Book Review—Secrets of the Book

Secrets of the Book Cover

If you are looking for a fun middle-grade novel filled with adventure, danger, and sly humor, you should take a look at Secrets of the Book by Erin Fry. I thought the author’s choice of lead characters was interesting. Typically, you give the hero a flaw, like Superman and his sensitivity to Krypton. Which I never really understood because isn’t that where he’s from? Never mind. In this story, Spencer Lemon (pronounced leh-MOHN) suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, which means he is slowly going blind. His best friend Gregor is on the spectrum and, as a result, occasionally has episodes when things disrupt his routine and become overwhelming, which essentially defines the entire book, so you can imagine. In lesser hands, these guys would have been relegated to the role of sidekick. But not today.

Now, add a cute, smart girl named Mel and a sketchy old man who goes by “Ed,” and you have the makings for some real excitement. Oh, I almost forgot—there’s this book, and you really shouldn’t mess with it unless you know what you’re doing, which of course, no one does. I mean, the thing has the name Pandora in it. Kind of says it all, don’t you think?

I had a great time reading Secrets of the Book. Fans of KidLit and history should check it out. I’m confident it will have you hooked after the first couple of pages.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
You don’t choose the book—the book chooses you.

Sixth grader Spencer Lemon has a degenerative eye disease—and he’s rapidly losing his eyesight. So he has no idea why he was chosen to guard Pandora’s Book. When Ed, the old guy at the nursing home, hands over the book, he doesn’t get a chance to explain any of the rules to Spencer. Spencer only knows that the book contains famous dead people—people who can be brought back to life. Spencer and his autistic best friend, Gregor, soon figure out how to get people out of the book, but not how to get them back in. Then Ed disappears, and a strange man shows up on Spencer’s doorstep—and he seems to know a lot about Spencer and about Pandora’s Book. Is he one of the bad guys? Or is here to help Spencer unravel the secrets of the book? But there are others interested in Pandora’s Book, others who might use its powers to take over the world. And it’s up to Spencer, along with Gregor and Ed’s mysterious (and cute) granddaughter Mel, to protect the book—and save the world.

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Guest Post—Heart of the Vampire (A Redcliffe Novel) by @spookymrsgreen

Wow, it looks like Spooky Mrs. Green is at it again. If you like witches, werewolves, and vampires, then check out her latest novel, Heart of the Vampire.

Heart of the Vampire Cover

It is almost Halloween in Redcliffe, Cornwall, and Jessica Stone is not the woman she used to be. Her summer was hijacked by werewolves, she fell in love with a vampire, and now she is learning how to be a witch, and what it means to celebrate Samhain with her new coven. Her vampire boyfriend, Jack Mason, is busy at work as a police detective, and his identical twin brother Danny, the werewolf alpha, refuses to let go of the woman he has chosen to protect his pack.

Jessica must learn about control, power, and the love that she truly feels for her vampire boyfriend and his brother.

The Redcliffe novels series follow the adventures of bookshop owner Jessica Stone as she meets a man and falls in love, only to discover the hidden werewolf secrets of her close friends. That includes Simon Bunce, manager of the Ship Inn, who turns out to be lieutenant to the Redcliffe werewolf pack, and lover to the wolf alpha Danny Mason. He fights to protect his master from the ethereal animal familiar who threatens to claim their pack. Who knew the Cornish coast could be so deadly?

Find #TheRedcliffeNovels series in bookshops and online and request them in your local library. For buy links and more details, visit Catherine Green at http://catherinegreenauthor.blogspot.co.uk/ You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as @SpookyMrsGreen.

Buy from Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/2OOw0JT

Buy from Amazon US: http://a.co/d/f0KfJs8

Buy from Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/902774

Buy from NOOK Books (Barnes & Noble): https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/heart-of-the-vampire-catherine-green/1129780886?ean=2940155855682

Buy from Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/heart-of-the-vampire-a-redcliffe-novel-book-5

Book Review—The Infinite Pieces of Us

The Infinite Pieces of Us Cover

The more I read YA fiction, the more I realize just how hard it is to be a kid nowadays. I won’t bore you with idyllic memories of roasting marshmallows around a campfire, but I will say that for many kids—and parents—today the world is a harsh, unforgiving place fraught with consequences. And this reality was never more evident than in the wonderful new novel by Rebekah Crane entitled The Infinite Pieces of Us. In it, she has given us Esther Ainsworth, a smart, soulful sixteen-year-old girl who has already lived far beyond her years and who is now forced to live in a dry, brittle desert that serves as punishment for something she did and whose secret must never be revealed.

