Monday, March 31, 2014

Book Spotlight: Unforseen (A Kingdom Keepers Novella)


Today's spotlight is on a series that's new to me, but definitely on my radar now! The Kingdom Keepers series, by Ridley Pearson, centers on Disneyland. I ask you, what could be a better setting for a book filled with magic and intrigue?

There are quite a few books out in this series so far, but I'm here to spotlight a novella in particular. Whether you've started this series or not, it still reads as a standalone.

Fairlies Amanda and Jess have won the hearts of Kingdom Keepers fans. Over the years, they’ve protected and supported the five Disney guides with their paranormal abilities. Now for the first time, author Ridley Pearson focuses on the “fairly human” girls, taking us inside Jess’s mind as she and Amanda embark on a journey to unravel her latest prophetic dream.

Jessica’s “gift” to dream of future events is both a blessing and a curse—the same visions that have saved countless lives are pure torment for her. Trapped in a body with a mind that has a mind of its own, Jess is condemned to see things she would often rather not.

Picking up after Kingdom Keepers VI—Dark Passage and leading up to Book VII—The Insider, Unforeseen opens with Jess dreaming of “cracks” in Disneyland. Is this vision something that will consume and destroy her friends, the Kingdom Keepers?

Jess sets out to find answers, embarking on her own nighttime adventure inside the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. There, she encounters an old man with secrets, a young Imagineer-in-training whose future Jess wants to see, and a treasured wonderland about to shatter.

Sometimes, the Unforeseen is better left unknown.

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To celebrate, I've been asked to share a favorite Disney memory from my childhood!

It took me a while to think of a memory to share with you all, but I thought of one that might make you all "awww....". So, away we go!

When I was in high school, I was part of the marching band. One of the things we looked forward to most during the year was heading to Disneyland for the yearly parade! I can't remember exactly what the parade was in honor of, but it happened every year and every year we marched. One year, in the adorably awkward phase of being a young teen, I had a crush on one of my band mates. My friends managed to make us sit together on The Haunted Mansion and... well... I had my very first kiss. Ever.

*cue the aw track*

So there you have it. That's my favorite memory!

I'll stop talking about myself now and get back to the book. Check out the book trailer below, and don't forget to add Unforseen to your reading list! These books made it onto my list, and I can't wait to get a taste with this novella. Happy reading!

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About Ridley Pearson: Ridley Pearson is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than 48 novels, divided almost equally between suspense and young adult adventure. Over the years, his work has been published in two dozen languages, and has been adapted by network television and for the Broadway stage.

His research has spanned the globe and included everything from the engine room of a cruise liner, to a nighttime visit to Walt Disney World’s It’s A Small World ride, to a locked-room visit with inmates at a prison for the criminally insane. The real life aftereffects of this research have at various times helped authorities solve a trio of homicides and briefly made Ridley a silent contributor to an FBI task force charged with the manhunt for the Washington D.C. sniper.

An acknowledged workaholic, Ridley’s hobbies include playing in a rock band comprised of other bestselling writers, snowboarding, and scaling the occasional 200-foot tree. He lives with his wife and two daughters in the Midwest.


Connect with Ridley on the web: 



 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Book Review: The Mark of the Dragonfly


Media Type: Ebook
Title: The Mark of the Dragonfly
Author: Jaleigh Johnson
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Pages: Hardcover; 400
Release Date: March 25, 2014
Source: Publisher
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Content Screening: Mild Violence

HDB Rating: 3 Keys to My Heart

Recommended to: Young readers who love big adventures with brave characters.

Add it on: Goodreads / Amazon / BookLikes
Fans of The City of Ember will love The Mark of the Dragonfly, an adventure story set in a magical world that is both exciting and dangerous.

Piper has never seen the Mark of the Dragonfly until she finds the girl amid the wreckage of a caravan in the Meteor Fields.

The girl doesn't remember a thing about her life, but the intricate tattoo on her arm is proof that she's from the Dragonfly Territories and that she's protected by the king. Which means a reward for Piper if she can get the girl home.

The one sure way to the Territories is the 401, a great old beauty of a train. But a ticket costs more coin than Piper could make in a year. And stowing away is a difficult prospect--everyone knows that getting past the peculiar green-eyed boy who stands guard is nearly impossible.

Life for Piper just turned dangerous. A little bit magical. And very exciting, if she can manage to survive the journey.

Another tough one to review, my friends. The Mark of the Dragonfly held my attention so well, but it just didn't have that spark for me. In fact, to me it almost felt like two different books. The first few chapters introduced me to a wide world, full of mysterious objects that fall from the sky inside of meteors as big as houses. A world of people who scavenge these goods, as an effort to live from day to day. I was intoxicated by the dreamlike quality of this world. I wanted to delve deeper into its mysteries. Then there was a twist, and everything ran on quite a different set of rails than I was anticipating. Was it a bad thing? Not necessarily. Was it what I was looking forward to reading? Not entirely. I'll explain.

First off though, I must give credit where credit is due. The characters in The Mark of the Dragonfly are excellent, and probably my favorite part of the book. Piper is a scrappy little girl. As someone who has had survive on her own, since her father passed, she knows how to take care of herself. I loved her willpower, and her strength. I loved how kind she was, even when those around her didn't have that in them. Round her character out with a girl who has a deep secret, a boy who can shape shift, and a train filled with other interesting characters? You have my attention.

Sadly, as I mentioned above, the remainder of the book just didn't have that spark for me. I still adored Piper. I still waited to see what would happen with her, especially after all the dangerous situations she was bound to face, but I just missed her home. While the 401 was interesting in its own right, and I'll admit that it did allow the reader to see a much more vast look at Piper's world, I still missed the meteors and the objects contained within them. After those first few chapters, even the excitement of train hijackers couldn't quell my curiousity. That, and I feel like maybe there were too many small things that were touched on, but never realized. I can't explain them, because then I'll spoil this for you, but I definitely wanted more.

