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1. Marvel versus DC Comics -- Thoughts on Writing Characters Post Guardians of the Galaxy

We went to see Guardians of the Galaxy on opening night. I was skeptical, I admit it. A talking raccoon with a gun? Not usually my cup of Earl Gray, what can I tell you.

But.


It was actually irreverent, charming, engrossing, funny, and unexpectedly warm. In short, it was better than great.

Trying to explain the reason for that greatness to someone who hadn't seen the film left me a little bit perplexed though. Because if Marvel can make a film starring a talking, gun-toting raccoon, surely someone can make a decent film with a woman lead? (Cough, Wonder Woman, cough. I'm looking at you D.C.)

Which brings me to another point. As good as this movie was -- and it is going to be shown at my house frequently, trust me -- what I loved most about it was that the female character actually got to drive the bus. This isn't Gamora's movie, don't get me wrong. Zoe Saldana plays just one piece in an ensemble cast, but that piece is the one who proves the motivation and the heart for the team to do what it must (see how non-spoilerly I made that?) to overcome the bad guy. And frankly, without her, the team's involvement with the bad guy would basically have been summed up in a few words: get the thing bad-guy wants, then run like hell.

What else did I love about Gamora? She's sexy, sure, but despite a couple of almost-moments with Star-Lord (as played by Chris Pratt), she doesn't succumb to insta-love. The tension is building and you can see it coming, maybe, but Marvel didn't cheese up the script by including a gratuitous romantic sub-plot that was just too fast to work. Instead, they focused on pulling together a bunch of loners and making them into a team.

That's warm. That's human--even if only one of the characters involved was actually homo-sapiens. (Or half, anyway.)

And that brings me to my topic of the day. It seems to me that there are two schools of approach emerging vis a vis comic book adaptations.

Marvel has a repertoire of films that stars characters who seem to think all is more-or-less okay in their world, and then get dragged into something that's clearly not okay. How they deal with their changed situation forms the underpinnings of the story and creates the extra layer of warmth that connects us to them.

Recent Marvel Films include:

  • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
  • X-Men, Days of Future Past (2014)
  • The Amazing Spider Man 2 (2014)
  • Captain America - Winter Soldier (2014)
  • Thor: The Dark World (2013)
  • The Wolverine (2013)
  • Iron Man 3 (2013)

DC on the other hand includes:

  • Man of Steel (2013)
  • The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
  • The Green Lantern (2011)
  • Jonah Hex (2010)
I keep trying to put my finger on what's missing in the DC films for me. I think it comes down to humor. There's a certain amount of wallowing in darkness that the DC films dive into that Marvel leavens with just enough humor to keep the characters from getting broody.

Don't get me wrong: I write dark. My characters (duh, they're cursed, right?) have some pretty crappy lots in life. But even if they feel sorry for themselves, they don't like feeling sorry for themselves. And from now on, I'm going to refer to that as a Marvelous way to handle character.

So what do you think? Do you see a difference in how the two studios portray character? Handle characters ARCs? Bring human into their scripts?

And now for some winners : ) 

The winner of the Pick 3 Arcs #1 is:

Patricia Lopez

She can pick three of the following: BZRK, The Walled City, Sinner, Ghost House, of Scars and Stardust, Lament, I'll Give You the Sun, Unmarked, Lux, White Hot Kiss, Falling into Place, Scintillate.

The winner of the Pick 3 Arcs or Books #2 is:

Rebecca Greer

Pick Any Three: Unmade, Perfected, Beauty of the Broken, Til Death, Unravel Me, Compulsion, Shatter Me, The Raven Boys, Diamond Boy, Allies and Assassins, The Walled City, Black Ice

The winners of the two ECHOES OF US ARCs  by Kat Zhang are:

Anne VanLoon

Heather Ratlin

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2. Guest Book Review: In the Shadow of the Volcano by Wendy Leighton-Porter

shadow

Publisher: Mauve Square Publishing; 1 edition (April 15, 2013)
ASIN: B00CDUXKUC
Rating: Five stars
Age group: 9+

The Shadow of the Volcano is the fifth adventure of twins Joe and Jemima Lancelot and their friend Charlie. Joe and Jemima have been searching for their parents who disappeared several months earlier. Thanks to an old book and a magical key, as well as special charms, the kids and Max (their talking Tonkinese cat) are able to travel back in time to search for the twins’ parents. Sadly, on their previous adventures, it seems the twins’ parents were always just ahead of them. On this trip, they hope they’ll catch up with their mum and dad. Trips back in time can be dangerous, especially if they end up in the middle of a war, or some disaster. The kids have had their fair share of those and this trip is no less dangerous. The kids and Max end up in Pompeii, just a few days before Mount Vesuvius will explode, destroying the whole city. Unfortunately, they also land up on the tail end of a consignment of slaves. The slave dealer Scylax is ecstatic because he’s convinced he was short-changed by three slaves in the last delivery. Jemima befriends a young slave, a Briton called Caris, and tries to cheer her up. Luckily, Joe and Jemima are attractive twins and take the fancy of their new owners, while Charlie, originally thought weedy, impresses the book-keeper with his skill in mathematics. Joe has the hardest time of all, working his fingers to the bone, as he grumbles, while Charlie and Jemima have relatively easy jobs. Max manages to inveigle himself into the household, but on the night of a party, is booted out. He is rescued by a priestess of the Temple of Isis, and she is in love with a gladiator. An adventure to rival all others ensues, with a magnificent fake battle between Leo (a lion that Max helped) and Felix, the handsome young gladiator. All this time, the kids keep trying to warn people about the impending disaster; some listen and will escape the conflagration, but for the most part, people don’t heed the warnings. Vesuvius has rumbled before and they are used to it. Will the kids catch up with their parents? Will they make it back to their own world?
I just love this series and, in my opinion, it keeps getting better with every book. Author Wendy Leighton-Porter has such a lovely sense of humour that brings even the smallest characters vividly to life. Max is utterly captivating as himself, with delusions of grandeur after living as the descendant of a god in the Temple of Isis. The kids’ new owner is based on a real Pompeiian, whose villa was discovered and excavated. So much fact is cleverly woven into the story, teaching kids a history lesson without their even knowing it. There are details that young readers will remember, simply because of the way these have been used in the tale to lend credence and veracity. Who can argue with an exciting piece of history? Of course, as in her other books, Wendy Leighton-Porter does not shy away from the gritty realities of life back then. Being a slave was no easy task, and if one was a gladiator, death was just another fight away. I truly enjoyed the rich detail of Pompeiian life pervading the story, down to the descriptions of the eruption and what it must have been like for people at the time. The end material includes some lovely particulars for avid young explorers and historians; a glossary, a floor plan of a typical house, photos of the Pompeiian excavation and more. As always, maps put the leap back in time firmly into perspective. This book is a real winner, and don’t be surprised if your young relative starts sounding like an expert volcanologist. PS: If anyone is wondering how the romance is going between the twins’ Uncle Richard and Charlie’s mum … they are going on another date!

 

http://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Volcano-Shadows-Past-Book-ebook/dp/B00CDUXKUC

 

Reviewer’s bio: Fiona Ingram is an award-winning middle grade author who is passionate about getting kids interested in reading. Find out more about Fiona and her books on www.FionaIngram.com. She reviews books for the Jozikids Blog.


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3. Guest Book Review: More Than This by Patrick Ness

more

Publisher: Candlewick; Reprint edition (July 22, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0763676209
ISBN-13: 978-0763676209
Genre: Dystopian
Suggested reading Age: Grade 9+

Three stars

Seventeen-year-old Seth drowns; in fact his action is deliberate. He wants to escape the horror of his existence. Racked with guilt over the fate of his younger brother, an event he feels is his entire fault, he doesn’t have much to live for. Then he wakes up, back in his old home in England, and things start becoming very weird indeed. He is wrapped in silvery bandages, and his old street is deserted. The whole place is uninhabited and overgrown. He seems to be the only person left alive in the world. He must now forage and scrounge for clothing, food and water. He wonders if this is hell. His dreams don’t help because his previous life comes back to him in huge, unwelcome chunks of memory. Then he meets two other people, with their own unique and strange tales to tell.

