Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Book Review: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Media Type: Print Book (ARC)
Title: Another Brooklyn
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Publisher: Amistad
Pages: Hardcover; 192
Release Date: August 9, 2016
Source: TLC Book Tours
Genre: Historical Fiction

HDB Rating: 4 Keys to My Heart

Recommended to: Anyone looking for a gorgeously written look at the streets of 1970's Brooklyn.

Add it on: Goodreads | Amazon | BookLikes
Running into a long-ago friend sets memories from the 1970s in motion for August, transporting her to a time and a place where friendship was everything—until it wasn’t. For August and her girls, sharing confidences as they ambled through neighborhood streets, Brooklyn was a place where they believed that they were beautiful, talented, brilliant—a part of a future that belonged to them.

But beneath the hopeful veneer, there was another Brooklyn, a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways, where ghosts haunted the night, where mothers disappeared. A world where madness was just a sunset away and fathers found hope in religion.

This isn't just a novel, it's a love letter to girlhood. Specifically, it's a gorgeously crafted, prose style, love letter to growing up as a black girl in 1970's Brooklyn. Anyone who has read Jacqueline Woodson's writing, knows that she has a knack for transporting her readers straight to wherever her story is set. In this case, that's even truer than before. Through August's memories, through the snippets that she deigns to share with us, the reader is transported straight back to her childhood in a place that wasn't quite home. A place where the mean streets chewed people up, and spit them back out. Unfortunately, not always whole. You can feel this place, this time, pulsing on the page. Another Brooklyn is stunning, and even that compliment is an understatement.

August allows the reader to follow her back to a time and place where friendship was the only thing keeping her whole. Woodson manages to bring these four girls, and their separate home situations, to life in vivid color. I didn't think it was possible to accomplish that in such a short amount of pages. I was wrong. Each one of these girls is hiding their true self from the others, in the hope that it will allow them to escape into one another for a while. Hoping it will allow them to fade into a group that provides its own kind of family. As those true selves came to light, and I was treated to a glimpse at why these girls needed one another so deeply, my heart broke into pieces. The whole world, at least as they knew it, was against them. Their bravery, as thin a shield as it may have been, was commendable.

If I had one small complaint, it would be that this book simply isn't long enough. I know that seems trivial, since Woodson is clearly capable of weaving a perfect story in this small amount of pages. However I missed these girls after the story was over. I wanted to hear more about their pasts. To live their stories. To be able to fully mourn the ones who didn't make it. I'd have read 400 pages of this, and not even batted an eyelash. That's the kind of writer that Jacqueline Woodson is, and why you should pay attention.  So yes, in case it wasn't obvious, you should read this. It absolutely deserves your time.

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, August 28, 2016

Book Spotlight + Giveaway: Fish Wielder by Jim Hardison

Today's spotlight is one that, admittedly, made me giggle when I first happened upon it. There's a lot to be said for a good cover, and when that cover is definitely out of the ordinary it's even better! I present to you, the spotlight for today, Fish Wielder in all its glory.

Fish Wielder is kind of like Lord of the Rings, set in Narnia, if it was written by the guys who made Monty Python and the Holy Grail while they were listening to the music of They Might Be Giants.

In ancient times, the Dark Lord Mauron cooked the most powerful magic chocolate dessert ever made, the Pudding of Power. One thousand and two years later, the evil leader of the Bad Religion, the Heartless One, is trying to recover the lost pudding in order to enslave the peoples of Grome. Only the depressed barbarian warrior Thoral Might Fist and his best friend, Brad the talking Koi fish, have a chance to save the world of Grome from destruction, but that's going to take a ridiculous amount of magic and mayhem. Thus begins the epically silly epic fantasy of epic proportions, Fish Wielder—book one of the Fish Wielder Trilogy.

Buy Links: 

© 2016 Jim Hardison

Chapter 1

It was the anniversary of something bad.

Thoral Mighty Fist, perhaps the toughest, most mysterious and manly fighter in all the mystical world of Grome, sat in the Inn of the Gruesomely Gashed Gnome in a dark corner,

weeping into his tankard of warm ale. He hated ale, especially when it was warm, although he’d been swilling the stuff since before breakfast. Now it was well after dinner, and all he’d eaten the entire day was a piece of dry toast and a couple of olives as black as his mood. He raised his mug for another bitter sip and the jeweled hilt of the magic broadsword, Blurmflard, poked him in the side like a reminder of past mistakes. It was awkward to sit at a table with a broadsword at your belt, but the mighty barbarian had kept Blurmflard with him at all times ever since the blade was lent to him by his wizard mentor, Yiz. He even slept with it.

As Thoral sat brooding and trying to adjust his position to more comfortably accommodate the blade, a twelve-inch-long orange koi fish walked into the bar on his tail fins. Standing in the entryway, the koi peered around the crowded, dim interior until his bulging eyes fell on Thoral. The fish frowned.

At six feet, Thoral was a head taller than most other human inhabitants of the world of Grome and was so powerfully built that he barely fit at the heavy wooden table at which he sat. He was dressed pirate-style, with a black leather vest buttoned over his otherwise bare chest, tight, plum-colored breeches and knee-high, iron-toed boots. A wide crimson belt bore the magic sword as well as an assortment of leather and velvet pouches. A less attractive or more effeminate man would never have been able to pull off such an outfit, but for Thoral it was no problem. He had chiseled features and a head of thick, golden hair that curled to his massive shoulders. The few strands of gray made him even more handsome–in a seasoned and mature way, of course. His glorious hair notwithstanding, his most striking feature was his piercing gaze. So intense, so smoldering was his stare, that those on the receiving end often felt the need to look away for fear that they would catch fire. There was no word in Gromish for the vibrant purple color of his eyes, but they were violet.

