn to this book.  I knew that I would love it because I love Applegate's work.  I was a little nervous, though, because I don't usually read Middle Grade books.  I was concerned that it would be a bit too "young" for me.  I am pleased to report that I was absolutely amazed by this one.  In fact, I am looking into getting a full set of this novel for my classroom.

Growing up, life wasn't always perfect.  There were deaths and illness in our family, much like in every other family.  However, my parents strongly believed that my brother, sister, and I were kids and should be able to act like it.  We knew when people were sick and we were glad to help out, but it was not something that constantly burdened us.  If there were any financial troubles, I still don't know about them.  We were kids. They were the adults.  We had our places and our jobs.  I bring all of this up to explain the absolute shock and dismay I felt when I realized that Jackson knows exactly what's going on with his family and that he felt responsible for his family.  Jackson's ability to care for them and to do what he intuitively knew they needed him to impressed me.  I really struggled with the fact that any kid should have to live like that.  I'm not completely naive.  I know that there are several kids who are in the same position as Jackson, but it was a massive wake up call to see what that role might be like.  I am not the only person who needs this jolt, however. There are many people in our nation who strongly believe that the only reason a person would be homeless is if they are lazy.  Applegate's writing calls attention to the truth of the matter.  That homeless people may simply be suffering as a result of bad circumstances.  That we are all able to lend a helping hand.

Applegate's ability to build unbelievably dynamic characters permeates this novel.  Jackson is a funny kid with a very old soul.  He needs friends and he needs to be honest with himself and those around him.  He is a kid that any of my students would be able to relate to.  He demonstrates what youth is like in today's world.  Applegate's creation of such a realistic character was a wonderful pairing for his imaginary friend-a giant cat.  Jackson and Crenshaw represent the worlds of realism and imagination respectively and demonstrate the need for both parts of life.  

I am absolutely in love with this novel. Even though it has been a few days since I finished it, I am still considering the many themes that Applegate brings to life. Although this is a Middle Grade novel, Applegate makes sure that there is something for everyone.

My Rating

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Review: Silence the Echo by Alea Carroll

About the Book

Silence the Echo by Alea Carroll
Published by North Node Press on December 30, 2018

GoodReads Description

Humankind has forgotten its obligation to live lightly upon our planet.

Civilization is about to disappear.

Twelve thousand years ago, the ice age ends precipitously. Cataclysm looms. Unless preserved for the few who shall inherit Earth, twenty millennia of history and invention will be forever lost.

Gifted young telepaths are recruited from the old clans to learn the ancient physics of time travel. Their mission: teach people of the future how to access a crystalline Hall of Records.

As seas rise, storms rage, and tremors persist, spirited Seerce and her clever ally, Aaron, find evidence of experimental energy production. Why do the best minds of science accept a catastrophic fate, when they ought to intervene in what disturbs Earth?

Quickly, these two rebels and Seerce’s forbidden lover find themselves under the scrutiny of a powerful master of esoteric arts. He has his own design upon Seerce’s destiny.

My Thoughts

I am struggling with my review of this book.  There were a number of things that I considered very well done and that I would have loved to see more of.  There were also a number of things that annoyed me and that I thought should never have been in this book at all.  Unfortunately, there was no middle point with this book.  There were things that I hated and things that I loved, nothing that I simply liked. Please keep in mind that these lists are in no particular order.

What I Liked...

  • Seerce is a very well-written character.  I love that Carroll really gives you the opportunity to find out who she is.  Seerce is a strong minded, caring individual who truly seeks the best for those around her.  She is also a little selfish and she tends to let her pride get the better of her. I was excited to encounter such a human character.
  • I thought that the premise of this novel was very well thought out.  It was obvious that Carroll had a great big world in her mind that she wanted to put down on paper.  I appreciated the time and effort that she took to build this world.
  • I liked that this book was so inclusive.  Carroll could have chosen to abstain from writing any LGBTQ+ characters, but instead she chose to include a lesbian couple.  I felt like this added even more diversity to an already beautiful world.

What I Didn't Like As Much...