Despite the fantastic beginning, with a description that pulled me right into the ocean with Seth, I struggled to finish this book. Parts of it were incredibly exciting and then would grind to a halt with unnecessary introspective and philosophical meanderings on the part of the main character, meanderings which became boring and one had the urge to say, “Oh, just get on with it!” The plus side: an utterly riveting and plausible story premise that comes much later on (just when you are wondering what on earth this is all about and is he dead or not, and if everyone else is dead, then where are the bodies?); really wonderful descriptions that have the reader in the grip of the moment; action and tension to add to the positively bleak and hopeless situation; events that come out of nowhere that have a cinematographic and surreal feel to them; the depth of emotion Seth feels for the loss of his younger brother and his friends. In fact, Seth’s guilt is so palpable that one is consumed with curiosity to learn the truth. The two characters that join him are so different, so lost as well, and so eager to hide the circumstances of their lives/deaths. One feels the pain of the characters as they reveal the humiliating and tragic burdens they each carry.

What I did not enjoy: the flashbacks were sometimes jarring and intrusive, until I accepted them as part of the story-telling process; the fact that this world, while it began as an interesting construct, did not have enough to sustain the story and/or the last three inhabitants. I found the ending abrupt and it short-changes the reader in a way. There were many loose ends in the unfolding of this tale that I feel the author might have tried to answer. The characters were confused and, as a result, the reader becomes confused. It is as if the author didn’t bother to work things out to the last detail, which is possibly not the case, but feels that way. The reference to same sex love/relationships was dealt with sensitively and delicately, in an almost tender way. However, this might surprise readers who are not prepared for it, especially if the reader is younger than the protagonist’s age of 17. Ultimately, the characters’ thoughts on what constitutes life and death, and the option of living in a constructed world, avoiding the reality of a life too sad/tragic/hopeless to contemplate should give readers food for thought. However, I have no doubt that the intended audience of older teens and YA readers will love this book.

http://www.amazon.com/More-Than-This-Patrick-Ness/dp/0763676209/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

 

Reviewer’s bio: Fiona Ingram is an award-winning middle grade author who is passionate about getting kids interested in reading. Find out more about Fiona and her books on www.FionaIngram.com. She reviews books for the Jozikids Blog.


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4. It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader: Kelly Jensen

Book: It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader
Author: Kelly Jensen
Pages: 278
Age Range: Adult (reference title for librarians and others who do reader's advisory for teens)

I'm not quite the target audience for It Happens: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader, but I've been following Kelly Jensen's blog for years, and I have a lot of respect for her knowledge of and advocacy for young adult fiction. So when she had a contest on her blog to win a copy of It Happens, I decided to enter. And I won! So now I'm here to tell you a bit about the book. 

It Happens is a reference title for anyone who provides reader's advisory to teens, and wants to do better at recommending contemporary realistic fiction. As a blogger/reviewer, I do some of what Kelly calls "passive reader's advisory" (recommending titles, and discussing what interests a particular book might fall under). I can imagine doing more active reader's advisory (where you discuss a teen's interest with them and recommend specific titles) when my daughter and her friends are teenagers. In the meantime, I do a little of that with my nieces, friends who read YA, etc.

Anyway, this book is an excellent resource for anyone who wants to get the right books into the hands of teens, particularly librarians and teachers. It Happens is both a primer on HOW to get the right book into the right hands and a resource with suggestions for exactly what those books might be. In Part 1, Kelly defines realistic contemporary young adult fiction, discusses why this genre is both important and under-publicized, and provides some general resources (book awards, etc.) for discovering titles. She also proposes methods for evaluating and categorizing YA titles, and concludes with a detailed chapter on reader's advisory skills. 

Here is Kelly's definition of contemporary YA, from the end of Chapter 1:

"Contemporary YA features young adult protagonists set in today's world incorporating today's issues, paralleling and intertwining with the values that every teen - and every reader - thinks about: family, friendship, growing up, loss, faith, the future, and many, many more." (Page 8)

She starts each chapter with a quote (some short, some long) from an author or a librarian or other gatekeeper. I found these quotations inspirational in many cases. Like this, from Lisa Schroeder:

"... But perhaps after closing the pages of a well-done contemporary YA novel, a teen will think: If she can make it through, I can, too." (Page 9)

That's why we're here, right? To find the books that can make a real different for kids. I also personally, as a member of the children's book blogging community, enjoyed seeing quotes from people whose blogs I've been reading for years, like Liz Burns and Sarah Gross. [Though I think it would have been helpful for readers less familiar with the community had at least the names of these people's blogs been included.] 

As a reviewer, I found that Chapter 4, on methods for evaluating fiction, resonated, even though (or perhaps because) some of the topics were things that I have been thinking about for a long time. Here's what Kelly has to say about critical evaluation:

"Critical evaluation highlights the elements of a text that work well and those that don't work quite so well. All books have their strengths and their weaknesses, and while critical evaluation sounds like a way to tease out and emphasize only the parts that don't work, that's not the case. Exploring what does and does not work at the same time offers a thorough means for understanding not just the book at hand, but fiction more widely. (Page 27)

All in all, I enjoyed the first part of the book, and learned a bit about book genres and reader's advisory. But for me, where It Happens really shines is in Part 2. In this section, Kelly provides fifteen book "annotations" for each of ten separate topics, thus profiling 150 books in detail. Her selections are all relatively current titles (from the past 10 years), and do not include the obvious, huge print run titles, which people already know about. 

Each annotation includes a cover image, a brief summary of the book, a link to the book's trailer, if available, and a list of "Appeal Factors" (e.g. "female main character", "moving", "deafness", etc.). The appeal factors are very useful (and an index of the factors is available at the end of the book). Kelly goes beyond the genres to get into real specifics, like books set in particular locations, books with people of color or non-traditional families, books about filmmaking or fishing, etc.  

Below that, Kelly also includes a brief section on "Read Alikes" for each book. These Read Alikes were what impressed me the most about It Happens. Rather than just including a list of similar books, Kelly discusses just what it is about this book that might appeal to readers who liked some other title. And then she'll also discuss other books that might make a good follow-on read, and WHY. These references, these connections between the books, really showcase Kelly's deep knowledge of the field. I didn't read every annotation in detail, but I found the Read Alikes fascinating. 

At the end of each chapter/topic, Kelly includes another list of related titles. Then, at the end of the book, she provides several chapters dedicated to books that are good conversations starters around specific issues like bullying and sexual assault. She discusses four or five books in detail for each topic. She gets into exactly what types of discussions a parent or teacher might launch based on having read each book. As the parent of a four year old girl, I'm hoping for an update of this section in about 8-10 years. But I'll keep this edition handy in any case. 

I do wish that It Happens was available as a digital text. It would be lovely to be able to click through to read more about the additional titles listed at the end of each section, or to click on an "Appeal Factor" listed at the end of a book profile and immediately bring up all of the other books listed under that same appeal factor. But it's nice to have It Happens in printed form as a reference to keep on my bookshelf, too. 

The very last chapter of It Happens is a call for readers of the book to advocate for contemporary YA fiction as a genre: to read extensively, and work hard to promote strong titles and get them into readers' hands. For example, Kelly suggests nominating strong contemporary YA titles for the YALSA and Cybils awards. [I, of course, especially appreciated several Cybils references throughout the book.] This is a positive note on which to leave readers, giving them strong next steps to take.  

I will also admit that I found parts of the book a bit physically difficult to read. It Happens is an oversize paperback, and while the format works well for the chapters with book descriptions, it's not quite a comfortable fit to put the book on your lap and read the first section straight through. Also, this section includes quite a few text boxes, set aside from the main text. Some of the text boxes were excerpts of the main text, while others were supplemental. I found this a bit confusing. Visually, the text boxes keep the oversized book from appearing too dense in the non-booklist sections, but functionally, I thought that the ones that didn't provide new information would have been better left out. But that's the most critical thing I have to say in my evaluation of the book. 