As adults, we are well versed in the notion that we must accept the consequences for our actions. But we also lie—to ourselves and to others—to avoid those consequences, even if only for a while. In this story, Esther learns just how willing adults are to lie to keep the consequences at bay so we can live our lives as though nothing had happened. In such a world, Esther can’t rely on adults for guidance and must turn to her peers, hoping they can help. A touching subplot explores how Esther has fallen away from her sister, Hannah, who blames Esther for ruining her life by making the family move, even though it was their parents’ decision to do so. I found Hannah tragic and vulnerable and could easily picture a sequel starring her.

If you are a parent raising teenagers, read this book. Because these honest, hurt characters will tell you truths that your children will not—that what you see on the surface doesn’t begin to describe the pain and anxiety they carry inside like an even smaller hurt child.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
From the author of The Odds of Loving Grover Cleveland comes a hilarious and heartbreaking novel about coming apart, getting it together—and moving on. It’s just a two-hour drive…

Pondering math problems is Esther Ainsworth’s obsession. If only life’s puzzles required logic. Her stepfather’s solution? Avoidance. He’s exiled the family to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, to erase a big secret from Esther’s past. So much for the truth. Now for the consequences: an empty swimming pool, a water-sucking cactus outside her window, a goldfish rescued from a church festival, and Esther’s thirst for something real.

Step one: forget about her first love. Step two: make allies. Esther finds them in Jesús from the local coffee bar; a girl named Color who finds beauty in an abandoned video store; Beth, the church choir outcast; and Moss, a boy with alluring possibilities. Step three: confess her secret to those she hopes she can trust. Esther’s new friends do more than just listen. They’re taking Esther one step further.

Together, they hit the road to face Esther’s past head-on. It’s a journey that will lead her to embrace her own truth—in all its glory, pain, and awesomeness.

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Three Things I Learned from Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables Cover

I suppose if I had been an English Lit major, I would have read this beautifully crafted classic years ago. But I never got around to it until recently. I don’t know what drew me to Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery’s tale of an extraordinary orphan who, by her very nature, continually amazes and confounds everyone in her path. Maybe it was because I have two daughters? Sure, let’s go with that.

What struck me more than anything is Anne’s indomitable spirit. And let me tell you, it’s so contagious that after finishing the novel, I realized that in some ways I had changed, demonstrating once again the power of words to move the human heart. I want to talk about three things I learned, and I hope that for those of you who have not read this lovely book, you will set aside the cozy mysteries and historical romances for a time and introduce yourself to Anne Shirley. Okay, let’s begin.

The Human Spirit Can Soften Even the Most Hardened Hearts
By the time Anne arrives at Green Gables, she has charmed the socks off Matthew Cuthbert. This man is the classic strong, silent type, but in his heart burns an eternal child who, in some ways, longs to see the world as Anne does—a wondrous place full of mystery and promise. He had actually gone to the train station to collect a boy from an orphanage to help out at Green Gables now that he and his sister, Marilla, are getting on in years. But due to a mix-up, Anne was sent, and she is the one Matthew finds waiting for him at the station. At first, worried that he would now have to return Anne to the orphanage, he quickly decides that it might not be a bad idea to keep the girl. But he knows his sister, and Marilla surely won’t have it.

Marilla is interesting. Though she and her brother manage a small farm with all the work that entails, I really couldn’t see that things were that bad. There was always plenty of food, a warm house, and beauty all around them in Avonlea. Yet we find that Marilla is a dour woman who never permits herself even a smile. She acts severely, and to meet her, you would think circumstances were much worse. What’s interesting, though, is that secretly Marilla has a sense of humor she keeps to herself.

Despite Marilla’s temperament, Anne manages to convince her to let her stay and then, over the course of the novel, proceeds to soften Marilla’s heart to the point where the old woman can express love outwardly. No one—not even her brother—could do that. Anne’s incredible spirit has triumphed.

Never Underestimate a Girl
Though only eleven when she arrives at Green Gables, Anne has already been through a lot. While being passed around from family to family, she learns some useful skills. But adults don’t believe children know anything, which is best illustrated by Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s attitude toward the girl at the beginning of the story.

At one point, Anne is forbidden to see her dearest friend Diana because, through no fault of her own, she served Diana homemade currant wine instead of raspberry cordial. When Mrs. Barry finds her daughter incapacitated, she ends the relationship on the spot, thinking Anne is a wicked, irresponsible girl who has gotten her daughter drunk on purpose.