Still, I can say that this is bound to be a fun read for all those Middle Graders out there. It has just the right amount of adventure, just the right amount of possible danger, to keep you reading on. The Mark of the Dragonfly is the type of story that would be perfect, in my opinion, for those long summer days of vacation. While it wasn't my favorite read, I still recommend it! If you love adventure, mixed with a bit of magic, this is a book for you.




FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for my opinion.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Giveaway Time! The Magic Shop by Justin Swapp!


Yesterday I posted an Author Interview with Justin Swapp, the author of The Magic Swap! In case you missed it, you can click that pretty link. Also let me jog your memory all about this book, because it's one the top on my list! This is such a gorgeous cover!

When Marcus and Ellie's grandparents decide it would be good for them to tend the family business, the children discover a strange, secret world that has been kept from them all their lives. Not only is the family business a front, but the children learn that they've only narrowly escaped death since their birth.

Follow the children, clue by clue, as they uncover the magical feud that has plagued their family for generations. Will the children survive? Will they find their parents? Those are the small questions. First they must discover the secret their grandparents have been keeping from them all these years. It all comes down to what's hidden at the Magic Shop.


Now Justin is offering up three ebook copies of The Magic Shop to you, my lucky readers! Enter below, and don't forget to shout out in the comments why you'd love to win this book. It wins you extra points too.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Book Spotlight + Author Interview: The Magic Shop by Justin Swapp


It's Wednesday bookworms! If you're like me, you're super excited that it's finally the middle of the week. That means all that's left is the countdown to the weekend! Let me make your mid-week day a little better, with another amazing spotlight. This time tantalize your taste buds with Justin Swapp's book, The Magic Shop.

When Marcus and Ellie's grandparents decide it would be good for them to tend the family business, the children discover a strange, secret world that has been kept from them all their lives. Not only is the family business a front, but the children learn that they've only narrowly escaped death since their birth.

Follow the children, clue by clue, as they uncover the magical feud that has plagued their family for generations. Will the children survive? Will they find their parents? Those are the small questions. First they must discover the secret their grandparents have been keeping from them all these years. It all comes down to what's hidden at the Magic Shop.

Please agree with me that this cover is amazing! It's actually the first thing that caught my eye about The Magic Shop and prompted me to ask Justin to the blog :). I'm a sucker for a pretty cover. Add in an epic sounding premise, and you have me hooked! This is on my wishlist. Is it on your yet?

Add it on:

Now, please enjoy an interview with the man of the hour, Justin Swapp! 

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1) Lightning round! Please fill in the blanks:

* If I had to choose one word to describe myself, it would be _Jokester_____.
* My favorite color is _Green______.
* I'd describe my "currently reading" bookshelf as _Too many books, too little time_____.
* If I could only read one genre it would be _Urban Fantasy_____.


2) What is it that draws you to writing Fantasy?

The sense of wonder. The ability to escape from reality for a while, and live on another world, by other rules. I've always been an imaginative person, and I just love diving into other people's creative worlds, and getting lost for a while.


3) Are there any books that you'd recommend right now?

Sure, a bunch. I'm usually reading 3-5 books at a time, in little sips. Currently, I'm reading Larry Correia's, Monster Hunter International. Great read. Also, James Dashner's Eye of the Minds. There's also The End Games, Partials, Nightingale, and Wool. I'm enjoying them all. 


4) Please share with us as a tweet (140 characters) about The Magic Shop!

When Marcus and Ellie tend the family Magic Shop, they discover family secrets, and enter a dangerous realm to undo a mistake they made. 


5) What would you say to readers who are looking at picking up your books?

First of all, thank you for your interest! It's very flattering that someone might consider reading one of my stories.

My books tend to be adventurous, and full of twists and turns. I like to keep the reader guessing by having a strong element of mystery present at all times :) I've also written across multiple genres, including horror. So, some of my stories have a darker bent to them.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Book Review: Before They Find Us


Media Type: Ebook
Title: Before They Find Us
Author: Michelle A. Hansen
Publisher: Priest Rapids Press
Pages: Paperback; 334
Release Date: November 2013
Source: Xpresso Book Tours
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Content Screening: Nothing of note

HDB Rating: 3 Keys to My Heart

Recommended to: Readers who enjoy mystery novels, mixed with a little bit of romance.

Add it on: Goodreads / Amazon / BookLikes
I’m going to make you wish you were dead.

Just a text. Seventeen-year-old Rebecca Hales tries not to worry. Probably a wrong number. Not really meant for her, and definitely not related to the crime she witnessed six years ago. Right?

Then two states away, a bomb goes off in her best friend's locker. Soon Ryan is labeled a terrorist and runs to the safest place he knows—Rebecca’s house in small-town Wyoming. It doesn’t take long for the FBI to show up asking questions. Rebecca lies, of course, and says she hasn’t seen him.

Now she's neck-deep in it with him, whatever "it" is. The only way out is to return to Vegas, where Ryan is a wanted man. The city of lies and illusion tests Rebecca’s wits as she struggles to find the person who framed Ryan and why.

Is Rebecca’s text linked to the bombing? And what does it have to do with a six year old murder? Rebecca needs to find out before she loses Ryan—and her own life.

If I had to describe Before They Find Us in just one word, I think I'd choose "okay". This wasn't a book that blew me away. It had a fair amount of cliches, and didn't really add anything new to the overall genre. It did, however, keep me engaged enough to keep on reading through to the end. I'll admit that I honestly wanted to know how things would wrap up. So while I wasn't overly impressed, I did ultimately enjoy this read.

What kept me reading was Rebecca, our main character. There's a backstory for her that is hinted at from the beginning, but only slowly uncovered. It peaked my interest. More than anything else, I wanted to know what that story was. I saw the cracks in Rebecca's well-rounded exterior. I saw the nightmares that plagued her as a glimpse into her mind. I'll be honest, I didn't really care so much if Ryan was guilty or not. I just wanted to see what had broken poor Rebecca so badly.