All in all, I think that It Happens is a useful resource for anyone who evaluates young adult fiction, including blogging reviewers like me. For those are true gatekeepers, out there in the trenches getting books into the hands of teens, it is essential. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: VOYA Press (@VOYAMagazine)
Publication Date: August 15, 2014
Source of Book: Won from the author in a raffle

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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5. Competition Winner Is Announced

The competition to WIN a copy of Betrothed and Allegiance by Wanda Wiltshire as well as a handmade bookmark made by the author recently closed.  Fans and would be fans of the Betrothed series had some moving entries and pledges to very worthy causes. Wanda and I discussed each of the entries before declaring Ashlee […]

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6. #NoiseforNess Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness Giveaway

It’s no surprise I’m a huge Patrick Ness fan. In the past I’ve written about how inspiring his work is as well as the time when I was actually able to meet him in person. I’ve also reviewed quite a few of his books:

The Knife of Never Letting Go
The Ask and the Answer
Monsters of Men
A Monster Calls

I’ve also interviewed the narrator for the audiobooks, Nick Podehl, whom is a personal favorite of mine. The way that Nick narrates The Knife of Never Letting Go will turn any non-audiobook fan into a audiobook listener for life. He’s brilliant!

Chaos Walking paperback

So when the publisher, Candlewick Press, reached out to me to offer a giveaway featuring the newly designed paperback covers for The Chaos Walking series I couldn’t resist. Not only do I love the redesign, but it also reminds me a bit of the UK edition that I love. Also, they’ve added additional content to each book! Each paperback includes a short story that was only previously available in eBook format. Candlewick has really done an excellent job with this new edition and I’m thrilled to have a full set to giveaway to one There’s A Book reader!

Giveaway!

Thanks to the wonderful people at Candlewick Press I have ONE FULL SET of this new edition of The Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness which also includes a bonus short story within each book! Be sure to enter using the rafflecopter form below and be aware that this one is for US and Canadian residents only.

Ad1_PatrickNess

Find the new paperback edition of The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness at the following spots:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s Books | Indiebound | Book Depository | Goodreads | ISBN10/ISBN13: 0763676187 / 9780763676186

Thank you so much to the publisher, Candlewick Press, for providing a copy of this book for review! Connect with them on Twitter, Google+ and on Facebook!
Purchasing products by clicking through the links in this post will provide us a modest commission through our various affiliate relationships.

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Original article: #NoiseforNess Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness Giveaway

©2014 There's A Book. All Rights Reserved.

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7. In the After: Demitria Lunetta

Book: In the After
Author: Demitria Lunetta
Pages: 464
Age Range: 13 and up

In the After is the first of a two-book series by Demitria Lunetta (the second book was just released, though I haven't read it yet). In the After is set in the wake of a world-wide apocalypse caused by an invasion of predatory, man-eating creatures. 17-year-old Amy has lived for three years in hiding, alone except for the company of Baby, a young girl she rescued from a grocery store. Amy and Baby live in silence, for fear of drawing Them. They use sign language to speak, and have never even heard one another's voices.

They actually have things pretty good, all things considered. Amy's mother held an important government position, and their house is surrounded by an electric fence that keeps the monsters out. Her dad was an environmentalist who kept their home as off the grid as possible. Amy and Baby have electricity and water. But they do have to venture out among the creatures to scavenge for food. An encounter with other survivors on one of their trips starts a process that changes Amy and Baby's lives forever. 

In the After is a compelling read, one that will keep the reader guessing. The first part of the book takes place in and around Amy and Baby's home in Chicago. Without giving too much away, I'll say that the second part of the book takes place elsewhere, among other people. This is where Lunetta's storytelling really starts making the reader think. In brief, italicized scenes, Amy is in a mental ward. The rest of the story is told in intermittent flashbacks, as a mentally foggy Amy tries to pieces together how she got there. Because of Amy's fragile state, the reader isn't always sure how to interpret the flashbacks, which makes the story even more thought-provoking. 

The characters apart from Amy are distinct, though not always highly nuanced. Basically, we get to know Amy very well, and the other characters not so well. But Amy is great. Here are a few snippets, to give you a feel for her voice:

"I only go out at night.

I walk along the empty street and pause, my muscles tense and ready. The breeze rustles the overgrown grass and I tilt my head slightly. I'm listening for them." (Page 1)

"So much of who I used to be was about being good in school and having friends who were also good in school. We were, to put it simply, arrogant little know-it-alls. But I miss that." (Page 78)

"The arts were probably pointless now that everyone was focused on survival. I thought back to all my time alone, reading, as the world crumbled around me. It was the only thing that gave me solace and hope." (Page 191)

In addition to keeping the reader wondering about plot points, Lunetta is good at creating atmosphere. She makes the reader feel the creepiness of walking down a dark street where silent monsters might be a only few feet, and the helplessness of being trapped in a mental ward. 

In the After grabs the reader from the first page, and doesn't let go. Recommend for fans of YA dystopias, particularly of the alien invasion variety. Particularly recommended for those who enjoyed Rick Yancey's The Fifth Wave. Readers who have read many dystopian/post-apocalyptic stories will notice certain universal themes, but I don't think this takes away enjoyment of the story. I think that In the After is a book that will especially appeal to adult readers, actually, though I would expect teens to enjoy it, too. Highly recommended. 

Publisher: HarperTeen (@HarperChildrens)
Publication Date: June 25, 2013
Source of Book: Bought it on Kindle

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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8. Hong Kong for beginners

 

From the outside Hong Kong is a shimmering enclave of mirrored high-rise towers, a former British outpost and a gateway to China – the ultimate fusion of East and West. But beyond the swanky shopping malls and five-star hotels, the city is a heady mix of contradictions – of urban cacophony and tranquil country parks, of staggering wealth and grinding poverty, a city that worships money but still respects tradition, an exotic place that has been inspiring writers for decades.

Countefeit Love by Julie FisonAmong the many books to put Hong Kong at centre stage are James Clavell’s Asian sagas: Tai-Pan and Noble House and John le Carré’s thriller The Honourable Schoolboy. Travel writer Jan Morris explored the city’s complex past and future in Hong Kong, a manual for Hong Kong newbies. Other celebrated novels set in the city include Han Suyin’s post-war love story – A Many-Splendoured Thing, John Lancaster’s epic, Fragrant Harbour, and Janice Y K Lee’s sumptuous historical novel, The Piano Teacher.

My new title for young adults is one of the latest novels to use Hong Kong’s vibrant skyline as its backdrop. Counterfeit Love is a thoroughly contemporary tale of a young television reporter who is trying to make a name for herself in Hong Kong. Lucy Yang’s skills and character are tested as she tries to get to the bottom of a big story. And when the gorgeous, but mysterious, Byron Lloyd starts turning up in unexpected places, she wonders if her perfect man is a sinister part of the story she’s chasing.

Counterfeit Love is a cocktail of ambition, intrigue and romance, and was inspired by my years as a news reporter with a Hong Kong television station. The story is definitely not autobiographical, but in writing it, I drew on my knowledge of Hong Kong, my experience in a newsroom and my memories of starting out in a city that was totally alien to me.

Noble HouseI spent five crazy years in Hong Kong and still vividly recall so much about it – the chaotic newsroom, the crowded MTR, the smell of frying garlic and the pong of fermented bean curd, the white-knuckle ride into the old Kai Tak airport, junk trips to the outlying islands and the sampan ride home at the end of a long night in the office. In my neighbourhood, old Hakka ladies shelled prawns in the sun, while young professionals belted out love songs on their karaoke machines. I had a colleague who often rode home from a night club on the roof of a taxi, just because he could, and a British friend who circled the Hongkong Bank anti clockwise twice every morning before going to work – on the advice of a feng shui master. He still endured his share of bad luck, but was never game to change the habit in case his fortune worsened.

Hong Kong was many things to me, but it was never boring!

Thanks for joining me for my first Boomerang Books Blog post. I will be returning regularly with more bookish news. In the meantime you can visit my website here or you can follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Happy reading,

Julie.

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9. From the Family Bookshelf – July

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We’re still on vacation right now, but that means we’ve had a chance to get some reading done. Both girls signed up for the library’s summer reading program. The Lil’ Diva has already surpassed her goal. The Lil’ Princess is making her way to her goal.

Since our arrival, the Lil’ Diva has read Love? Maybe by Heather Hepler, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, and Draw the Dark by Ilsa J. Bick. The Lil’ Princess brought Half Upon a Time by James Riley with her from home, but she’s been tied up reading the recently released Dork Diaries 7: Tales from a Not-So-Glam TV Star by Rachel Renee Russell. We bought it this week at Downtown Books in Manteo.

Dad has actually gotten some reading in too. He’s still slowly reading Under the Dome: A Novel by Stephen King. He’s also reading The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman.