The koi contemplated the warrior. Given his charisma, strength and fighting abilities, Thoral could easily have conquered his own kingdom. But Thoral didn’t seem to care about that kind of thing. He mostly liked to drink and fight and brood and wander around in forests looking at trees. As the fish watched, the mighty warrior burped. The hot gas seemed to sear his manly nostrils so that he blinked as his striking violet eyes watered.

Thoral looked up from his drink and squinted around the bar to see if anyone had noticed his tears and if there was anyone worth fighting. He failed to detect the fish, who was hidden behind the legs of a passing barmaid. The other patrons were humans, except a few half-elves and a handful of drunken gnomes. He could take them all on single-handedly, but he knew from experience that he’d feel even worse after beating them. Especially the gnomes. It was better to do nothing, to sit and drink and wish things were different.

Thoral closed his eyes and hunched forward to lay his tawny-maned head on the table. The rough-hewn planks, though, smelled as if they had been wiped with a mildew-y rag, so he sat back up. He fumbled in one of his many belt pouches for the last of his dried herbs, crushed them between his long, calloused fingers and inhaled their fading minty fragrance. It wasn’t quite strong enough to clear the lingering scent of the mildew.

As Thoral sniffled at his mint leaves, the fish sighed. Shaking his head, he stalked across the sticky floor on his tail fins. The barbarian noticed him with a wince.

“This is the end, Bradfast,” Thoral grumbled at the fish in his outlandish accent, his rough voice heavy with melancholy. Thoral tended to transpose the sounds of v and w and to pronounce th at the beginning of words as z because he was foreign.

“Here we go again,” Brad commented dryly, leaping up onto the bench and then the table. He picked his way across the tabletop and stopped before the warrior. “This isn’t the end, Thoral. It’s just the beginning…or maybe the middle or something. The point is, it’s not over. It’s never over until you give up—or you’re dead.”

“I dost wonder about death,” the barbarian said, as if to himself. He also used outdated words like dost because he spoke High Gromish even though most everybody else spoke the low version. This was also because he was foreign. “Would it truly bring an end? Or just a transition to another world?”

“You’ve had too much to drink, Thoral,” the fish cautioned. “You always get morose when you drink. It’s time we get moving. Maybe go on another adventure or something.”

“I am tired of adventures,” the warrior sighed. “I wish only to go home.” He burped again, and the fish staggered back, blinking.

“Come on, pal. Let’s get out of here,” Brad suggested, fanning himself with a fin. “We’ll fight a monster or go on a quest or steal the jeweled eye from an idol or something. It’ll be fun.”

“My heart is too…” Thoral trailed off. “What is that word that means when something has substantial weight?”

“Heavy,” the fish supplied. Thoral always had trouble remembering that one.

“Heavy. Yes. My heart is too heavy for adventure,” Thoral complained.

“Well, maybe if we pick something really hard, you’ll get killed,” the fish offered.

“A hero’s death?” Thoral asked, perking up just a bit.

“Yeah, sure. A hero’s death.”

“And then I couldst be done with this world,” Thoral murmured.

“Exactly,” Brad affirmed.

“Then let us go,” Thoral said, “this very instant.” He slammed his drink down on the table so hard that some of the ale sloshed out of the tankard, splashing at the fish. The koi danced back, just missing a soaking.

“Up to bed first and we’ll hit the road in the morning,” Brad countered, stepping around the puddle of spilled drink.

“No, we will leave now.” There was a dangerous edge to the warrior’s tone that drew the attention of everyone in the room even though he had not raised his voice. The bar went silent.

“Look, Thoral,” the koi answered, “it’s getting late. I’m tired. You’re drunk. We could both use some sleep. Let’s not make a rash decision that might lead to all kinds of unexpected complications.”

Every eye turned to see the barbarian’s reaction. “We will leave now,” Thoral insisted. The warrior and the fish stared at each other.

“Be reasonable,” Brad tried again. “Just give me one good reason why we shouldn’t wait until morning.”

“We will leave now,” the barbarian declared, “because I am Thoral Mighty Fist!”

Everyone gasped. Brad sagged, defeated. Once Thoral noted that he was Thoral, there was no point in arguing further. Everyone knew it. That’s just how it was.

With that, Thoral drained his pewter tankard and crushed it one-handed. He got unsteadily to his feet, massive muscles rippling under sun-bronzed, battle-scarred skin, and transferred Brad from the tabletop into a belt pouch. Then he tossed a gold coin to the hideously disfigured gnomish innkeeper to pay for the mug he’d ruined even though it couldn’t have been worth more than a few coppers. The gnome had been engrossed in restocking a spice rack over the bar, so the coin struck him in the head and then clattered to the floor. He stepped on it with his clubfoot before it rolled away and then pinched it between his stubby, ring-clad fingers.

“Many thanks, Fist Wielder,” the innkeeper croaked, his one eye glittering from his gashed face as the warrior strode past him. “Where are you headed now? Not to the Godforsaken Swamp, I hope. You should steer clear of that place for a while. There is nothing there but death.”

“I am eager for it,” the barbarian whispered as he strode past the gnome, who frowned and wrung his tiny hands.

Thoral staggered from the bar into the dark, filthy street. Although it was well past sundown, the city was still bustling with all kinds of criminals and cutthroats and that sort of riffraff. They all cleared out of the big barbarian’s way. Three figures, cloaked and hooded in the black robes of the Bad Religion, watched from the shadows as Thoral went to the tavern’s hitching post to untie his massive tiger-striped steed, Warlordhorse. He fumbled with the knot, his fingers clumsy from the ale. He shook his head and tried again.