In fact, my lack of interest in Ryan's character is what made this a tough read for me. The focus on the story is on Ryan. Is he guilty of the school bombing? Rebecca doesn't thnk so. Then again, she might be a bit biased. Is Rebecca feeling something more for him than friendship? While I appreciated that there was a romance brewing under the surface, I felt confused about their relationship overall. I didn't know them well enough to feel excited about it. I love the "friends to couple" aspect, it just didn't feel real to me between these two.

Still, I'll admit that there were enough twists and turns to keep me reading on. There was a good build up of tension to the end. It was exciting that each time I thought I knew what would happen next, I was surprised with the outcome. I'd say that Before They Find Us is a fairly solid story. Unfortunately, it's just bogged down by trying to do too much, and rehashing YA cliches, to feel like anything new. If you enjoy YA reads that mesh romance and mystery though, you might want to give this one a shot.







FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for my opinion.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Book Review: Breadcrumbs


Media Type: Print Book
Title: Breadcrumbs
Author: Anne Ursu
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Pages: Hardcover; 312
Release Date: September 27, 2011
Source: Library
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Content Screening: Mild Violence

HDB Rating: 5 Keys to My Heart

Recommended to: Lovers of fairy tales, both young and old. Anyone looking to get lost in a book.

Once upon a time, Hazel and Jack were best friends. They had been best friends since they were six, spending hot Minneapolis summers and cold Minneapolis winters together, dreaming of Hogwarts and Oz, superheroes and baseball. Now that they were eleven, it was weird for a boy and a girl to be best friends. But they couldn't help it - Hazel and Jack fit, in that way you only read about in books. And they didn't fit anywhere else.

And then, one day, it was over. Jack just stopped talking to Hazel. And while her mom tried to tell her that this sometimes happens to boys and girls at this age, Hazel had read enough stories to know that it's never that simple. And it turns out, she was right. Jack's heart had been frozen, and he was taken into the woods by a woman dressed in white to live in a palace made of ice. Now, it's up to Hazel to venture into the woods after him. Hazel finds, however, that these woods are nothing like what she's read about, and the Jack that Hazel went in to save isn't the same Jack that will emerge. Or even the same Hazel.

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," Breadcrumbs is a story of the struggle to hold on, and the things we leave behind.

Where do I begin? I feel as though anything I write about Breadcrumbs won't do it justice. That all the feelings that are wrapped up inside of me are entirely too large to fit into a review. Still, a review is the only way I know how to show my appreciation for this magical book, and so I'll do my best. I'll tell you now, if I could give this book a million star rating? I would. The entire time I was lost in Anne Ursu's brilliant story, I felt like I might be a bit enchanted myself. That feeling still hasn't gone away.

The writing is exquisite. Ursu weaves her words into a world filled with crystalline white snow. A world filled with boring school days, vivid imaginations, rocky friendships and a web of magic that pulses underneath it all. I knew that this was a retelling of "The Snow Queen" from the synopsis. I thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong. This isn't just a retelling. Instead it is a gorgeous mesh of two parallel worlds. One is a world in which a little girl is looking for where she belongs. For how she is supposed to fit. Then there is another world where steeling yourself against the ice, where forging forward despite the odds, is the only way to survive. This story is many things, but most of all it's a story about growing up and trying to hang onto that piece of yourself that growing up threatens to take away.

I cannot express enough how much I loved Hazel as a character. I've worked with kids for many years, and I know that it's tough to write a middle grade character who is as vibrant and layered as they are. Hazel is so very close to perfection in that respect. I believed I was in the mind of a fifth grader. I believed that Hazel was a real person with real thoughts and feelings. It's true that she is wise beyond her years, but I think I saw a little bit of myself in her. Reading and imagination go hand in hand. They take you magical places, and help you see the world in a new light. For Hazel, they show her that sometimes words are plastic flowers. That sometimes parents are just as lost as you are. Most of all, that sometimes the only thing you can do is push forward. Especially when your best friend needs you.

If I don't stop here, I'll gush for ages. I really will. I loved everything about this book. I smiled, and I cried. I drank this down like a person who hasn't had anything to drink in years. There was something missing inside me, something that called me to read this book. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, this is the type of book that I want to read to my someday children. I would love to wrap myself up in its pages and live there forever. This book is pure magic, and it settles right into its rightful spot on my favorite books of all time.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Book Review: The Secret Side of Empty


Media Type: Print Book
Title: The Secret Side of Empty
Author: Maria E. Andreu
Publisher: Running Press Kids
Pages: Hardcover; 336
Release Date: March 11, 2014
Source: Publisher
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Content Screening: Violence

HDB Rating: 4 Keys to My Heart

Recommended to: Everyone. This is a beautiful book and I recommend it to everyone!

Add it on: Goodreads / Amazon / BookLikes
As a straight-A student with a budding romance and loyal best friend, M.T.’s life seems as apple-pie American as her blondish hair and pale skin. But M.T. hides two facts to the contrary: her full name of Monserrat Thalia and her status as an undocumented immigrant.

But it’s harder to hide now that M.T.’s a senior. Her school’s National Honor Society wants her to plan their trip abroad, her best friend won’t stop bugging her to get her driver’s license, and all everyone talks about is where they want to go to college. M.T. is pretty sure she can’t go to college, and with high school ending and her family life unraveling, she’s staring down a future that just seems empty. In the end, M.T. will need to trust herself and others to stake a claim in the life that she wants.

Author Maria E. Andreu draws from her personal experience as a (formerly) undocumented immigrant to explore an issue that affects over one million children in the U.S. But while the subject matter is timely, it is M.T.’s sharp, darkly funny voice and longing for a future that makes this story universally poignant.