As for me, I’ve been trying to catch up on my massive TBR pile. Before we left, I had read Four Corners or A Book That Will Tickle Your Intellectual Nipple by Cary Smith and Breath of Spring by Charlotte Hubbard. Since we got here, I’ve managed to read A Nation Under Judgment by Richard Capriola and Corrie ten Boom by Kaylena Radcliff, part of the Torchlighters Series. I’m in the middle of Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey by Valerie Estelle Frankel.

That’s it for this issue of From the Family Bookshelf. Hope you’re enjoying your week.


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10. The Prince of Venice Beach: Blake Nelson

Book: The Prince of Venice Beach
Author: Blake Nelson
Pages: 240
Age Range: 12 and up

The Prince of Venice Beach by Blake Nelson is about a 17-year-old runaway called Cali who lives in Venice Beach, CA. He sleeps in a treehouse behind the home of a generous local woman named Hope, has an assortment of quirky and interesting friends, and spends much of his time playing pick-up basketball. After helping a couple of private investigators to find missing kids, Cali decides that he wants to become a private investigator. However, when the case of a missing rich girl named Reese Abernathy lands in his lap, he finds his life becoming far more complicated than he would have expected. 

Cali is an engaging protagonist who should appeal to teen readers. He has a lot of autonomy (Hope is not a parental figure in any way). He knows how to take care of himself, and he tries to do the right thing. But he's a street kid, and he definitely runs into trouble sometimes, too. He's also remarkably uneducated compared with your maintstream YA protagonist (he's not even sure if Austria is a country). He's different, and that makes him interesting. 

Although The Prince of Venice Beach does involve a mystery, and has some action scenes (fights, chases), it's also quite relationship-driven. There's Cali's friendship with a young friend of Hope's, his complex relationship with Reese, and his protective attempts to help a new homeless girl on the scene. And it's a bit of a coming-of-age story for Cali, too, as he decides what he wants to do with his life, and even starts to take a course towards his GED. I found it a nice mix, and a quick read. I read it in a single sitting, and thought that Nelson's prose flowed well. 

Here's Cali musing on a runaway that he's looking for:

"He'd probably enjoyed his new freedom for the first couple days. Away from authority, from teachers and parents. But then the freedom gets to you. And the isolation. No family. No friends. Not even a dog. How many times can you go to McDonald's and eat cheeseburgers by yourself? How many days can you spend on the beach? How many nights can you sleep in your car? Not as many as you think." (Chapter Three)

The Prince of Venice Beach isn't entirely realistic, of course, but it does offer a YA-appropriate version of a private eye novel. Cali would, I think, admire Veronica Mars, were he ever to run across her. It has a unique premise and strong main character, a well-defined setting, and a fair bit of action. Recommended for teens (boys and girls) and escapist-leaning adults. 

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (@LBKids) 
Publication Date: June 3, 2014
Source of Book: Advance digital review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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11. First Chapter Review: The Stolen Herd by K. Madill (Win $25 Amazon GC)

1st Chapter Review TC&TBC

K. Madill is touring with Pump Up Your Book this month with her young adult fantasy novel, The Stolen Herd. Read to the end to see how you can enter for your chance to win a $25 Amazon gift card.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00068]

BLURB: Mandamus is only a foal when his herd is captured by the terrible Rakhana Army. Rescued and raised in secrecy, he knows nothing of his heritage until a dreadful incident in the woods brings him to the attention of the Forest council – and everyone else. Sent away for his own protection, he is determined to seek help on behalf of the many animals who have gone missing from the forest, including his own family.

With the help of a troubled man and a stout-hearted bat, can Mandamus save his fellow creatures before it’s too late?

COVER: I’m not usually a fan of dark covers, but this one is stunning. The black of the horse, the white glint of his eyes, and the purples and pinks of the sky make for a fabulous piece of art that attracts readers.

FIRST CHAPTER: As the Rakhana Army closes in on the herd, Gideon takes their foal and dashes him to Daleth and Mareva to raise in secrecy.

KEEP READING: Filled with flowing descriptions and a multitude of characters, this opening chapter sets the scene for what will become of Mandamus after his herd is captured by the Rakhana Army. A butterfly, a bat, a herd of horses, a ruthless human army, and a special foal with white eyes who may be the stuff of legends make for an interesting cast. The strength of the world building is easy to see early on.  The hint of magic and the elegant writing in this first chapter definitely encourage me to follow along with the rest of Mandamus’ story.

 

Title:  The Stolen Herd

Author: K. Madill

Genre: Young adult fantasy

Paperback: 181 pages

Publisher: CreateSpace (February 20, 2014)

ISBN-10: 1482640023

ISBN-13: 978-1482640021

Kindle:B00GBQ9V8O

Purchase at http://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B00GBQ9V8O

 

I received a copy of this book from the author. I have been paid a fee to promote this book with a book tour through Pump Up Your Book. That fee did not include a review. This review contains my honest opinions, which I have not been compensated for in any way.

 

A chronic “head in the cloudser” K. Madill lives in a rickety house on a well treed street in British Columbia, Canada.  When she’s not hanging out with her best equine friend in the woods she can be found trying to stay upright on her roller skates or mediating the affairs of her various furred and feathered friends that rule the aforementioned rickety house. 

K. Madill’s website: kmadill.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/K-Madill/161159890706088

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KaraiMadill1

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20643483-the-stolen-herd

 

Pump Up Your Book and K. Madill are teaming up to give away a $25 Amazon Gift Card!

Terms and conditions:

    • By entering, you confirm you are 18 years of age or older.
    • Raffle runs from 12:00 AM EST on June 2 through 12:00 AM EST on June 28, 2014.
    • Winner will be selected randomly by Rafflecopter.
    • Winner will be notified by email and has 72 hours to claim the prize before a new winner is selected.
    • Prize will be sent via email from the author’s representative.
    • VOID WHERE PROHIBITED.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

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12. Searching for Sky: Jillian Cantor

Book: Searching for Sky
Author: Jillian Cantor
Pages: 288
Age Range: 12 and up

I picked up Searching for Sky to skim the first few pages, and couldn't put it down. It's not that it's action filled, but more that the premise and the narrator are irresistible. Fifteen-year-old Sky has lived for as long as she can remember (since she was 2) on a tiny Pacific island. She was raised by her mother, Petal, and her mother's partner, Helmut, along with Helmut's son, River. Since her mother and Helmut died a year earlier, Sky and River have lived alone on the island. Though they worry a little bit about survival, they are happy, and just starting to perhaps have grown-up feelings for one another. Everything changes when a boat arrives one day, and takes the two frightened teens to California. Back to a world that they didn't even really know existed. 

There are mysteries in Searching for Sky, as Sky seeks to understand what led Petal and Helmut to the island in the first place. She struggles to reconcile her own memories with the things that other people tell her are true, and begins to realize that not everything was as she thought. She is separated from River, and wants desperately to find him. These issues kept me turning the pages, wanting to understand. Wanting Sky to understand. Wanting to know what would happen to Sky and to River. But the remarkable part of Searching for Sky actually lies in Sky's reaction to the more mundane details. It's fascinating to watch as someone who has never seen civilization tries to understand things like money, lipstick, and the Internet.

I thought that Cantor did a fine job of keeping Sky in character (frequently baffled), even as certain things become more clear to the reader. This is a book that could only have been written in first person present perspective. This aspect of the book reminded me a bit of reading far-future dystopias, in which the characters come across artifacts of our current civilization, and struggle to understand them. Sky struggles to understand just about everything, right down to how to use a toilet (or "Bathroom Tree" as she calls it). For example, one of the first people Sky sees is apparently wearing sunglasses. She says:

"His eyes are hidden by small black shells, and I don't like that I can't see them, that I don't know what color they are." (Page 26)

Sometimes her reactions are humorous:

""Now, come on into the kitchen," she's saying. I follow her into a large open space with a lot of square wood boxes everywhere. "Have a seat at the table." She points to a large, round wood, and I begin to climb up on it. "No, no. On a chair," she says, pulling on another, smaller wood and showing me how she wants me to sit on it." (Page 92)

Sometimes they are profound:

"I think it disappoints her that I refuse to watch the television box with her after dinner. But the few times I've sat there with her, all I've seen are pretend faraway people talking to each other about things that have nothing to do with me. I don't understand why she's interested in them if they're not even here, if they're not even real." (Page 119)

Sky is a strong character, even though her lack of basic knowledge makes her feel foolish and vulnerable at times. I think that teen readers will find her as compelling as I did. Despite the female narrator, I have every reason to believe that teen boys would find this book intriguing, too. In fact, I'm going to put it on the small stack of books that I recommend to my husband. (The previous book I gave him was Matt de la Pena's The Living). I highly recommend Searching for Sky for teens and adults. 