“Let us attack now,” the leader of the Dark Brothers whispered. “We will take him unawares.”

“Uh…are you sure?” one of his subordinates asked, his voice quavering. “Have you heard the stories about him?”

“We have our orders,” the leader countered tersely. “Besides, he is inebriated, there are three of us, and we have the ultimate advantage…” He trailed off, sliding a dagger from a fold of his robe. The curved blade was slick with oily, black poison. He leered at his minions for a moment, and they reluctantly drew their own poison-coated daggers. The three of them started toward the barbarian while he was distracted.

Thoral was still having no luck with Warlordhorse’s tether, and grew frustrated. He put his face close to the rope, trying to get a better look in the dim light of the moon, and made another attempt. The Dark Brothers crept closer, raising their poisoned blades in unison. Just one scratch and Thoral would be paralyzed before he even felt the wound. Agonizing death would follow within hours, but not before they had had time to drag the warrior before the master of their order to find out how much Thoral knew of their plans.

The Dark Brothers closed in on the unsuspecting champion, swift and silent as death itself.

Jim has worked as a writer, screen writer, animator and director in entertainment and commercials since graduating from Columbia College of Chicago in 1988. He is the author of The Helm, which YALSA praised as one of 2010’s best graphic novels for young readers, and has directed animated commercial and entertainment projects, including spots for M&M's, AT&T, and Kellogg's. He co-founded Character LLC in 2000 and has given story advice to many of the world's largest brands, such as Target, Verizon, Samsung, McDonalds and Walmart, and has even appeared on NBC's "The Apprentice" as an expert adviser on brand characters. Jim lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife, two kids and two dogs. Fish Wielder is his first novel.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Book Review: How To Be You by Jeffrey Marsh

*Please note that this book actually is great for YA too!*

Media Type: Print Book
Title: How To Be You: Stop Trying to Be Someone Else and Start Living  Your Life
Author: Jeffrey Marsh
Publisher: TarcherPerigee
Pages: Paperback; 224
Release Date: August 2, 2016
Source: Publisher
Genre: Self-Help / Self-Exploration

HDB Rating: 5 Keys to My Heart

Recommended to: Readers who are looking for a non-judgmental and fun way to be introspective.

Add it on: Goodreads | Amazon | BookLikes
This book is about how to finally give up on feeling bad about ourselves and discover the best person we can be.

An interactive experience, How to Be You invites you to make the book your own through activities such as coloring in charts, answering questions about how you do the things you do, and discovering patterns in your lives that may be holding you back. Through Jeffrey's own story of "growing up fabulous in a small farming town"--along with the stories of hero/ines who have transcended the stereotypes of race, age, and gender--you will discover that you are not alone, can deepen your relationship with yourself, and find the courage to take a leap that will change your life.

My previous experiences with self-help books have been fairly terrible. Each time someone would come to me and put a book in my hand, while uttering the words "This book is going to change your life!", I've found the contents to be overly preachy. They've always had this miasma of insincerity hanging over them. Which is why, odd as it may sound, I decided to accept a copy of How to Be You for review. I wanted to try again, now that I'm a bit older. I wanted to see if there was a book out there that could change my mind. I owe huge, squishy hugs to Jeffrey Marsh for doing just that.

Marsh's tone is perfectly sincere, the entire length of this book. There's no judgement, and no "THIS IS THE WAY YOU BECOME HAPPY!" being thrown about on the pages. It's more an invitation to take a deep, introspective look at who you are as a person. This book engages the reader with stories from Marsh's own life, little snippets of wonderful hero/ine stories, and prompts to help build self-trust and self-acceptance. The tone is kept light, but it's the honesty here that really made me smile. It's even a bit silly at times, which really helped seal this as something that I wanted to experience. Marsh expresses over and over that being you should be fun! I don't think I'd ever really stopped to think about life that way before I read this book.

The chapter on expressing emotions particularly hit home for me. I love how this isn't for a particular age group, or ethnicity, or lifestyle choice, or anything of that nature. It's a journey for everyone. The chapter on expressing emotion shows this in brilliant color. Everyone feels emotions, sure. Reading through this portion really showed me that we don't stop to think about what those are, really. Or how to deal with them. Or how we don't deal with them. I've been on a personal mission to learn how to better express my own emotions, so it felt good to see printed on the page the fact that it's okay admit when you're feeling anything. Sadness, anger, all the "bad" emotions, are just as important to experience as the good. I needed that validation, and I didn't even know it.

Look, I'm being completely honest with you when I say that my favorite part of this book is just the idea that life is fluid. That's been a lesson that I've learned the hard way, through many a mistake and many an attempt to control the uncontrollable. I wish someone had handed me this book when I was at my darkest moment and just smiled, sat beside me, and let me read through it. Reading it now still helped immensely, and this is something I'll keep close for many more readthroughs, but also something I plan to go and put gently into other reader's hands. Self-care, self-acceptance, self-worth, are all important things that we forget to acknowledge. Marsh has written a beautiful book that reminds us to look inside, and enjoy the crazy, wonderful life we've been given.

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, August 24, 2016

Book Spotlight + Author Interview: Against All Silence by E.C. Myers

Today I'm more than happy to put a glaringly bright spotlight onto E.C. Myers and the SOS series! Myers is one of my favorite authors, both because his writing is consistently amazing and because he's just a wonderful person overall. 

