Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Author Interview & Giveaway: Belle Whittington

Belle resides somewhere north of Houston, Texas in a small inconsequential town with the smallest most inconsequential name. There in the shady reaches of the pines, elms, and oaks, she daydreams of adventures and secrets that she weaves throughout her stories.

As a student of literature, Belle is earning her degree in English at the University of Houston. She hopes to teach literature at the college level someday.

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Thanks so much for joining me, Belle! I'm very excited to host you on my blog. So let's get down to business!

1. I really liked the originality of Cicada. How did you come up with the subject matter? Have you always been interested in aliens, or were you just inspired one day?
Thank you!  I aimed at making Cicada a unique sci-fi/paranormal experience for readers.  I wanted it to be a breath of fresh air for those who are tired of reading the same story told in a different way.  I've always been interested in science fiction and aliens!  For as long as I can remember, I've been intrigued by the idea of intelligent life existing somewhere among the twinkling stars in the sky. As an avid daydreamer, I get inspiration from all sorts of places.  And many of the places I mentioned in Cicada actually exist...only under different names, of course. :-)  Even the haunted forest exists!

Growing up in Nacogdoches, the oldest town in Texas, afforded me summers full of adventure with my friends. I call on those adventures and memories a great deal for my YA stories. Cicada has a lot of the energy of those childhood adventures spun throughout.One of them is something that actually happened to me when I was thirteen years old. I was on one of my adventures in the woods with my dog, Dusty. We made our way through the woods to a neighboring pasture and crawled through the barbed wire fence. When we got to the top of one of the rolling hills in the grassy field, I realized I was standing in the middle of a giant circle imprinted in the pasture grass. No one had ever told me about crop circles at that time in my life, so I just thought it was an odd occurrence that there was a strange circle in the tall grass.  Now that circle is forever memorialized in a YA novel, Cicada.

2. The setting was also very distinct, like the forest, the drive-in, and the bakery shop. Were any of the places based off real-life places?
Yes, all of those places are based off real-life locations in Willis, Texas...that "small, inconsequential town with the smallest, most inconsequential name somewhere north of Houston, Texas." :-)  Well, Sprinkles, the bakery shop, is fictitious.  But all those other locations can be found with a little detective work. :-)

3. How long did it take you to write this novel? Did you have a specific writing routine?
It took me about a year to write Cicada.  It might not have taken that long if I weren't also writing research papers for classes and working full-time at my day job.  My writing style/routine is unique.  I don't sit down to write until I'm inspired to write the next scene.  That comes through a lot of daydreaming and chipping away at the story...somewhat like an anthropologist chips away at the treasures buried in the sand.  I let the characters speak to me and let the story whisper itself to me.  Then I pull out the laptop and put it all down in the story.  It's really a lot of fun!

4. What was the hardest part of writing this novel?
The hardest part was having to put off the writing until I was done with homework or until I got home from my day job.  It was almost like Cicada was my baby, and I had to put her in daycare while I was away at work or class...

5. Can you see yourself in any of your characters?
Absolutely!  There's a tiny bit of me in all of my characters, I suppose.  But I don't know which one is most like me.

I didn't put myself into the character of Blair in the sense that it was me doing all those things in the story.  It just felt like I was writing down what someone else was doing while she was doing it.  But I think there's a bit of me in her, as well. :-)  Probably that stubborn streak she's got! LOL!
Now for some fun facts:

6. Chocolate or Vanilla?
Chocolate! <3 nbsp="" p="">
7. Night owl or early bird?
Night Owl!  Hoot Hoot!

8. And finally, where is your reading (or writing) refuge?
I have two reading refuges: 1. My car during lunch break 2. My bed at home. My writing refuge is usually somewhere in my bedroom.  At my desk, on the floor, or sitting on the bed. :-)

Many warm thanks for having me over to your lovely blog for a cup of cappuccino and a chance to get to know you and your readers!  This really has been a lot of fun! :-)

Thank you, Belle! And now for a giveaway! Belle has graciously offered 1 e-book copy of Cicada. Enter the form below to win!

- You must be 13 or older to enter
- You must be a follower to enter
- Open internationally!
- Please use the Rafflecopter form below
- Giveaway ends at 12:01 AM EST on December 6
- Winner has 72 hours to respond to my e-mail. If the winner doesn't respond by that time, I choose another winner.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Review: Cicada by Belle Whittington

Author: Belle Whittington
Series Order: Book 1
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Summertime had always been carefree and fun for Blair Reynolds and her friends--until they came upon something that was not human. As the group of friends band together in a fight for their lives, Blair's true love becomes something more than human...something unnatural. And their existence relies on their ability to keep a secret.

Overall Rating: 3/5 

One thing that Cicada definitely has going for it is its originality. I don't think I've ever read a book even slightly similar to this one. One of my favorite parts is how she combines a mythological story with her imagination to make up fairly believable creatures with an interesting history. When the action is there, it's very good, though I did find this book to be a bit slow. I think some of the romance and Blair's internal rationalization of things could have been cut out so there could have been room more action and strange stuff to happen.

I didn't like how the most exciting part of the book took place slightly over halfway through the novel. I think a lot of the revelations about Blair's dad and the thing they encountered in the woods should have taken place before the climax of the novel. It would have made the climax more exciting (and I probably would have known better what was going on), and there wouldn't be such a lag between the climax and the ending.