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BWkids) 
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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13. From the Family Bookshelf – June

childrenreading000006462340xsmall1

 

 

Crazy life means not as much reading. I can’t stand it. Actually, my girls are reading, I’m not–at least, not as much as I would like. Since my last update I’ve read:

Where Do Belly Buttons Come From? by Jeffery Warren Scott
I Am Abraham by Jerome Charyn
Sleep Tight, Anna Banana! by Dominique Roques
Self-Publishing a Book by Hank Quense
Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen
The Coziest Place by Jamie Michalak
The Secret Side of Empty by Marie E. Andreu
A Rainbow of Birds by Janet Halfmann
Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool
Steam & Strategem by Chris Hoare
Do’s and Don’ts by Hayley Rose
Murder in the Worst Degree by F.M. Meredith
A Comedy of Erin by Celia Bonaduce
The Author’s Training Manual by Nina Amir
Eat Like A Woman by Staness Jonekos
Directory of Federal Prisons by Christopher Zoukis and Dr. Randall Radic
Man’s Rejection of God by RL Keller
The Education of George Washington by Austin Washington
Pressed Pennies by Steven Manchester

Dad finished off The Candy Bomber: The Untold Story of the Berlin Airlight and America’s Finest Hour by Andrei Cherny, which led to us learning some interesting local history. We didn’t know our hometown of Chicopee, MA was so instrumental in this mission The residents of the city–even school children–got involved in receiving candy shipments and attaching the candy to parachutes for them to be flown out to where they needed to go. He’s now reading Under the Dome: A Novel by Stephen King his favorite author.

The Lil’ Diva has discovered that reading is a great way to pass the time, so she’s devouring books lately. After polishing off the Matched series, she moved on to The Mortal Instruments series. She also read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and saw the movie this weekend. Other books she has read lately: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, the entire Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, and This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith. She’s currently reading, Looking for Alaska by John Green.

I’ve lost track of all that the Lil’ Princess is reading. She has no less than six books in her backpack right now. At home, we’ve read The Dog Days of Charlotte Hayes by Marlane Kennedy and last night finished Pie by Sarah Weeks.

That’s it for this issue of From the Family Bookshelf. Hope you’ll share some of your most recent reads.


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14. Valcoria: Children of the Crystal Star by Jason King

 

“Jason King weaves powerful stories that grip the reader to the last word with a perfect blend of amazement, fear, love, and destiny…” ~James Wymore, author of Theocracide and The Actuator 

ABOUT THE BOOK

 

History repeats itself like a song. The verses may vary, but the melody is always the same. 

The eastern empire of Aukasia has a new leader, a man who means to bring war to all the land. Yet, even in all his bloody ambition, he does not realize that he is but the puppet of a greater evil. 

Only the Kalyra – The Children of the Crystal Star – can stand against what’s coming. Only they can protect the world of Valcoria from the mad hatred of the fallen god, Aedar. 

A new verse of the song has begun. The last verse…

 

 

 

 

PURCHASE

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Jason’s Website Twitter Facebook / Goodreads 



*Jason King is the author of Valcoria, Lure of Fools, and Thomas Destiny. Other books attributed to him are an error. 

Jason King wishes he was raised on a desert planet by his aunt and uncle and watched over by a mysterious old recluse, but his life is much duller than that. He supposes that’s why he started making up stories. Born in Salt Lake City Utah, Jason grew up on a steady diet of anime, science fiction, Dungeons and Dragons, JRPG’s, and chocolate cake donuts. He pretended not to be a nerd just long enough to get married and start a family. And although dismayed by the revelation that Jason was a geek, his wife stuck with him and they are now the proud parents of four beautiful children. Jason holds a bachelor’s degree in I.T. Management and is currently the Internet Marketing Manager for a local bookstore chain, but he is determined to one day quit his “9 to 5” and write full-time. Jason has two indie books; “Valcoria Children of the Crystal Star” and “Thomas Destiny,” but “The Lure of Fools” is his first published novel.

 

 

This tour was hosted by Worldwind Virtual Book Tours

 

Follow the rest of the Valcoria tour here!


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15. Interview with K. Madill, Author of The Stolen Herd

Karai MadillKarai Madill is a Canadian writer who lives in a wooden house not far from swiftly flowing river. Every now and then a bear comes along and steals her garbage.  When she’s not hanging out with her best equine friend, she can be found roller skating around in circles or planting butterfly friendly gardens. The Stolen Herd is her first novel.

For more K. Madill, visit her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/K-Madill/161159890706088 or blog: http://kmadill.com/

Thank you for joining us today, Karai. Can you please start off by telling us a bit about yourself?

I am a true Canadian and it’s true what they say about us. We’re overly polite. We apologize for apologizing. I have to be near my creature friends as much as possible. I have to visit a forest as least once a week. I will always ditch everyone and everything to write.

When did you first get bit by the writing bug? 

I think it’s more the storytelling bug.  My mother is an avid reader and our house had a library in the den, full of fantasy novels. I wrote my first story when I was six years old, according to her, about a unicorn named Me. I don’t remember that one.  I do recall penning a tale that ended up in the school paper though. That one starred a miniature lion that led me to a room full of candy! Ha – animals and mythical creatures. There’s a pattern here, I think.

Why did you decide to write stories for the YA market?

You know…I don’t think I actually consciously decided.  I just began the Mandamus and Luco series and it just sort of ended up in that category.

What is your favorite part of writing for this group? What is the greatest challenge?

I think my favorite part is having animals as characters. I adore Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book and Charlotte’s Web. I graduated to Animal Farm in my later years, and realized that while the first two were magical in their story telling, the way Orwell used animal characters to express a political message was equally as brilliant. For my books, I get to write scenes with people having conversations and arguments with animals. It’s a blast! I’m also a firm believer that stories need mythical creatures. With an eclectic cast of characters like that you can create all different kinds of scenarios. I think the biggest difficulty is keeping it short and sweet to hold a younger reader’s attention. I idolize the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. I enjoy page after page of descriptive narrative. I also like to write them, much to the chagrin of my editor. She cut a lot out of the original manuscript for this very reason.

Can you tell us what your latest book is all about?

The Stolen Herd is about a foal who is orphaned when his herd is captured by an army. He is found and raised by a mare and her rather ferocious sister. When he’s a bit older, he finds himself in deep trouble, so deep he is sent into temporary exile from his herd. He goes on an adventure and meets all sorts of beings from terrible imps to forgetful naiads.

What inspired you to write it?Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00068]

I saw a news article about a school that was busted up by the Taliban, just wiped out. It terrified me.  As I sat there, feeling immeasurably sad, this black horse with glowing, white eyes just popped into my head. He looked so worried. For the rest of the day, his story came in a flood of ideas. I wrote them down when I got home that evening.

Where can readers purchase a copy?

www.amazon.ca/Stolen-Herd-Mandamus-Luco-Book-ebook/dp/BOOGBQ9V80

What is up next for you?

The second book in the series. The planning is almost finished. Some of the writing has already begun. The storyboard is full and the creativity is overflowing. I love being able to work on new material. The Stolen Herd took six years. Towards the end I felt stagnated with the whole thing and I was trying to meet a deadline so I was doing re-writes to the edited version for up to 10 hours a day. I almost began to hate it.

Do you have anything else to add?

I do! I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read The Stolen Herd and messaged me or emailed me. Your encouragement is truly appreciated.  If you liked this one, you’re going to love the 2nd book!

Thank you for spending time with us today, Karai. We wish you much success.

Thank you for having me.

