Category : Book Review

In 2011, I featured a young adult contemporary novel called Undiscovered Gyrl by author Allison Burnett on my blog’s Spotlight Week. I did a review of the book and even interviewed the author. Little did I know that the characters I’d read (and worried) about would come to life on the silver screen three years later.

undiscovered gyrl

 

Author/screenwriter Allison Burnett remembered the review I wrote of UNDISCOVERED GYRL and offered me a chance to view the movie two weeks before it was set to air in theaters. Naturally, I jumped at the chance.

To get the taste of what the movie is all about, watch the film trailer below:

 

ASK ME ANYTHING was adapted from the book UNDISCOVERED GYRL by Allison Burnett. When I heard there was going to be a movie version, I was a bit worried that the voice and language which I loved about the book would not translate to the big screen.

Thankfully, I was wrong. The movie stays true to the book—from the complex characters, right down to the spelling errors made by Katie while she was blogging drunk. It helped that the film’s screenwriter and director also happens to be the book’s author, Allison Burnett.

18 year-old Katie Kampenfelt blogs about her life just after graduating from high school. Using an online persona, she shares her personal experiences with anonymous readers. She describes encounters with her alcoholic father, oblivious mother, needy boyfriend, and the older men whom she just can’t seem to stay away from –in particular, a college film professor (Justin Long), and married father (Christian Slater), who happens to be her boss (she’s the nanny for his baby).

ASK-ME-ANYTHING-POSTER

In the novel, the main character’s voice—her unique way of viewing the world and responding to it—dominated every scene, and I was worried that this wouldn’t be portrayed accurately in the film. Katie Kampenfelt is a perceptive and intelligent  soul trapped inside a frustrating cycle of self-abuse and it would take an amazing actress to pull off the role. The film delivers on this end, thanks to the incredible performance of Britt Robertson.

Britt ‘s portrayal of Katie was at once captivating and heart-breaking. I found myself simultaneously loving and hating her, just as I did when I read the book. And it is this honest, realistic performance that made me hate the way the story ended (all over again—since I felt the same way when I read the book).

Just as with the book, the film ends with a complete twist–something most viewers won’t see coming. The reason I hated the ending was because I’d gotten so attached to, and invested in the main character, that a future without her felt heavy and bleak. Though I wish the film had ended with a more hopeful tone, I understand that the story is meant to be a cautionary tale. As a story, ASK ME ANYTHING is an excellent trauma narrative, offering viewers a glimpse into the life and psyche of a young, deeply troubled woman, who is lost, lonely and utterly alone in her struggles to find her place in the scheme of things.

Other outstanding cast members include Robert Patrick, who plays Katie’s alcoholic, washed-out sports-writer father, and Martin Sheen, a bookstore owner with a dark past, and Katie’s first employer.

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Another notable thing about the film is its stellar soundtrack. Running with the book’s theme, it features many “undiscovered” female singer-songwriters, who are all around the same age as main character Katie Kampenfelt. The soundtrack won “Best Music” at the 2014 Nashville Film Festival and you can hear some of the songs here.  By featuring these talented, undiscovered girls, the soundtrack offers a more hopeful alternative to the film’s rather sad ending.

The movie opens TOMORROW  (FRIDAY, DECEMBER 19th, 2014) in selected theaters. You may also stream it on Amazon Instant, ITunes, Xbox and other Video On Demand platforms.

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This month’s Spotlight Week features FAMINE: BOOK ONE OF THE APOCALYPTICS by author Monica Enderle Pierce.

 

Famine

 

Famine: Book One of The Apocalyptics (Volume 1)

410 Pages, Paperback

Genre: Adult Historical Fantasy

Published on March 11, 2014 by Stalking Fiction

ISBN-10: 0985976128

ISBN-13: 978-0985976125

 

First Line

Caught in maelstrom of black feathers and beady eyes, Bartholomew tugged down his top hat and turned up his coat collar to a murder of crows’ sharp talons and beaks. 

 

Synopsis

The fate of every soul rests upon his shoulders. His fate rests in the hands of a troubled, young girl

It’s 1895 — the cusp of the Victorian and Edwardian eras — and Bartholomew Pelletier is a gentleman and a warrior. For fifteen centuries he’s endured the depraved appetite of Famine — one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse — as she’s consumed his strength and sought to unite with her fellow Horsemen. But now Bartholomew’s chance to imprison her has appeared…in the form of his young ward Matilde.

Chosen to wield the immeasurable power of the Catcher — the one entity that can capture the escaped Horsemen — Matilde is a distrustful child from an abusive and impoverished home. She must be hidden from Famine as she grows strong, learns to fight, and reaches adulthood. But Bartholomew faces a terrible act: For Matilde to become the immortal Catcher, he must gain her trust, and then he must end her life.

By any means necessary, Bartholomew intends to conquer this enemy, but is he willing to sacrifice the one person he loves in order to save mankind?

FAMINE is the first novel in a four-book, historical fantasy series. It contains graphic violence, strong language, and sexual content and is intended for mature readers.

 

My Review

One of the things I look for when reading a historical fantasy novel is the author’s ability to describe the historical period accurately and organically. Author Monica Enderle Pierce does this artfully in FAMINE: BOOK ONE OF THE APOCALYPTICS. She does a great job of weaving in details about late Victorian/early culture into the story’s plotline. Descriptions of the era’s architecture, clothing and technology never overpower the narrative, but instead serve to enhance the reader’s experience of the scenes.

