Tag Archives: books

My Top YA Reads of 2013

Nothing says late December like “of the Year” lists.  I thought I’d join in with my top 5 YA reads this year.  These weren’t necessarily published this year (some were, some weren’t), but they were read by me this year.

Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow

5.  Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George.  This is an adaptation of East of the Sun and West of the Moon and is a sweet retelling.

Mind Games

4.  Mind Games by Kiersten White.   This is an “edgy” psychological thriller.  Honestly, I’d read so much about how edgy/psychological it was that I was expecting it to be quite a bit darker than it is.  Maybe I’ve just got too dark of an imagination already 😉  It is definitely a solidly written and compelling story.

Of Beast and Beauty

3.  Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay.  A dystopian/futuristic/fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast that’s imaginative and well written.  This has made it onto my list of favorite Beauty and the Beast retellings.

Scarlet

2.  Scarlet by Marissa Meyer.  I really liked Cinder by Meyer, but I enjoyed Scarlet even more.  Meyer has a way of creating a well-constructed world that only uses snippets of the fairy tale she’s retelling (in this case Little Red Riding) that still manages to satisfy the fair tale craving.

The False Prince

1.  The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen is far and away the best book I read this year (it’s sequel is almost as good and should probably share the top spot).  The narration in this book is fantastic.  Nielsen writes a believable teen boy in first person and manages to keep the reader on the edge of their seat through the entire book. I devoured this novel.  Thanks to Nancy Kelley for recommending it!

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The Last of the May Book Recs

1.  Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn.  The way that Star Wars continuations should be done.  I’ve had the biggest girl crush on Mara Jade since I was a teen.

Heir to the Empire

2.  The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett.  Sweet, wonderful story of childhood. Must read.

The Secret Garden

3. The Selkie Spell by Sophie Moss.  Modern story with an Irish fairytale twist.  Plus, Sophie is a wonderful person!

The Selkie Spell

4.  Sweet Venom by Tera Lynn Childs.  Really fun YA complete with girl power and mythological beasts.

Sweet Venom

5.  Beastly by Alex Flinn.  Beauty and the Beast, with modern day high schoolers! Much better than the movie! Don’t prejudge it based on the film version.

Beastly

Review: Death Benefits by Jennifer Becton

Death Benefits is the second book in Becton’s Southern Fraud Thriller series  I read the first book, Absolute Liability and loved it so I’ve been waiting impatiently for the follow up.  The Southern Fraud series centers on Special Investigator Julia Jackson who works for the Georgia Department of Insurance, and just like in Absolute Liability I found it easy to identify with Julia.  She’s smart and capable, but she doesn’t try to be super woman and solve all the world’s problems on her own. She’s also flawed and more than slightly obsessed with her own personal quest for justice, but these character traits serve to make her more likable and understandable to readers.

 

 

And then there’s Julia’s new partner Mark Vincent.  We were introduced to him in the first book, and in the first chapter of this book it gets confirmed that they are going to be partners at the DOI for a longer period, that they’re working together on the last case wasn’t just a fluke.  Cue the hallelujah chorus from thousands of Vincent obsessed Becton fans.  Let me tell you…Mark Vincent is hot.  Like, “serious and for reals” hot.  Whenever he and Julia are “on screen” together they burn up the page. Without giving too much away.  Becton has created heaps and heaps of sexual tension between two characters who are not (currently at least, we all have big hopes for the future) romantically involved.  And yet there relationship is more about respect, trust, and some really amazing moments of tenderness, then it is about that tension.  And…Vincent is hot. (just in case you missed that earlier in the paragraph).

The case that Julia and Vincent are working in Death Benefits is actually pretty disturbing.  The sections written from the killer’s point of view are spectacularly creepy.  This was true in the previous book as well – the glimpses inside the criminal’s mind in both of the Southern Fraud books feel extremely realistic to me.  This particular case involves a body in a burned out car, and a Death Benefits claim made 15 minutes after the widow of the supposed deceased is informed of his demise.  The reader, and the investigators, are pretty quick in their guess this is a case of fraud – but who is the person in the car?  Where did this body come from.  The answers to these questions are both fascinating and kind of brain warping.  There is one particularly well written and very visually described scene near the end of the book which has literally broken my brain.  I may never be the same.  I do not suggest reading that section of this book at 4 am unless you really like to be creeped out.

