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!

RULES 
- 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!

RULES:

- 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.