There's a little piece of myself that this book took, that I don't think I'll ever get back. I'm not sure I want it back. The Secret Side of Empty struck that perfect spot, right in the deepest parts of my heart, that made me feel the tiniest bit empty myself. M.T.'s story is one that I've seen firsthand. I've seen families broken by the system, unable to do anything but survive. I knew this book dealt with illegal immigration. I knew I'd be meeting a girl who was living it. I just didn't know that it would hit me this hard.

What is so interesting about The Secret Side of Empty is that M.T.'s life is set against the backdrop of wealth. The school she attends is filled with the privileged masses. Her best friend Chelsea is an amazing person, but her life seems so perfect compared to M.T.'s own. It's a heartbreaking premise. I sat, and watched, as M.T. slowly lost more and more of herself. When you're a Senior in high school, you're supposed to be looking forward to the future. What do you do when there doesn't seem to be a future? When you feel trapped in the life that has been built for you?

That's the thing that struck me most of all. The unfairness of it all. Maria E. Andreu builds an protagonist who deserves the world. She is brilliant, caring, and filled with a zeal to learn. Here is a girl who reads for pleasure, and actually enjoys tests. A girl who wants nothing more than to have a future. To watch this sucked away by people who didn't understand what they were doing ate at me. Her father, who hated what she had become and was abusive. Her school, who couldn't see past what M.T. couldn't say. And even her poor mother, who felt helpless and could only watch.

I can't really explain to you the levels that this book explores. There's so much about finding yourself, about struggle, about friendship. The Secret Side of Empty may have had its moments that I didn't connect with, but overall this book took my breath away. There are books I read that I enjoy, and then there are books I read that make my heart hurt a bit but make me feel fulfilled. This is one of those books, and I'm so glad it was placed in my hands.




FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for my opinion.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Book Spotlight + Guest Post: Rumpled, by Lacey Louwagie


If there's one thing I love doing on this blog, it's putting new authors on your radar! There's so many tantalizing books out there, just waiting for you to discover them. I'd like to help that along. So, let's get started with today's book spotlight, shall we?

Hold on to your fairy tale hats, my friends! Today's author is bringing out a new take on a story you know and love. Please give a warm welcome to Lacey Louwagie, author of Rumpled.

Gold for a poor girl,

Beauty for a twisted man,

A child for a powerful sorcerer . . .

Rumpelstiltskin can change anything he touches into gold, but he cannot change his own twisted body. The sorcerer Laurus can make Rumpelstiltskin tall, strong, and handsome—but he will only work his magic in exchange for a child in its first year of life.

When Emily’s deluded father claims she can spin straw into gold, the King demands proof. Caught between a mad father and a mad king, Emily’s life hangs in the balance. Rumpelstiltskin will help keep up her ruse for three nights—if she promises him her firstborn child.

When the King decides to marry Emily, the pretense must continue for much longer. And what Emily offers Rumpelstiltskin in return for his continued help has the power to change everything.

This retelling of “Rumpelstiltskin” is best suited for ages 14 and up.


I don't know about you, but fairy tale retellings are one of my favorite things in this bookish world. There's something about seeing a story I already adore, brought to life in a new way, that makes me smile. I'll stop talking and let Lacey take the stage now though. Enjoy her guest post below, and make sure to read the bottom for a special surprise!


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At first glance, a twisted, gold-spinning dwarf, a group of giggling girlfriends, and a writer with a perplexed husband don't seem to have much in common, but these are the primary ingredients in my newly released novella, “Rumpled.”

I have an ongoing joke with my friends from college in which we bargain or bet away our firstborn children over trivial matters.

“I'll bet you my firstborn child that the DJ's going to play more Eminim music.”

“If you go out in the cold and get us takeout, you can have my firstborn child.”

We're all in our thirties now, and none of us have children yet. This might shed some light onto why.

When my husband overheard one of these light-hearted bargains, he was quite alarmed. It wasn't fair, after all, to unilaterally bargain away nonexistant firstborn children. (Somehow, the fact that I'd been making these bargains since long before I knew him didn't make it any better.) He then asked me a hypothetical question about such a bargain that I couldn't get out of my mind. I knew I wanted to write a story to explore a bargain that fit his hypothetical situation. (I apologize for not listing the exact question here, but to do so would include a “Rumpled” spoiler. The question is included in the book's acknowledgments page, though.)

Although I initially planned to write something totally from scratch, when I started to brainstorm I thought about the many stories that are already part of our cultural consciousness that involve the bargaining of a firstborn child.

Of all these stories, “Rumpelstiltskin” has always fascinated me. It's fraught with moral ambiguities: Who is the villain—the girl who tries to break her bargain, or the dwarf who demands an unreasonable price for his help? Is it meant to teach us that it's OK to break your promises if you made an unwise bargain, or if you are beautiful and the opposing party is ugly? The motives are also mysterious. Why does Rumpelstiltskin want a child? And why does he give the Queen an “out” after the child is born—is it compassion, or pride?

So along with my husband's initial question, my mind buzzed with these questions as well. So for about three years, I used “Rumpelstiltskin” as the framework around which I could imagine some—not at all definitive—answers.

I knew when “Rumpled” was done that it was at an awkward length to submit to traditional publishers—at about 26,000 words, it fell far short of the 50,000+-word novel length most publishers prefer, while it was also about 15,000 words too long for even the most generous short-story market. It seemed just the right length to fill a three-hour plane flight, though, so I decided to publish it as an ebook.

If you love old stories with new skins the way I do, I hope you'll give it a try. To that end, I'm offering free downloads on March 19th and 20th. The paperback version is also available at Amazon.com.

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Thank you so much Lacey!

Did you hear that bookworms? A free book! Snag your copy of Rumpled starting now, and until the end of the March 20th. Coming to this post too late to participate in the promotion? No problem! Here's a few giveaways that stay open longer. 