Overall, this was a fairly good read. The mystery and the action sustains the novel throughout, and Whittington is so good at making things mysterious, that my curiosity got me through some of the slower parts. If you like reading about aliens and weird stuff in general, then you'll like this imaginative young adult novel.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Audiobook Review: Goose Girl by Shannon Hale

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Author: Shannon Hale
Narrators: Various
Publisher: Full Cast Audio
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 10 hours, 12 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
She can whisper to horses and communicate with birds, but the crown princess Ani has a difficult time finding her place in the royal family and measuring up to her imperial mother. When she is shipped off to a neighboring kingdom as a bride, her scheming entourage mounts a bloody mutiny to replace her with a jealous lady-in-waiting, Selia, and to allow an inner circle of guards more power in the new land. Barely escaping with her life, Ani disguises herself as a goose girl and wanders on the royal estate. Does she have the pluck to reclaim her rightful place? Get ready for a fine adventure tale full of danger, suspense, surprising twists, and a satisfying conclusion. The engaging plot can certainly carry the tale, but Hale's likable, introspective heroine makes this also a book about courage and justice in the face of overwhelming odds. The richly rendered, medieval folkloric setting adds to the charm. Anne O'Malley Copyright © American Library Association.
Overall Rating: 5/5

Hesitant doesn't even begin to cover how I felt about starting this novel. I read the original Goose Girl fairy tale not so very long ago and I'm not a fan. It's short, has a lot of random events going on, and I hated the main character for being such a pushover. So I was not expecting the amazingness that is Shannon Hale's version of The Goose Girl. It's suspenseful, entertaining, funny, and simply a good story.

I love how Shannon Hale took the core story of the fairy tale and completely expanded upon it. There were many familiar events, but a lot of new twists and turns as well. I have to say, for me, the ending was entirely unexpected. This may be because I read the original fairy tale first, and I thought it would be closer to that ending, but Hale makes it a much better, happier ending, which I very much appreciated.

Mostly, this book is about growing up and finding out who you are. It is a young adult novel, but I think that older people can most definitely relate. Ani has to get away from her family and her normal obligations to find out who she is for herself. And what she finds is that she's more like a princess that she thought she was. Besides reading about the adventure and the intrigue (which kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the entire story), I enjoyed seeing Ani grow up and become more confident in herself. And I loved reading about her making all sorts of new friends among the royal animal-keepers. Friendship is another good theme in this novel -- a theme that will never get old for me.

In terms of audiobooks, Full Cast is the way to go. They deliver on their name -- there is a full cast for this audiobook, meaning each character has its own person delivering their lines. At first, this was jarring for me. Being used to having at the most two narrators for an audiobook, hearing all the different voices was a bit strange. However, I got used to it and fell in love with the format. Every character is guaranteed to have his or her own quirks and personality, because there are different narrators throughout. I liked the music at the end of the chapters, but I thought it went on overly long. Overall, however, I loved this audiobook. (It did win a 2007 Audi Award for Achievement in Production and was a Finalist in another category, so I'm not surprised it was good.)

If you can't tell already, I love this book. Whether it's in print or in audio, if you haven't read it yet and are a fan of fairy tale retellings, or a good story in general, I recommend this for you.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Book Review: Destined Mate by Katie Reus

Author: Katie Reus
Publisher: Harlequin
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Two hundred years ago, Angela Lavigne and Alpha werewolf Knox had a shared a passion neither could control. Then Angela was turned into a vampire and disappeared. 
The last thing Knox expects is for Angela to show up on his doorstep centuries later on a rescue mission, as sexy and irresistible as ever. And he can sense how much she still wants him, too. She's gone against both their species' rules and trespassed on his land. By law he can keep her as long as he wants—and Knox doesn't intend to let her go ever again. 
As their desire explodes once again, Knox is more sure than ever that he's must claim her forever. But as vampire and werewolf, they are natural born enemies. Can she truly be his destined mate?

 Overall Rating: 3.5/5 (This novel has ADULT CONTENT)

This is a short novella, so this will be a short review. Destined Mate gives you all of the good stuff without any of the fluff. There was just enough back story to make me interested and invested in the characters, and there were quite a few hot and heavy scenes that I greatly enjoyed.

I would have liked for there to have been a bit more groundwork laid for the fight between the vampires and werewolves, but overall I liked the story. The characters were easy to relate to, the romance was well-paced and exactly what I expect from a Harlequin book, and the world is well-drawn for a story that is quite short.

If you're a fan of 18+ paranormal romances, definitely pick this one up. You'll love it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Author Interview and Giveaway: Marie-Therese Browne

Marie-Therese Browne is the author of Olga - A Daughter's Tale, a non-fiction novel about her mother's life that I really enjoyed. Check out my review.

1. There’s a lot of history in this book. How long did it take you to research?

It took me about a year to do the research for ‘Olga – A Daughter’s Tale’.  My first step was to go to the reference department in my local library in my home town of Brighton in the UK - that gave me the history. 

I also went to the National Archives in Kew just outside of London, which holds over 1,000 years of the UK government history plus documents such as ships’ passengers lists dating back to the 1800s. I went there to see if I could find any members of the Browney family (Olga’s family) listed on any of the ships that sailed from the West Indies to London since some of them did make these trips.

I also referred to archived newspapers to give me a sense of the history for the period I was writing about.

And, of course, the biggest research resource of all was Olga’s sisters whom I finally traced.  I visited them in Jamaica and they gave me lots of information.  It was from them I found out about Jamaica’s folklore, namely Obeah (witchcraft) and how, not only the family dabbled in it, but that it was practised all over the island.