More than the setting however, what really drew me into the story were the characters. The main character, Bartholomew Pelletier, is 15 centuries old. Originally a Roman Centurion, Bartholomew was unwittingly drawn into an age-old battle between the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who are meant to destroy the world, and the Catcher, the one being who can stop them. As a boy, he was bound to serve Famine, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Years later, he was recruited by the Catcher to help in her cause. Famine is a cruel mistress, and after enduring centuries of suffering under her hands, Bartholomew has finally found his salvation in the hands of an eight-year old girl. Matilde is destined to become the next Catcher, and it is Bartholomew’s task to prepare her for the enormous task of taking down the four horsemen. Bartholomew could easily end his centuries of suffering by releasing the Catcher into Matilde. But he would never sacrifice a child, “no matter how many souls hung in the balance.” This is what makes him an intriguing and sympathetic protagonist.

One of the things I enjoyed about the book was witnessing Bartholomew and Matilde’s relationship develop and change through the years. The author does a good job of staying true to Matilde’s voice even as she grows from a mistrustful eight-year old child into a capable, yet sometimes petulant teenager. It was satisfying to see how the burdensome task of training Matilde and protecting her from Famine’s forces, transformed Bartholomew. His broken, exhausted heart had finally begun to feel again thanks to Matilde.

Since the story is meant for mature readers, the book does contain sex and violence. There were some scenes that I found cringe-worthy, like when Famine would flay pieces of Bartholomew’s arm and eat it (which is only possible because Bartholomew is immortal and heals rapidly). Aside from a taste for flesh, Famine can also create cadavers, which are more terrifying than zombies because they are not only dead (and therefore almost invincible), they are also capable of independent thought and action.

Despite the more graphic elements of the story however, I enjoyed reading FAMINE. I really love how the author has created this bold concept of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, and built a cast of intriguing characters around it. The book is a wild-ride and readers of historical fantasy books will surely enjoy it.

 

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Tune in this Wednesday as we train the spotlight on FAMINE’s author – Monica Enderle Pierce.

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This month’s Spotlight Week features TIME BOUND, TIME’S ECHO & TIME’S EDGE, books from the CHRONOS FILES SERIES  by author Rysa Walker.

Timebound

 

Timebound (The Chronos Files Book 1)

374 pages, Paperback

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Published on January 1, 2014 by Skyscape

ISBN-10: 1477848150

ISBN-13: 978-1477848159

 

First Line

I do not require life to be neat and orderly.

 

Synopsis

When Kate Pierce-Keller’s grandmother gives her a strange blue medallion and speaks of time travel, sixteen-year-old Kate assumes the old woman is delusional. But it all becomes horrifyingly real when a murder in the past destroys the foundation of Kate’s present-day life. Suddenly, that medallion is the only thing protecting Kate from blinking out of existence.

Kate learns that the 1893 killing is part of something much more sinister, and Kate’s genetic ability to time-travel makes her the only one who can stop him. Risking everything, she travels to the Chicago World’s Fair to try to prevent the killing and the chain of events that follows.

Changing the timeline comes with a personal cost, however—if Kate succeeds, the boy she loves will have no memory of her existence. And regardless of her motives, does she have the right to manipulate the fate of the entire world?

 

time's echo

 

Time’s Echo: A CHRONOS Files Novella (The Chronos Files)

99  pages, Kindle E-book

File Size: 1561 KB

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Published on April 25, 2014 by Skyscape

ASIN: B00JY0FOUS

 

First Line

Kate’s breath is soft against my shoulder when the chirping sound finally wakes me. 

 

Synopsis

Kiernan Dunne abandoned his family ties to help Kate fight the Cyrists, and he’s never regretted that for one moment. But he doesn’t understand why Kate can’t remember that night in 1893 Chicago, when she turned back to face the killer chasing them through the smoky corridors of the World’s Fair Hotel. Kate placed the CHRONOS key around his neck and made his eight year old self promise to wear it always, and that’s a promise Kiernan has never broken.

When Kate suddenly vanishes after a Cyrist-engineered time shift, that hidden medallion is Kiernan’s only hope for finding her. He returns to the Cyrist fold to look for clues, but his search will lead him back to the question that has haunted him for years–what really happened after he left Kate at the World’s Fair Hotel?

 

time's edge

 

 

Time’s Edge (The Chronos Files Book 2)

450 pages, Paperback

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Published on October 21, 2014 by Skyscape

ISBN-10: 1477825827

ISBN-13: 978-1477825822

 

First Line

A pungent whiff of rotting fish hits my nostrils before my eyes open.

 

Synopsis

To stop her sadistic grandfather, Saul, and his band of time travelers from rewriting history, Kate must race to retrieve the CHRONOS keys before they fall into the Cyrists’ hands. If she jumps back in time and pulls the wrong key—one that might tip off the Cyrists to her strategy—her whole plan could come crashing down, jeopardizing the future of millions of innocent people. Kate’s only ally is Kiernan, who also carries the time-traveling gene. But their growing bond threatens everything Kate is trying to rebuild with Trey, her boyfriend who can’t remember the relationship she can’t forget.

As evidence of Saul’s twisted mind builds, Kate’s missions become more complex, blurring the line between good and evil. Which of the people Saul plans to sacrifice in the past can she and Kiernan save without risking their ultimate goal—or their own lives?

 

My Review

I am not at all surprised that TIMEBOUND (then titled Time’s Twisted Arrow) won the 2013 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Grand Prize award. And I won’t be surprised if the other books in the series win many other awards.

Time travel stories are incredibly difficult to pull off, but author Rysa Walker manages to do just that (and more) in her  CHRONOS FILES series. I have read all books in the series so far, beginning with TIMEBOUND (Book One), continuing on with the related novella TIME’S EDGE and ending with TIME’S EDGE (Book Two). In all three books, Rysa Walker has done a spectacular job of keeping me enthralled and at the edge of my seat.This is honestly my favorite time travel series.

While some time travel books leave me confused and disoriented with their twining timelines and multiple versions of characters in different time periods, the CHRONOS FILES SERIES’ time travel component is so masterfully done, that the characters and their storylines are easy to follow. Rysa Walker’s unique explanation of time travel and her choice of settings perfectly complement the exciting plot lines in each book. The addition of historical events and people made the stories feel even more real for me.

