fbpx

YA Book Review – Contrition (The Perception Trilogy #3) by Lee Strauss

Synopsis
Zoe, Noah and the other plane crash survivors are stranded in the Arizona desert.

They all have secrets and reasons to hide. But they’re not alone.

Cyborg soldiers…war…humans and humanoids.

Who can be trusted?

Zoe’s life is in danger. Noah must make an impossible choice.

Will their love survive their brokenness?

Will the world as they know it end before they can find out?

My Review
A thoroughly satisfying conclusion to the series, Contrition ties up loose ends on a thrilling and emotional rollercoaster ride. There’s the whole Noah/Zoe/Taylor/Mary love square, Zoe’s grandfather, now President, the cyborgs, and the fact that Zoe and Noah are number one on President Vanderveen’s most wanted list. When war breaks out, things go from really bad, to worse, to hopeless. Or so it seems. This is the most tragic book of the trilogy, but it’s not completely devoid of hope as neither Zoe nor Noah ever give up.

Plot
There was a lot going on. This is the most action-packed book of the series and it careens along, sometimes nearly out of control, but there is a lot of ground to cover in this final book. In fact, I think the author could easily have written a fourth book in the series and kept us hooked through one more without losing anything.

There were a few issues that seemed implausible, even in this scifi future world and a couple things were predictable, but overall, it was a solid plot that moved the story forward to a heart-pounding climax and a sweet resolution.

Characters
Noah and Zoe really develop the most in this third book. They’re both so young that they have no choice but to grow up fast in the midst of a war, but it’s good to see that arc in both of them as they realize the world is more than just their teen angst and what they want.

Bottom Line
Contrition is a wild ride that runs at breakneck speed, twisting and turning, and finally rolling into the station as we all say a collective, “ahhhh.”

Title: Contrition
Author: Lee Strauss
Publisher: ESB Publishing
Pages: 342
Category: Young Adult Dystopian
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazonBarnes and Noble

YA Book Review – Origin (Lux #4) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Synopsis
Daemon will do anything to get Katy back.

After the successful but disastrous raid on Mount Weather, he’s facing the impossible. Katy is gone. Taken. Everything becomes about finding her. Taking out anyone who stands in his way? Done. Burning down the whole world to save her? Gladly. Exposing his alien race to the world? With pleasure.

All Katy can do is survive.

Surrounded by enemies, the only way she can come out of this is to adapt. After all, there are sides of Daedalus that don’t seem entirely crazy, but the group’s goals are frightening and the truths they speak even more disturbing. Who are the real bad guys? Daedalus? Mankind? Or the Luxen?

Together, they can face anything. 

But the most dangerous foe has been there all along, and when the truths are exposed and the lies come crumbling down, which side will Daemon and Katy be standing on? 

And will they even be together?

My Review
This is my favorite book in the series by far, and I love the other books. We finally get to hear from Daemon for half the book as opposed to just a scene or two in as extras in the back. It’s great to get inside his alien head and really see what makes him tick.

Two things that really work in this book are the amped up emotion and the action. All of the emotions are heightened — the fear, love, anger, hatred — and the author brings the reader into the firestorm of feelings. JLA has taken the action to nuclear levels and doesn’t let up. About the only thing that I can say that isn’t over-the-top gushing praise is that Daemon and Katy sound a little too much alike at points. They use the same expressions when they think. But it’s not enough of a negative to offset all the wonderfully positive aspects.

Plot
The plot zips right from the first pages. This is a bit of a departure for the series. In the three previous books, things took a few chapters to really get rolling. But not this time. Daemon is hellbent on getting Katy back from the opening and anything or anyone who gets in his way risks annihilation. The story builds, adding more tension, emotion, and passion, until it peaks, but then it doesn’t stop. Book 4 leaves us hanging and waiting, less than patiently, for the fifth and final book due out in August, 2014.

Characters
The characters are the same we’ve come to know and love in the first three books, and again, they don’t stand still. Their emotional growth is building as they are thrown from one impossible situation into the next. We get to know a handful of new characters that play well off of the others and add to the plot development.

Bottom Line
This is the best book in the series so far. The raw emotion and the strong plot work well together to create a fun, fast-paced read that kept me turning the page.

Title: Origin
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Pages: 400
Category: Young Adult Paranormal Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazonBarnes & Noble

Book Review – Take Two (Lights, Camera #1) by Laurelin Paige

Synopsis
He’s ready for his close up, but she’s the one calling the shots. 

On the night of her graduation from film school, straight-laced Maddie Bauers fell completely out of character for an oh-my-god make-out session with a perfect stranger. Complete with the big O.

Seven years later, that romantic interlude is still fresh in her mind. That stranger is now a rich and famous actor. And she’s one very distracted camera assistant working on his latest production. She might consider another tryst…if he even remembers her.

Micah Preston does indeed remember Maddie. Too bad he’s sworn off Hollywood relationships. He allows himself as much sex as he likes—and oh, he does like—but anything more is asking for trouble. For the woman, not for him. Yet knowing Maddie could want more than a movie-set fling doesn’t stop him from pursuing her like a moth drawn to hot stage lights. 