  • Although I have read the entire book, I'm really not sure what it was about.  I mean, there was so much that had to do with Seerce's schooling and the Order. The bits about their mission were glazed over, though.  And then there were the parts with her relationships that seemed to come and go.  Even those, however, seemed to make up only a small amount of the novel.  I finished this book a few days ago and even now I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be focused on.  I think that Carroll's goal was to show that there is a variety of elements in each person's life and that not a single one of these should overpower the rest.  I just don't think that point was well enough developed to stand out for most readers.
  • I have a serious love/hate relationship with the ending of this novel.  I liked that every loose end was tied up.  Unfortunately, I felt like the loose ends were tied so rapidly that it was more thrown together than tied in a neat bow.  
  • Carroll definitely knows how to write with adjectives.  Her work is colorful and vivid.  Her writing style, however, tends to cover a lot of this beauty up.  I felt like she so badly wanted to write with a flair of Tolkien's style that she forgot to add her own flair.  This means that the book reads a bit slow in several places that should have been exciting.  


I liked the basic plot of this book.  I loved that Carroll created a romance novel for scifi/fantasy nerds.  I especially loved that she created her own world.  I just wish that it was a bit more developed.  I believe that this is Carroll's first book and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.  I am excited to see how her writing style develops.

My Rating

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

About the Book

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Published by Balzer + Bray on February 28, 2017

GoodReads Description

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

My Thoughts

Please allow me to be honest.  I had a very hard time reviewing this novel.  I am a white lady living in a very white part of Minnesota.  I teach a total of three African American students in all six of my classes.  Reading this novel was like opening a whole different part of the world.  I am really not sure about how much of this was exaggerated for the purpose of entertainment and how much is based on the way that things really are.  As a result of my lack of knowledge, I don't think I'm the right person to speak about this book from a political/racial point of view.  I do, however, know quite a bit about readability and literature in general.  Please allow me to write my review about the things I do know about.

Angie Thomas is a master of characterization.  If you have been reading my blog for any amount of time, you know that I find it impossible to get into a book when I don't care about the characters. Thomas' characters destroyed me.  I know that Khalil really didn't spend much time in this novel, but I cried when he died.  After all, he was just a kid! He was trying to take care of his friend. I can't imagine being Starr in this particular instance, watching my good friend get murdered right before my eyes.  I don't think that I would have the personal strength to come back from that.  This, however, is where Starr really shines. Not only does she choose to grow from a timid follower to a brave leader.  She stands up against her friends, her society, and even her own comfort.  I hope that every one of my students chooses to read this book so that they can learn from Starr's wonderful example of pure bravery and courage.

Throughout the entire novel, I fell deeper and deeper in love with Thomas' writing style.  She may be an adult herself, but she knows how to get into the mindset of a teenager with impressive accuracy.  Too often, adult writers strive to make teenagers seem whinier than they truly are.  Many (not all) adult writers forget that, like adults, kids have worries and fears and concerns about things that matter.  It isn't all just about their hair products or dating.  Thank you, Thomas, for bringing a fresh sense of reality to the Young Adult genre.  

I absolutely adore this book.  It is one that I put off reading because of my limited knowledge with the politics surrounding it.  After reading it, I will admit that it is truly eye-opening.  I am excited to read more from Angie Thomas.

My Rating

Friday, April 5, 2019

Review: The Death Cure by James Dashner

About the Book

The Death Cure by James Dashner
Published on October 11, 2011 by Delacorte Books for Young Readers

GoodReads Description

It’s the end of the line.

WICKED has taken everything from Thomas: his life, his memories, and now his only friends—the Gladers. But it’s finally over. The trials are complete, after one final test.

Will anyone survive?

What WICKED doesn’t know is that Thomas remembers far more than they think. And it’s enough to prove that he can’t believe a word of what they say.

The truth will be terrifying.

Thomas beat the Maze. He survived the Scorch. He’ll risk anything to save his friends. But the truth might be what ends it all.

The time for lies is over.

My Thoughts

Well, my student is rather proud of me!  I told him that I would finish these books and I have.  I guess he still expects me to read the prequels too, so you can look forward to those reviews as well.

I liked the way that this installment started.  It was fast-paced and I cared about what happened to Thomas. I was excited to figure out what the cure would be and to finally understand why WICKED was good.  

As I read further, my opinion changed drastically.

What I Liked

  • I thought that the relationship between Minho and Thomas stayed strong.  I loved that this was the one thing I could count on throughout all of the books.  They definitely had each other's backs when the going got rough, which was most of the time.
  • I loved that Brenda went from being a relatively small character to an important one.  I am a sucker for character development and there was a little bit more with Brenda than with the others.  