In TIMEBOUND, the story’s protagonist Kate Pierce-Keller, travels back in time to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Not only does she have to go up against the people bent on erasing her very existence (the zealot Cyrists, led by her own grandfather Saul, and her aunt Prudence), she also has to go up against renowned serial killer H.H. Holmes. Thankfully she has allies helping her–including  her grandmother Katherine, Katherine’s friend Connor and two teenage boys from completely different timelines who are both in love with her. Trey is from Kate’s own era, while Kiernan was born in the late 1800’s.

TIME’S ECHO is written from Kiernan’s point of view and gives readers a glimpse of his life with another version of Kate. A Kate who disappears after the Cyrists create another time shift.

In TIME’S EDGE, Kate and Kiernan join forces to try and collect all the Chronos keys. While they go to many different locations and periods, they ultimately end up fighting for their lives in 1911 and 1938 Georgia.

The characters in the CHRONOS FILES series (both heroes and villains alike) are so realistically portrayed, it’s hard to imagine they’re not real people. Kate is headstrong and determined, and pushes through her many doubts, fears and the  many dangers she faces in each new mission. As in all YA novels, there is a love triangle though one in this series is unique in its take and deliciously complicated on so many levels. The romance in the story isn’t the main focus, but instead added another layer of excitement to the story.

Rysa Walker is a master at world-building. She describes every timeline, era and setting so well, combining fiction with historical truth, and making me feel as if I were really there. The plot and subplots in all three books were exciting and brilliantly executed. Although I could predict some of the  turns of the story, the big plot twists were ones I that took me by surprise. The series is action-packed, emotionally compelling and simply amazing.

I highly recommend the CHRONOS FILES series. The CHRONOS FILES is definitely in my Top 10 list of all-time favorite series–which is saying a lot since I’ve read so many. I can’t wait to get my hands on the next book in the series!

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This month’s Spotlight Week features THE WRITER’S COMPASS by author Nancy Ellen Dodd.

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The Writer's Compass

224 pages, Softcover

Genre: Writing Resource

Published on June 29, 2011 by Writer’s Digest Books

ISBN-10: 1599631970

ISBN-13: 978-1599631974

 

About the Author

Nancy Ellen Dodd is a writer with many voices, a university instructor, and an editor. She received her master’s in Professional Writing (MPW, which is a multi-discipline approach to writing) from the University of Southern California with a concentration in dramatic writing/screenwriting and her MFA in playwriting at USC’s School of Theatre. Having studied writing for more than 25 years, Dodd currently teaches screenwriting at Pepperdine University for undergraduate and graduate students. Dodd has received numerous awards for her writing and studied with several successful, award-winning writers. Currently on faculty at the Graziadio School of Business at Pepperdine University, Dodd serves as academic editor of the “Graziadio Business Review.”

Check out her website at http://thewriterscompass.com and her blog at http://nancyellendodd.com

 

Back Cover Blurb

How do you tell the story you want to tell and capture your audience’s heart? Regardless of genre or format, to tell your story effectively you must first sort through all the ideas you’ve been toying with–organize them, whip them into shape, and turn them into great writing. Whether you’re writing a novel, a short story, a play, or a screenplay, the 7 stage approach of The Writer’s Compass allows you to focus on one apect of your story at a time–including forming and developing ideas, building strong structures, creating vibrant characters, and structuring scenes and transitions. The path of a writer isn’t always easy. Let The Writer’s Compass be your north star by simplifying a wealth of writing advice into easily applicable concepts that will help you improve your craft.

 

Synopsis

Map out your idea and finish your story in 7 stages!

This book will show writers how to develop their ideas into a finished novel by working through it in 7 stages, while learning how to mapping out their story’s progress and structure so they can evaluate and improve their work. It teaches writers to visualize their story’s progress with a story map that helps them see all the different components of their story, where these components are going, and, perhaps most importantly, what’s missing.

The book simplifies Aristotle’s elements of good writing (a.k.a. that each story should have a beginning, a middle and an end) into easily applicable concepts that will help writers improve their craft. The author helps readers strengthen their work by teaching them how to focus on one aspect of their story at a time, including forming stories and developing ideas, building strong structures, creating vibrant characters, and structuring scenes and transitions. Thought-provoking questions help writers more objectively assess their story’s strengths and weaknesses so they may write the story they want to tell.

 

My Review

 

The author’s diverse writing background is apparent, as THE WRITER’S COMPASS seems to have been structured to be applicable not just to novels, but to short stories, plays and screenplays as well.

Author Nancy Ellen Dodd begins with an introduction to the writing life. Novice writers will appreciate this section, as it talks about how to build a writing life—from creating one’s writing time and space, to deconstructing bad writing habits, and developing an instinct for writing organically.

Part II delves into the meat of the writing book—the Story Map and the 7 Stage Process. The 7 Stages Dodd has created are:

Stage 1: Forming Stories and Developing Ideas,

Stage 2: Building Strong Structures

Stage 3: Creating Vibrant Characters

Stage 4: Structuring Scenes, Sequences, and Transitions

Stage 5: Increasing Tension and Adjusting Pacing

Stage 6: Enriching the Language and Dialogue

Stage 7: Editing the Hard Copy and Submitting

 

Each stage addresses the story elements that tend to require the most attention in terms of story development. The idea behind the 7 Stage Process is to lessen the amount of revision time for the writers. Structure is the main driving force behind the 7 Stage Process. The three-act structure, in particular, is the foundation behind many of the tools and techniques that Dodd shares through the book.