But as the shoot nears its end, it’s decision time. Is it time to call, “Cut!” on their affair, or is there enough material for a sequel?

Warning: Contains a dreamy movie star hero, a focus-pulling heroine, off-the-charts instant chemistry, steamy sex in near-public locations, and a new use for lip gloss.

My Review
Take Two is thoroughly engaging from the first page. It moves along swiftly, is punctuated by enough angst that would give any teen novel a run for its money, and the sex scenes are H.O.T. hot! The author has done her homework and has given us a behind-the-scenes look at the entertainment industry that is almost its own character in the story. The chemistry between Maddie and Micha is palpable, rivaling some of the most passionate couples between the pages.

Plot
The plot is solid, if not ground-breaking. There is a formulaic predictability to it, but I think that’s pretty standard for the genre. While there were a few instances where I found myself rolling my eyes, in general, it kept me turning the page.

Characters
I found the characters a little bit cliche. There was the bad-boy with something in his past that has him bedding every girl in town, refusing to fall in love until he finally meets the one. Then there’s the good girl searching for love and won’t settle for less and when she meets the bad boy, he brings out the bad girl in her the way no one else ever has. The supporting cast is almost non-existent — only there to move the plot along, which is their role, but we don’t see nearly enough of them. And Beaumont, the antagonist, is only a shell. We never learn what makes him tick, or why he has it in for Maddie. A superficial reason is given, but I was hoping for something deeper before the story ended. As a result, he came off as a stereotype and that’s too bad, because he had potential.

Bottom Line
This is a solid four out of five stars for a fun read that moves quickly, provides an insane amount of heat, and lives up to expectations. If you like steamy contemporary romances with a phenomenally sexy bad-boy, this is right up your alley.

Title: Take Two (Lights, Camera #1)
Author: Laurelin Paige
Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
Pages: 264
Category: Contemporary Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazonBarnes & Noble

Book Review – Write Tight: Say Exactly What You Mean with Precision and Power by William Brohaugh

Wright Tight by William Brohaugh

Wright Tight by William Brohaugh

Synopsis
“These days, most creative-writing courses teach self-indulgence. Write Tight counsels discipline. It is worth more than a university education. Its advice is gold.” -Dean Koontz

Foreword by Lawrence Block

Not since The Elements of Style has a writing guide had the ability to turn a writer’s work around so effectively. Every writer struggles with keeping their prose focused and concise, but surprisingly few books address this essential topic. Write Tight is an informative and utterly readable guide that tackles these issues head-on.

William Brohaugh, former editor of Writer’s Digest, goes beyond the discussion on redundancy and overwriting to take on evasiveness, affectations, roundabout writing, tangents and “invisible” words. Other topics include:

-Outlining the four levels of wordiness
-Identifying 16 types of flabby writing
-Exercises that help writers avoid wordiness
-Streamlining through sidebars and checklists
-Tests that show how concise a writer’s prose is

“Write Tight is a supremely valuable, ‘must-have’ for aspiring writers in all fields from prose to nonfiction, journalistic copy, screenwriting and so much more.” -Midwest Book Review

My Review
As a writer and editor, I found this book to be useful for every kind of writing I do. I initially read it to help me shave word count on my novel, but I found it to be infinitely useful for the work I do for my day job. There are so many common sense lessons in the book that I easily shaved 10 thousand words off my novel in one revision and I continue to find additional areas to make my writing tighter with each pass.

There are useful checklists, exercises and examples to really help retain the lessons learned. The only thing that kept me from giving this book a full five stars is that it’s longer than it needs to be at 240 pages. I feel like it probably would have been fine at about half that.

Bottom Line
This is one of the top ten writing resources I’d recommend to all writers, not just those writing books. Anyone who writes anything for any reason will benefit from the lessons in Write Tight.

Title: Write Tight: Say Exactly What You Mean with Precision and Power
Author: William Brohaugh
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Pages: 240
Category: Writing Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazonBarnes & Noble

Young Adult Book Review – Jake and the Other Girl (Monument 14 #1.5) by Emmy Laybourne

ake and the Other Girl (Monument 14 #1.5) by Emmy Laybourne

ake and the Other Girl (Monument 14 #1.5) by Emmy Laybourne

Synopsis
The apocalypse has hit Monument, Colorado, and Jake Simonsen, captain of the football team, is caught in the middle of it. A series of escalating disasters, beginning with a monster hailstorm and ending with a terrible chemical weapons spill that affects people differently depending on blood type, has torn the world as he knows it apart. Now Jake has to decide how to pick up the pieces.

My Review
Jake and the Other Girl picks up Jake’s story after he leaves the Monument 14. We get inside his head and learn why he left Astrid, the popular girl who is pregnant with his baby. Jake has issues. His blood type has left him impotent, a fate worse than death for a boy like Jake. When he stumbles upon a girl he knows from school, a girl he knows intimately, he hopes she’ll stir something in him.

But they’re not alone, and once again Jake will have to make a decision to stay or go. Jake and the Other Girl is a nice bridge between Monument 14 and Sky on Fire. It fills in some blanks and shows us what drives Jake. He becomes a little more likeable once we understand him. Sure, he’s still a putz, but he’s a tolerable putz.