 

The Stolen Herd Banner


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16. New Release: A Different Kind of Cheerleader by Lira Brannon

cheer

All I ever wanted was to be a cheerleader. That’s it. Just lead my squad running and screaming across the gym floor while the students rocked the bleachers. But that will never happen. Dreams like that stopped after my accident. I’m broken. Like a violin with a missing string—the music inside of me is all garbled up. And despite what my perpetually cheerful physical therapist says—there is no happy ending for someone like me. My BFF and Seb, the one armed assistant coach, keep preaching to me about their God and His love until I just want to scream. But there’s something about the two of them—something peaceful and happy that I sometimes think I want. Something that starts me believing that maybe the most impossible dreams can come true.

File Size: 2491 KB
Print Length: 164 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: White Bird Publications, LLC; 1 edition (May 26, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
ASIN: B00KKBYWUS

PURCHASE HERE!


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17. First Chapter Review: Guardians Inc.: The Cypher by Julian Rosado-Machain

TC&TBC

 

 

Julian Rosado-Machain is on tour with Pump Up Your Book promoting the young adult fantasy adventure novel, Guardians Inc.: The Cypher. I received the first chapter only for review.

Guardians Inc 7

BLURB: GUARDIANS INC.: THE CYPHER is two stories in one. A glimpse into a multinational company that is in reality the oldest of secret societies, one that spans close to seven thousand years of existence, weaving in and out of history, guiding and protecting humanity from creatures and forces that most of us believe are only mythology and fairy tales.

The other is the story of Thomas Byrne, a young man thrust into secrets he shouldn’t be aware of and dangers he shouldn’t face but, that he ultimately will, for he is a Cypher. The only one who can steer humanity’s future.

The ultimate conspiracy theory is that Magic is real. Kept in check by technology but, every five hundred years the balance can shift and, if it does, technology will fail and those creatures we’ve driven into myth will come back with a vengeance.

To protect the present, Guardians Incorporated needs to know the future, and to unlock the future they need a Cypher.

This is the first book of the Guardians Inc Series.

COVER: The fantasy genre lends itself to fabulous covers and this is no exception. What the reader can assume is the main character is seen facing off against dreadful creatures as a result of the shifting balance mentioned in the blurb. I love this design and color scheme.

FIRST CHAPTER: Thomas is still the new kid at school when he gets into a fight with the football team’s linebacker and finds himself in the office of the dreaded Vice Principal Killjoy.

KEEP READING: Definitely. Rosado-Machain does a fine job of dropping the reader right into the action with Thomas sitting outside the vice principal’s office while his grandfather talks with the vice principal about his fight with Roger Hill, the football team’s linebacker. The author sprinkles in the backstory and ends the first chapter on a note that entices the reader to continue. Even though there is no hint of what is to come for Thomas, the reader is left with a few questions that make her want to find out more of Thomas’s story.

Title: Guardians Inc.: The Cypher

Author: Julian Rosado-Machain

Publisher: Julian Rosado-Machain

Pages: 239

Genre: YA Fantasy Adventure

Format: Paperback, KindleJulian Rosado-Machain

Julian Rosado-Machain has enjoyed pizza in three continents, worked in graphic design, armored vehicles, built computers, handcrafted alebrijes and swears that he has seen at least one ghost.

He lives in San Diego, California. And enjoys the sun with his wife, three children and cat.

His latest book is the YA fantasy adventure, Guardians Inc.: The Cypher.

For More Information

This review contains my honest opinions, which I have not been compensated for in any way.

 

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18. Expiration Day: William Campbell Powell

Book: Expiration Day
Author: William Campbell Powell
Pages: 336
Age Range: 12 and up

Expiration Day is set in a dystopian near-future England a generation after fertility levels have dropped precipitously world-wide. Hardly any babies are born anymore, though most people don't realize how bad the situation is, because they parents are able to purchase uncannily lifelike robotic children. These children don't even know (unless some incident occurs) whether they are human or not.

Expiration Day is related primarily as the diary of a girl named Tania, who lives with her parents just outside of London. Tania's diary has somehow been discovered, "encrypted and forgotten, but surviving through uncounted millennia" by someone from a future alien race. His comments and responses to Tania's story are included as brief "intervals" throughout the story. The title refers to the fact that the robot children must be returned to their manufacturer on their 18th birthday - the parents have them only lease. 

The world in Expiration Day is reminiscent in tone to that of P.D. James' Children of Men. In Willam Campbell Powell's world, however, the artificial children serve to keep society under control, filling an innate need that people have to form families and pass things along to a future generation (even if that generation expires at age 18). 

I found the philosophical underpinnings of Expiration Day thought-provoking. And I quite liked Tania as a character. Parts of the book, which begins when Tania is only 11, drag a little bit, plot-wise. But my concern for Tania's fate kept me reading. The end includes a couple of twists (one of which I'm still trying to wrap my head around), which will keep readers guessing. 

One thing that I really liked about Expiration Day was the importance of Tania's father as a character. Not a placeholder, or someone to be rescued, as is a common convention in books, but an intelligent, caring man who puts everything on the line in support of his daughter. 

Here are a couple of snippets, to give you a feel for Tania's voice:

"There's a word for legs like mine. Gangly. I count my knees, sometimes, and I know I have just two, one on each leg. But dressed like that, I felt like it was more--a lot more, with different numbers on each leg." (Page 18)

"I love words, though, and I wish I could control them better. Like Humpty Dumpty, to have them line up and do my bidding. So I read, as I said, from Chaucer and Shakespeare, via Dylan Thomas and Rupert Brooke, to Ray Bradbury and Roger Zelazny, and try to see how they get their words to behave." (Page 182)

"Nobody truly dies who shapes another person. Does that make sense, Mister Zog?" (page 227)

Fans of speculative and dystopian fiction, particularly that which questions what makes someone human in the presence of advanced technology (like The Adoration of Jenna Fox), won't want to miss Expiration Day. Tania's participation in a band, and her issues with dating and growing up, are also addressed, and make the book accessible to those who prefer more realistic coming-of-age fiction. For those who need to know, there are discussions about having sex (including a boy who wants to), but no real action to speak of in Expiration Day. This is a book that will stay with me, and made me think. I learned about it from this review at Ms. Yingling Reads

Publisher: Tor Teen (@TorTeen)
Publication Date: April 22, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

FTC Required Disclosure:

This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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19. Growing Bookworms Newsletter: May 7

JRBPlogo-smallToday I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on children's and young adult books and raising readers. I currently send out the newsletter once every two weeks.

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have four book reviews (picture book and young adult) and two posts with links that I shared on Twitter recently (including a ton of links related to the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign). I also have two posts with content from Scholastic about Summer Reading. Not included in the newsletter, I posted:

I do have more picture book reviews coming up in the next couple of weeks, for those who are interested in those. 

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I read two young adult and three adult books:

  • Laini Taylor: Dreams of Gods and Monsters (Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy, Book 3). Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Young Adult. Completed April 24, 2014, on Kindle. My review.
  • Amber Kizer: Pieces of Me. Delacorte Press. Young Adult. Completed April 25, 2014. My review.
  • Jo Nesbo: The Bat (the first Harry Hole novel). Vintage. Adult Mystery. Completed April 27, 2014, on Kindle (library copy).I found the characters well-developed and the mystery intriguing in this, my first of Nesbo's books. But there were too many digressions for allegorical stories told by the characters for my personal taste. 
  • Sue Grafton: U is for Undertow. Putnam. Adult Mystery. Completed May 1, 2014, on Kindle (library copy). I'm finding these good exercise bike books, for some reason. I'll be sorry when I finish catching up. 
  • Jodi Picoult: Second Glance. Atria Books. Adult Fiction. Completed May 3, 2014, on MP3. This book got off to a slow start for me, but I enjoyed it once I became invested in the story. It's a book that will make readers think. 

I'm currently reading Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life by P.J. Hoover in print and Expiration Day by William Campbell Powell on Kindle. I'm listening to Influx by Daniel Suarez. Baby Bookworm is obsessed with Moldylocks and the Three Beards by Noah Z. Jones. You can check out the complete list of books we've read to her this year if you are interested to see more. You can see on the list the impact of her recent visit to the library, from which she brought home a host of TV tie-in and Little Critter-type books. 

What are you and your family reading these days? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. 

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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20. Always Emily by Michaela MacColl Winner!

Winner

 

 

Congratulations goes out to Rachel, who won an autographed copy of Always Emily by Michaela MacColl. Thanks to all who participated.