2. Now that Olga – A Daughter’s Tale is finished, do you ever think of writing another book? If so, what genre would it be?

Yes, I do plan to write another book and it picks up from where ‘Olga – A Daughter’s Tale’ finished.  In order words the sequel!  Unfortunately, time constraints relating to my full time work mean I cannot start it until next year.

3. Do you keep in contact with the relatives you found in Jamaica?

I did for about three years but now much to my disappointment, no.  All of Olga’s siblings have now died and though I was in touch with some cousins for a while, we’re not any more.

4. What is the message you want to send to readers through Olga – A Daughter’s Tale?

There isn’t really a message per se.  What I wanted to do was share Olga’s story but what I’ve learned through feedback from readers is, that having read my book knowing it was written as the result of genealogical research, some have decided to look into their own family history.  The fact they’ve enjoyed the book and as a result want to research their family is a double win for me!

5. How long did it take you to write this book?

Once the research was out of the way and I found the voice to use to tell the story, the actual writing took about 9 months.  I couldn’t do it full time because I was working.

Now for some fun facts:

6. What is the first book you remember reading by yourself?

The first books I ever read were Enid Blyton’s Famous Five Books.  I can’t remember the name of the first one but I was totally hooked on them and had to read them all. Loved them

7. What is your favorite comfort food?

Has to be chocolate but Mars Bars in particular.

8. Coffee or tea?

Coffee – Blue Mountain from Jamaica

9. And finally, where is your writing (or reading) refuge?

My writing refuge is wherever my laptop is!  My reading refuge is my bed.  I love reading in bed just before I go to sleep.

Thanks so much, Marie! I love reading in bed before I go to sleep too. :)

Marie has graciously offered 3 copies of her book to giveaway. 1 print copy, and 2 e-books. Please be sure to specify in the "extra info." section of your mandatory entry which one you want, or if you would accept either format. Thank you!


- In the extra info. section of your mandatory entry, please specify if you want a print copy, an e-copy, or would take either one.

- You must be 13 or older to enter
- You must be a follower to enter

- Open internationally!
- Please use the Rafflecopter form below
- Giveaway ends at 12:01 AM EST on November 30
- Winner has 72 hours to respond to my e-mail. If the winner doesn't respond by that time, I choose another winner.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Review: Olga - A Daughter's Tale by Marie-Therese Browne

Author: Marie-Therese Browne
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Olga – A Daughter’s Tale is a story about heritage, identity, and belonging. It’s one family’s experiences of hardship, discrimination and love. Set in Jamaica and London between the years of 1900 and post war England, the reader is taken on a journey with one family through history and cultural change. 

Written with diary entries and letters, "Olga – A Daughter's Tale" is based on a true story about cruelty, revenge and jealousy inflicted on an innocent young woman and about her moral courage, dignity, resilience and, in particular, love. It is the story of a remarkable woman who because of circumstances made a choice which resulted in her losing contact with her beloved family in Jamaica. That is, until nearly half a century later, when her past caught up with her.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5

Olga -- A Daughter's Tale is a story rich with historical and cultural detail, intrigue, and family. It takes place during a very interesting time period in both Jamaica's and England's history. Besides being about family, love, and doing what it takes to get through tough circumstances, this is also a study on the character of people. There are all sorts of people represented in this novel, and it's interesting to see how their actions affect other people, whether it's a good thing or a bad thing.

However, I don't think the diary format was the best choice for this novel. First of all, the entries weren't dated -- not even a year was given, so I was confused as to when exactly events were taken place. Secondly, there were times when the descriptions or historical information didn't fit in with the voice of the person writing the entries. The benefit of having diary entries is that the reader gets to feel close to the character, and while I felt close to Olga near the end of the novel, I wasn't feeling that connection at the beginning. I think short stories, or even a chapter format would have been better.

Despite that, this is a great story. It's both heartbreaking and inspirational. And to know that this is non-fiction and not just a made up story makes it even better. Besides being a quick read (I couldn't put this book down!), it is an inspiring story. I like books that make me think after I've put them down and make me want to learn more about the stuff it brings up. I now have a few books on hold at my library about Jamaica and World War II in England, because I couldn't get them out of my head after reading this book.

This is a book everyone can appreciate, because it's about real life. We all have family drama (and Olga certainly has that!), and all our families have their quirks. We have all been in a tough spot at sometime or another, and we have all had to find our way out of that tough spot. That's what at the heart of this novel. One girl's path to becoming a woman, an event that changed her life, and the decisions she made after that. It's beautiful and it makes a good story. I am so glad Marie decided to write down her mother's tale.