Later, Diana’s little sister, Minnie May, comes down with croup, leaving the clueless babysitter “helpless and bewildered.” Mr. and Mrs. Barry are away and, as the child’s condition worsens, Diana panics and runs to Green Gables for help. Marilla is also away, and while Matthew goes to get the doctor, Anne accompanies Diana back to her house. Having babysat her share of children, Anne knows well how to treat croup and takes charge, administering regular doses of ipecac. By the time the doctor arrives, the child is sleeping comfortably.

When Mrs. Barry learns that it was Anne who saved her daughter, she happily agrees to allow Diana and her to stay friends.

Recognizing That Mistakes Are Necessary Is Very Grown Up Indeed
Anne Shirley makes lots of mistakes throughout the book, exasperating Marilla and making her wonder how she ever let the girl stay. Some of them are funny, like the time Anne leaves a pie in the oven to burn because she is daydreaming. Others are more serious, as when Anne meets the judgmental Mrs. Lynde and screams in her face for insulting her. But in each case, the girl learns something. Take a look at this exchange between Anne and Marilla later in the novel when Anne is older:

“But have you ever noticed one encouraging thing about me, Marilla? I never make the same mistake twice.”

“I don’t know as that’s much benefit when you’re always making new ones.”

“Oh, don’t you see, Marilla? There must be a limit to the mistakes one person can make, and when I get to the end of them, then I’ll be through with them. That’s a very comforting thought.”

I’ve known plenty of adults who never figured that one out.

Wrap-Up
In a way, Anne Shirley has changed my outlook. I tend to get stressed easily and constantly miss the everyday beauty around me because I’m always focused on getting the next thing done. After finishing the novel, I decided I am going to take more time, enjoy family and friends, and notice things. Yeah, I know. Corny, right? Well, it’s already made a difference. The trick is to keep it up, though. Often, I find myself slipping into old patterns—especially while driving. I sometimes wonder what kind of driver Anne would make. I mean, she does tend to daydream a lot.

Back to the big lesson I learned from reading Anne of Green Gables. It’s about finding joy in everyday things and sharing that joy with others. Not a bad way to live, if you ask me. Peace and love.

Halloween Treats—23 Women Horror Authors

23 Great Women Horror Authors

Okay, I thought this was such a great find, I had to share it. Check out this post from Literary Hub. By golly, I think I just hit the motherlode!

It’s finally October, which as we all know is officially the spookiest month—and thus the perfect moment to brush up on your literary horror bookshelf. Sure, it’s really on-brand for the season, but sometimes it actually is nice to accompany the new chills in the air with some new chills in your reading list. Horror writing is traditionally overrun by zombies men, but in recent years (and if you think about it, all along) women have been exploding the genre, writing entertaining, immersive, frightening novels and stories that run the gamut from high-brow, award-winning literary horror to bloody, murky genre masterpieces. So if you’re not sure where to start this season, here are a few recommendations of great writers of horror (the genre admittedly here broadly defined) to get you started. Of course, this is by no means a definitive list—one has to stop somewhere, lest the madness descend. On that note, please feel free to add on in the comments section.

Mary Shelley
Start with: Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

Most obvious (and most venerable) first. With the staunch prominence of male writers in the genre, it’s easy to forget that one of the earliest and best horror novels was written 200 years ago by a teenage girl showing off for her boyfriend and their friends. I’d say she won that famous campfire competition of who could tell the best horror story by a significant margin—unless you count what happened to Percy’s heart after his death. Actually, that was probably her story too, so she wins twice.

lauren beukes broken monstersLauren Beukes
Start with: Broken Monsters

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South African writer Beukes is one of the biggest names in contemporary horror right now, and for good reason: her novels are intelligent, fast-paced, and leave you with that horrible sick feeling—you know, the one you read horror novels for. For me it was a toss-up between Broken Monsters and The Shining Girls, but considering I locate the nexus of horror in the Internet right now, I’d say start with the former, which opens with the discovery of a body in Detroit: a young boy, whose lower half has been cut off and replaced with that of a deer’s.

Tananarive Due my soul to keepTananarive Due
Start with: My Soul to Keep

“What I think readers should understand,” the beloved and brilliant Due said in an interview, “[is that] it’s not just that I like to scare people, although I do like to scare people, because I myself get scared, but I’m trying to take things that are not real, at least to me.”

I have not experienced—I have not had a ghost encounter, for example. So these are not experiences from my life. These are nightmare scenarios that actually act as metaphors for the real-life horrible things that happen to us every day.

All of us on this journey are going to sustain losses, and some of them are going to be quite, quite devastating. And I’ve always felt so ill-prepared for that. I think I decided to write about nightmare scenarios so often, really, to create characters who can walk me through the process. “This is what you do when your world falls apart.” And every book is sort of a re-examination of how all of us and all these characters have to triumph over whatever life throws at us.