Dodd uses the analogy of building a house to explain how the 7 stages work:

“Much like constructing a house, the 7 Stages are based on developing the story foundation, then adding the structure, the roof, the walls, the flooring, painting and designer touches, and finally moving in. Each stage adds another level of breadth and depth to the story across the entire structure chart.”

Dodd emphasizes the importance of planning a draft and gives writers a tool to help them do just that—the Story Map. The Story Map helps writers map the elements of good storytelling. Using the Story Map, writers can gain valuable insight into narrative flow, and the possible weaknesses their story might have.

Plotters or writers who like outlines, will definitely enjoy the organizing aspect of the Story Map. Pantsers, (writers who write by the seat of their pants) may also benefit from using this tool, as it will give them a general idea of how their story flows, without forcing them to come up with too many story details.

In each of the 7 Stages, Dodd discusses specific methods and lists concrete steps to achieve that particular stage’s goal. For example, the goal in stage 3 is to create vibrant characters, so Dodd explains several elements to help the writer get to know their characters better. These elements include the character’s physiology, heredity, sociology, personality and psychology. She also shares techniques for character development such as Characterization Mapping and the Character Timeline.

The thing I found most helpful about the book were the series of questions in each chapter, designed to challenge the way a writer thinks about his/her story. The questions encourage writers to think about the details, logic, structure, and development of a story. For example, questions like “What do you want to say about life? Your philosophy? The world?”, helps writers define the universal theme of their stories; while questions like, “What caused the over arching event, and what are the results, are they reasonable?”, allow the writer to think about the cause and effect factor within their scenes.

Writers who haven’t had the opportunity to attend writing classes or conferences will definitely benefit from the book’s step by step approach to story-telling. I truly enjoyed the book’s emphasis on structure and am eager to use what I’ve learned in writing my next draft.

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This month’s Spotlight Week features the Supernatural Fantasy trilogy THE UNEARTHLY TRILOGY by author Cynthia Hand.

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Book 1: Unearthly

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464 pages, Paperback

Genre: Young Adult, Supernatural Fantasy

Published on November 1, 2011, by Harperteen

ISBN-10: 0061996173

ISBN-13: 978-0061996177

 

First Lines:

He’s standing with his back to me near my locker. A surge of electricity zings through me as  I recognize him.

 

Synopsis:

Clara Gardner has recently learned that she’s part angel. Having angel blood run through her veins not only makes her smarter, stronger, and faster than humans (a word, she realizes, that no longer applies to her), but it means she has a purpose, something she was put on this earth to do. Figuring out what that is, though, isn’t easy.

Her visions of a raging forest fire and an alluring stranger lead her to a new school in a new town. When she meets Christian, who turns out to be the boy of her dreams (literally), everything seems to fall into place—and out of place at the same time. Because there’s another guy, Tucker, who appeals to Clara’s less angelic side.

As Clara tries to find her way in a world she no longer understands, she encounters unseen dangers and choices she never thought she’d have to make—between honesty and deceit, love and duty, good and evil. When the fire from her vision finally ignites, will Clara be ready to face her destiny?

Book 2: Hallowed: An Unearthly Novel

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Hallowed

432 pages, Paperback

Genre: Young Adult, Supernatural Fantasy

Published on December 26,2012, by Harperteen

ISBN-10: 006199619X

ISBN-13: 978-0061996191

 

First Lines: Bluebell’s not blue anymore. The fire has transformed Tucker’s 1978 Chevy LUV into a mix of black, gray, and rusty orange, the windows shattered by heat, the tires missing the interior a sickening blackened twist of metal and melted dashboard and upholstery.

Synopsis:

For months part-angel Clara Gardner trained to face the raging forest fire from her visions and rescue the alluring and mysterious Christian Prescott from the blaze. But nothing could prepare her for the fateful decisions she would be forced to make that day, or the startling revelation that her purpose—the task she was put on earth to accomplish—is not as straightforward as she thought. Now, torn between her increasingly complicated feelings for Christian and her love for her boyfriend, Tucker, Clara struggles to make sense of what she was supposed to do the day of the fire. And, as she is drawn further into the world of part angels and the growing conflict between White Wings and Black Wings, Clara learns of the terrifying new reality that she must face: Someone close to her will die in a matter of months. With her future uncertain, the only thing Clara knows for sure is that the fire was just the beginning.

 

Book 3: Boundless (Unearthly)

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448 pages, Paperback

Genre: Young Adult, Supernatural Fantasy

Published on December 23, 2013, by Harperteen

ISBN-10:  0061996211

ISBN-13: 978-0061996214

 

First Lines: “How you holding up, Clara?”

I jolt back to myself in the middle of my bedroom, a pile of old magazines strewn around my feet, which must have dropped when the vision hit.

 

Synopsis:

The past few years held more surprises than part-angel Clara Gardner ever could have anticipated. Yet through the dizzying high of first love to the agonizing low of losing someone close to her, the one thing she could no longer deny was that she was never meant to have a normal life.

Since discovering the special role she plays among the other angel-bloods, Clara has been determined to protect Tucker Avery from the evil that follows her . . . even if it means breaking both their hearts. Leaving town seemed like the best option, so she’s headed back to California—and so is Christian Prescott, the irresistible boy from the vision that started her on this journey in the first place.

 As Clara makes her way in a world that is frighteningly new, she discovers that the fallen angel who attacked her is watching her every move. And he’s not the only one. . . . With the battle against the Black Wings looming, Clara knows she must finally fulfill her destiny. But it won’t come without sacrifices and betrayal.

 

My Review:

I was lucky that I discovered UNEARTHLY  (Book 1 of the series) when its sequel, HALLOWED was already out, as I wouldn’t have enjoyed waiting a whole year before I found out what happened next to the characters I’d fallen in love with.