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21. Book Review: In the Shadows


In the Shadows
Text Story by Kiersten White
Art and Art Story by Jim Di Bartolo

In the Shadows alternates between two related stories, one told in text and the other entirely in pictures. It's hard to talk about In the Shadows without risking revealing too much. The stories themselves unfold gradually, and at first it's hard to understand what's going on or how the stories fit together, but as the details unfold the pieces start to come together.

The text portion alternates between five young people: Cora and Minnie, whose mother runs a boarding house in a small town in Maine; Arthur, a mysterious young man who comes to the boarding house; and two brothers, Thom and Charles. Charles is dying from a terminal illness, and their father sends the two young men from New York City to Maine for Charles' health, although a conversation that Thom overhears between his father and a woman seems to indicate a more sinister reason. The five teens begin to suspect that there is evil lurking in the town, and all five of them are linked to it in some way.

The art story depicts a young man traveling around the world, apparently searching for something or someone. We don't know who he is, and at first it's hard to understand what's going on or what the connection is with the text story. By about halfway through, you begin to suspect, and then later details in the text story make clear what's happening in the art story.

In the Shadows is an intriguing, beautifully made book. I love this kind of story, where the connections aren't always clear and you have to puzzle it out as you go along. I actually found that after I finished the book, I wanted to go through the art story again from the beginning to pick up on all the details and fully appreciate it.

The text story is well-written and holds your interest, the art is beautiful, and the two fit well together stylistically. There is a dark, creepy, and mysterious feel to both stories. With evil lurking in a small town in Maine, it's hard not to compare this to Stephen King, but stylistically it's not really similar to King's writing. The compelling story and short chapters conspire to keep you reading; "Just one more chapter," I kept telling myself.

Diversity?

Other than a few incidental characters in the pictures, I didn't see any diversity.

Who would like this book:

With the short chapters, artwork, and fast-paced read, this may be a good book for reluctant readers. Graphic novel readers may also enjoy it, even though it isn't strictly a graphic novel. Any teen or adult who enjoys dark, creepy stories with mysterious conspiracies will enjoy In the Shadows.

Get it from:
FTC required disclosure: Review copy sent by the publisher to enable me to write this review. The bookstore links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.

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22. How We Fall - Cover Reveal

I am honored to take part in the cover reveal for a personal friend!  Can't wait to read the rest of her novel - she's a master at her craft and this is sure to be a captivating novel!
HOW WE FALL by Kate Brauning
YA contemporary
Publication date: 11/3/2014
Publisher: Merit Press, F+W Media Inc.
ISBN-13: 9781440581793
Hardcover, 304 pages

About the Book:
He kissed her on a dare. She told him to do it again.


Ever since Jackie moved to her uncle’s sleepy farming town, she’s been flirting—a bit too much—with her cousin, Marcus. She pushes away the inevitable consequences of their friendship until her best friend, Ellie, disappears, and the police suspect foul play. Just when she needs him most, Marcus falls for the new girl in town—forcing Jackie to give a name to the secret summer hours she’s spent with him. As she watches the mystery around Ellie’s disappearance start to break, Jackie has to face that she’s fallen in love at an impossible time with an impossible boy. And she can’t let Marcus, or Ellie, go.
The Reveal!


 
Sneak Peek Page:
Chapter One

Last year, Ellie used to hang out at the vegetable stand with Marcus and me on Saturdays. This year, her face fluttered on a piece of paper tacked to the park’s bulletin board. Most weeks, I tried to ignore her eyes looking back at me. But today, Marcus had set the table up at a different angle, and she watched me the entire morning.
The day that photo was taken, she’d worn her Beauty and the Beast earrings. The teapot and the teacup were too small to see well in the grainy, blown-up photo, but that’s what they were. She’d insisted sixteen wasn’t too old for Disney.
The crunch of tires on gravel sounded, and a Buick slowed to a stop in front of the stand. I rearranged the bags of green beans to have something to do. Talking to people I didn’t know, making pointless small talk, wasn’t my thing. My breathing always sped up and I never knew what to do with my hands. It had been okay before, but now—surely people could see it on me. One look, and they’d know. Chills prickled up my arms in spite of the warm sun.
Marcus lifted a new crate of cucumbers from the truck and set it down by the table, his biceps stretching the sleeves of his T-shirt. Barely paying attention to the girl who got out of the car, he watched me instead. And not the way most people watched someone; I had his full attention. All of him, tuned toward me. He winked, the tanned skin around his eyes crinkling when he smiled. I bit my cheek to keep from grinning.
The girl walked over to the stand and I quit smiling.
Marcus looked away from me, his gaze drifting toward the girl. Each step of her strappy heels made my stomach sink a little further. Marcus tilted his head.
He didn’t tilt it much, but I knew what it meant. He did that when he saw my tan line or I wore a short skirt. I narrowed my eyes.
 “Hi,” she said. “I’d like a zucchini and four tomatoes.” Just like that. A zucchini and four tomatoes.
Marcus placed the tomatoes into a brown paper bag. “Are you from around here?”
Of course she wasn’t from around here. We’d know her if she were.
“We just moved. I’m Sylvia Young.” The breeze toyed with her blonde hair, tossing short wisps around her high cheekbones. Her smile seemed genuine and friendly. Of course. Pretty, friendly, and new to town, because disasters come in threes.
“Going to Manson High?” Marcus handed her the bags.
She nodded. “My dad’s teaching science.”
Finally, I said something. “Three bucks.”
“Hmm?” Sylvia turned from Marcus. “Oh. Right.” She handed me the cash and looked over the radishes. “Are you here every day?” Her eyes strayed back to Marcus.
“Three times a week,” he said.
“I’ll see you in a day or two, then.” She waved.
I was pretty damn sure she wouldn’t be coming back for the radishes.
____

About the Author:

Kate spent her childhood in rural Missouri raising Siberian huskies, running on gravel roads, and navigating life in a big family. Now living in Iowa, she is married to a videographer from the Dominican Republic, and still owns a husky. She loves bright colors, fall leaves, unusual people, and all kinds of music. Kate has written novels since she was a teen, but it wasn’t until she studied literature in college that she fell in love with young adult books.  Kate now works in publishing and pursues her lifelong dream of telling stories she’d want to read. Visit her online, on Facebook, or on Twitter.


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23. Interview with D.S. McKnight, Author of Of Dreams and Shadow

 

D.S. McKnightD.S. McKnight has enjoyed a varied career—from working as a radio DJ on a small AM station to serving as president and co-owner of a marina, until Hurricane Ophelia took aim at the Carolina coast.  Currently, she works at an insurance agency as well as hosting her blog – Novel Notions.  

 

It is her love of the North Carolina coast that fueled her desire to write.  Of Dreams and Shadow: Forget Me Not (book 1) is her first novel.  

 

You can visit the author’s website at: http://www.dsmcknight.com

 

When did you begin writing?

I have been writing since I was a teenager – poems, lyrics to songs, and short stories -  words that were only seen by me.  When I reached my forties, I realized I had neglected myself.  My days were spent working, getting my children to and from practices and games, helping with homework, etc.  I found that I needed something for me.  I started taking a writing class and never looked back.

What is the book about?

Of Dreams and Shadow is a story about choices – not only the choices we make but those that are made by others and the consequences that follow.  The main character is Jenna Barton.  She’s had to deal with moving to a new town, transferring to a new school, leaving old friends and trying to make new ones.   It doesn’t help that her new neighbor, Chase Williams, is particularly unwelcoming.   Unfortunately, for Jenna these are the least of her problems.  She has unwittingly stepped into the middle of a mystery involving a missing child.  The predator is still on the loose and Jenna has become his new obsession.  Sarah Jones was just four years old when she disappeared and Chase was the only witness.  No one believed the ramblings of a scared little boy — especially when resides in her backyard — but how can he tell her?  She wouldn’t believe him anyway.

What inspired you to write it?Of Dreams and Shadow 7

My writing instructor gave us an assignment.  We had to write a “what if” scenario.  I chose to write about an incident from my childhood.  When I was three years old, my mother found me crying – afraid of my shadow.  I asked myself What if my shadow had been trying to get me… And the story was born.

Who is your favorite character in the book?

I don’t know that I have a favorite character but I absolutely loved writing Silas.  He had no moral code so I was free to explore his dark side.  Who would have thought that writing a murder scene could have been so much fun? 

Where can readers purchase a copy of your book?