*I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.*

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Book Review: Clockwise by Elle Strauss

Author: Elle Strauss
Publisher: ESB Publishing
Paperback: 290 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
A teenage time traveler accidentally takes her secret crush back in time. Awkward.  
Boy watching with her best friend would be enough excitement for fifteen year old Casey Donovan. She doesn't even mind life at the bottom of the Cambridge High social ladder, if only she didn’t have this other much bigger problem. Unscheduled trips to the nineteenth century!  
When Casey gets talked into going to the Fall Dance, the unthinkable happens--she accidentally takes Nate Mackenzie, the cutest boy in the school, back in time.
Protocol pressures her to tell their 1860 hosts that he is her brother and when Casey finds she has a handsome, wealthy (and unwanted) suitor, something changes in Nate. Are those romantic sparks or is it just ‘brotherly’ protectiveness?  
When they return to the present things go back to the way they were before: Casey at the bottom of the social totem pole and Nate perched on the very the top. Except this time her heart is broken. Plus, her best friend is mad, her parents are split up, and her little brother gets escorted home by the police. The only thing that could make life worse is if, by some strange twist of fate, she took Nate back to the past again.  
Which of course, she does.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

There were two things that made me interested in this book right away: the fact that it's about time travel (my favorite!!!) and Casey's voice. It is written in first-person, and this girl is funny! It's just the right mix of teen-speak, sarcasm, and self-deprecation. I fell in love with her immediately, and the more I read, the more I liked her.

Overall, I liked the story. The characters were interesting, Casey just couldn't seem to keep herself in the right time period, and she's always getting into some sort of trouble in the 1860's. The conflict with Nate was awesome. I definitely enjoyed watching him evolve from cute-jock to genuinely-nice-guy. I didn't think all the family-drama was necessary, however. I would have liked to see some deeper conflict regarding the time-travel thing rather than read about her brother's rebellion problems.

Also, Clockwise didn't really have a climax. I kept waiting for a sort of "final battle" moment to happen -- for one thing to go completely beyond Casey's control, where she'd have to do something amazing to get herself out. Nothing like this happened, even though there were a lot of chances for it to happen. Let's face it, time travel would be insanely complex. Fitting into the era, navigating around the people and the prominent ideas of the time, not to mention the possible ramifications of your actions in the past -- there are many opportunities for things to go wrong. Casey certainly faces some difficulties, but nothing that I would consider climactic.

This also doesn't read like a young adult novel. The characters are a bit too simple for the genre, as is the plot. I would say this is more middle-grade than young adult.

However, these problems didn't prevent me from enjoying the story. While I think it could have been better, Clockwise is still a good read. I was emotionally connected to the characters, the plot was quick and interesting, and I couldn't wait to see what would happen next. I definitely recommend fans of time-travel to check this book out.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

NaNoWriMo Update #1

Things are going much better than expected! For one thing, I have a little over 23,000 words written. Not too shabby. :) I think it's going easier than I expected, because the last time I did this, I squeezed 1 week of writing (roughly 11,700 words) into 3 days. Doing a little over 1,600 words a day is no problem compared to that.

However, I am starting to feel the pressure. Before I started writing, I had a firm beginning and ending in mind. Those are now written. So now I'm getting to the parts I haven't thought through. I have some idea of how to link them together, but I didn't outline the middle part very much.

Basically, starting tomorrow, I'm going to be in uncharted territory. It's exciting and terrifying at the same time. But that's exactly what NaNoWriMo is all about, right? Ignoring fears and just putting words to paper.

Here's to another 20 days of productive writing!

How is everyone else doing with NaNoWriMo? Is it easier, harder, or about the same? Any unexpected developments? I'd love to know!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Audiobook Review: Flush by Carl Hiaasen

Author: Carl Hiaasen
Narrator: Michael Welch
Publisher: Listening Library
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 5 hours, 22 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
On Father's Day, Noah visits his dad at the local jail. Dad is a feisty environmentalist with a short fuse. Convinced that the Coral Queen was dumping raw sewage into the harbor, he decided to take matters in his own hands. He sank the floating casino (at least temporarily), but ended up in the hoosegow. Noah knows that his dad was right about the sewage, even if his corrective method was a little over the top. To clean the slate and the harbor, he drafts a motley crew of friends to get the goods on the illegal dumpers.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Before this book, I hadn't read anything by Carl Hiaasen, though I have heard a lot about him because of Hoot's success. Without even reading the summary, I knew that this novel would probably take on some sort of environmental issue, but I didn't expect it to be so good. This is a book I would have loved as a kid, and is still a good read as an adult. It has a lot of action, intrigue, and great characters.

I really liked the relationship between Noah and his little sister Abbey. Their interactions were realistic and Abbey added a humorous element to the story, which I appreciated. I also liked how Abbey is portrayed as a stronger personality than Noah, even though she's his little sister. I'm a sucker for strong female characters, and Hiaasen definitely includes them in this novel.

The story itself is awesome. To clear their father's good name, Noah and Abbey take it upon themselves to prove that the Coral Queen is dumping raw sewage into the harbor and enlist the help of a couple of others. Some plot twists were predictable, but there were a few surprises Hiaasen threw in that completely shocked me.

Michael Welch's narration was perfect. I love listening to audiobooks when it's told in first person, because it gives an heightened sense of simply being told a story. It's even better when the narrator is able to capture the main character's personality and add some quirks, which is exactly what Michael Welch does.

Overall, this story is enjoyable, full of surprises, and carries a good message. It's about kids taking matters into their own hands and helping to right wrongs. With humor and adventure, Flush is great for kids and adults alike.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Book Review: The Safe-Keeper's Secret by Sharon Shinn

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Author: Sharon Shinn
Publisher: Puffin
Paperback: 240 pages
Series Order: Book 1
Summary: (taken from Shelfari)
Damiana is Safe-Keeper in the small village of Tambleham. Neighbors and strangers alike come one by one, in secret, to tell her things, knowing that Damiana will keep them to herself. One night, a mysterious visitor arrives with an unusual secret— a newborn baby. Damiana names him Reed and raises him side by side with her baby daughter, Fiona. As the years pass and the two children come of age, they must come to terms with who they are—and who they may be. The Safe-Keeper’s Secret is the first of a satisfying, beguiling trilogy.