Even though it is the second in a series, I think that a reader could pick up Death Benefits and jump right in without having read the first book (although I suggest that you do).  There are several carry over story lines, but Becton gives enough of an explanation of them to ease in new readers, but not so much that returning readers would feel they are covering similar ground.

Five Stars.

 

Update: The first book in The Southern Fraud Series – Absolute Liability – is now FREE for Kindle on Amazon! Go download it now and get into this great series!

 

I’ve linked this post up to the 2012 Self- Published Reading Challenge.  If you haven’t joined yet, you should!

Fairytale Trilogy Site

Guys!  Oh my gosh!  Look at the countdown ticker!  We are getting so close to the release of Awake!  Next Tuesday it will be released into the wild.

 

I’ve put all the info for Awake – trailer, blurbs, and several samples – on a new site: FairytaleTrilogy.com.  What? You didn’t know that it was going to be a series?  Surprise!  Don’t worry though, each story resolves/is a stand-alone.  I’ve got issues about making readers wait and wait and wait for resolution to stories…I hate it!

 

 

I will also be putting up details about the next two books in the trilogy as they become available.  Book two is already partially written and cover art is being discussed!  Yay!

 

My many thanks to Victoria Austen-Young for putting up the new site for me.  It’s all sorts of gorgeous.

 

 

January Self-Published Reading Challenge Reviews

What’s the Self-Published Reading Challenge you ask?  Good question!  See my post about it here.  I’ve committed to the “Paragraph Level” which means I will be reading 10 books by self-published authors.

I’ve made a decent dent in my goal this month by reading three.  Two reviews were for Indie Jane, and one I reviewed just for my blog.

 

First up is Dear Miss Darcy by Laura Briggs and Sarah Burgess.  I reviewed Dear Miss Darcy on Indie Jane, you can find my review here (it has also been posted on Amazon and Goodreads).

 

 

I gave Dear Miss Darcy a 4.5 out of 5 stars.  It was a fun, modern take on Austen and Pride and Prejudice, without being a straight up remake.

 

I also reviewed another Austenesque book, Georgiana Darcy’s Diary by Anna Elliot on Indie Jane.  You can read that review here (as well as Amazon and Goodreads, we like cross-posting!).  There is actually a giveaway for this book going on over at Indie Jane as well.

 

 

I gave Georgiana Darcy’s Diary 5 out of 5 stars – only the third book I’ve done that with on Indie Jane.  I really loved the format, which is unusual because I don’t always adore “diary” style books, and I thought Georgiana’s voice was fabulous, she just jumped right off the page.

 

Lastly, for this month, I read Late to the Wedding by Laura Briggs.  I bought this book after reading and enjoying Dear Miss Darcy earlier in the month.  Laura Briggs has several books up on Amazon that are in the “sweet romance” category.  I was hoping for something light and fun and Late to the Wedding did not disappoint.

 

When Evelyn Chase discovers an unopened letter from her ex-fiance, Jared, behind a piece of furniture, she realizes that he still loves her (or did four months before).  When she calls her brother to get her Jared’s current phone number she makes the even more surprising discovery that her ex is getting married in just a few days.  Determined to stop Jared from making the worst mistake of his life, the usually practical and non-spontaneous Evelyn decides to travel across five states to declare her love to Jared before the wedding.

Unfortunately for Evelyn, nature itself seems to be against her.  A huge storm has grounded all flights, and convention goers have commandeered all available rentals and most taxis.  Her only hope is the seemingly rough-around-the-edges hack cab driver Brian Stoker.

As they try to make the five state drive in under two days they meet with a series of obstacles and some colorful local characters.  As Evelyn is forced to examine her own motives, as well as her assumptions about her handsome and intriguing driver, she begins to wonder if Jared is who she really wants after all.