Plot
It’s a short story, only 26 pages, so the plot isn’t meaty or deep, but it does move the story forward, providing additional pieces to the puzzle of what happened outside the Greenway where the Monument 14 have been holed up. Its primary function is to develop Jake’s character, which it does nicely.

Characters
Only three characters are in Jake and the Other Girl. One being Jake, the other is well, the Other Girl, also known as Lindsey, and Lindsey’s father, who has the same aggressive blood type as Astrid and Dean. Lindsey is only 15 and Jake is 18 which makes their physical relationship ten kids of wrong, but it shows us so much more about Jake’s character than if she’d been older.

Jake is a piece of work. He’s immature, selfish, and pretty much only thinks about sex and drugs. But there is more to Jake than that. Emmy Laybourne has actually crafted a fascinating character in Jake. He seems like a stereotype, and yet, there is more to him than the just the drug-taking star athlete who knocks up the most popular girl in school. He’s a cliche and yet he’s not. All presented in just 26 pages.

Bottom Line
This is really Jake’s story and while it doesn’t absolve him of his sins, it helps us understand the Jake we never knew. And that’s a good thing.

Title: Jake and the Other Girl (Monument 14 #1.5)
Author: Emmy Labourne
PublisherTor Books
Pages: 26
Category: Young Adult, Adventure, SciFi
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazonBarnes & Noble

Book Review – Kisscut (Grant County #2) by Karin Slaughter

Kisscut (Grant County #2) by Karin Slaughter

Kisscut (Grant County #2) by Karin Slaughter

Synopsis
Saturday night dates at the skating rink have been a tradition in the small southern town of Heartsdale for as long as anyone can remember, but when a teenage quarrel explodes into a deadly shoot-out, Sara Linton–the town’s pediatrician and medical examiner–finds herself entangled in a terrible tragedy.

What seemed at first to be a horrific but individual catastrophe proves to have wider implications. The autopsy reveals evidence of long-term abuse, of ritualistic self -mutilation, but when Sara and police chief Jeffrey Tolliver start to investigate, they are frustrated at every turn.

The children surrounding the victim close ranks. The families turn their backs. Then a young girl is abducted, and it becomes clear that the first death is linked to an even more brutal crime, one far more shocking than anyone could have imagined. Meanwhile, detective Lena Adams, still recovering from her sister’s death and her own brutal attack, finds herself drawn to a young man who might hold the answers. But unless Lena, Sara, and Jeffrey can uncover the deadly secrets the children hide, it’s going to happen again

My Review
Kisscut is darker than Blindsighted and far more gripping. There are so many moving parts, it’s impossible to figure out what’s going on until the end. Even the subplots are engaging. First, there’s Sara and Jeffrey’s relationship. We take a trip back to Jeffrey’s childhood home and learn more about how he and Sara originally met and fell in love. Then there’s Lena’s recovery from the horror she endured in Blindsighted, and the weird kinship she feels with the brother of one of the young victims. And there’s Jeffrey’s unresolved guilt over shooting a teen girl, even though he didn’t really have a choice. Last but not least, running through all of that is why the girl put herself in a position that the police had no recourse but to shoot her, who took a young girl and why, and how the two are related.

Karin Slaughter does a masterful job of handling all of the subplots and the main plot, interweaving them, and keeping us on the edge of seats, wondering how they all intersect with one another. And they do, almost perfectly. The only thing that keeps this from being a five-star rating is the stomach-turning nature of parts of the story. While they were key to the plot, it kept me from loving the story, even if it is a page turner.

Plot
The plot was intense, and unique, and riveting. It was nearly impossible to put down at times. The subplots provided additional interest and the twists and turns kept me guessing until the end. But because of the nature of the crime and the people involved, it takes a strong stomach. Definitely not for the faint of heart or anyone who is easily offended. I know a lot of people complained about the disturbing nature of the crime and claimed the author was glorifying it. In no way is the crime glorified. It is detestable, but it is something that happens every day in this country, and pretending it doesn’t, won’t make the problem go away.

Characters
There were a lot of characters and they were often difficult to keep track of, but not to the point that I couldn’t keep up with the plot. I love that we get to dig deeper into our favorite characters from Blindsighted and learn more about Jeffrey, Sara and Lena. Karin Slaughter doesn’t try to gloss over the effects of what happened. The characters grapple with what happened, particularly Lena. This is something that I don’t think is done often enough in serial thrillers. Too often, characters just bounce back and go on with life, with very little reflection on what happened other than passing references. But what Lena endured at the hands of her attacker in Blindsighted becomes very much a part of who she is and the decisions she makes throughout Kisscut.

Bottom Line
Kisscut is an intense thriller that is equal parts moving, gripping, and disturbing. But it never failed to keep me turning the page, right to the very end. Sure, I felt like I needed to take a shower afterward, but isn’t that what a good thriller does?