Overall Rating: 4/5

I have never read any of Sharon Shinn's young adult books before, and I was glad when this one held up to my expectations of her writing. The Safe-Keeper's Secret isn't filled with action and adventure -- there are a few ongoing mysteries throughout the novel, but most would consider this a slow book. However, I read more for the characters than the plot, so I really liked this story.

As always, Shinn has created a brilliant world. It's seems much the same as England in the 1100's, except magic exists and there are certain people who do odd jobs. There are Safe-Keepers who are obligated to listen to people's secrets and keep them, Truth-Tellers who always tell the truth no matter what, and one Dream-Maker, whose mere presence may make a person's deepest wishes come true. I thought this was a unique spin on things and really enjoyed learning about these different jobs and the people who perform them.

Most of all, however, I loved the characters. This book is mainly about life and the relationships that we form throughout our lifetimes. I got to know Damiana, Reed, Fiona, and all the others as if they were my own family and was interested in what they were doing and what their dreams were, even if the action was simple. Also, with Fiona's mother and aunt being Safe-Keepers, and then becoming a Safe-Keeper herself, there is a good bit of intrigue woven in.

Halfway through (if even that far), I figured out what was going to come about at the end, but figuring out the mystery wasn't really the point of the novel, I think. Rather, it's about Fiona coming to terms with who she is as an individual, what she wants to do with her life. This is a lovely story about the meaning of love and family. I highly recommend it.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Book Review: World War Z by Max Brooks

Author: Max Brooks
Publisher: Crown
Hardcover: 342 pages
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.
Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War.
Most of all, the book captures with haunting immediacy the human dimension of this epochal event. Facing the often raw and vivid nature of these personal accounts requires a degree of courage on the part of the reader, but the effort is invaluable because, as Mr. Brooks says in his introduction, “By excluding the human factor, aren’t we risking the kind of personal detachment from history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it? And in the end, isn’t the human factor the only true difference between us and the enemy we now refer to as ‘the living dead’?”

Overall Rating: 4.5/5 

Here you are: the perfect book for Halloween! A book about a zombie plague and a subsequent war that takes out a good chunk of the population is on the top of everyone's list, right? If not, it should be, because this book is genius. It's emotional, suspenseful, and scarily realistic. If the descriptive scenes about the zombies and the plague don't get you, the fact that it's written from a journalistic point of view will. It reads like non-fiction, which adds a scary element of realism to it.

I really like what Brooks has done with this novel. First of all, it's ambitious. He has included dozens of accounts, which means dozens of main characters along with the interview himself. I'm sure there was an incredible amount of research he had to do for this novel, because the interviews are from people who are located all over the world. That's a lot of history and background to flesh out, and he succeeds in making each character individualized. Also, Brooks not only describes different countries before and during the war, he has fabricated new policies and events that take place after the zombie war, all the while taking into account the culture and country he's writing about. What did I say? Genius!

If you're a fan of zombies and horror, this is the book to pick up. It's one of the best zombie books out there, I think. Even if you're not, this novel is a prime example of excellent writing and storytelling. I definitely recommend it.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Audiobook Review: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

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Author: Douglas Adams
Narrator: Stephen Fry
Publisher: Books on Tape
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 5 hours, 51 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Don't leave earth without this story of the end of the world and the happy-go-lucky days that follow. The writing of New York Times Best-selling author, Douglas Adams, has been brilliantly successful on both sides of the Atlantic in radio, television, theatre and spoken word audio. 

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

I loved this book! It's hilarious -- I was laughing out loud almost through the entire thing, and I thought it showed some pretty insightful observations about life, people, and the world in general.

It starts off with Arthur, a man from Earth who is trying to save his house from being torn down to build a new bypass on the land. He's friends with Ford Prefect, a man from Betelgeuse 5 who is a researcher for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and who has been stranded on Earth for fifteen years. In the beginning of the novel, Earth is destroyed to make room for a sort of intergalactic bypass. However, Ford saves his friend Arthur, transporting them onto a nearby spaceship. Crazy adventures ensue.

At first glance, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy may seem ridiculous and random for it's own sake. However, Adams has crafted a novel that speaks about how it is to live life. Sometimes, weird stuff happens and you just have to go with it. Like Arthur, we will find ourselves in strange situations, completely out of our element, and we will need to figure out a way to get through it. And maybe, just maybe, we take ourselves too seriously sometimes.

As for the narration -- well, it was narrated by Stephen Fry, so I think that's enough to tell you that it's amazing.  He brings such personality to the characters that it's hardly like reading a book at all. Rather, it's more like being a bystander in events taking place.