Late to the Wedding was a fun, sweet, and relatively fluffy (in a good way, like cotton candy!) read, which is what I was expecting from it.  I enjoy Briggs’s style of writing heroines.  They aren’t overly sassy and together, and they also aren’t so insecure and wishy-washy that you get tired of them.  She strikes a nice balance.

I have one complaint about this book – the sections from Brian’s point of view.  They were actually really good…the voice was totally believable…but they only happened twice!  And the first one occurred so late in the book that by then I’d just assumed the entire novel was written in the heroine’s pov, so it was kind of jarring to switch suddenly.  I wish that there had been more of Brian’s pov earlier in the story.

In spite of that one issue, I think Late for the Wedding is more than a worthwhile read, especially if you enjoy sweet romances.  I plan to read more from Laura Briggs.

4 out of 5 stars.

 

 

 

Three Weeks!

Three weeks! Actually, slightly less than that until the release date for Awake: A Fairytale!

 

Sometimes excitement and fear feel the same.  Like in that moment right before the roller coaster takes off and you are strapped in and committed with no real way to get out. That’s kind of how I feel right now.  Nervous and excited and all jumbled up inside.

 

 

 

It absolutely blows me away that some of you are almost as excited for the launch of Awake as I am.  I put the “countdown to release” on the sidebar a few weeks ago after the amazing @Jennwith4 sent me a twitpic of the countdown she has on her phone for Awake!  I was honored and humbled that she would be looking forward to my book enough to have a countdown (and suitably shamed into making my own).  So, for Jenn, and anyone else that is interested, here is another teaser from Awake.  A pretty decently sized one too – almost half a chapter!  Enjoy.

 

*****

“You know how you can tell Ernesto’s is a fine dining establishment?” Becca asked as she set her bright orange tray down on the scarred table across from Alex and slid into the booth.

“You can’t,” Alex answered. “There’s nothing fine about it, but it’s darn good pizza.”

Ernesto’s offered the only reasonably priced lunch alternative to brown-bagging it on the lawn and was therefore a favorite hangout of the summer interns, or at least the non-anorexic ones who enjoyed good food. In other words, everyone but the art interns. It was dark and cramped, the decor was straight out of the 1970s, and Ernesto’s served the best and cheapest pizza anywhere in Los Angeles. It was also within walking distance of the museums, making it easy to get to on breaks.

Alex and Becca were enjoying their first Ernesto’s lunch of the summer. They’d been volunteering together at GeMMLA since the ninth grade, and eating together at the pizza joint had become a tradition.

“You can tell because they have both strawberry and grape soda on tap. It’s like the gods of flavored soda smiled down on this little piece of the city and blessed us with Ernesto’s.” Becca unwrapped her straw and stuck it in her styrofoam cup. “Grape,” she informed Alex before draining half the cup in one slurp. “Oh my word, that’s so good. Their soda calibration is really good here too. Good calibration cannot be underestimated.”

“Hmm,” Alex agreed, taking a huge bite out of her slice of sausage pizza. “The gods of pizza must be in cahoots with the soda gods, ‘cause this pizza is awesome,” she said around a mouthful. “I miss this during the rest of the year.”

“Yeah, Ernesto needs to franchise. I never have time to drive this far for pizza during the school year. Although,” Becca’s face brightened, “I’ll be closer now that I’ll be living on campus.”

“It’s so weird to me to be out of high school,” Alex admitted. “Good—brilliantly great—but weird. I kind of feel like I’m still in class, though, because I have to do all this stupid work for this scholarship thing.”

“That sucks. What do you have to do?”

“There was some reading, and then I have to write an essay. About myself.” Alex grimaced. “Quite possibly my least favorite subject.”

Becca twirled her straw. “Any particular aspect of yourself, or just a general biography type thing?”

“It’s supposed to be about me as a student. And if I have a declared major why I selected it.”

“I’m guessing earth science?” Becca quirked an eyebrow.

“Yeah, of course.”

“Well, why’d you pick it? Why do you volunteer here?”

“I like it.”