Title: Kisscut
Author: Karin Slaughter
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Pages: 448
Category: Thriller
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazonBarnes & Noble

Book Review – The Token Series (3 Volume Boxed Set) by Marata Eros

The Token Series (3 Volume Boxed Set) by Marata Eros

The Token Series (3 Volume Boxed Set) by Marata Eros

Synopsis
TT1
Twenty-two year old Faren Mitchell hears the two words that change her abbreviated life forever. They’re so final Faren decides she has nothing to lose by seizing every remaining moment of what life has to offer.

Until Faren collides with a motorcycle ridden by billionaire Jared McKenna.

Even the dark secret of her past and catharsis as a physical therapist can’t save Faren from the sexual spiral that waits for her in the arms of a man who commits to no one. When circumstances force her to get a second job as an exotic dancer, Faren never imagines how close that choice will bring her to the brink of a new reality she is unequipped to handle.

TT2
Faren Mitchell keeps the secret of her second job from the one man who could see her through some of the darkest moments of her life. She doesn’t want Jared “Mick” McKenna for the billions he’s amassed, but for the one thing she’s never given any man: her innocence.

Mick’s guilt over the injury he inflicted fuels the beginnings of something more; a sexual consumption of each other that neither were anticipating. When Faren’s actions don’t match her words, Mick suspicions are raised. His feelings turn to ones of protection after Faren is mugged and he can’t reconcile his desire for her with the reality they now find themselves in.

As Faren’s bucket list grows, so does the danger that surrounds the choices she’s made. Can she take what she needs from Mick and also secure her mother’s life? Or will the truth she has weaved between the lies doom them both?

TT3
Faren collapses, narrowly escaping discovery upon hearing traumatic news delivered by Thorn. When Thorn becomes her uneasy accomplice in the deception of Mick, Faren decides she needs to come clean with the truth. Shelving her pride might be the last thing she wants to do, but as facts and actions continue to contradict one another, her hands become tied in the lies she creates to survive.

Faren only needs one last lap dance to erase the final debt that hangs over her mother’s head like a cloud of doom. But when Ronnie Bunce circles closer to Faren and threatens the last sanctuary she possesses, circumstances unravel to reveal lies that run deeper than she knew.

Can Faren and Mick consummate their passion before her deceit is discovered? Or will the last dance be the ultimate loss?

My Review
I’ll start off by saying this isn’t my usual genre. The whole billionaire/poor girl with shades of kinky sex isn’t something I usually go for. I gave Fifty Shades of Grey a try, but couldn’t get past the third chapter. Mostly because the characters were too unlikeable. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for erotica, but if I want to read erotica, I buy it, not something with a thin plot that tries to pass as something else. But there was something about this series that intrigued me and this is definitely not dressed up erotica. It is truly dark romantic suspense.

It started off a little slow, but by midway through the first book, it had me hooked. By the middle of the second book, it had me turning pages when I should have been doing something else, and by the end of the third book, I couldn’t get to Amazon.com fast enough to pick up the fourth book in the series. It’s a thoroughly engaging and fascinating romance.

Plot
The plot is the strongest part of the first three books in the series. There are plenty of turns and twists and some unexpected moments. I have to admit, the author totally threw me at one point. I thought I had it all figured out at the end of Book 1, but instead was left with my mouth hanging open. Things go from shocking to interesting and then tragic as I worked my way through Books 2 and 3.

Characters
I started off feeling like the characters were superficial and not particularly interesting. Especially the main character, Faren. She describes herself as having creamy skin and hair that is rich and honey-colored. I couldn’t help wondering who the hell thinks about themselves that way? I didn’t much care for her and I wasn’t a fan of billionaire Jared “Mick” McKenna either. I mean what kind of man owns a series of strip clubs? And then there’s strip club manager, Ty, who is a total lecherous perv.

But once again, Marata Eros surprised me. She actually created far deeper characters than I expected. No one is exactly as they seem and as we get to know them through the books, we learn that while they’re far from perfect, they are human and each one of them has redeeming qualities that we can’t help liking.

Bottom Line
This is a surprisingly good story with far more depth and breadth than I expected and I’m very glad I gave it a try.

Title: The Token Series (3 volume boxed set)
Author: Marata Eros
PublisherMarata Eros
Pages: 264
Category: New Adult Dark Romantic Suspense
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords iTunes

Book Review – Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander Series) by Diana Gabaldon

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2) by Diana Gabaldon

Dragonfly in Amber (Outlander #2) by Diana Gabaldon

Synopsis
For twenty years Claire Randall has kept her secrets. But now she is returning with her grown daughter to Scotland’s majestic mist-shrouded hills. Here Claire plans to reveal a truth as stunning as the events that gave it birth: about the mystery of an ancient circle of standing stones … about a love that transcends the boundaries of time … and about James Fraser, a Scottish warrior whose gallantry once drew a young Claire from the security of her century to the dangers of his….

Now a legacy of blood and desire will test her beautiful copper-haired daughter, Brianna, as Claire’s spellbinding journey of self-discovery continues in the intrigue-ridden Paris court of Charles Stuart … in a race to thwart a doomed Highlands uprising … and in a desperate fight to save both the child and the man she loves.