I highly recommend this book. It's funny, insightful, and a true classic.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Audiobook Review: Golden by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Buy from the Book Depository
Author: Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Narrator: Jenna Lamia
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Edition: Unabridged
Duration: 5 hours, 50 minutes
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
When Lissy James moves from California to Oklahoma, she finds herself in the middle of a teenage nightmare: a social scene to rival a Hollywood movie. And if understanding the hierarchy of the Goldens vs. the Nons isn’t hard enough, Lissy’s ever growing Aura Vision is getting harder and harder to hide, and if she’s not careful, she’s going to become a Non faster than you can say “freak.”
But it’s becoming clear that Emory High has a few secrets of its own. Around the halls, the term “special powers” goes way beyond one’s ability to attract the opposite sex, and there may be something more evil than the A-crowd lurking in the classrooms. Lissy can see a lot more than the average girl, but she’s about to learn the hard way that things aren’t always as they appear and you can’t always judge a girl by her lip gloss.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

The beginning is slow, but once you get into it, Golden is a novel that is hard to put down. There were revelations that actually surprised me once the mystery started to unravel. Because while this is very much your typical unpopular-girl-trying-to-navigate-her-way-through-high-school sort of book, it also has a rather intriguing mystery attached to it. I was definitely more interested in this than Lissy's analyses about how much of a freak she is, so it's a good thing that the mystery takes over in the latter half of the novel.

While it's a good story, it's apparent that the author was nineteen when she wrote this. The characters lack complexity and a lot of the conflict is superficial. I know it's probably supposed to be the point that all the "Goldens," or popular kids, at the high school are unintelligent and shallow, but I like to have a little more realism in the characters I read about. The only interesting character is Lilah, the leader of the "Goldens" because she's hard to figure out.

Even though I don't usually like music and sound effects in audiobooks, I did like the music that signaled the end of every section. It was different each time and perfectly complemented the tone of the story at the time. The integration is so well done that I hardly noticed that there was background music playing (which is a sign of a good soundtrack, in my opinion). Jenna Lamia also does a good job in portraying Lissy. I was sure she was a high school student, which turned out not to be the case.

I would say that Golden is a good beach read. It's quick, has a decent plot, and a really good ending. Young adult paranormal fans -- this one's for you!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Giveaways Spotlight (9)

1. I'm a Book Shark
1 ebook copy of Pyxis by K.C. Neal
Open internationally
Ends October 23

2. Minding Spot
1 audiobook copy of Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan
US only
Ends October 30

3. Reading Lark
8 possible books up for grabs (you can win more than one!)
Open to US and Canada. Must be a follower to enter.
Ends TODAY! Enter now! :)

4. Lost Amongst the Shelves
Your choice from the Book Depository up to $15 (2 winners)
Open to wherever the Book Depository ships. Must be a follower to enter.
Ends November 1

5. Gripped into Books
Any book of your choice up to $15
Open internationally
Ends November 14

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Blog Tour: Guest Post by Author Glenn Gamble

Hi everyone! I would like you to please welcome Glenn Gamble to the blog. Glenn is an author from Chicago, Illinois and he is promoting his new book, Bon Appétit. You can check out more about him on Goodreads or Twitter

Jim Money is Unhappy
Today, I’m going to attempt to have a civil conversation with Jim Money, main character of Bon Appetit, before these rumors get out of hand.  I already have people coming up to me and asking me if I really pay Jim in sardines and crackers.  That kinda stings—my feelings are hurt.

Glenn Gamble: Jim, I’m not very pleased with you putting out the misconception that I’m not paying you enough.

Jim Money: And I’m not pleased with you paying only a portion of a royalty on a $2.99 ebook either.

Glenn: Here we go again.

Jim: And we’re going to go again until you pay me what I’m worth.

Glenn: And what’s that?

Jim: I have infinite worth, but we can start by raising the price of Bon Appetit to a more respectable dollar amount.

Glenn: That would be?

Jim: $9.99

Glenn: I’m not doing it.

Jim: See, this is what I’m talking about Glenn.  Everyone who sees my book is going to have the impression that I’m just some cheap book character, WHICH I’M NOT.

Glenn: How many times do I have to explain this?

Jim: You need to explain it with a price change.

Glenn: I can do that, but don’t you want your story read by as many people as possible.  Don’t you want them to see how big of a star you really are?  Between me and you, I think you’re pretty damn awesome with your borderline bi-polar behavior to the fight scenes.  You’re pretty fucking awesome in the entire series.

Jim: Then why are the books so cheap?

Glenn: They’re not fucking cheap.

Jim: They’re only…

Glenn: Shut the fuck up when I’m talking Jim.  Let me explain this to you.  A dollar store toy is cheap.  Those clothes at Wal*Mart that shrink as soon as you perspire are cheap.  A shitty hamburger at McDonald’s is cheap.  My book on the other hand is not fucking cheap.

Jim: Okay Glenn, geez!  You must have had a rough day at work today.

Glenn: Fuck you!

Glenn’s books are available on Amazon Kindle http://www.amazon.com/Glenn-Gamble/e/B002BMGSVK and Barnes and Noble Nook http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Glenn-Gamble?keyword=Glenn+Gamble&store=allproducts and Smashwords http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/glenngamble and most recently in the iBookstore for all you iPhone, iPad and iPod users.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Follower Love Giveaway!