Make sure to add Rumpled to your reading list!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Book Review: The Cruelty


Media Type: Ebook
Title: The Cruelty
Author: S. Bergstrom
Publisher: JKSCommunications
Pages: Paperback; 377
Release Date: March 15, 2014
Source: Publisher
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Content Screening: Violence; Adult Language

HDB Rating: 5 Keys to My Heart

Recommended to: Readers who enjoy deeply written, fast paced thrillers with an amazing protagonist!

Add it on: Goodreads / Amazon / BookLikes
When her diplomat father is kidnapped and the U.S. Government is unable to help, 17 year-old Gwendolyn Bloom sets off across the sordid underbelly of Europe to rescue him. Following the only lead she has—the name of a Palestinian informer living in France—she plunges into a brutal world of arms smuggling and human trafficking. As she journeys from the slums of Paris, to the nightclubs of Berlin, to the heart of the most feared crime family in Prague, Gwendolyn discovers that to survive in this new world she must become every bit as cruel as the men she’s hunting.


Pardon my language, but holy shit. Why isn't this book a movie? The Cruelty is so expertly written, so fast-paced, so impressive, that I don't really know what else to say to start this review. I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but I can definitely tell you that it was not to be so wholly immersed. I read this from cover to cover in about three hours. I pawed through the pages like a woman possessed. Yes, it's that good.

To get this out of the way, let me give you a quick heads up. This is a book that begs you to suspend disbelief to fully enjoy it. Think of it as an action-packed Hollywood blockbuster. Yes, things happen that are convenient. Yes, Gwendolyn is only 17. In the hands of this talented author, that doesn't mean a damn thing. You'll want to believe. S. Bergstrom treats us to the transformation of a young girl. The transformation from your typical, shy teenager, to a kick-ass covert operative. I hate to compare things, but honestly? Think Taken, if Liam Neeson were a 17-year-old girl. Are you hooked yet? Just wait.

Add in the rich backdrop of Europe, and this book had my undivided attention. Gwendolyn finds herself is the darker, less traveled parts of Europe on her mission to find her father. She sleeps in slums, cons people for money, and does things that she never thought herself capable of doing. The Gwendolyn at the end of the book is someone who is so totally different from who she once was, that it's mind boggling. She's harder, stronger, and definitely not someone you'd want to mess with. I gaped at the events in this book. I really did. There's this undercurrent of violence to everything that happens. It's gritty, but it's also realistic. These things are going on out there, whether we want to believe it or not.

I know I'm rambling. I can't help it. This book stole my capability to wax poetic. I think it sums it all up to say that The Cruelty is like your favorite action movie, but with a younger protagonist. It deals with human trafficking, violence for the sake of violence, and all those dark things we choose not to think about. It does it well too. Read this. That's all I can say to you. That, and that this is an author I will be watching very closely from now on.




FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for my opinion.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Spotlight + Author Interview: Blood & Lilies by Lyn Croft


Who's in the spotlight today? That'd be Lyn Croft, author of Blood & Lilies! Looking for something a little more supernatural in your reading list? Check out this book.

First in the Bloodlines Series

Once cast from Heaven, Zillah has vowed to destroy God and overtake his kingdom. But a key is needed to open the gates between the two realms.

The Key to the gate walks the earth in the form of a woman...young, innocent and completely unaware of her importance in the battle between good and evil. Once her blood is shed, Zillah can open the portal to release her father...Lucifer himself.

Cara, a college sophomore, is quickly thrown into the world of the supernatural, as well as learning of her true ancestry. Vampires, werewolves and the Nephilim are now a part of her reality. As the beings struggle to protect her, she fights to keep her sanity as her mortal realm is crushed.

Secrets are revealed that could shatter Cara’s new found love, as well as lead to her ultimate death. A family is torn apart as the battle to save the key leads them down a road of betrayal and heartache. Loved ones are lost, lines are crossed, and nothing is as it seems. Lies and truths twist and turn, leaving us with only one question…
Lyn was kind enough to agree to an interview as well! Please enjoy her answers below, and don't forget to add Blood & Lilies to your reading list!

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1) Hi Lyn! Thank you so much for agreeing to be in the spotlight today. Let's start with a lightning round, shall we? Please fill in the blanks:

* My favorite snack food is Chips and Salsa
* One book that I've read over and over is Twilight, by Stepanie Meyer
* Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a television show that I can't get enough of.
* Right now I'd absolutely recommend you read Ellie Stanton (The Heller Park Series), by Aurora Zahni


2) What was your inspiration for Blood and Lilies?

I’ve always been intrigued with mythology of angels and demons, and have a deep love for vampires. I wanted to explore this world and give my take on their origins.


3) Can you share with us what you enjoy about writing Fantasy? Also if I'm wrong about the genre, please correct me! ;)

I do write fantasy as well, and love the genre. There’s a freedom that comes with it, by being able to create your monsters. There is also a challenge of being able to make it believable to the readers as well. I get to create worlds that don’t exist in our reality, and think it’s a wonderful escape.


4) What was your favorite part about the writing process?

Watching the story come to life on the pages. It’s remarkable to watch it happen.


5) What would you say to readers who are looking at picking up a copy of Blood and Lilies?

Clear your calendar and get ready for a page turning adventure!


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Lyn Croft is a sci-fi fantasy writer born and raised in sunny Southern California. There, she raises her daughter, works full time, writes novels, and plays video games in her spare time.

Her new book, "Blood & Lilies ~ Bloodlines" is her debut novel, and the first in a series of epic tales for the battle between good and evil.

Find Lyn on:

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Book Spotlight + Guest Post: X&Y by Rebecca Finlayson


 

I hope you're ready, because there's a stellar guest post headed your way right now! Today the spotlight is on X&Y by Rebecca Finlayson, a book all about people who design humans and the webs they weave. Sound like a book up your alley? Check out the synopsis!