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Book Review—The Replacement Crush

The Replacement Crush Cover

This is the story of a high school girl named Vivvy—sorry, she hates that—Vivian, whose heart is broken by an attractive, thoughtless jerk named Jake. Viv is smart and funny. She loves romance books and the original Star Trek series—especially Mr. Spock. Any decent guy would be lucky to have her. But because of what happened with Jake, she has taken herself off the market. From now on, she plans to focus on boys who frankly do nothing for her. No sparks, no chance of another broken heart.

I enjoyed this story very much. Each of Vivian’s friends is unique and, like dueling Greek choruses, happily expresses their opinions about true love, raging hormones, and revenge. Of course, it takes two to make a romance, and Dallas is the mysterious newcomer who represents everything that threatens Viv’s plans. He, too, is smart and loves Star Trek—especially Captain Kirk. Also, he is computer-savvy, and plays the cello—the cello! Didn’t see that coming.

If you enjoy breezy romantic comedy with lots of snappy dialog, quirky townsfolk, and a nice beach setting, then this book is for you. And don’t let yourself get too upset with Jaz. She means well.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
True love can’t be strategized.

After book blogger Vivian Galdi’s longtime crush pretends their secret summer kissing sessions never happened, Vivian creates a list of safe crushes, determined to protect her heart.

But nerd-hot Dallas, the sweet new guy in town, sends the mission and Vivian’s zing meter into chaos. While designing software for the bookstore where Vivian works, Dallas wages a counter-mission.

Operation Replacement Crush is in full effect. And Dallas is determined to take her heart off the shelf.

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Tell Me When I’m Dead—Back to School Sale

TMWID Cover eBook Quote (Small)

 

Just a quick announcement to let you know that Tell Me When I’m Dead is on sale from August 13th through the 19th. So, if you love zombies and mayhem and haven’t yet read this novel, then now is your chance to get it on the cheap.

Normally, this book is $4.99, but during the sale, you can get it for a cool $1.99.

What Critics Are Saying
“The zombie genre has exploded in recent years, and unfortunately, so many similar stories have begun to run together, making it less of a desirable avenue for both writers and readers. However, there is still hope for this genre niche in the form of Tell Me When I’m Dead by Steven Ramirez. The first book in a trilogy, this slow-burning thriller does far more than simply promote an everyman into a zombie-killing hero, introducing readers to a uniquely compelling protagonist.” — Self-Publishing Review

“As Dave’s life slowly starts to unravel, and the body count continues to grow higher through the help of an unknown virus, he is left with a gruesome choice: either wallow in his sorrows or stay alive. In this thrilling novel, Ramirez details an antihero’s struggles for family and love, and to find beauty in a world ruled by the dead.” — Readers’ Favorite

“The sense of pace in Tell Me When I’m Dead is impressive, Ramirez building the suspense and stakes with skill, and ensuring that you care about the characters at the heart of events. As a lead character, Dave is layered, with a compelling backstory and an admirably drawn humanity. He’s not your run-of-the-mill horror hero, and his decisions are believable yet at times unexpected, keeping the reader on their toes and ensuring that this isn’t a predictable tale in the slightest. Chilling, pulse racing, and hugely compelling, Ramirez has brought something new to a popular genre.” — The Bookbag

Book Review—The Wendy

The Wendy Cover

The Wendy is a delight—beautifully written and funny. Loosely based on characters created by J.M. Barrie, I sensed a bit of Dickens in the troubled upbringing of a modern girl named Wendy Darling who was just not at home in the eighteenth century. It seems men were not kind to women back then, the majority seeing them as suited for nothing more than matrimony and motherhood—if they had to be put up with at all. Then, this headstrong girl with grand ideas of captaining a ship enters the stage, and not only are the Neanderthals incensed at her boldness but astonished that she has skills.

Wendy is smart and accomplished and can hold her own against anyone—even the eternally pompous and mean-spirited Captain Hook. And she’s wise, considering she is only sixteen. Though I found her irresistible—especially her eyebrows—my favorite aspect of the novel is the voice of the narrator. I mean, it’s just so wonderfully witty. In fact, some parts made me laugh out loud. Good thing I was alone at the time.

For those who enjoy fantasy with their historical fiction, I highly recommend this book. It’s perfect for kids and highly entertaining for adults. A real gem.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
THE WRONG KIND OF HERO.

“Girls can’t be in the navy! Girls take care of babies! You’re so stupid, you don’t know anything!”