I love my followers. I really do. Thank you all for stopping by so often and reading my posts, and commenting so much! You make my day every single day. So to show my appreciation for all of you, I've decided to host a giveaway. :)

The winner will choose 1 of the following books (click the links to be taken to the Goodreads pages for each of them):

Anna Dressed in Blood
Lola and the Boy Next Door
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

- You must be 13 or older to enter
- You must be a follower to enter
- Please leave your GFC name in the other info. box of the Rafflecopter form for your mandatory entry
- Open to anywhere the Book Depository ships
- For 1 extra entry, you may follow me through Twitter.
- For 1 extra entry, you may like The Reader's Refuge Facebook page.
- For 1 extra entry, you may tweet about this giveaway
- Please use the Rafflecopter form below
- Giveaway ends at 12:01 AM EST on October 24
- Winner has 72 hours to respond to my e-mail. After that, I choose another winner

Good luck! :)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Giveaways Spotlight (8)

1. Trisha's Book Blog
12 winners each win 1 book
US only. Must be a follower to enter
Ends in 41 days

2. Let's Evaluate (YA Book Reviews)
1 choice out of 4 highly anticipated books (Cold Kiss, After Obsession, The Mephisto Covenant, and Enthralled)
US only. Must be a follower to enter.
Ends October 31

3. Pawing Through Books
1 choice out of 6 books (good ones for this one too!)
Open to wherever the Book Depository ships.
Ends October 31

4. Hippies, Beauty, and Books. Oh My!
1 signed ARC copy of Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire
US only. Must be a follower to enter.
Ends October 31

5. Fuzzy.Coffee.Books
2 Giveaways: 1 for a blog design by Blogovation and another for The Hollow Trilogy by Jessica Verday (with a bonus copy of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving)
Open internationally.
Ends October 31

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Beauty and the Werewolf

This is a weekly event hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine that
spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Author: Mercedes Lackey
Publisher: Luna
Expected Publication Date: 18 October 2011
Hardcover: 384 pages
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)
The eldest daughter is often doomed in fairy tales. But Bella— Isabella Beauchamps, daughter of a wealthy merchant—vows to escape the usual pitfalls. 
Anxious to avoid the Traditional path, Bella dons a red cloak and ventures into the forbidden forest to consult with "Granny," the local wisewoman. 
But on the way home she's attacked by a wolf—who turns out to be a cursed nobleman! 
Secluded in his castle, Bella is torn between her family and this strange man who creates marvelous inventions and makes her laugh—when he isn't howling at the moon.
Breaking spells is never easy. But a determined beauty, a wizard (after all, he's only an occasional werewolf) and a little godmotherly interference might just be able to bring about a happy ending.…
Why do I want to read this?
First of all, I love Mercedes Lackey. She's one of the most talented fantasy authors out there. I've been reading her retellings of fairy tales since I was 14, and I haven't stopped since. She has a wonderful imagination and unique interpretations of the stories we all know so well. Besides, who doesn't love a good Beauty and the Beast story?

What are you waiting for this Wednesday?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Giveaways Spotlight (7)

1. Endlessly Bookish
2 winners to choose 1 book out of 8 choices
Open to anywhere the Book Depository ships
Ends October 15
Link: http://endlesslybookish.blogspot.com/2011/09/555-follower-giveaway.html

2. Book Nerd Reviews
Giving away 3 books, 1 winner for each (includes Anna Dressed in Blood, If I Stay, and The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer -- all highly anticipated!)
Open to anywhere the Book Depository ships. Must be a follower to enter.
Ends October 31
Link: http://booknerdreviews.com/2011/10/book-nerd-reviews-october-book-giveaway/

3. Pure Imagination
1 winner for Nevermore by Kelly Creagh and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children along with Halloween-themed swag
US only
Ends October 21
Link: http://www.pureimaginationblog.com/2011/09/spoooooky-giveaway.html

4. Inklings Read
Halloween Prize Pack Giveaway (really awesome books included!)
Open to anywhere the Book Depository ships
Ends October 24
Link: http://inklingsread.blogspot.com/2011/09/halloween-prize-pack-giveaway.html

5. The Flashlight Reader
1 copy of Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs with some swag thrown in
US only
Ends October 15
Link: http://aflashlightreader.blogspot.com/2011/10/sweet-venom-giveaway.html

Friday, October 7, 2011

Blog Tour: Guest Post from Crystal Connor, Author of The Darkness

ABOUT THE AUTHOR (Pic and Bio info. taken from Goodreads)

I grew up telling spooky little campfire style stories at slumber parties. We’d make a tent in the bedroom, and the only source of light would be from a flashlight that was about to die. I’d tell my tale of doom and then while everyone was jumping at the tree branch scraping against the window and I’d be sound asleep!

I served my country in the United States Navy working as a boiler technician on board the USS McKee AS-41 assigned to the 7th fleet.

While deployed at various ports-of-call throughout Africa, Asia and the Middle East I began to learn about other cultures’ monsters and nightmares and I use my world travels and experiences take you to some of the exotic places that I’ve been but have altered and embellished with my twisted view of how a story should end…while at the same time taking you on a journey you might not otherwise be able to afford or brave enough to undertake.

The Darkness, is my first full-length novel, is published by Bennett and Hastings. My current projects, “…And They All Lived Happily Ever After” and “Artificial Light,” the sequel to The Darkness will be released in 2011. My short story “The Ruins” was the runner-up selection of Crypticon Seattle’s 2010 writing contest, and accepted for publication for The Static Movement Anthology "Sowing the Seeds of Horror.” My short story “The Monster” will be featured in the anthology “Strange Tales of Horror” published by NorGus Press.

Today we have an incredibly special guest on the blog, Crystal Connor, author of The Darkness. Thank you so much, Crystal, for agreeing to a guest post. :)

Hi Alyssa, thank you so much for inviting me to be a guest on your blog. I was a little nervous because I wasn’t sure what I was going to talk about but after some thought I figured why not talk about how and why I started blogging.