The characters are indeed what make the book such an intriguing read. Clara Gardner may appear to be your typical teenage girl, but she’s far from it. She’s a Quartarius– a quarter angel and in book one, UNEARTHLY, she discovers exactly what being part angel entails. In her world, everyone who has angel blood has a purpose to fulfill.  It’s a big burden to put on anyone, but more so on the shoulders of a sixteen-year old. The concept of free will adds to the drama, and Clara is constantly torn between accomplishing her Purpose or following her heart.

In Book 2, HALLOWED, Clara has to deal with many difficult things in her life. Not only does she have to deal with the consequences of her past decisions, she also has to try and uncover the secrets her own mother has been keeping from her. In Book 3, BOUNDLESS, stakes are raised even higher. She has to deal with the Black Wings, fallen angels who threaten the world she knows and everyone she loves.

Although Clara she is part angel, her reactions to the things that happen to her is all human. And that is what makes her such a relatable and sympathetic main character. The series obviously has the good vs. evil theme going on, but the author chose to keep God as a distant being who has no direct relation to the story’s happening. I found this refreshing for a story that has to do with angels.

Of course, it wouldn’t be YA if there wasn’t a love interest (or two).  And there is a love triangle in this story. Clara falls in love with Tucker, her  rugged cowboy-type classmate. The problem is, he is human and not at all a part of her great angel Purpose. Unlike Christian— handsome, all around good guy, who is also part-angel and clearly has everything to do with her Purpose in life. So many wonderful conflicts arise from this situation. Though there is the usual dose of teen angst and heartbreaks, the way the Clara’s relationships with both Tucker and Christian develops, was masterfully done.  And until the very end, I couldn’t decide whether I wanted Clara to end up with Tucker or Christian.

Reading through Clara, Tucker, Christian and the other characters’ personal struggles was like watching friends go through the worse possible situations, and not being able to help. As much as the books dealt with romantic love, it also heavily featured familial love. There were so many great emotional moments, and author Cynthia Hand is incredibly good at tugging on readers’ heartstrings.

Aside from the wonderfully drawn out characters, the setting also gave great depth to the story. Author Cynthia Hand portrays Jackson Hole, Wyoming so beautifully that I found myself wanting to book a plane ticket just to see the place for myself.

The plot was equally mesmerizing, with numerous twists and turns. The series wasn’t all about emotional conflicts. There were mysteries and questions that kept me constantly turning pages and lots of action sequences that kept me at the edge of my seat.

UNEARTHLY, HALLLOWED, BOUNDLESS and the related novella RADIANT are all great reads and I recommend you read them all.

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Tune in again on Wednesday for an interview with the awesome Cynthia Hand.

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This month’s Spotlight Week features the Sci-Fi trilogy THE JENNA FOX CHRONICLES by author Mary E. Pearson.

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Book 1: The Adoration of Jenna Fox

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The Adoration of Jenna Fox (Jenna Fox Chronicles)

288 pages, Paperback

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Published on September 1, 2009, by Henry Holt and Co.

ISBN-10: 0312594410

ISBN-13: 978-0312594411

First Lines: I used to be someone. Someone named Jenna Fox.

 

Synopsis:

Identity.

Where does it lie? In a face? A voice? A bundled string of events we call a lifetime? Is it in our DNA, bone, flesh, ancestry? How do we define our identity, and is it a once and for all definition?

Who am I? Can anyone ever know for sure just what it takes to be who we are?

We all search for our place in this world and how we fit in, but for Jenna Fox that search reaches dark new dimensions when she wakes from a coma and can’t remember who she is. Worse, she doesn’t remember the people who claim to be her parents. There is something curious about them, about the house they all live in–in fact, curious describes her whole life, as she attempts to unlock the secrets of who she was, and who she has become.

The Adoration of Jenna Fox is about Jenna’s search for identity, a quest as old as history, but as startling as the future.

 

Book 2: The Fox Inheritance

fox inheritance

The Fox Inheritance (Jenna Fox Chronicles)

320 pages, Paperback

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Published on February 19, 2013, by Henry Holt and Co.

ISBN-10: 1250010322

ISBN-13: 978-1250010322

 

First Lines: My hands close around the heavy drape, twisting it into a thick cord. About the same thickness as a neck.

Synopsis:

Once there were three. Three friends who loved each other—Jenna, Locke, and Kara. After a terrible accident destroyed their bodies, their three minds were kept alive, spinning in a digital netherworld. Even in that disembodied nightmare, they were still together. At least at first. When Jenna disappeared, Locke and Kara had to go on without her. Decades passed, and then centuries.

Two-hundred-and-sixty years later, they have been released at last. Given new, perfect bodies, Locke and Kara awaken to a world they know nothing about, where everyone they once knew and loved is long dead.

Everyone except Jenna Fox. 

 

Book 3: Fox Forever

fox forever

 

Fox Forever: The Jenna Fox Chronicles

 

304 pages, Paperback

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Published on March 19, 2013, by Henry Holt and Co.

ISBN-10: 0805094342

ISBN-13: 978-0805094343

First Line: I stare at my gravestone. Locke Jenkins.

Synopsis:

Locke Jenkins has some catching up to do. After spending 260 years as a disembodied mind in a little black box, he has a perfect new body. But before he can move on with his unexpected new life, he’ll have to return the Favor he accepted from the shadowy resistance group known as the Network.

Locke must infiltrate the home of a government official by gaining the trust of his daughter, seventeen-year-old Raine, and he soon finds himself pulled deep into the world of the resistance—and into Raine’s life.

Mary E. Pearson brings the story she began in The Adoration of Jenna Fox and continued in The Fox Inheritance to a breathtaking conclusion as Locke discovers that being truly human requires much more than flesh and blood.

 

My Review:

 

I first fell in love with the series in 2012, when I listened to The Adoration of Jenna Fox on Audible.