What I Didn't Like

  • What in the world was Newt's note supposed to be?  I really don't understand the secrecy? Why didn't he just pull Thomas aside and tell him what his wishes were? That way, Thomas would have been able to fulfill his request sooner and Newt wouldn't have needed to suffer.  I felt like this was simply added drama that detracted from the rest of the novel.
  • This book did not answer any real questions.  This open ending left me still wondering why in the heck WICKED is good.  Why did the head of WICKED simply give up after so long? There was so much work put into this project and they simply gave up? This does not seem very believable.  
  • I hated that there was very little character development in this novel.  Growth is necessary in a world where you have to fight for your life.  You have to learn so much and endure too many things to remain the same person that you always were.  And yet these characters remain flat.

I'm truly hoping that many of my unanswered questions are answered in the prequels.  There is simply too much left wide open and too much that is underdeveloped in this series.

My Rating

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

An Interview with Sebastiano Lanza

Hi there!  Today, I'm excited to share my interview with Sebastiano Lanza after the publication of his novel That Which Must Happen.

That Which Must Happen is a literary novel about Benjamin, a child able to foresee and forestall events unfolding in his life and that of others. Yet he dreads to reshape them, for these events intertwine each and every existence in a delicate balance. However, when he senses his sole caretaker’s imminent death, he feels he must intervene.

In a fevered state, Benjamin was abandoned in the midst of a winter night, and is now sheltered by Ms Penter, a woman grieving over the loss of her own child. As he’s nurtured back to health, and his presence helps the woman to partially let go of her grief, Benjamin is devastated each and every time he glimpses her imminent demise.

Despite his attempts to alter the events leading to her death, Benjamin knows he won’t be able to save Ms Penter without damaging the delicate balance which entwines each and every life. The same balance he was born to preserve.

That Which Must Happen tackles the theme of fate.
Not to be understood as a series of immutable events leading to a predetermined destination, rather, as a series of interconnected events which can be influenced by our choices.

What is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?

The saying goes, "Never judge a book by its cover." The publishing industry is based on, "Judge a book by its back cover." While, yes, there must be a criteria to decide which books get an in-depth look and which don't, I feel it's oversimplified. Still, I wouldn't say it's unethical. There's also a tendency to avoid risk altogether, hence stagnation in the long run.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Definitely energizes me. The writing in itself is the better part. To imagine all those tiny details, and to see what was on your mind on paper is one the best feelings ever. Especially when that one thing you thought would be great to write turns out to be even better than you could have ever imagined. There's something to it that makes you think, "I'm the greatest!"

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Wanting to overdo it. Possibly, I'm guilty of it as well. Assess your level at first, and be realistic about it. Then work to improve it, and strive to be the best in what you do. Never be afraid to go down unbeaten paths.

                                                                      Does a big ego help or hurt writers?

Definitely! This is no walk in the park. As a writer, you'll hear just about anything about your novel. That same novel on which you spent countless hours obsessing over the best placement of an innocuous comma. A big ego helps, as long as it doesn't become overly so. You'll still need to be able to pick up the useful criticism to mould yourself into a better writer.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

My big ego says I don't have one thus far.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

The day I'll stop trying to write original stories about concepts and ideas that have rarely been looked at in depth, I'll probably stop to write altogether. So far, writing has felt so good to me because it gave me the tools to put to paper ideas I've always been fascinated with. In short, it kept me entertained and interested. For me, that's crucial to try and produce the best writing I can.

Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?

As long as this hypothetical individual is a good observer, I don't see why not. He doesn't need to feel a situation strongly, he just needs to observe it in his imagination and describe it. He'd also be subtle about it. A slight facial expression is worth more than hundred and hundred of words. A situation described so accurately can make the reader feel an emotion, whilst the writer doesn't necessarily need to. Hypothetically.

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

I'm definitely not the type to write a series. On the long run the chances are high for it to become watered down and to make little sense. I much prefer for every novel I write to stand on its own. It makes it more enjoyable for me and, I hope, for the reader. Still, I guess one could say that my works (future ones, I hope) are loosely connected by concepts and ideas.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

"You're doing good, kid. Maybe...don't try so hard. And that comma is fine right there, don't move it any longer!" - "Also, buckle up. It's going to be a long ride."

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

Not that I lacked structure before, but now, having seen all the work that goes on before publishing, I'm even more organized. It keeps me from proof reading my work over and over again while producing even higher quality content. This was a problem for That Which Must Happen. As a side effect, the writing in itself goes a little slower, but that's ok.

How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?

I tend to demand a lot from the reader, I'm not going to lie. If someone would read That Which Must Happen quickly, chances are that someone wouldn't understand a great deal. He'd probably think, "Rubbish! This is a bunch of random events!" And that's not the case. It's not a light read. On the other hand, I reward readers by trying to write compelling, interesting stories. That's what I was aiming for all along.