The reason I started blogging is because I used to belong to a writing group called Author’s Anonymous. What attracted me to the group was the fact that the founder gave us all writing assignments, and we posted them to our blogs so that other we could read, critique and comment on our fellow members stories. It was an amazing group but as we, as writers, spent more and more time with our own writing goals and deadlines we just didn’t have the time to commit to our group.

I am going to share two of my “early works” that I posted while a member of Author’s Anonymous with you today. I hope you enjoy them.

Coaches instructions: If you had to describe yourself as a color, which would you choose and why?

            So I was going to skip this assignment to work on the next one (which seems so kick ass, totally fun with a ton of room to maneuver…and that's right up my alley)

This drill seemed a little challenging and I couldn’t find a way not to incorporate race and clearly that’s not what’s she’s asking, but it’s the 1st thing that came to mind and the only thing that stayed there.
Because I sooo do not want to do this assignment I’ve decided to do it twice…two different stories. If you wanna wear daisy dukes you gotta do your squats & lunges there is just no way around it.

My story Colors Part 1 follows:

“What color we’re you?”

The little girl asked me what color I was and the question caught me completely off guard and ushered in a flood of memories that I had tried for ten years to forget.

Once I was alone and had more time to think about her question I realized I could no longer remember my native planet. I couldn’t remember what it felt like to breath relatively clean air or enjoy the warmth of the sun beneath the protective barrier of an ozone layer. That was a long time ago and Earth is no longer there.

This planet was different. The landscape was harsh and colorless, the weather was openly hostile and it was as if the sun was trying to use the cleaning power of fire to rid her 5th planet of disease.

It’s surprising how quickly the human body can adapt and evolve but I guess we can thank Monarch Pharmaceuticals for that because God had nothing to do with this.

Out of the 758,459 of us who had won the lottery to escape the Garden of Eden that God had given man in the form of Planet Earth, only twenty-eight of us were still alive. In this sector there were only two of us but that wouldn’t be the count for long because Eric was dying.

This planet already had a population in the billions and the girl who asked the question was a 3rd generation native and that was why she had asked the question in the 1st place.

In just 10 years I had become known as a settler. I was an immigrant, a relic from the “old country,” with an outdated language, ancient customs, and conservative ways and I am only forty.

Thanks to Monarch Pharms, to deal with the combative environment of the brave new world, I no longer had skin but scales. I was still humanoid in form and so were the natives…sort of.

I guess you can say us settlers were like the Cardassian race from Star Trek; and like the lizards of the deserts of our old planet, our genetic manipulation allowed us to live on this one and it was our genetic manipulation that was also killing us.

You could still see that I had once been beautiful and I think that is why the youth of this planet got themselves “scaled” despite the fact that their shinny chromed skin was more than capable of dealing with the proximity of a sun that never set. Like the young of planet earth, who in emulated African body modification by stretching their ears without fully understanding the culture or significance behind the act. Some things never change.

I closed my eyes and let my memory recall the green rolling hills, red desert sands, and canyons carved from lakes, and deep blue-green seas that had once been my home. In my minds eye I saw the girl and heard her question asked and asked again…

“What color we’re you?”

I didn’t answer her question because I couldn’t. Tears breached past my closed reptilian eyes and flowed down my cheeks as I cried myself to sleep. I didn’t answer her question because I couldn’t…because I didn’t remember what color I had been.

            And here is my 2nd attempt. It’s not a short story it’s a poem and I was so incredibly blown away by how this piece turned and the amount of feedback that I got from it I used it as the dedication it to my mom in The Darkness

Colors Part 2:

As you know I did not want to do this drill. It’s still just as challenging as when I wrote the 1st Color and I still couldn’t find a way not to incorporate race.

Well like I promised I gave it another shot.
I am the color of the Red Sands of African a land where my roots were 1st planted.

I am the color of Oxidized Iron, from shackles that bound my predecessors in the storage hold.

I am the color of the green, brown, and white cotton fields and I am the color red from the blood that ran down the fingers that picked them.

I am the blue color of the Civil War Union uniform.

I am the white hot color of rage, I am the iridescent color of tears, I am every color on the spectrum from orange to red in outrage and am the bottomless color of black by the betrayal that the Choctaw people felt when being removed from lands that been held since antiquity.

I am the Silver-Blue color of The Rio Grande that “Los Mojado’s”, the wet ones, risked their lives to cross in order to make a better life for their heirs.

I am the color of fire that burned bras in the 60’s.

I am all the bright colors of the arrogant peacock, because I am the color of my ancestors.

Thank you again, Alyssa for inviting me to your blog!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

RAK Thank You and October Sign-up

This is an awesome event hosted by Book Soulmates. Basically, everyone posts their wishlists in a Google Doc and everyone else can check it out and send them gifts! If you want to send some book love my way, you can check out my wishlist (it's embarrassingly large -- I am working on cutting it down). 

I love giving people presents and I love getting surprises, so this event totally works for me. :) The best part is that it's international and you don't need a blog to participate. Awesome, right?!

A big THANK YOU goes out to Rose May from Romantic Rose's Bookshelf as well as Dani from Ramblings From This Chick who gifted me books this month.

From Rose May, I received:

Dragon's Bait by Vivian Vande Velde

And from Dani I received:

Queen of Babble by Meg Cabot

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

SOS Titanic by Eve Bunting
Lots of new books added to my "to read" list. I give as well as take, so this month I gave two books

To Rose May, I gave:

Tempt the Devil by Anna Campbell

And to Dani, I gave:

Envy by JR Ward

An awesome month, I must say. Looking forward to another one!