If you haven't yet had the opportunity to discover his books, please do yourself a favor, and do so! It's great timing too, because Against All Silence just released exclusively in B&N stores yesterday. So you won't even need to wait patiently for the sequel. You lucky duck, you.

The Silence of Six (SOS #1)
Paperback, Released May 31st


These are the last words uttered by 17-year-old Max Stein s best friend Evan just moments before he kills himself after hacking into the live-streaming Presidential debate at their high school. Haunted by the unforgettable image of Evan s death, Max s entire world is upended as he suddenly finds himself the target of a corporate-government witch-hunt.

Fearing for his life and fighting for his own innocence, Max goes on the run with no one to trust and too many unanswered questions.

Max must dust off his own hacking skills and maneuver through the dangerous labyrinth of underground hacktivist networks, ever-shifting alliances and virtual identities all the while hoping to find the truth behind the Silence of Six before it s too late.

Against All Silence (SOS #2)
Hardcover, B&N Exclusive Release August 24th

After being a key figure in the exposing of government corruption, Max Stein has spent a quiet semester abroad in Paris, studying, staying off the Internet, and looking for his long-lost mother. But just as he is about to fly back to the United States for the holidays, trouble manages to find him once again.

Max receives a call from Penny, his on-again-off-again girlfriend who is part of the expert hacking duo DoubleThink. She wants him to meet with Ada Kiesler, a high-profile whistleblower hiding out at a foreign embassy in Berlin. Max has no interest in getting drawn into another corporate conspiracy. But when airport security suddenly detains him on suspicion of cyber-terrorism, he has little choice but to get involved. Soon Max and Penny are tangling with a new group of shadowy figures who are determined to control how the world shares its information. And some figures from Max s past resurface, including his own mother, whose life has mirrored his own in more ways than he d realized.

In this action-packed follow up to "The Silence of Six," Max and his hacker friends must fight to expose a corrupt corporation that has been systematically taking control of the Internet."

Now, please enjoy an interview with the wonderful E.C. Myers! He was so kind as to let me grill him a bit, and I so appreciated it. As always, don't forget to leave some love in the comments and go add the books to your reading list!

1) Lightning round! Please fill in the blanks:

* If I had to choose one word to describe myself, it would be diligent.
* My favorite color is blue.
* I'd describe my "currently reading" bookshelf as expansive.
Time is something I definitely need while writing.

2) As a reader, what would you say is your favorite genre to read? Do you have any book recommendations for us?

I tend to read more science fiction than anything else, and of that most of it is young adult. I haven’t had time to read as much as I’d like in the last two years, so I’m still catching up on a lot of recent releases, but I always have many books to recommend! The YA SF book I recommend most is Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve, the first book in an amazing quartet that everyone should read. The last science fiction book that completely blew me away was The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. More YA recommendations: the Colors of Madeleine series by Jaclyn Moriarty and Gwenda Bond’s Lois Lane books, Fallout andDouble Down. If you like middle grade, read The Greenglass House by Kate Milford and Omega City by Diana Peterfreund.

3) What kind of research did you have to do for this series? Was there a lot of digging into conspiracy theories?

I read much more about conspiracy theories for the first book, The Silence of Six. I’m sure some of that research stuck with me, along with my extensive review of books (fiction and nonfiction), films, and documentaries on hacking and social media. For Against All Silence, I was more interested in learning as much as possible about whistleblowers and people who have leaked confidential information such as Edward Snowden. I also tried to dig more into the dark web and darknet markets like the Silk Road, and get a better grasp of how the internet was developed and how it actually works—and doesn’t work.

4) Was there anything that you learned while writing this series that really surprised you?

Probably the same thing that surprises many readers: just how fragile the internet and online security and our privacy truly are. Pretty much everything and everyone can be hacked given enough time and effort, even if you have good security practices—and most people don’t. How secure are your online passwords? When was the last time you changed them?

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

First of all, thank you! I hope you enjoy my books, whether you buy them or borrow them. (If your library doesn’t have what you’re looking for, please request it!) I also would very much appreciate it if you took a few minutes to post even a quick review in as many places as possible. If you really like the book, please tell your friends and spread the word on social media. These are the best ways to make sure I can write more books for you. And, by the way, I always love hearing from readers, and I try to respond to every message I receive (eventually).

E.C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts and raised in Yonkers, NY by his mother and the public library. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the prolific NYC writing group Altered Fluid. In the rare moments when he isn't writing, he blogs about Star Trek at The Viewscreen, reads constantly, plays video games, watches films and television, sleeps as little as possible, and spends far too much time on the internet. His first novel, FAIR COIN, won the 2012 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Book Review: Genesis by Matt K Turner

Media Type: Ebook
Title: Genesis
Author: Matt K Turner
Publisher: Synchrony Publishing
Pages: Kindle; 322
Release Date: May 4, 2016
Source: Author
Genre: Science Fiction / Thriller

HDB Rating: 4 Keys to My Heart

Recommended to: Readers who enjoy action packed stories that aren't too dense, and feature vividly written characters.

Add it on: Goodreads | Amazon | BookLikes
Tech icon Aiden Markusson has it all—the lake house, the luxury car, the fastest growing company in Seattle, and the love of his life wearing his engagement ring. But his perfect life comes apart at the seams when he begins to experience blinding headaches and strange bursts of physical ability. Suspicion and paranoia lead him down a rabbit hole of corporate conspiracy where he finds out he’s not losing him mind, it’s much worse than that. 