London. 1783. Wendy Darling is an orphan, living in an overcrowded almshouse, ridiculed for believing in a future she can never have. More than anything in the world, she wants to be the captain of a ship. But that’s impossible. Isn’t it?

By 1789, she’s sixteen, old enough to be sold into service as a dressmaker or a servant. When she learns the Home Office is accepting a handful of women into its ranks, she jumps at the chance, joining the fight against the most formidable threat England has ever faced. Magic.

But the secret service isn’t exactly what she had hoped. Accompanied by a reimagined cast of the original Peter Pan, Wendy soon discovers that her dreams are as far away as ever, that choosing sides isn’t as simple as she thought, and that the only man who isn’t blinded by her gender… might be her nation’s greatest enemy.

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Book Review—Nora & Kettle

Nora and Kettle Cover

At first, I had trouble getting into this book because it deals with violence against women and girls. I am the father of two daughters, and stories of physical abuse at home—in any time period—really set me off. Fortunately, Nora & Kettle is a beautiful novel and demonstrates in intense, sometimes lyrical prose, the sheer power and majesty of the human spirit. I felt Lauren Nicolle Taylor’s characters were well drawn and personable, and the setting believable. Her decision to contrast the life of a “rich girl” and her little sister with two homeless Japanese-American boys was the right one and proves to be very effective.

The terror behind the walls of Nora’s home echoes what was happening in a major city in post-war America in the early 1950s. Kettle and his “brother” Kin are just as much victims as she is. Like Nora, they must find a way to survive in a world that doesn’t want them. They must, at all costs, remain invisible and avoid confrontation. In Kin’s case, though, his anger gets the better of him, bringing more bad luck.

As a young adult novel, this story is pretty dark. But the lessons it teaches to a new generation are well worth repeating and make Nora & Kettle a book worth reading.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
After World War II, orphaned Kettle faces prejudice as a Japanese American but manages to scrape by and care for his makeshift family of homeless children. When he crosses paths with the privileged but traumatized Nora, both of their lives are forever changed…

Lauren Nicolle Taylor’s Nora & Kettle is a heart-wrenching historical fiction novel that will appeal to fans of books by John Green and Ned Vizzini, novels such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Beginning of Everything, Eleanor & Park, The Book Thief, and classics like The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye.

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Book Review—Opening Belle

Opening Belle Cover

For me, the best part about reading fiction by female authors is getting a clue as what women are really thinking when men make fools of themselves—unfortunately, a daily occurrence in most places. And reading about the highly paid boors, rakes, and mansplainers who inhabit the corridors of Wall Street, well. Let’s just say I am genuinely impressed at the depths to which my fellow knuckle-draggers can stoop.

That said, Opening Belle by Maureen Sherry was a lot of fun. Following a stressed-out protagonist making boatloads of money while fending off the advances of the less evolved—not to mention contending with an entitled husband who cannot seem to comprehend the meaning of work—and you have the makings of sheer, page-turning mayhem. If you like reading about harried women professionals determined to blow up the glass ceiling, then grab this book. As a bonus, you’ll learn a lot about the inner workings of Wall Street—unless of course, the author was making the whole thing up.

You can find this review at Goodreads.

Book Description
Maureen Sherry’s funny insider novel about a female Wall Street executive also trying to be a mother and a wife is a “compulsively readable…cheeky—and at times, romantic—battle-cry for any woman who’s ever strived to have it all and been told by a man that she couldn’t” (Entertainment Weekly).

It’s 2008 and Isabelle, a thirty-something Wall Street executive, appears to have it all: the sprawling Upper West Side apartment; three healthy children; a handsome husband; and a job as managing director at a large investment bank. But her reality is something else. Her work environment resembles a frat party, her husband feels employment is beneath him, and the bulk of childcare logistics still fall in Belle’s already crowded lap.

Enter Henry, the former college fiancé she never quite got over; now a hedge fund mogul. He becomes her largest client, and Belle gets to see the life she might have had with him. While Henry campaigns to win Belle back, the sexually harassed women in her office take action to improve their working conditions, and recruit a wary Belle into a secret “glass ceiling club” whose goal is to mellow the cowboy banking culture and get equal pay for their work. All along, Belle can sense the financial markets heading toward their soon-to-be historic crash and that something has to give—and when it does, everything is going to change: her marriage, her career, her bank statement, and her colleagues’ frat boy behavior.

Optioned by Reese Witherspoon who called it “smart, biting, and honest,” Opening Belle is “funny, relevant, and often shocking….Even if your own life is far from a fairy tale, it will allow you to laugh, learn, and maybe even lean in—to hug your own family a little closer.” (The Washington Post).

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