Becca gestured with her left hand as she picked up her slice of pizza with the other. “Elaborate.”

“That’s the hard part, when I elaborate I sound weird.”

Becca paused with her pizza mid-air. “Weird how?” she asked before taking a large bite.

“I don’t know. I just love gems and rocks. They, um, make sense to me. More sense than people do, honestly. But that makes me sound like a crazy, loner type.”

“Well, you are a bit of a loner type, but not,” Becca hastened to add as she saw Alex frown, “in a crazy kind of way. Just that you are kind of shy and serious, took us forever to start really talking that first year.”

“Yeah.”

“But, I know what you mean, I guess. I’m more um, socially inclined than you, but I’ve always felt that way too about rocks and metals. It’s more than they just make sense. I don’t know, when I was little I used to think they had personalities. I would pretend that certain rocks had certain character traits. But then I was kind of a goofy kid.”

“I used to pretend that about rocks too. Especially certain gems. You know how the Victorians assigned all these meanings to gems? When I was little I used to look those up in my mom’s old encyclopedia set and laugh at them, ‘cause I always thought they got most of them wrong.”

“Oh my gosh, Alex, we must have been the two weirdest little girls. It’s a pity we didn’t meet until high school; I would have felt less geeky.”

“You are less geeky than me,” Alex pointed out.

Becca grinned. “No, I’m just totally better at hiding it. I remember when I was really young, like preschool, we had this huge sandpit in the back of the school and you know how you can attract the iron fragments in sand with a magnet? I was convinced I could do it with my finger, like I’d stick it in the sand and the iron would gather around it. I was apparently a very imaginative kid. Geek and imagination—probably a bad combo.”

Alex laughed. “Maybe it was a sign of your magnetic personality.”

Becca shook her head sadly. “That’s weak Alex, so, so weak.” Alex laughed harder and after a minute Becca joined her. “Well, at least I wasn’t looking up the Victorians. Really? ‘Cause that’s stimulating.”

“Oh, come on, it was interesting,” Alex defended herself half-heartedly. “That’s where we get the meanings of flower and birthstones and all that.”

“Really? That’s kind of recent. So what, gems and flowers didn’t have meanings before the Victorians?”

Alex shrugged. “I have no idea. I’m sure they did in different societies. Once I got farther into grade school though, the actual science was more interesting than the stories. Although,” Alex took another bite of pizza and chewed thoughtfully, “your preschool story sounds like stuff I used to do: probably later, like kindergarten, though. I remember collecting different stones and making funny patterns with them. I was convinced if I made the patterns right that I’d make stuff happen.”

“Stuff? Like magic stuff?” Becca asked, her mouth gaping open.

“Yeah, I guess, although I didn’t think of it as magic. Just like, oh if I make this pattern in Grandma’s garden her flowers will grow faster. I must have seen some movie or cartoon or something that gave me the idea.”

“How, um, pagan of you. I’m totally shocked,” Becca teased. “I thought you came out of the womb with a scientific mind.”

“Pretty sure I did, which is why I barely remember my early dabbling in the magic arts.”

Becca chuckled. “Sounds like straightforward kid stuff to me, did you have a wand?”

Alex looked horrified. “I can safely say I never had a wand, or a tiara, or a princess dress. Well, I did have some of those. My mom kept buying them hoping I’d eventually get interested, but I never did. The closest I ever got was a stick that doubled as a sword, and that was only to defend myself against Luke when I was eight.”

“Hmm, sure it was a sword? It wasn’t a stick that doubled as a magic wand?”

Alex snorted. “Nope, pretty sure it was a sword. Luke got Excalibur of course. I am sure mine had a name, but I don’t remember it. He was always into the whole Arthur thing. I never really got it.”

“I still find it hard to believe that you guys used to be friends. Did I tell you my little brother asked me to get his autograph? He’s convinced in a few years it’s going to be worth tons of money. And this morning there just happened to be a baseball and pen in a ziplock bag in my backpack. At least the kid’s organized.”

“I’m sure he’d sign it for you. Luke’s a lot of things, but he’s really nice about that kind of stuff.”