Genesis is a mind-bending thrill ride through a near future where Aiden must face the possibility that he is a bio-fabricated being created by a ruthless multinational corporation. The closer Aiden gets to the truth, the more he becomes something unprecedented, a being more powerful than anyone thought possible. If he can learn to harness his newfound abilities in time, Aiden might find a way to save the woman he loves, his species, and possibly... the future of the human race. 

Film and television writer Matt K. Turner comes storming out of the gates with his debut sci-fi action thriller. Blending a surprisingly smart mixture of heart pounding action, heady reflections on the nature of humanity, and witty comedic flare, Genesis is a new brand of sci-fi for enthusiasts and newcomers alike.

With good looks, charisma, and plenty of wealth to spare, Aiden Markusson definitely seems to be leading a charmed existence. When he's first introduced to the reader, there's no doubt that Aiden is just an abnormally lucky guy. That is, until the "complications" begin. Terrible headaches are normal, but headaches accompanied by sensory distortion and freakish strength? Maybe not so normal. So begins Aiden's descent into a world filled with mercenaries, bio-mechanical beings, and more danger than he ever thought possible.

Massive kudos to Turner for setting Aiden up as such a richly drawn human being at the beginning of this story. His kindness, doubts, and deep love for his fiance wove together a man who that was impossible to ignore and easy to like. I enjoyed the fact that Aiden was more than just a rich mogul. He had a heart, and soul. Which made it that much more emotional to watch him slowly discover his true nature. It would have been easy to skim right over that, but Turner didn't settle.

Honestly, that's true of the majority of this book. Every chance to skim over something key, Turner ignored. Aiden's insanely accurate assessment of situations meant that most scenes that were described in crisp detail. For the most part this was absolutely wonderful. Especially when it came to epic fight scenes! The downside was that our darling Aiden also got a bit introspective quite often. Being in his head wasn't easy, and when he mulled over the same problem for a few paragraphs, it got to be a little much at times.

I can, however, attest to the fact that Genesis is a beautifully accessible Science Fiction book. The drawn out descriptions are one of the reasons why that's so true. There were no dense scientific explanations. Instead, the reader was treated to a front row seat as Aiden discovered how his body worked. The whole book takes an action based approach to all explanations. I supposed you'd describe as learning, but with high stakes involved. That, in my opinion, was exactly what made this book such a compulsive read.

About half way through is when this book really starts to shine. The twists come one after another, each one perfectly placed and hitting like a punch to the gut. After being so hooked on Aiden as a character, and invested in his survival, this was where I found myself reading breathlessly. The latter half of this book reads much like an action movie, except without the terrible dialogue. Every move that Aiden made, each one of his adversaries introduced, every motivation described, all of it was lush and well-written. Turner does an excellent job of creating realistic characters, while still staying firmly in the world of bio-mechanical madness that he's created. It's a thing of beauty.

So, final verdict? If you're a fan of Science Fiction, particularly with an action fueled twist, this will be a book that you'll greatly enjoy. Despite any small qualms I may have had, overall this was a wonderful read. I'd definitely give this a space on your reading list!

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, August 19, 2016

Author Interview + Giveaway: Serenity by India R Adams

India R. Adams
(Forever, #1)
Publication date: July 26th 2016
Genres: Paranormal, Young Adult
To say I know where this story begins is to say I remember what lifetime started it all…and why. What I do know is this lifetime is hard and cruel…maybe like the rest. That is until I meet him–the light that shines and guides me. To where I don’t know but my soul chooses to follow regardless. I believe it has done this before. I believe I will follow him…forever.

A destructive home life silently tears Serenity, a 16 year old girl, apart until her broken spirit is given a gift in the form of an old journal that sends her a visitor in the night.

Away from the sun I close my eyes
and release myself into the unknown
I hope she is there
I hope she is there…

The cloaked woman teaches Serenity that the lingering feeling of missing a part of her soul, may not be a figment of her imagination and with these words Serenity’s journey, of this lifetime, begins.

The toll on my spirit had slowly broken me down—day by day, night by night, drink by drink, hit by hit—to the limp, fragile, lost girl that Dereck Hamilton . . . carried away.

1. Serenity is being made into a movie. 

What is the tagline on the poster? Some moments are so profound, they last… forever.

2. I know that it's terribly difficult to choose, but which of your characters is your favorite to write? 

Oh you devil trying to make me choose! In Serenity, I’d have to say… Rocco and Sky. Their constant banter was so much fun! The most challenging? Serenity because of her being so personal for me. And now, as a woman, I see the world differently than when a child or young woman but she has to start off naive, scared… and she has to grow… It was challenging but healing.

3. Did you start Serenity as a YA book, or did it go that way on it's own? 

Started as YA but the rest of the series matured into NA on its own. The characters simply got older and have new experiences during college and so on. Serenity and Dereck as a couple in the next 3 novels. In Serenity, I feel Dereck grew but was always a step ahead of Serenity. His upbringing was much more solid, making him more mature and nurturing because Fait, his mama, rocks!

4. If you could share a copy of your book with one famous person, who would you give a copy to and why? 

Clint Eastwood! Hahahaha… I love his style of directing and would love to see him bring Serenity to life. Dream big or go home?

5. Final question, and a fun one! What's your favorite way to relax and unwind? 

Floating in a lake nearby my home. I soak up the sun and remember to chill out. If it is winter, I love to snuggle next my fireplace with a glass of wine. And if my husband isn’t home, I read. A good book can steal me away and dissolve my worries.

India R Adams is an author/singer/songwriter who has written YA and NA novels such as Blue Waters (A Tainted Waters Novella), My Wolf and Me, Steal Me (A Haunted Roads Novel), Rain (A Stranger in the Woods Novel), Serenity (A Forever Series Novel) and also The Forever Series music.