My Review
Dragonfly in Amber flashes us forward 220 years, introducing us to Jamie and Claire’s adult daughter, Brianna, before sending us back to pick up where Outlander left us. This second installment in the Outlander series has the same intense passion, adventure, danger, and heartache we’ve come to expect from Diana Gabaldon.

Once again, this is amazingly well researched and transports the reader not only through time, but also across the Atlantic to 18th century Scotland and France as well as 1968 Scotland. About the only thing that annoyed me is the bouncing around from Claire’s first person point of view to third person for various characters, and back to first again for Claire. It’s an odd way to tell a story and I found it annoying, and I don’t know that it was necessary to tell the story.

Plot
The storyline is strong and the history insanely accurate. Claire and Jamie attempt to rewrite history and stop the massacre at Culloden in 1745. Even though the reader knows what happens historically, it doesn’t keep us from rooting for them to succeed anyway. The plot is intricate and layered and keeps the reader engaged, although it did sag in a few spots.

The story jumps around from 1968 to the 1940s and back to the 1740s as Claire tells her now grown daughter, Brianna, about her real father, Jamie Fraser, and how she was conceived in 1745 Scotland. It’s a tough sell, as you would expect, not something even a 1968 flower child would easily buy into. Dragonfly in Amber unfolds epically, keeping us on the edge of our seats most of the time.

Characters
The characters we already know and love are back for more and are as three-dimensional as ever. The new characters introduced, including Brianna and Roger, only add to the story. While I found Roger to be irritating, I don’t think that was a problem. Not every character can be perfect, and he does evolve over the series, so I think it’s okay that he starts off less than loveable.

Bottom Line
Dragonfly in Amber is an engaging, well told, and beautifully set story and it gets five out of five stars from me.

Title: Dragonfly in Amber
Author: Diana Gabaldon
PublisherRandom House Publishing Group
Pages: 754
Category: Historical, Science Fiction, Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazon | Barnes and Noble

Book Review – The Plot Skeleton (Writing Lessons From the Front #1) by Dr. Angela Hunt

The Plot Skeleton (Writing Lessons From the Front #1) by Dr. Angela Hunt

The Plot Skeleton (Writing Lessons From the Front #1) by Dr. Angela Hunt

Synopsis
In writing class, our teachers made sure we understood how to write a five-paragraph theme: introduction, thesis sentence, points one, two, and three, followed by the conclusion. But rarely did any teacher tell us how to write fiction–they simply urged us to write a story. 

But how is that done? Angela Hunt has been writing and teaching for thirty years, and she has boiled plotting down to the basics in thirty pages. Not only will you come away knowing how to plot, you’ll be able to point the important structural points in movies and other books you read. It’s all about the skeleton, Hunt says, and every working story has one.

(A condensed version of this lesson was originally published in A NOVEL IDEA, a collection of writer’s tips and techniques by published novelists.)

Enjoy this writing lesson for a fraction of the cost of attending one of Angela’s writing classes–your writing will never be the same.

My Review
Dr. Angela Hunt has published over 130 titles and sold more than 4 million books. That alone was enough to get me to try her Writing Lessons series. That and the fact that each one is about 30 pages in length. Additionally, she teaches writing workshops at schools and writers’ conferences, so she not only knows a thing or two about writing successful novels, but also has experience imparting her wisdom to other writers.

The Plot Skeleton breaks the plotting process down into a rather interesting analogy of the human skeleton beginning with the head and ending with the feet. While there is nothing new or earth shattering here, it does present an easy-to-follow organizational structure for creating a plot outline. She includes helpful examples to illustrate her points, making it pretty painless to grasp the concepts.

Even if you’re a pantser, it helps to have a basic understanding of your plot and where your story is going before you sit down to write. You don’t have to stick with your outline, it can ebb and flow with your writing, but if you don’t know where you’re going when you start, your story can meander, not really going anywhere. Personally, I hate the editing process, so the more work I can do up front to reduce the amount of editing required after the first draft, the better. While my story may not end up exactly as I conceived it, I know when I’m veering wildly off course if I have some sort of an outline before I start.

The first novel I wrote, The Union, has been through over 30 revisions. I wrote without an outline or any real understanding of where I was going other than I knew my storyworld, my protagonist’s story goal, and her hidden need. However, on the next three books I wrote in the series, I had a rough outline. Even though those aren’t polished yet, they’re a lot stronger structurally after early drafts than The Union was.

Bottom Line
This is a quick and easy read that lays out the process for outlining your plot in a pretty straightforward way. Even if you don’t learn anything mind blowing, it’s a useful tool. I tend to glance through it before I sit down to write a new project. It never hurts to refresh my memory on what makes a strong plot, and skimming a 30-page book is a lot easier than a 300+ page book.

Title: The Plot Skeleton (Writing Lessons from the Front#1)
Author: Dr. Angela Hunt
PublisherHuntHaven Press
Pages: 30
Category: Writing Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazon | Barnes & Noble

Children’s Book Week

This week is the 95th annual Children’s Book Week and runs from May 12-18. Children’s Book Week (CBW) is the longest-running national literacy initiative in the United States. As the mother of three avid readers, I understand how important it is to get kids to read. And it wasn’t always easy. Many nights tears and duct tape were involved. Well maybe not so much the duct tape, but there were a lot of tears.