Olivia Adonane has it all; remarkable intelligence, stunning beauty, and – as the daughter of the head of the Triad, Society’s top three Human Designers – immeasurable wealth. Yet, all is not as it seems. Olivia discovers a dark secret about her homeland, formerly known as Great Britain, where humans are designed in the womb, and she watches her best friend, Lily, die in a secret chamber below the Triad Building in London. From here on, she has a choice. Will she continue on her pre-designed path, following in her father’s footsteps to become the country’s most powerful Human Designer? Or will she seek to rebel against the government, attempting to expose and overthrow the seemingly-invincible regime so that her fellow citizens can be truly free?

Rebecca has written up a great guest post, so I'll stop rambling and get right to it! Here it is, for your enjoyment.

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The Power of Words

From September 2012 to July 2013 I did something crazy. I didn't have a formal job. Having done full-time education seventeen years, followed by full-time work for two years, deciding to take some time out to write was such a surreal thing to consider. I'd had so many stories whirring around in my mind for so long, but the thought of quitting work for a bit so I could actually sit down for hours at a time and put the stories to paper was quite daunting. Thanks to the support of my amazing husband, though, I did it, and I'm so glad that I did.

One of the first things I did before writing my stories was figuring out exactly why I wanted to write. The first thing that came to mind was the amazing feeling that you get from creating worlds that are entirely your own, but there was more to it than that.

Writers have tremendous power. How is it that squiggles on a bit of paper can make you laugh, cry, even want to throw the object in which they are contained across the room?

I had to figure out how exactly I was going to wield my own little bit of power. I was confident  (hopefully falling short of arrogant!) that people were going to read what I was going to write, be they few or many. I knew that I wanted to inspire and encourage teenagers – girls, in particular – because they face so much more pressure in our society than ever before. I decided that I needed to create characters who were kick-ass but not always in obvious ways. I knew that my characters needed to be relatable and, while they may not always be sure of their identity, they would learn to accept themselves. And most of all, while I would enjoy the writing process, I would need to be sure of the message I wanted to send. Because good books always stay with you long after you turn the last page, I needed to ensure that my words could teach the readers something good.

Sending out “X&Y” into the void has been a tremendous experience. I've had overwhelmingly positive feedback so far, for which I'm grateful. I'm really looking forward to the readers who want to converse with me about how the book made them feel and think, because that's what I always want to do when I've read something amazing.

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Since graduating in 2010 with a degree in Classical Civilisation, Rebecca worked as a Special Educational Needs Teaching Assistant at Blue Coat Academy in Coventry. She took a year out from September 2012 to July 2013 in order to engage in charity work and concentrate on some writing projects. During that time she completed two novels and began work on a third. Her debut novel, a YA Dystopian fiction called “X&Y”, is now available on Amazon Kindle with a free seven-chapter sample. Her second novel, an epic fantasy entitled “The Secrets of Nethiaria: The Magician's Book” will be released as an ebook in Late Spring 2014. You can find her at @finlaysonauthor or www.rebeccafinlaysonbooks.blogspot.co.uk



Saturday, March 15, 2014

Book Review: Stim


Media Type: Ebook
Title: Stim
Author: Kevin Berry
Publisher: Waspie Publishing
Pages: Kindle; 176
Release Date: October 16, 2013
Source: Xpresso Book Tours
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Genre: Contemporary Fiction

HDB Rating: 4 Keys to My Heart

Recommended to: Readers who are looking for an honest glimpse into the inner workings of a person with Asperger's Syndrome.

Add it on: Goodreads / Amazon / BookLikes
Robert is different. He has Asperger's Syndrome. He experiences the world differently to 99% of the population. Follow his entertaining and highly empathetic story as he struggles to realise and accept who he really is, try to understand other people—which he cannot—and find a girlfriend. Especially find a girlfriend—he's decided it's his special project for the year. Accompanied on this transformative journey by his quirky flatmates, Chloe (who also has Asperger's, amongst other things), Stef (who hasn't, but doesn't mind) and their oddly-named kitten, Robert endures a myriad of awkward moments in his quest to meet a nice, normal girl...and not even a major earthquake will stop him.

This absorbing and humorous story is starkly told from Robert's point of view, through the kaleidoscope of autistic experience.

I often like to step out of my comfortable reading zone, and take a chance on something different. When I saw that Stim dealt with Asperger's Syndrome, I was intrigued! I've yet to stumble upon a book that deals with a character who has Asperger's, much less one that's actually written in his voice. I fell for the idea that I'd be getting a glimpse into not only how Robert felt on a day to day basis, but also how he perceived the way the rest of the population behaved as well.

Kudos to Kevin Berry, as this is a very well written book. It's true that there are portions that read a little slowly, but you need to take into account the fact that this is all from Robert's journal. Here is a character who loves economics, and doesn't understand the social cues that mean you're bored of listening to him go on and on. Robert likes order, he likes things to be easy to understand. We as a population? We're pretty much anything but those very things. Reading from his point of view, looking at myself though his eyes, was jarring and yet completely interesting. Who knew we were so complicated?

What I loved more than anything, was that Robert's story also includes Chloe. I was given the opportunity to see the difference between Robert's outlook, who was still struggling to cope, and Chloe's, who was a bit more comfortable in her own skin. While they were both "Aspie's", Chloe's ability to interact with the world around her was more solid. I liked that she was there for Robert. I enjoyed the fact that she kept him grounded, and showed him how to live life. These two were so perfect for one another, it was hard not to root for them to end up together.

I'll admit that this book probably won't be for everyone. Being in Robert's mind isn't always easy. As I mentioned, he does go on in length about certain things. Plus some of the situations he finds himself in border on the kind of awkward that makes you, as a reader, want to look away in embarrassment for him. Still, Stim is nothing but honest and that's what I appreciated about it. I'm glad I stepped out of my comfort zone, and I hope you'll take a chance too.





FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for my opinion.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Book Review: Cruelty (Episode: One)


Media Type: Ebook
Title: Cruelty (Episode: One)
   *Series: Cruelty (Serial Novel)
Author: Edward Lorn
Publisher: Self-published
Pages: Ebook; N/A
Release Date: October 5, 2013
Source: Purchased
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Genre: Horror

HDB Rating: 4 Keys to My Heart

Recommended to: Readers who love to be scared, and have a strong stomach.

Add it on: Goodreads / Amazon / BookLikes
CRUELTY is a serial novel in ten parts.

Episode One.

On a lonely stretch of deserted Texas highway, Will Longmire breaks down. But he’s not alone.

In the dead of night, Innis Blake hits someone, or something, with her car. The figure shouldn’t be getting up. But it is.
An unstoppable force now stalks Will and Innis. And before the night is over, both strangers will know the face of Cruelty.

Forgiveness is only a few miles down the road, but safety is nowhere in sight.

Great Odin's Raven! Yes, I quoted Anchorman. Yes, it was necessary. Cruelty most definitely packs a punch. I've said it before and I'll say it yet again, Edward Lorn is an amazing writer. This may be a serial novel, which means that each episode is rather short, but there's so much packed into this story. I'm both floored, and absolutely terrified.

Let me premise my review by saying that I hate dolls. That might seem a bit harsh to you, but honestly I do. There's something about those soulless, staring eyes that just creeps me out to no end. Lo and behold, I stumble upon a book whose main character is something from my darkest nightmares. I've shuddered while reading horror before. This book though? I was honestly paranoid while reading it. I can still mentally picture that face.

Which brings me to my next point, Lorn's writing is stellar. It's so perfectly descriptive, that it's hard not to form a mental picture. From the lonesome highway, to the decrepit trailer park, I saw it all unfold in my mind. I wasn't just reading this story, I was living it. Quite honestly, it was deliciously twisted. I wanted to look away, but I simply couldn't. What do you do when the unspeakable horror approaches you from the darkness? You freeze, and you watch. Even when you don't want to.

Although the ending of this particular episode didn't quite sate my needs, I absolutely know that I'll be back for more. It's testament to how addictive this serial novel is that I was terrified, and yet am fully willing to head right back on in. All I have to say while I wait to read the next episode? Bring it on, you creepy doll-faced bastard. Bring it on.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book Review: Side Effects May Vary


Media Type: Ebook (ARC)
Title: Side Effects May Vary
Author: Julie Murphy
Publisher: Harper Collins/Balzer + Bray
Pages: Hardcover; 336
Release Date: March 18, 2014
Source: The Fantastic Flying Book Club/Publisher
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Content Screening: Mild Adult Language

HDB Rating: 3 Keys to My Heart

Recommended to: Readers who want a different take on a character who is dealing with cancer.

Add it on: Goodreads / Amazon / B&N
What if you’d been living your life as if you were dying—only to find out that you had your whole future ahead of you?

When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, her prognosis is grim. To maximize the time she does have, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs—however she sees fit. She convinces her friend Harvey, whom she knows has always had feelings for her, to help her with a crazy bucket list that’s as much about revenge (humiliating her ex-boyfriend and getting back at her arch nemesis) as it is about hope (doing something unexpectedly kind for a stranger and reliving some childhood memories). But just when Alice’s scores are settled, she goes into remission.

Now Alice is forced to face the consequences of all that she’s said and done, as well as her true feelings for Harvey. But has she done irreparable damage to the people around her, and to the one person who matters most?

Julie Murphy’s SIDE EFFECTS MAY VARY is a fearless and moving tour de force about love, life, and facing your own mortality.

This book has me flip-flopping over how I feel about it. On the one hand, Side Effects May Vary is a rather refreshing take on a book involving a character who is dying of cancer. See, Alice isn't going quietly. She isn't upbeat, and cheery about her fate. She is, however, looking to leave a lasting impression. Which brings me to the other side of this arguement, Alice's bucket list isn't exactly a nice one. I'll explain more below but her outlook, more than anything, is what truly made this book a tough one for me.

Let's start with what I liked about Alice. She's fiery, passionate, and not afraid to stare death in the face. Unfortunately she's also extremely hard to like at times. When Alice finds out that she's dying, she wants to spend her last few months turning things around. This includes some kind acts, but it also includes a whole lot of pranks, revenge, and utter pettiness. Let me tell you, she drove me nuts during this time. I just couldn't see someone, even a young girl, wanting to use her last months on Earth to enact petty revenge schemes. So while I liked Alice in some aspects, I also despised her in others.

My saving grace was Harvey. He's the perfect example of a character who isn't a "bad boy" done right. He's sweet, funny, and wears his heart on his sleeve. A heart that is, in fact, so huge that it affects everyone around him. He loves his mom, works hard, and his love for Alice is blinding in it's intensity. Which, let me tell you, brings me to my next issue: Harvey's treatment at the hands of Alice. She honestly treats him like dirt most of the book. She uses him, abuses him, and then tries to make it all okay in the end. I wasn't buying it. Granted he may have let her, but that just proves his love for her. Harvey deserves better. This boy is perfection. Hell, I'll take him off her hands.

So as you can see, I'm on the fence about Side Effects May Vary. It's nice to see a story where the main character isn't going down without a fight. Where she shows that everything isn't sunshine and rainbows. Where things are messy, and that's okay. I just wish Alice were more caring. I wish she wasn't so petty. I wanted her to be the yin to Harvey's yang, so I could smile at the ending and rejoice. I wasn't given that chance, so Side Effects May Vary gets three stars from this bookworm.






FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. I was not monetarily compensated for my opinion.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Author Spotlight: Edward Lorn


Today I have the pleasure of featuring one of my favorite people on the Internet right now, Edward Lorn!

Call him Edward, call him E., whatever you call him he's definitely one of the coolest authors I've ever had the opportunity to work with. He's funny, honest, and interacts with his readers constantly. If you're looking for your next read, look no further. Edward Lorn's writing is perfection, and that's the truth.