India was born and raised in Florida but has also been so lucky as to live in Idaho (where she froze but fell in love with the small town life), Austin Texas (where she started her first book, Serenity, and met wonderful artist), and now Murphy, North Carolina (where the mountains have stolen a piece of her heart).

Being a survivor of abuse, has inspired India to let others know they have nothing to be ashamed of. She put her many years of professional theater background to the test and has written fictional stories with a shadow of her personal experiences. She says, “I’m simply finding ways to empower perfect imperfections.”

Another cause India feels needs change, is Sexual Slavery. She has joined forces with jewelers to design beautiful ways to raise money for non-profit organizations. Even though India writes about serious subjects such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, and Human Trafficking, she has a magnificent sense of humor, as do the characters she creates. Perfectly balanced between laughter and tears, her readers see how to empower their own perfect imperfections.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Book Review: Under A Million Stars by Rita Branches

Media Type: Ebook (ARC)
Title: Under a Million Stars
Author: Rita Branches
Publisher: Self-Published
Pages: Ebook; 263
Release Date: August 8, 2016
Source: YA Bound Book Tours
Content Screening: Mild Sexual Situations

HDB Rating: 3 Keys to My Heart

Recommended to: Readers who love heart-rending stories, told from dual points of view.

Add it on: Goodreads | Amazon | BookLikes
Can a beating heart bleed from the shattered pieces?

Her heart cracked when her best friend walked away; it completely shattered when she lost her family in a tragic accident.

Now orphaned at seventeen, Charlotte Peterson is forced to live with her former best friend, Jacob Parker. Charlie, a talented pianist, desperately wants their loving friendship back, but something is holding Jake back. The more she spirals into the darkness of depression, the more she needs him.

Jacob vowed to stay away from her—no matter how much he still loved her. Armed with secrets that would have destroyed both of their families, he chose to end their friendship and walk away, which nearly killed him. As he watches the girl he once knew begin to fade away, however, he realizes that their relationship is more important than the truth he's hiding.

Now it's up to Jacob to put the pieces of Charlie's broken heart back together—even if it means revealing the secrets he so desperately wants to protect her from.

Will Jacob find a way to bring back the carefree, talented girl he once knew, or is it too late for both of them?

Can we please all just take a minute to gush over the stunning cover that envelops Under A Million Stars? I can't deny that I had a massive case of cover lust when I first set eyes upon it. What really caught my eye though was that this was a story about friends who had grown apart. About a secret, something so massive, that it tore what was supposed to be a forever friendship into two halves. I'm definitely addicted to these kinds of stories. I always find myself eagerly awaiting the fix, and the happily ever after.

I should start with the fact that both Charlotte and Jacob aren't the easiest characters to love, especially at first. They grew on me as I read though, so definitely don't give up too quickly. Charlotte is a talented pianist, who has recently lost her family in a car accident. As such, she's about as withdrawn and self pitying as you might expect. It's hard not to grant her a bit of slack, since she's just had her whole world turned upside down. Jacob, on the other hand, was a lot harder to forgive for the first half of the book. As Charlotte's former best friend, you'd expect that he'd be the one to be there for her in her time of need. Instead, he spends a good portion of beginning of this story treating her like dirt. It was maddening. I knew that it was building up to something else, but it didn't make me like Jacob any more. In fact, it took me until the last quarter of the book to even enjoy his character.

In all fairness to the plot though, which is rather interesting, that kind of tension needed to be built. Although I wish it had been done a bit more organically, it was wonderful to slowly uncover why these two had fallen so far apart. I saw a girl who was struggling with finding her place in a world that didn't contain her family. I saw a boy who didn't know who he was without his best friend, but didn't know how to put all of that back together. In truth, you could actually see the ice between these two slowly start to melt and that, above all else, was what endeared me to them. I'm a sucker for repaired relationships, especially when they're so important to both parties.

There were definitely a lot of scenes in this book that had me tearing up. It deals a lot with depression, with guilt over the loss of family members, and with the secrets that families manage to keep from one another. I was also giddy over the fact that Jacob didn't once allow Charlotte to do anything she'd regret, while she was depressed. Let's be honest, chivalrous guys like that are few and far between in books. That's always a win for me.

So, final verdict? I'd say that this book will probably genuinely appeal to fans of contemporary fiction that is full of emotional turmoil. I had a little trouble sinking in at first, but by the mid point I was more than happy to continue on. I'd give Under A Million Stars a solid three star rating.

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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.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Book Blitz + Giveaway: Unknown by Wendy Higgins

That's right, my bookish friends! It's release day for Wendy Higgins' Unknown and you can grab it for $2.99 today only. Have I caught you while you're looking for your next read? Well then, settle in. It's time for some more info on this book and, if you'll be so kind as to read to the bottom, a pretty amazing giveaway as well!

Amber Tate believes the worst thing she’ll suffer in life is dealing with the unrequited love she feels for her brother’s best friend, Rylen Fite. She also believes war is something unfortunate that happens places far, far away from her rural Nevada town. She’s wrong on both counts.

When an unknown organization meticulously bombs major cities in the United States and across the globe, a trickle-down effect spreads to remaining towns at an alarming speed—everything from food and water sources to technology and communications are compromised. Without leadership, the nation is split between paralysis and panic, but Amber isn’t one to hide or watch helplessly. She’s determined to put her nursing skills to use, despite the danger, even if it means working alongside the man she can never have.

In this first installment of NY Times bestselling author, Wendy Higgins’s debut New Adult series, a frighteningly realistic apocalyptic America is brought to life, entwined with searing romantic tension that will leave you eager for more.
Buy this at:

Ready to add Unknown to your reading list? If so, take a gander at the giveaway below! You can win a copy of the book, plus other fantastic swag.