Of Dreams and Shadow: Forget Me Not is available on Amazon.

What is up next for you?

I am finishing my first New Adult Novella.  The Reasons Why will be available by summer 2014.  I am also working on the sequel to Of Dreams and Shadow.

Title: Of Dreams and Shadow
Author: D.S. McKnight
Publisher: Stone Bay Press
Pages: 286
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Format: Paperback/Kindle

Purchase at AMAZON

Of Dreams and Shadow banner 2

 


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24. Interview with Leslie Liautaud, Author of Black Bear Lake

leslie Born October 15, 1973 in Kansas City, Missouri, Leslie Liautaud began performing at the age of five with Liberty Civic Theatre. Between 1978 and 1997, she performed in over 45 productions in the Kansas City area with various companies including the Bell Road Barn Players, Gladstone Theatre in the Park, Ibsen Theatre and Westport Ballet Company. Continuing undergraduate studies at Southwest Missouri State University, Leslie received the Most Promising Freshman Award in Dance and Theatre in 1993. She returned to Kansas City and in 1994 founded the People in Motion program for Liberty Senior High School, which continues today. Leslie worked as company choreographer for Ibsen Theatre and Westport Ballet Company from 1994-1997. As a playwright, Leslie’s many original stage plays have been produced in Kansas City, Missouri, Chicago and Champaign, Illinois. Her recent novel, Black Bear Lake, was published March 14, 2014. Leslie lives in Champaign, IL and Key Largo, FL, is married to Jimmy John Liautaud  (of Jimmy Johns Gourmet Sandwiches) and has three children and three dogs.

Leslie’s Website / Twitter / Goodreads

Thank you for joining us today, Leslie. Can you please start off by telling us a bit about yourself?

Thank you for having me! My name is Leslie, I’m from the Midwest, I have a wonderful hubby and three awesome kids. I also have three nutty dogs that keep me running! Our family is filled with foodies and the love of the outdoors. I’m also a huge fan of the arts. All types! I’m an Honorary Consul to Lithuania and one of my goals in that job is to introduce and share Lithuania art in the US and vice versa.

When did you first get bit by the writing bug?

Working as an actor and as a dancer always brought me joy but it wasn’t until I stepped away from performing and got “behind the curtain” that I really felt my calling. It started when I began working as a choreographer. I LOVED creating rather than just performing. It was a totally different rush. I got a wild hair to write a screenplay and because I worked in theatre for long, I found that dialogue came very easy to me. The script was HORRIBLE but I was hooked.  Since that script, besides a couple of directing jobs, all I’ve done is written.

Why did you decide to write stories for the YA market?

Without a doubt, watching my children grow influenced me. They are now 14, 15 and 20 years old. Seeing them develop and change, the ups and downs, the chances they take…it all amazes me. I know I was a teen once, too, but there is something completely different about standing back and watching someone else go through it.

What is your favorite part of writing for this group?

The idea that anything is possible! The teen years are so awesome that way. As a teenager or young adult, you aren’t molded yet. You aren’t set in your ways or thoughts. You aren’t held down by a belief system yet. You’re like these crazy, wild, beautiful tornadoes that pick everything up, chew it up and either hang on to it or spit it out. There are so many topics to explore because at that age your ARE exploring…EVERYTHING. I love that! What is the greatest challenge? Not dumbing the thoughts down. The best piece of advice I’ve ever received was not to underestimate this audience. So now, I actually try to forget the age I’m writing for…because they read like adults and are capable of deep…DEEP…feeling. I write like I’m writing for myself now. 

Can you tell us what your latest book is all about? **SPOILER ALERT!!!**

Black Bear Lake is about Adam Craig, a 40-year-old stock trader in Chicago, who finds his marriage on the rocks. Knowing his commitment and intimacy problems are closely tied to a childhood tragedy he re-visits his family’s summer cabin compound in northern Wisconsin on Black Bear Lake. The memories of that summer, all the bliss and the pain, come flooding back.

In the summer of 1983, 15-year-old Adam reconnects with his cousin, Dannie at beginning of a month long family reunion. In the two years since Adam has seen her, she has endured the painful break down of her parents’ marriage, leaving her isolated and unsure of the world.  Adam’s own struggle with his mother’s advancing cancer bonds Dannie and Adam further. A new camp babysitter, Amy, quickly embeds herself in the tight circle of Adam and Dannie. Her worldly experience and overt sexuality hypnotize, confuse and excites Adam. With raucous group activities and gatherings filled with familial love, an under current of tension grows as Dannie’s father continues to act out boorishly.

Just as the two cousins find themselves completely attached to Amy, they overhear a conversation between Amy and Dannie’s father that stops them cold.  In that moment, Adam and Dannie are completely changed and devastated.

Soon after, Amy and Dannie’s fears of what they overheard are validated. The family explodes and Adam sees them for the first time as a solid unit, supporting and protecting each other like a pride of lions. Amy and Dannie’s father are both immediately ordered to leave and Adam realizes that under her overly mature façade, Amy is a broken and scared young girl. Later, Adam finds Dannie alone by the lake, filled up with alcohol and hopelessness. As he tries to comfort her, Dannie kisses Adam, startling them both. Humiliated, Dannie runs off to her cabin. Adam begins to follow, only to be knocked back by an explosion.  An ongoing gas leak, ignited by Dannie flipping on the light switch, has decimated the cabin.

The year following Dannie’s tragic death also brings the death of Adam’s mother. In the wake of it all, Adam found thick, high walls had formed inside him, protecting him from further love and loss. Yet, standing in front of Black Bear Lake, with the images and memories swirling around him, Adam remembers the intense love that had been hidden under the pain for so many years and believes he has found a sliver of hope for the future. 

What inspired you to write it?black bear

Black Bear Lake is based on a true story that I actually experienced and that will probably stay with me forever. The actual camp is based on a summer compound that my family has, where we gather every summer and the cabin explosion took place during one of those summers.

Where can readers purchase a copy?

You can purchase the paperback version through Amazon or an e-book version either through Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

http://amzn.com/1497412781

http://amzn.com/B00J0L7JAY

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/black-bear-lake-leslie-liautaud/1118920372?ean=2940149192465

What is up next for you?

I’m currently working on a new novel about a group of college age friends.

Do you have anything else to add?

Again, I appreciate you having me today. And I truly hope you find the book enjoyable and entertaining!

Thank you for spending time with us today, Leslie. We wish you much success.

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25. First Chapter Review: The Luthier’s Apprentice by Mayra Calvani

TC&TBC

The first chapter of this young adult dark fantasy novel was sent to me by the author. You can read it online at http://www.twilighttimesbooks.com/LuthiersApprentice_ch1.html

LuthiersApprentice_med

BLURB: When a psychopathic violinist starts kidnapping other violinists around the world, 16-year old Emma must hunt her down before her own beloved violin teacher is killed.

COVER: This is a stunning cover. From the stormy sky to the rolling waters to the beautiful young woman to the contrast of the red on her lips and dress, every book cover should capture the eye as well as this one does.

FIRST CHAPTER: In present day Brussels, Emma gets off at the bus stop and is stunned by a newspaper headline at the news stand. Her violin teacher has disappeared. She races home to discover more bad news. Her world is quickly turned upside down by what she has learned in the past few minutes, but she has other news she hasn’t even shared with her mother that makes preparing for the upcoming violin competition ever harder.

KEEP READING: I’ve never been disappointed by one of Calvani’s books, so it’s no surprise that she opens The Luthier’s Apprentice with a strong first chapter that encourages the reader to continue. The author drops the reader into the action with an excellent hook and keeps the tension high throughout it all. We meet Emma and her mother, but also get information about other people in Emma’s life: her violin teacher and his wife, her grandfather, and her mother’s eccentric sister. I’m eager to see what happens next.

Author web site: http://www.MayraCalvani.com
Publisher: Twilight Times Books, http://twilighttimesbooks.com
Genre: YA Paranormal Fantasy
Series: Book 1
Distributors: Amazon Kindle; Apple iBookstore; BN.com Nook; Kobo Books; OmniLit, etc
Release date: May 15, 2014 ebook; August 15, 2014 print
Pages: 184
Purchase links:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00K93R3OO/

B and N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-luthiers-apprentice-mayra-calvani/1119467189

This review contains my honest opinions, which I have not been compensated for in any way.


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