I was frustrated by the fact that my kids didn’t love to read as much as I did and I didn’t understand it. I read a lot. Over 70 books in 2013 and my goal is 100 this year. I began reading to my children in utero. There wasn’t a day in their little lives that either I or my husband didn’t read to them. They often recited the words to their favorite books, almost as if they could read.

But once reading became homework, it lost its shiny appeal. We went through this twice, first with our daughter, then again with our twin boys three years later. Every night was a fight until we found the book or the series that flipped the switch. For my daughter, it was the Vet Volunteer series by Laurie Halse Anderson in fourth grade. Ror my boys, it was the Bone series by Jeff Smith in third grade. Now that my daughter is in eighth grade and my boys are in fifth, they read everything and anything and I often have to tell them to put their books down and go to sleep. My previous self laughs at the thought of such a thing.

To honor Children’s Book Week, here is my list of favorite children’s books:

Preschool

Tumble Bumble by Felicia Bond

Tumble Bumble by Felicia Bond

Click, Clack, Moo Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin

Click, Clack, Moo by Doreen Cronin

Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown

Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown

Middle Grade

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary

Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary

The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Young Adult:

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins

The Lux Series by Jennifer L. Armentrout

The Lux Series by Jennifer L. Armentrout

The Tomorrow series by John Marsden

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

Are You There God Its Me Margaret by Judy Blume

What are some of your favorite children’s books?

YA Book Review – The Dead of Night (The Tomorrow Series #2) by John Marsden

 The Dead of Night (The Tomorrow Series #2) by John Marsden

The Dead of Night (The Tomorrow Series #2) by John Marsden

Synopsis
A few months after the first fighter jets landed in their own backyard, Ellie and her five terrified but defiant friends struggle to survive amid a baffling conflict. Their families are unreachable; the mountains are now their home. When two of them fall behind enemy lines, Ellie knows what must happen next: a rescue mission. Homer, the strongest and most unpredictable among them, is the one to take charge. While others have their doubts about his abilities, Homer has no choice but to prove them wrong – or risk losing everything to the enemy.

My Review
The Dead of Night picks up where Tomorrow When the War Began leaves off. The characters struggle with what they did and worry about their friends Corrie and Kevin. Hell is home and the only place they feel safe, but they also know that sitting around and doing nothing isn’t a long-term plan. Once again, they feel compelled to do something. They explore beyond their immediate surroundings and stumble upon another group of free citizen who call themselves Harvey’s Heros.

After blowing up the bridge at Cobbler’s Bay, Ellie and her friends bristle at being treated like kids by this new group and  feel more like captives than the warriors they are. But when the enemy gets too close for comfort, they need to make some tough decisions.

Plot
The plot is gritty, and as with Tomorrow When the War Began, it’s difficult to put down once it really gets going. What makes it so gripping is that it’s terrifyingly real. Unlike other young adult dystopian novels, it isn’t a stretch to get to where these kids are. John Marsden doesn’t rely on alien invasions or weird supernatural events to bring about his world. Everything that happens feels like a natural culmination of events that could really happen.

Characters
The core characters are strong and even the new cast members have more depth than you would expect from tertiary characters. Major Harvey in particular is complex and hard to pin down.

Ellie and the others are deeply affected not only by what happened to Corrie and Kevin, but also by what they did. There are no quick fixes to the psychological trauma they experience which makes this book dark, but emotional and real. One of my favorite things about John Marsden is that he doesn’t gloss over the aftermath and have his characters act as if they didn’t just suffer horrible losses or inflict unimaginable pain on others. They’re haunted by the things they’ve seen and done, the way human beings they are.

Bottom Line
The Dead of Night is a solid follow up to Tomorrow When the War Began and carries the story forward without losing the magic of the series. It builds on the plot and characterization from the first book and doesn’t let up.

Title: The Dead of Night
Author: John Marsden
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Pages: 272
Category: Young Adult Dystopian
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazon | Barnes & Noble

Book Review – Such a Pretty Face by Cathy Lamb

Such a Pretty Face by Cathy Lamb

Such a Pretty Face by Cathy Lamb

Synopsis
In this warm, funny, thoroughly candid novel, acclaimed author Cathy Lamb introduces an unforgettable heroine who’s half the woman she used to be, and about to find herself for the first time…

Two years and 170 pounds ago, Stevie Barrett was wheeled into an operating room for surgery that most likely saved her life. Since that day, a new Stevie has emerged, one who walks without wheezing, plants a garden for self-therapy, and builds and paints fantastical wooden chairs. At thirty-five, Stevie is the one thing she never thought she’d be: thin.

But for everything that’s changed, some things remain the same. Stevie’s shyness refuses to melt away. She still can’t look her neighbors’ gorgeous great-nephew in the eye. The Portland law office where she works remains utterly dysfunctional, as does her family—the aunt, uncle, and cousins who took her in when she was a child. To top it off, her once supportive best friend clearly resents her weight loss.