As always, don't forget to give some love to the author and happy reading!

Wendy Higgins is the USA Today and NY Times bestselling author of the SWEET EVIL series from HarperTeen, the high fantasy duology THE GREAT HUNT, and her independently published Irish Fantasy SEE ME.

After earning a Creative Writing degree from George Mason University and a Masters in Curriculum and Instruction from Radford, Wendy taught high school English until achieving her dream job as a full-time writer.

Wendy lives on the Eastern Shore of Virginia with her husband, daughter, son, and little doggie Rue.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Book Review: The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

Media Type: Print Book
Title: The Hating Game
Author: Sally Thorne
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: Paperback; 384
Release Date: August 9, 2016
Source: TLC Book Tours
Genre: Romantic Comedy

HDB Rating: 4 Keys to My Heart

Recommended to: Readers who enjoy sizzling rom coms with believable characters.

Add it on: Goodreads | Amazon | BookLikes
Nemesis (n.) 1) An opponent or rival whom a person cannot best or overcome.
2) A person’s undoing
3) Joshua Templeman

Lucy Hutton has always been certain that the nice girl can get the corner office. She’s charming and accommodating and prides herself on being loved by everyone at Bexley & Gamin. Everyone except for coldly efficient, impeccably attired, physically intimidating Joshua Templeman. And the feeling is mutual.

Trapped in a shared office together 40 (OK, 50 or 60) hours a week, they’ve become entrenched in an addictive, ridiculous never-ending game of one-upmanship. There’s the Staring Game. The Mirror Game. The HR Game. Lucy can’t let Joshua beat her at anything—especially when a huge new promotion goes up for the taking.

If Lucy wins this game, she’ll be Joshua’s boss. If she loses, she’ll resign. So why is she suddenly having steamy dreams about Joshua, and dressing for work like she’s got a hot date? After a perfectly innocent elevator ride ends with an earth shattering kiss, Lucy starts to wonder whether she’s got Joshua Templeman all wrong.

Maybe Lucy Hutton doesn’t hate Joshua Templeman. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.

Pardon me while I fan myself, because this book is sizzling! How to describe The Hating Game? It's fun, it's hilarious, and it's full of the type of sexual tension that makes the pages smolder. Insta-love and I have never been friends. Give me a struggle, and an awkward love story though, and I'm yours forever. Sally Throne has written my absolute favorite type of story right here. The one where supposed hate turns to steamy love, and the whole ride is just too enjoyable for words.

First off, Lucy is absolutely adorable. At a toppling 5 feet tall, Lucy is just a ball of gawky and lovable energy. She's the type of character that has no problem making people adore her, but unfortunately craves that attention. Which means she gets stepped all over a fair amount of the time. That just endeared her to me all the more though. I could see the lioness within, and I was so rooting for her. Enter Joshua, her nemesis, and the exact yin to her yang. Joshua is perfectly polished. He's proper, and cold. He's the type of character that people actually fear disappointing. So what happens when you put these two in close quarters? So much. So, so much.

The banter was my absolute favorite portion of this whole book. Watching Lucy and Josh banter, watching the delicious sexual tension slowly unfurl between them, was just wonderful. This whole book is a slow burn. It has perfectly paced romantic moments, interspersed with struggles, to make this a much deeper book than I expected. Lucy and Josh don't just get one another.  They have to fight. They argue. They're petty. At the end of the day though, it's still that slow burn towards the ending. I can't express enough how perfectly paced this romantic comedy is! I laughed, I cried, I smirked. So many emotions.

There were a few small things about this story that made it fall just shy of a perfect five star rating. Josh's personality, while absolutely necessary to the story, could be a bit grating at certain times. I'm so glad he had Lucy to set him back on the right track. Overall though, I can promise you that this book is the whole package. The Hating Game is a ton of fun to read! It's well worth a spot on your reading list.

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, August 12, 2016

Puppy Love

So it's apparently been quite a bit since I've actually had time to sit and write something here that wasn't a review! You'd think, technically, that writing a review is harder than writing a rambling post. I'm here to say that's not really the case. It cracks me up, but it's the truth.

You might be asking yourself, "Well where have you been Jessica?" and I wouldn't blame you. The answer to that question is that little puppy right over there to the left. We have a new addition to the HDB family, and her name is Luna.

To say that I underestimated what it would be like to adopt an 8 week old puppy is entirely accurate. She's run us ragged these last 4 weeks, doing it adorably the entire time. It's hard to be upset at that cute little face.

I'm finally getting back into the swing of having a reading/blogging schedule, since she's settling down. But hey, that face. It's just top priority.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Book Review: Floor 21 by Jason Luthor

Media Type: Ebook 
Title: Floor 21
Author: Jason Luthor
Publisher: Scout Press
Pages: Kindle; 355
Release Date: June 2, 2015
Source: Author/PUYB
Genre: Sci-fi/Dystopian

HDB Rating: 4 Keys to My Heart

Recommended to: Readers who love inquisitive narrators and books with open endings.

Add it on: Goodreads | Amazon | BookLikes

The last of humanity is trapped at the top of an isolated apartment tower with no memory of how they got there or why. All travel beneath Floor 21 is forbidden, and nobody can ever recall seeing the ground floor. Beneath Floor 21, a sickness known as the Creep infests that halls of the Tower. A biological mass that grows stronger in reaction to people’s fear and anger, the Creep prey’s on people by causing them to hallucinate until they’re in a state of panicking, before finally growing strong enough to lash out and consume them. Only a small team known as Scavengers are allowed to go beneath Floor 21 to pillage the lower levels in search of food and supplies.