As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

My puppy, of course. Musetto. Well, he's not a puppy anymore, he's grown a bit. He had the patience to listen to my proof reading, and my reasoning for everything that happens in the novel. To be honest, he did look perplexed at times. It mustn't be easy for him.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Currently I have a comic book that I would like to finish somewhere in the near future. Mostly it's an idea that never went on to be much else. But it has lots of potential. And the other novel I'm currently working on. It involves a priest in pilgrimage to Turkey and a village in Romania. Not so long ago I published a sample chapter on my Wattpad profile. 

What does literary success look like to you?

Like everything else in life, I tend to take one step at a time. Six years ago I was quite sure I wouldn't ever be able to write a full-length book. Two years ago I was quite certain I wouldn't get past page 1 of That Which Must Happen. Four months ago I wasn't quite sure I would ever publish That Which Must Happen. And today, here we are. The key is to keep your head down and put lots and lots of work in what you do. That way, chances are something above average is going to happen sooner or later. It's been an interesting journey so far, I reckon it'll keep being interesting for the foreseeable future.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

The kind of research is dictated by the core matter of the novel. For That Which Must Happen there was a lot of thinking involved, I had to come up with a way for this "active fate" I had imagined to work. It wasn't easy, and I'm sure it's not going to be easy for readers to grasp as well. You really, really need to pay attention to the details, they tell a lot. I became fixated with subtlety whilst writing it. And it shows. For my other novel, which has more historical and folklore elements, I had to dig up quite a lot of material. I'd like it to be as accurate as possible. I read a lot of information before I put pen to paper, but I left the details for last, so they'd be fresh in my mind while writing.

How long were you a part-time writer before you became a full-time one?

I still am a part-time writer! I like the struggle, it keeps me focused.

How many hours a day do you write?

I write as many hours as I can. Even when I don't write, I think about scenes for my next novel and I try to think about how I will put them down. I think about how the plot will evolve and I make diagrams to see how it'll flow. As for a precise amount of hours, I'd say I average 5 or 6 a day.

What did you edit out of this book?

I edited A LOT out of That Which Must Happen. Whilst writing it I recognized that some scenes and concepts would have made it just too long and difficult to grasp. I was definitely biting more than I could chew. Also, the original story did look quite different from the end product, but overall, I like the finished product better. It's neater.

How do you select the names of your characters?

It depends on how important the character in question is. I won't give much thought in naming a secondary character whose role is very limited. Obviously, that changes with main characters and supporting characters. You'll probably find out that the name Benjamin is quite important to understand Benjamin's role in That Which Must Happen. That and a few more hints I give out throughout the novel.

If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?

I'm a land surveyor, so yes, there's that. On the other hand, I could still give a thought about being a chef, or a football manager (I do plan to get a license in the future). Or a professional chess player. I tend to hold many interests, so it's rather difficult to say!

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

I like to imagine That Which Must Happen as a book-sized riddle. It has a defined story, defined characters, and everything else on the surface. But the deeper you dig, the more story and plots you'll find. Some will get it, others will not. I tried to create this interconnection between chapters which fits the underlying theme of the whole novel, fate. In the end, I think it's important to say that this is not my story, I merely wrote it, discovered it. The story came to me on its own, as if it had its own will.

Do you Google yourself?

Sometimes. For research purposes.

What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?

I'd give up absolutely nothing. To get to your destination without a journey is no fun at all. I enjoy seeing my writing getting better day after day; as they say, no pain no gain.

What is your favorite childhood book?

Fiabe Italiane - Raccolte e trascritte da Italo Calvino. I still have it. Definitely one of my favourites. It's a collection of Italian fables; the first one, the orc with feathers is the best probably. 

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

What comes after writing. Editing. It’s terribly slow and headache-inducing. It’s also terribly useful, without it I probably wouldn’t be publishing That Which Must Happen by now. I’m not saying my first draft was a total mess, but close to it. A lot was edited out and in.

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

Anywhere between 6 months and one year. It also depends on day to day life. As is natural, sometimes something of unexpected will happen and the writing has to wait. Right now I'm looking at finishing my next novel inside the next year, but without obsessing over it. It has to happen naturally.

Do you believe in writer’s block? 

I guess it can happen if you don't know yourself well enough as a creative individual. Like everything else in life, it'll come a point when you just can't create anymore if you force it and overdo it. It'll all come to a stop, at least for a time. There needs to be that balance between rest and the creative process. It's very much alike to a self-sustaining cycle. Balance is key to everything.