By far the biggest challenge in Stevie’s new life lies in figuring out how to define her new self. Collaborating with her cousins to plan her aunt and uncle’s problematic fortieth anniversary party, Stevie starts to find some surprising answers—about who she is, who she wants to be, and how the old Stevie evolved in the first place. And with each revelation, she realizes the most important part of her transformation may not be what she’s lost, but the courage and confidence she’s gathering, day by day.

As achingly honest as it is witty, Such A Pretty Face is a richly insightful novel of one woman’s search for love, family, and acceptance, of the pain we all carry—and the wonders that can happen when we let it go at last.

My Review
There were many things to like about this story. Stevie is delightful and surrounded by a colorful cast that plays more like a sitcom than the tragic story it is. In fact, it alternates between humor and gut-wrenching anguish at a manic pace. The story opens with a horrific tale of loss at the hands of her mentally ill mother. As the story progresses, Stevie must come to accept her past if she’s going to move forward and have a future. And with any luck, that future might involve hunky neighbor, Jake.

Plot
The plot is jagged. It moves in so many directions, it’s hard to keep straight at times. First, there’s the overarching plot of Stevie dealing with her demons. After feeding her grief and guilt with comfort foods, she balloons to over 300 pounds and has a heart attack at the age of 32. That’s the wakeup call she needs to lose  the weight and transform herself on the outside. But the biggest issues are the wounds no one can see, the ones she does everything to hide. Then there’s the subplot with Jake, another with a coworker, another one with her art and still another with the family drama. At times it feels like there are too many balls in the air, until it becomes clear they’re linked. Once Stevie learns how to cope with her past, everything feels a bit like a juggling act.

Characters
This is a character-driven story and Stevie’s character is solid, deep, and authentic. But many of the other characters are not. Some feel like cliched stereotypes that are so over the top, they’re completely unbelievable.

Bottom Line
The story was good, but could have been so much better with a stronger supporting cast.  But Stevie kept me coming back. I loved her and I wanted to see her succeed.

Title: Such a Pretty Face
Author: Cathy Lamb
PublisherKensington Books
Pages: 481
Category: Women’s Fiction
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazonBarnes & Noble

Young Adult Book Blitz – Running on Empty by Colette Ballard

Running on Empty Book Blitz

Running on Empty by Colette Ballard

Running on Empty by Colette Ballard

About the Book
Title: Running on Empty
Author: Collette Ballard
Release Date: May 6th, 2014
Publisher: Tulip Teen/Spencer Hill Press
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary/Thriller
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Synopsis
What does it feel like when you die—in those final moments? Do you feel the physical pain, or just the pain of your regrets? What does it feel like when you realize you can’t answer these questions because you’re not the victim?

You’re the killer.

River Daniels lives an ordinary life as a high school junior growing up in the confines of rural Texas until her boyfriend’s brutal attack leaves her both a murderer and a fugitive. When River’s closest girlfriends come to her aid, they make a hasty decision to not only help her, but leave their own troubled lives behind and join in her escape.

The girls manage to elude police for months, but with every near-miss, River’s life spirals further out of control, until she finally hits rock bottom. Realizing she must stop endangering her friends and find evidence proving she acted in self-defense, the girls decide to make a risky move. River must face her ugly past and the one person she was protecting the night her world caved in, the guy she has loved for as long as she can remember.

Excerpt
Disappoint him? Was that his main concern? Slack-mouthed, I stared at the phone until Justice’s voice startled me from behind. “Everything okay?”

Hoping he hadn’t heard any of my conversation, I put on a smile and turned to face him. “Everything’s fine.” I twined my fingers around a chunk of hair at the base of my neck. “That was just Logan reminding me of the Seniors’ Breakfast that I’m about to miss.”

“You’re goin’?” He stared at me like I had a pink squirrel tattooed on my forehead.

I wanted nothing more than to stay here the rest of the day and share my pain with Justice—even if it was in silence. Knowing Logan would never go for that, I pushed the gaping hole in my heart aside. “I’m good now, I had a good cry.” I swatted my hand.

“Ya know, today’s the first time I’ve ever seen you cry.” He leaned his back against the truck, obviously missing the point that I was in a hurry. “You wouldn’t even cry that day you fell off my pony and broke your arm when you were seven.” His face grew serious. “Or when your—”

“Yeah, I’m stubborn that way.” I wiped my hands on my jeans, hoping like hell he didn’t finish his sentence. Now wasn’t the time for a reminder of my reaction to my mom’s death—or rather, lack of reaction.

In my attempt to be strong for my younger sister, I disconnected from my emotions, from things I loved—from Justice. It worked for me until Jack came home wasted one night and I unleashed six months’ worth of the seven stages of grief on him. He slapped me so hard, I didn’t cry for the next five years. Until today.

Author Colette Ballard

Author Colette Ballard

About the Author
Colette grew up on a dairy farm in rural Kentucky. She survived the high school experience back in the day when Aqua Net was bought in bulk and mullets were cool. That’s also when she realized that her constant daydreaming wasn’t a curse, but a useful skill—one she used like a lethal weapon to combat her frustration over the haunting question: What does the alphabet have to do with math anyway?