Please read on to find more about this fantastic author, and check out the interview he was kind enough to do! In my opinion, those answers alone make the case as to why you should definitely find him online ;). Happy reading!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Edward Lorn is an American horror author presently residing in the southeast United States. He enjoys storytelling, reading, and writing biographies in the third person.

Once upon a time, during a session of show and tell, a seven-year-old Edward Lorn shared with his class that his baby brother had died over the weekend. His classmates, the teacher included, wept while he recounted the painful tragedy of having lost a sibling. Edward went home that day and found an irate mother waiting for him. Edward’s teacher had called to express her condolences. This was unfortunate, as Edward had never had a baby brother.

With advice given to her by a frustrated teacher, Edward’s mother made him start writing all of his lies down. The rest, as they say, is history.

Edward Lorn and his wife are raising two children, along with a handful of outside cats and a beagle named Dot. He remains a liar to this day. The only difference is, now he’s a useful one.

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AUTHOR INTERVIEW:

1) Lightning round! Please fill in the blanks:

* If I had to choose one word to describe myself, it would be Rotund.

* My favorite color is My wife’s eyes.

* I'd describe my "currently reading" bookshelf as Mercurial.

* An idea is something I definitely need while writing.


2) Did you always know you wanted to be an author, or was it something that found you?

I’ve always been a storyteller, but, when I was a kid, my parents called it lying. My mother bought me a typewriter in the first grade (you can read the entire story on my Amazon.com author’s page) in an attempt to put my overactive imagination to good use, and I haven’t looked back since. In fifth or sixth grade (sorry, I can’t remember which) I entered a statewide writing contest and won a lovely blue ribbon in the fiction category. I made nationals, but didn’t even receive an honorable mention, as my competition was far more seasoned than I. And by seasoned I mean older. And by older I mean I was up against folks with hair the color of Q-Tips.

Funny side note: The story I entered concerned a group of clich├ęd fantasy characters (a barbarian, a dwarf, and an elf) journeying to slay an ornery Minotaur, but I titled the tale “The Matador”. Back then I didn’t know the difference. No one ever corrected me, either. It wasn’t until I dug the story out of a box two decades later that I came across the erroneous title. I still smile when I think about making it all the way to nationals with such a glaringly typo.


3) I know that you're both a writer, and a reader! What would you say is your favorite genre to read? Do you have any book recommendations for us?

My bookshelves are stuffed to the brim with literary fiction and horror. Although a great deal of what I read is a mixture of both—literary horror, like Stephen King, Robert McCammon, Peter Straub, Kealan Patrick Burke, and Joe Hill. I do enjoy genre fiction from time to time: Richard Laymon, Bentley Little, Jack Ketchum, and James Newman rarely disappoint me. 

In the literary fiction category, I enjoy Marissha Pessl, Donna Tartt, and Chuck Palahniuk, just to name a few. I’m currently reading Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, and am enjoying it immensely.

As far as recommendations are concerned, give Marisha Pessl’s Night Film or Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 a try. I doubt you’ll be disappointed, no matter what genres you lean toward.


4) If you could only choose one of your books to be made into a movie, which would you choose and why? What would the tagline on the movie poster say?

Last November, I sold the film option to my ongoing serial novel, Cruelty, but, if it had been up to me, I think I would have picked Bay’s End. That book means a great deal to me, both because it’s very loosely based on my childhood and the friends I had while growing up, along with the fact that it was my debut novel.

Hmmm… tagline, eh? How about: A tale of love, loss, and the depths of human evil. Welcome to Bay’s End.

That’s probably too long, but it’s my party and I’ll be verbose if I want to.


5) What would you say to readers who are looking at picking up your books?

As a reader myself, I know how valuable your time is. Though I cannot guarantee that you will love my work, I will say that I put a great deal of effort into them to make sure my books are, at the very least, well-edited and readable. And finally, although I’m primarily a horror author, I believe that horror should have a point. In my opinion, blood and gore for the sake of shock value is a waste of words. I get to know my characters on an intimate level in the hopes that you will too.


6) Let's round things out with a challenge question:
The zombie apocalypse has begun. You're on the run. You can only carry three items with you, and only have one other person with you. What/who do you choose?

Items:

#1. It, by Stephen King. After all, I’ll need something with which to entertain myself. I’ve read that book four times, and could read it again right now if I didn’t have a TBR full of first reads waiting in the wings; not to mention the novel is big enough so that, if ever the need arose, I could use it to crush a zom-zom’s head.

#2. A roll of duct tape. Not only could I make a highly-flexible, impervious suit of armor, but there’s over a thousand uses for Redneck Weld: tape up the windows and doors; combine a shotgun and an ax to form a dual-ended weapon of epicosity; create a sail for a row boat that I could then use to escape to an undead-free island; patch up a fallen comrade; hold together my bloodied, beaten-up copy of It; or just make a nifty bracelet. The list goes on…

#3. A case of Hormel Chili Hot with Beans. Not only is it my favorite late-night snack, but, if I’m going to be eaten alive, I’m going to give the unlucky shambling corpse that makes a buffet out of my insides a nasty bout of indigestion and a flaming case of the trots. Also, I can use my own flatulence to mask the fact that I’m one of the living. Nothing smells more like parading death than the gaseous expulsions of a chili fan’s exhaust pipe.

Companion: My wife, Chelle, is the strongest, most dedicated woman I know, and she’s also my best friend. She’s been there for me, no matter what, over the past 12 years. We’ve been through some situations that would make an end-of-the-world-brought-on-by-ravenous-cadavers scenario seem like a trip to Disneyland. She’s funny, intelligent, gorgeous, and excels at keeping me grounded. I’d be lost without her.

Thanks for having me, Jessica. We should do this again sometime.

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Abso-freaking-lutely E. You're welcome any time!

As I said readers, and I think this interview has proven ten-fold, E. is one cool guy! To find out more about him you can visit his website, or check out his author page on Amazon to find your next read.


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