My first impression of the book was, “Wow. This character has such a GREAT VOICE.”  And throughout the rest of series, that impression never wavered, even when the series switches to a new POV character in Books 2 & 3.

Behind the captivating voices in the trilogy, however, are wonderful, three-dimensional characters. Besides the exciting plot and the intriguing scientific concepts presented in the books, the element that truly stood out for me were Mary E. Pearson’s characters.

In THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX, we meet the protagonist Jenna Fox, an inquisitive and sensitive teen. Jenna lives in California, at a time when science and technology has made enormous strides. After a year in coma after a car accident, Jenna wakes up and learns that her two best friends did not survive the crash as she did. The more she remembers about her old life, the more she realizes that there is something very wrong with her new one. As she discovers the truth about her current existence, Jenna begins to question the definition of self. She questions the morality of her existence, struggling to understand the repercussions behind her parents’ decisions to save her from the car accident.

In THE FOX INHERITANCE, we meet Kara and Locke, 260 years after the accident that stole their lives. Everyone they know and love is gone. Except for Jenna Fox. For more than two centuries, Kara and Locke’s minds were preserved in a box.  With the advent of a more advanced technology, their bodies were recreated and they were finally given new lives. But while Locke adjusts slowly but surely to his new life, Kara has changed in a very bad way. The two get separated and Locke goes on a journey to find Jenna.

FOX FOREVER picks up right after the second book. The last book in the trilogy follows Locke as he tries to make sense of the life he now has. 260 years after his accident, the only person alive whom he knows is Jenna Fox. But while Jenna’s body is still that of a 17 year old, her mind has already matured through centuries of existence. She encourages him to go on his own to live his life and seek out new experiences. Before Locke can move on with his new life, he has to return a favor given to him by the Network, the resistance group that helped him escape from the lab. He infiltrates the home of a government official by gaining the trust of the official’s daughter, Raine.

While the books talk about scientific advancements in bio-engineering and genetic modification, it isn’t set in a dystopian world.  I loved how the author worked scientific concepts into the books, seamlessly blending them into the plot itself. And despite the series spanning several states (California to Boston) and centuries, the story flows perfectly. There are many exciting plot twists and turns to balance out the introspective nature of the characters.

This book has wonderful, sympathetic characters, a well-developed action-filled plot and the ability to make you question the meaning of humanity and humaneness. I most definitely recommend this amazing series.

 

 

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Tune in again on Wednesday for an interview with the awesome Mary E. Pearson.

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Spotlight Week: Control by Lydia Kang

This month’s Spotlight Week features the Sci-Fi novel CONTROL by author and blogger  Lydia Kang.

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control lydia kang

 

Control

 

400 pages, Hard Cover

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

Published on December 26, 2103 by Dial

ISBN-10: 0803739044

ISBN-13: 978-0803739048

 

 

First Line:

Maybe if I move a little slower, I can prevent the inevitable.

 

Synopsis:

Set in 2150 — in a world of automatic cars, nightclubs with auditory ecstasy drugs, and guys with four arms — this is about the human genetic “mistakes” that society wants to forget, and the way that outcasts can turn out to be heroes.

When their overprotective father is killed in a terrible accident, Zel and her younger sister, Dylia, are lost in grief. But it’s not until strangers appear, using bizarre sensory weapons, that the life they had is truly eviscerated. Zel ends up in a safe house for teens that aren’t like any she’s ever seen — teens who, by law, shouldn’t even exist. One of them — an angry tattooed boy haunted by tragedy — can help Zel reunite with her sister.

But only if she is willing to lose him.

 

My Review:

 

The book’s tagline, “A spiraling, intense, romantic read” is a bit misleading. CONTROL is way more than a romance story. It is moral dilemmas, fascinating science, and nail-biting action all rolled into one.

Unlike most Dystopian novels, the world of CONTROL is isn’t filled with barren wastelands or dilapidated buildings. In fact, there is a lot about the setting that I found extremely fascinating. Roads are filled with flying vehicles called magpods, and people walk around with holos—cellphones/computers that all fit in one neat earpiece. Scents/perfumes can be downloaded like programs and styling wands can whip your hair up into a neat do in a few seconds.

And the people have evolved, too—or at least some of them have. Mutants are both prized and hunted by the people who know they exist. Genetic anomalies range from having four arms, or two heads, to having green skin or the ability to heal very quickly. The main character, Zelia, thinks she is normal until she discovers that she has the most sought after mutation of all.

Zelia is a main character you can easily sympathize with. In the beginning of the story she’s presented as sort of “the runt of the litter,” after all she’s sixteen and her body is still under-developed and she has the Ondine’s Curse—a breathing disorder (a real disease), which makes her unable to breathe without the help of a necklace. But as the story progresses, Zelia’s real strengths begin to emerge—her aptitude for science, great skills in lab work, her determination to achieve her goals, and her love for her sister.

The other characters in the story were intriguing in their own right. The allies of Carus House and the villains of Aureaus House were all diverse, fascinating individuals with clear and distinct personalities. In particular, the way the Carus House personalities clash and mesh, and the way they interact with each other through action and dialogue felt very natural and real. Cy, Zelia’s love interest is a  bad boy (complete with tattooes), but is also a brilliant scientist. I enjoyed watching their relationship develop from loathing to loving.

The author, Lydia Kang is a medical doctor and her expertise in the field clearly shows in her writing. Zelia and Cy’s lab work, and the discussions on DNA genetics were authentic and well laid out. Their research into their special abilities gave me a renewed appreciation of  science and genetics.

I loved the many external and internal conflicts set up in the story. There was never a dull moment for me as every scene seemed to be filled with some interesting new piece of information, or some exciting action.

The story’s fast pace and “ticking time bomb” aspect made foreshadowing a bit difficult to achieve. I wanted to see hints of Zelia’s physical strengths, or at least see how her fighting abilities developed, before her final kick-ass battle. But other than that, I enjoyed every single moment of CONTROL.