Unfortunately, her ninja daydreaming skills only increased her desire to write—not her algebra grade. After surviving the hairstyles and torturous math classes of her high school years, she wandered a bit—even moving to the farthest northwestern corner of the United States, then to the farthest southeastern corner. She finally settled in the one red-light town she started in, where she continues to live today with her husband and three children.

Where to Find Colette Ballard
Goodreads Blog Facebook Twitter Tulip Romance YA Fusion

Young Adult Book Review – Boy Meets Boy by David Leivthan

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

Synopsis
This is the story of Paul, a sophomore at a high school like no other: The cheerleaders ride Harleys, the homecoming queen used to be a guy named Daryl (she now prefers Infinite Darlene and is also the star quarterback), and the gay-straight alliance was formed to help the straight kids learn how to dance.

When Paul meets Noah, he thinks he’s found the one his heart is made for. Until he blows it. The school bookie says the odds are 12-to-1 against him getting Noah back, but Paul’s not giving up without playing his love really loud. His best friend Joni might be drifting away, his other best friend Tony might be dealing with ultra-religious parents, and his ex-boyfriend Kyle might not be going away anytime soon, but sometimes everything needs to fall apart before it can really fit together right.

This is a happy-meaningful romantic comedy about finding love, losing love, and doing what it takes to get love back in a crazy-wonderful world.

My Review
I didn’t know what to make of Boy Meets Boy at first. It seemed like it was set in some sort of rainbow-farting unicorn town where gays and lesbians aren’t bullied and are accepted as part of mainstream society. But soon I realized that the town itself is a character in the story and is much a part of the fabric as the plot and the characters. Once that became evident, the town itself faded into the background as the story unfolded seamlessly before me. It’s a sweet romance filled with smart, breakaway characters, and the fact that some of them are gay is completely irrelevant.

Plot
This is largely a character-based novel, but the plot is still engaging. Paul meets and falls for new boy in town, Noah. Paul royally messing things up Noah and works hard to get him back. But it’s also about the dynamic between Ted and Joni and Chuck. And between Tony and Tony’s parents. And between Kyle and everyone. The only downside is that it’s not at all about Infinite Darlene who is by far my favorite character in the story.

The main story arc ebbs and flows and the subplots are divine little tributaries taking you on side excursions you might have otherwise missed. It all comes together at the Dowager’s Dance with a death theme that Paul and his friends architect to sublime perfection.

Characters
The characters are the best part about this book. All of them. They’re so fun and fresh that none of them feel like a stereotype or a cliche. The only exception might be Tony’s parents, but even they are less stereotypical than your average conservative religious parents struggling to come to terms with the fact that their son is gay. And even the town is layered and nuanced. It’s a place I’d want to live in. Heck, it’s the place everyone should live.

Bottom Line
Everything about this story is delightfully original and flawlessly executed. It feels like happiness wrapped in a cloud.

Title: Boy Meets Boy
Author: David Levithan
PublisherRandom House LLC
Pages: 226
Category: Young Adult LGBT Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazonBarnes & Noble

Young Adult Book Review – Opal (Lux #3) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Opal (Lux #3) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Opal (Lux #3) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Synopsis
No one is like Daemon Black.

When he set out to prove his feelings for me, he wasn’t fooling around. Doubting him isn’t something I’ll do again, and now that we’ve made it through the rough patches, well… There’s a lot of spontaneous combustion going on.

But even he can’t protect his family from the danger of trying to free those they love.

After everything, I’m no longer the same Katy. I’m different… And I’m not sure what that will mean in the end. When each step we take in discovering the truth puts us in the path of the secret organization responsible for torturing and testing hybrids, the more I realize there is no end to what I’m capable of. The death of someone close still lingers, help comes from the most unlikely source, and friends will become the deadliest of enemies, but we won’t turn back. Even if the outcome will shatter our worlds forever.

Together we’re stronger… and they know it.

My Review
The third book in the Lux series is every bit as delicious as the first two. Katy deals with soul-crushing guilt because of what happened at the end of Onyx and she’ll do anything to try to make things right. Because of that, she’s willing to take risks she might not have before. I love that all of the characters grow and develop through the series and are profoundly affected by the choices they make. This is the darkest book in the series so far, but in a deep way.

Plot
Once again, JLA delivers a solid plot that keeps you on the edge of your seat, or bed, or wherever it is you read. The story starts off strong and only builds from there. New, interesting characters are introduced that bring all sorts of possibilities into play and take us places we never dreamed. The return of some of the characters we love to hate the most make Opal an exhilarating ride that is over far too soon.

Characters
The characters develop and grow and that makes them infinitely more interesting. They might not have had strong backstories coming into the series, but the things that Armentrout puts her characters through creates tortured souls that become far more intriguing as a result. They now have the depth that was lacking in the earlier books, but remain characters we like and root for.

Bottom Line
Another great book in the Lux series that doesn’t just bridge the divide until the next one, but is a fantastic read in its own right.

Title: Onyx
Author: Jennifer L. Armentrout
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Pages: 416
Category: Young Adult Paranormal Romance
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Links to PurchaseAmazonBarnes & Noble