Jackie is a brilliant young girl that lives far above the infection and who rarely has to worry about facing any harm. However, her intense curiosity drives her to investigate the bottom floors and the Creep. To deal with her own anxiety and insecurities, she documents her experiences on a personal recorder as she explores the secrets of the Tower. During the course of her investigation, Jackie will find herself at odds with Tower Authority, which safeguards what remains of humanity, as she attempts to determine what created the Creep, how humanity became trapped at the top of the Tower, and whether anyone knows if escape is even possible.

If you aren't a fan of open endings/cliffhangers then this is not the book for you. However, if you are willing to wait, I think this is going to be a great series. Floor 21 is full of unanswered questions and the author does a wonderful job of bringing you into Jackie's very inquisitive character.

The narration technique of using the characters "recordings", while interesting, didn't really meet my expectations. There were several instances where there was a conflict of storyline vs. actually being able to record. I think at some point my brain just skipped over the idea of the recording and I enjoyed it as a first person narrative. Jackie is the main narrator, but we do get insight into other happenings in the tower which add a lot of depth to Jackie's story.

Jackie is an interesting lead character. She questions everything around her and challenges the status quo. At the same time, she willingly obliges her bff with dance parties in her room. There is a lot of unknowns in her world and she's not afraid to see what else could be out there. I would say that this book is geared towards the young adult audience, if only that the main character is a bit young and her point of view can be a little grating (also whiny) at times. It's very representative of her age group and appropriate given the world she lives, but some chapters were harder to get through.

What is the Creep you ask? Terrifying is what it is. I became so engrossed in this book that I literally had a dream about the walls of my house being alive. I'd say that's pretty indicative of a good story. I've read a fair amount of dystopian and this is a fresh story with lots of opportunity to grow the characters and story line.

I thoroughly enjoyed this introduction into the Tower and look forward to jumping into the sequel soon!

Jason Luthor has spent a long life writing for sports outlets, media companies and universities. His earliest writing years came during his coverage of the San Antonio Spurs as an affiliate with the Spurs Report and its media partner, WOAI Radio. He would later enjoy a moderate relationship with Blizzard Entertainment, writing lore and stories for potential use in future games. At the academic level he has spent several years pursuing a PhD in American History at the University of Houston, with a special emphasis on Native American history.

His inspirations include some of the obvious; The Lord of the Rings and Chronciles of Narnia are some of the most cited fantasy series in history. However, his favorite reads include the Earthsea Cycle, the Chronicles of Prydain, as well as science fiction hits such as Starship Troopers and Do Androids dream of Electric Sheep?

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.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Book Review: Wake The Hollow by Gaby Triana

Media Type: Ebook (ARC)
Title: Wake The Hollow
Author: Gaby Triana
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Pages: Paperback; 304
Release Date: August 2, 2016
Source: Publisher
Content Screening: Mild Violence

HDB Rating: 4 Keys to My Heart

Recommended to: Readers who love Sleepy Hollow lore, and adore a good mystery!

Add it on: Goodreads | Amazon | BookLikes
Forget the ghosts, Mica. It’s real, live people you should fear.

Tragedy has brought Micaela Burgos back to her hometown of Sleepy Hollow. It’s been six years since she chose to live with her father in Miami instead of her eccentric mother. And now her mother is dead.

This town will suck you in and not let go.

Sleepy Hollow may be famous for its fabled headless horseman, but the town is real. So are its prejudices and hatred, targeting Mica’s family as outsiders. But ghostly voices carry on the wind, whispering that her mother’s death was based on hate…not an accident at all. With the help of two very different guys—who pull at her heart in very different ways—Micaela must awaken the hidden secret of Sleepy Hollow…before she meets her mother’s fate.

Find the answers. 

Unless, of course, the answers find you first.

It should be known, first and foremost, that I'm a sucker for anything related to Sleepy Hollow. I grew up addicted to the wonderfully chilling story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. So it's no surprise that when Gaby Triana's book made its way onto my radar, I snatched it up without hesitation. Sleepy Hollow is steeped in such rich lore. I had high hopes that Triana would put her own spin on it. Spoiler alert: I was right.

First off, I loved that this book wasn't simply a retelling of the same story. While it definitely borrows some of the atmosphere and the tension, Micaela's experiences are on a level all their own. I could feel the anxiety on the page from the moment that Mica stepped foot into her childhood home. True to its roots, the Sleepy Hollow here has this overall aura of the supernatural. Things that might have felt odd anywhere else, feel completely normal. Triana had no problem convincing me that Mica's life was destined to be special, and I was definitely on board.

As events unfolded, this brilliant sense of doubt started to overcome me. Mica didn't know who to trust, and to be honest neither did I. Which was so wonderful. There are plenty of times where I've figured out an ending well before it comes to fruition. In this case, I was ecstatic about the fact that I had no idea where things were going. Mica was rushing pell-mell into the unknown, and all I could do was hold on tight. The paranormal part of this, mixed in with the expertly woven mystery, created a book that I just couldn't put down. I was so terribly annoyed every time I was interrupted while reading this. You could have cut the tension with a knife.

Now, I admit that the ending left me a little cold. I'm not sure how I wanted this to end, and it's possible that I was just too invested to ever really be happy with whatever happened, but it didn't vibe for me. The good news is that this barely registered on my overall scale for this book. Wake The Hollow had me so swept up, that I wasn't really bothered. I was more upset that it had come to an end.

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.


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