“Uh-huh,” Becca leaned forward, pushing her empty tray out of the way and crossing her arms on the Formica table top. “So what are these ‘lot of things’ that Luke is?”

Alex flushed. “Are you asking for gossip about the great Luke Reed?”

“Nope. I don’t care about the gossip,” Becca eyed her. “But you obviously have some interesting unresolved issues with the guy. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk about a guy, other than Nicholas, so I’m intrigued.”

“Maybe we should talk about your unresolved issues with Nicholas,” Alex changed the subject.

“Nice try. I just think he’s smarmy. He reminds me of my mother’s last ex. You know, the kind that could sell ice to Eskimos. I’m much more interested in hearing about—” Becca broke off as she looked up past Alex’s shoulder toward the jangling of the bell over the front door. “I suggest you finish your pizza in about thirty seconds if you don’t want to start dealing with those unresolved issues right away,” she warned under her breath and then added in a louder voice, “Hi, Luke.” She directed a grin over Alex’s head, ignoring the fact that Alex’s face flushed red, then white, then back to red.

“Hey, Becca, Lex,” Luke said as he surveyed the menu board before taking his place in line. Alex composed her face and then turned and offered a half-hearted wave. As she turned back around Becca rolled her eyes and started gathering up her trash onto the tray. Alex looked mournfully at her half-eaten pizza slice before adding it to the pile of trash. Becca raised an eyebrow, but didn’t comment as she picked up the tray and headed toward the trashcan. It was a tragedy, Alex reflected to herself, but sometimes even Ernesto’s famous pizza had to be sacrificed for the greater good.

Alex stood up, gathering her backpack as Becca returned to their table and slung her own across her back.

“Catch you later Luke, we’re headed back,” Becca offered as they walked past the register towards the door.

“See you ladies later.” Luke graced them with a lopsided grin as Alex pushed the door open and Becca followed her out into the blinding sun.

“I’ll say this for the guy,” Becca commented as the door banged closed behind them. “He has to be the hottest man I’ve ever been that up close and personal to.”

This time it was Alex who rolled her eyes.

“It’s true,” Becca laughed as they started back down the street toward the museum. “And if you try to deny objective, scientific fact I will really start getting curious about those unresolved issues.”

“Fine then, I won’t deny it. Every high school girl in a thirty mile radius can’t be wrong.”

“Not sure I’d limit it to just high schoolers. Pretty sure I saw Maureen in the front office flirting with him, and she has to be at least forty. I think his hotness transcends age.”

“That is totally awkward.” Alex jabbed the crosswalk button.

“Awkward, but true. That’s why Nicholas has such a short temper with Luke. He’s used to being the only hot guy at GeMMLA, and Luke is cramping his style.”

 

*****

 

 

Fairy Tale Challenge

The lovely Rebecca at A Word’s Worth has alerted me to another reading challenge that I absolutely have to participate in this year.  I realize this only brings me up to two challenges (both of which I blame on Rebecca, er, I mean thank Rebecca for), but it kind of feels more challenging when added on top of my insane writing schedule!  I can’t say no to this one though!  I am so excited to be participating in the 2012 Fairy Tale Challenge on Tif Talks Books.

 

 

What is so cool about this challenge is in incorporates original fairy tales, modern fairy tales and adaptations, and movies!  There are four levels and I am going for level four, the Happily Ever After Level which means I will be reading and watching “any combination of original tales, modern tales, or films, resulting in 12 total selections.”

 

I’m already planning to see both Snow White film adaptations this year, and because I’m working on my Beauty and the Beast redux I’m reading a lot of original tales, so this ties in super nicely.

 

If anyone wants to participate in the challenge and is looking for a modern adaptation/retelling of a fairy tale, can I take a moment to do some blatant self-promo and suggest Awake: A Fairytale?  I suppose it would be wrong of me to count me own book toward the challenge, so I shall refrain, but you all totally could 😉

 

If you are interested in the Fairy Tale Challenge head on over to Tif Talks Books and sign up!