CONTROL is an exciting Sci-Fi novel filled with well-developed characters, exciting plot twist, intriguing scientific insights, ponderous moral dilemmas and incredibly high stakes.

A word of caution: make sure you are comfortable and not pressed for time before you pick up the book, because  it is incredibly difficult to stop reading CONTROL once you’ve begun.

 

 

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Tune in again on Wednesday for an interview with the awesome Lydia Kang.

 

 

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This month’s Spotlight Week features Steampunk novel DRAGONFLY WARRIOR by author and blogger Jay Noel

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DragonflyWarrior ebook modified

 

 

Dragonfly Warrior (The Mechanica Wars)

386 pages, Paperback

Genre: Adult, Steampunk Fantasy

Published on December 21, 2103 by 4 Wing Press

ISBN-10: 0991235606

ISBN-13: 978-0991235605

 

First Line:

Prince Kanze Zenjiro knew his mother was going to die one day from the illness that robbed her of her usual vitality

 

Synopsis:

At the age of twenty, Kanze Zenjiro’s bloody footprints mark the bodies of those who stood in his way to protect the throne of his beloved nation of Nihon. Now, the tyrannical Iberian Empire is bent on destroying his kingdom, and they are sure to send their steam-powered giants and iron spiders against him. Zen embarks on a quest that takes him on the most dangerous journey of his life. To succeed, Zen must live up to his nickname, the Dragonfly Warrior, and kill all his enemies with only a sword and a pair of six-guns and somehow survive a test of faith and loyalty in a world so cruel and merciless, it borders on madness.

 

My Review:

 

In main character Zenjiro’s world, there are airships and pistols, but there are also samurais and fighting tribal clans.

Zenjiro is a prince, but he is also a Samurai. When he goes into a battle, he also goes into a state called Ishen which gives him laser focus, amazing speed and allows him to deal death to his enemies swiftly and efficiently. At the young age of twenty, his battle skills and prowess as a warrior are already well known throughout the land of Nihon.

In hopes of uniting the eastern lands under Nihon rule, Zen’s father sends him on a quest to retrieve the Sky Blade, an ancient sword of legend. But since the quest is also a spiritual one, Zen is not allowed to bring anything but the barest essentials and must somehow track the sword using his own wits and strength alone. With only a medallion cut from the same stone as the Sky Blade as a guide, Zen goes off on his quest.

Although Zen is the story’s central character, I was able to get a peek into the other characters perspectives as well, thanks to the novel’s multiple POV. It was great to see Zen come to life through his own thoughts, but also through the perspective of the other characters around him. He’s a good person who has flaws just like everyone else. What struck me about Zen was his strong love and respect for his mother. Years after her death, he still heeds her words and pays tribute to her memory. It was refreshing to have a warrior character show that very vulnerable side of himself.

Aside from Zen, DRAGONFLY WARRIOR is filled with other fun characters whose lives are so fascinating, they could probably have their own books. There’s Zapitoni, the pirate whose rough exterior hides a kind heart, Neva, the woman warrior who is out to save her son, and Enapay, the tribal man whose love for technology took him far from his homeland. Their individual storylines somehow weave in with Zen’s own journey to create a memorable story that spans many lands.

I love that Zen’s adventure allowed me a glimpse into his story world. It was easy to imagine places like Nihon, Koreya, Iberia and Francia not only because the names were derived from the real countries, but because the settings themselves were described so visually.

There were moments when the narrative seemed to drag on, but the action-packed scenes more than made up for them. Aside from the fun characters and well-imagined setting, the plot itself was full of intriguing twists and turns. And I love that all the steampunk details—a submarine, an airship, pistols and goggles were all set amid the backdrop of Eastern mythology.

DRAGONFLY WARRIOR is Steampunk Samurai. It breaks away from the usual steampunk novel set in Victorian England and takes readers on an adventure-laden journey into the wild East. It was truly an enjoyable read, and I can’t wait to see where Zen goes next.

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Tune in again on Wednesday for an interview with the awesome Jay Noel.

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This month’s Spotlight Week features the ACROSS THE UNIVERSE TRILOGY by YA Author BETH REVIS

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Across the universe copies

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE

416 pages, Hardcover

Genre: YA, Ages 12 and up

Published on November 11, 2011 by Razorbill

ISBN-10: 1595143971

ISBN-13: 978-1595143976

 

First Line: Daddy said, “Let Mom go first.”

Synopsis:

A love out of time. A spaceship built of secrets and murder.

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awake on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into a brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship—tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now, Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

A million suns copies

A MILLION SUNS

386 pages, Hardcover

Genre: YA, Ages 12 and up

Published on January 10, 2012 by Razorbill

ISBN-10: 159514398X

ISBN-13: 978-1595143983

First Line: “This isn’t going to be easy,” I mutter, staring at the solid metal door that leads to the Engine Room on the Shipper Level of Godspeed.

Synopsis:

Godspeed was once fueled by lies. Now it is ruled by chaos.

It’s been three months since Amy was unplugged. The life she always knew is over. And everywhere she looks, she sees the walls of the spaceship Godspeed. But there may just be hope: Elder has assumed leadership of the ship. He’s finally free to enact his vision – no more Phydus, no more lies.

But when Elder discovers shocking news about the ship, he and Amy race to discover the truth behind life on Godspeed. They must work together to unlock a puzzle that was set in motion hundreds of years earlier, unable to fight the romance that’s growing between them and the chaos that threatens to tear them apart.

In book two of the Across the Universe trilogy, New York Times bestselling author Beth Revis mesmerizes us again with a brilliantly crafted mystery filled with action, suspense, romance, and deep philosophical questions. And this time it all builds to one mind-bending conclusion: They have to get off this ship.

shades of earth copies

SHADES OF EARTH

400 pages, Hardcover

Genre: YA, Ages 12 and up

Published on January 15, 2013 by Razorbill

ISBN-10: 1595143998

ISBN-13: 978-1595143990

 

First Line: “Wait,” I say, my heart clenching.

Synopsis:

Amy and Elder have finally left the oppressive walls of the spaceship Godspeed behind. They’re ready to start life afresh–to build a home–on Centauri-Earth, the planet that Amy has traveled 25 trillion miles across the universe to experience. But this new Earth isn’t the paradise that Amy had been hoping for. Amy and Elder must race to uncover who–or what–else is out there if they are to have any hope of saving their struggling colony and building a future together.

But as each new discovery brings more danger, Amy and Elder will have to look inward to the very fabric of what makes them human on this, their most harrowing journey yet. Because if the colony collapses?

Then everything they have sacrificed–friends, family, life on Earth–will have been meaningless

ATU trilogy

My Review:

Beth Revis’s ACROSS THE UNIVERSE TRILOGY is one of my most favorite YA trilogies of all time.

From the first lines of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE to the last paragraph of SHADES OF EARTH, author Beth Revis has kept me hooked.

I got chills when I read the first chapter of ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. The vivid description of how Amy began her journey into space was so gripping and memorable that the images lingered in my mind long after I’d finished the book.

Majority of the story is set in space, and Beth Revis does an amazing job of making the spaceship Godspeed come alive, without being so overly technical in her descriptions. She cleverly uses the setting to elevate the drama and suspense in her story.

The books are told from the point of view of the two main characters Amy and Elder. Amy was born in Soul Earth and sees Godspeed as a prison. Elder is shipborn and thus considers Godspeed his home.Witnessing the unfolding events from both the eyes of an outside, and that of an insider, gave me a complete and deep perspective of the whole story.  I loved being privy to these two characters’ constantly changing and evolving relationship. I truly enjoyed witnessing their love for each other deepen throughout the series.

But what I loved most about the books is the over arching story itself. Being trapped inside a dying spaceship with no hope of ever seeing the planet you thought you’d call home is bad enough. Add the excitement of a budding teen romance, the mystery of why the spaceship is centuries late for its landing, and the suspense of having a cunning murderer on the loose–and you have a series that you just simply can’t stop reading.

Although I adored the first two books, I have to say SHADES OF EARTH is my absolute favorite. The author’s ability to create mystery and suspense and to world-build is most obvious in this final installation. I enjoyed reading it so much that I was actually sad to see the story end. Beth Revis weaves the storylines masterfully and ties everything up neatly. I was left with a feeling of utter satisfaction at having completed such an amazing journey with the characters I had come to love.

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, A MILLION SUNS & SHADES OF EARTH are all awesome reads. This trilogy will make your heart pound and flutter for all sorts of reasons. I recommend these books to anyone who loves space operas, thrilling romances, and suspenseful mysteries. Or just anyone who loves a great story.

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Tune in again on Wednesday for an interview with the awesome Beth Revis.

 

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The Emotion Thesaurus

 

 

Product Details

172 pages, Paperback

Genre: Writing Book

Published on May 6, 2012 by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

ISBN-10: 1475004958

ISBN-13: 978-1475004953

 

Book Description

One of the biggest problem areas for writers is conveying a character’s emotions to the reader in a unique, compelling way. This book comes to the rescue by highlighting 75 emotions and listing the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each.

Using its easy-to-navigate list format, readers can draw inspiration from character cues that range in intensity to match any emotional moment. The Emotion Thesaurus also tackles common emotion-related writing problems and provides methods to overcome them.

This writing tool encourages authors to show, not tell emotion and is a creative brainstorming resource for any fiction project.

 

My Review

This book is a lifesaver, and one writing book which I can’t live without.

I’m a big fan of the “show, don’t tell” tenet of writing. So in my own manuscripts, I try to make sure that in every scene I leave it up to the reader to understand the emotions the character is feeling. I don’t tell them what the character is feeling directly, instead, I try to show the emotions of the character through her actions, thoughts and sometimes through her dialogue.

Throughout the story, my characters will go through a range of emotions, and often will experience one emotion several times. I seriously wanted to shred my first draft after reading the phrase “her eyes widened” or “he swallowed hard” or “her hands shook” over and over again. I realized that I needed fresh, new ways of showing my characters’ emotions to replace the tired, old clichés I had used.

I squealed with delight (and relief) when I discovered this book online. The book begins with a short overview of emotion and its place in writing. The authors also introduce various techniques for writing nonverbal emotion, and explain how writers can use the Emotion Thesaurus.

The Emotion Thesaurus lists 75 different emotions. The authors define the emotion and list physical signals, internal sensations and mental responses a person might have to the emotion. They also list cues of acute or long-term encounters with the emotion and cues of suppressed experience of the emotion. To top it all off, they give a writer’s tip for using that particular emotion in your work.

Authors Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi have saved every fiction writer years of work and research by writing this book. They have saved us the trouble of having to figure out what body language, thoughts, and visceral responses our characters might have when experiencing a particular emotion.

I always keep this book handy whenever I’m deep in revisions. The Emotion Thesaurus helps me create three-dimensional, relatable characters by helping me deepen the way they express their emotions in scenes. By doing so, I also lift my prose up to a higher level.

With the Emotion Thesaurus’s help, I can replace boring lines like “she was so depressed she could barely stand and answer the phone” with stronger lines like “The circles under her eyes had grown darker. She stared out the window, ignoring the phone that had been ringing for the past half hour.”

I give this book 10 stars out of 5, and recommend all writers—new and seasoned alike–to pick up a copy. It’s sure to change the way you perceive emotions, and the elevate the way you write.

 

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