Thursday, May 29, 2014

Essence by A.L. Waddington

Author: A.L. Waddington
Publisher:  Booktrope Publishing
Pages: 308
Release Date: January 15th, 2014
Source: Received from author in exchange for an 
honest review

Jocelyn Timmons does not believe she is anything special — just an ordinary high school senior, living an ordinary life full of school-work, volleyball and friends. She’s about to find out how wrong she is.

Jackson Chandler moved in to the house across the street. His dark wavy hair, green eyes and charismatic personality draws everyone to him. Everyone, but Jocelyn.

Whenever Jackson gets near Jocelyn she feels ill and dizzy. When he touches her, she blacks out and has visions of another life, in another time. As the odd hallucinations evolve and become clearer, she feels a strong pull towards the people she sees there. Frightened, she watches her once stable life begin to crumble around her and she begins to question her own sanity.

Could it be possible that these episodes are actually her own memories of a life she is living somehow, somewhere, some-when? Maybe this is time-travel or some other paranormal mysticism? Our minds often wander, but can our souls?

When I read the description for this book, it had a lot of promise. It sounded like an interesting romance, and the duel time era twist was unique. However, I don't think the writing style was up my alley, and I found it difficult to keep reading in the end. 

While people have praised it for being well written, I just didn't see it that way. The author drops descriptions in a way that felt very amateur. Character descriptions felt like lists, and nothing seemed very vivid to me. The dialog in the 2009 segments felt flat, the characters didn't seem very dimensional, and at times I just got bored waiting for the answers to be revealed. 

Some of the segments in 1878 were easier to read and caught my interest a bit more. The characters felt more fleshed out and I liked the side plot happening with Olivia. I felt like you get to know people in a more natural way in these segments. Yet there were times when I questioned the historical accuracy. Some aspects didn't always feel "right" to me, but I didn't know enough about history to verify them one way or the other. I don't know, there is just usually a feel to historical fiction that takes you back in time when it's done well. This book didn't really do that for me. 

There was something very static about this story. You turn pages but it doesn't feel like it's ever really going anywhere. I would be interested in perhaps reading the sequel, but I felt a little "Meh" by the time I was done with this book. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't the right book for me. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Unfinished Mural by Jennifer D'Angelo

The Unfinished Mural
Author: Jennifer D'Angelo
Publisher:  Amazon
Pages: 290
Release Date: October 30th, 2012
Source: Free from Goodreads Giveaway

Eve Brandt has always enjoyed an uncluttered, simple life. She is a single mom, estranged from her father, and works at home designing a satirical comic strip that serves as a creative outlet for all of her pent up cynicism. She handles all crises with humor and puts off dealing with anything even slightly unpleasant in the hopes that it will all work out by itself.

But when her normally mild-mannered son starts getting in to trouble with the law, her hundred-year-old house starts crumbling around her, and her father manages to weasel his way back into her life, Eve must face the fact that things are about to get complicated. Add in a sexy handyman who wants to fix more than just her leaky roof, an unexpected visit from an old love, and a stalker who is not a big fan of her comic, and Eve’s neat little world starts to get messy.

It's hard to find a good romance that feels down to earth and believable, but I thinkThe Unfinished Mural really does a good job of this. Rather than focus on the fluff of falling in love and being swept off your feet, it looked at the real life ups and downs of life, and focuses more on the connections that get us through that. A troubled teen, a single mom, a detached family and tense relationships, everything in this book felt real to me. It's nice to read a book that just feels transparent like this.

Eve isn't perfect, but she's likable. She's trying to raise a son who is almost as rebellious as she was in her youth, and she isn't entirely sure how to go about it. Her house is falling apart, but she's doing a job she enjoys, she has a supportive aunt but is detached from her father, and then there is the attractive handyman that wandered into her life. Nothing feels forced about these interactions though. Her aunt has her own problems, Eve tries to get through stressful situations with jokes instead of handling them, and she hasn't forgiven her father ever since she left her home when she was younger. It doesn't feel overdone like a soap opera, but has enough action and drama to keep you going like a great "slice of life" book should.

I like that Eve was an artist (I can't tell you how many books I've read recently where the main character is also a writer. They all seem destined to become best selling authors to live out the author's fantasies). Best of all, the profession [artist] was done in a believable way. Eve drew comics, and did some illustrations for children's books on the side. She got by, but like many artists, she wasn't exactly rolling in the riches. Since I am an artist, I could really relate to the small things like having a messy house and a super organized desk; all the small details showed the author wasn't just bs-ing their way through characterization. I also like that Eve tries to make light of bad situations. I'm one of those people that would probably be laughing at a funeral because I don't want to cry, and it's rare to see characters fit that role. Eve seems like the type of person who doesn't want to sit into the negativity, and just wants to pick herself up and move on. She is strong, independent, but it's also hard for her to let people in. 

Most romance books feel really "swoony" to me. The guy is perfect, she's swept off her feet, he is instantly attracted to how unbelievably beautiful she is (or will become, if she is the ugly duckling turned swan sort). Yet The Unfinished Mural didn't lead with any of that silliness. Sure, Billy is good looking, but he has his moments when he has a temper or he gets tired of Eve's BS and walks away. Her son is rebellious, but he still has his moments when you see the kid he used to be. The characters all have layers that are meaningful, and you get to know everyone by the end of the story.

There is some back story, but it was spaced out well and didn't drag the story down. I'm a fan of splitting things up a bit to make the reading easier. The drama with the letters from the "fan" was interesting enough to keep me reading without drowning the rest of the story. 

Overall, I felt this was a really well balanced book I am glad I get to have on my shelf.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Tools for the Organized (Or, want to be organized...)

It's not a secret that I am a pretty busy person; with art, writing, crafting and blogging I sometimes bite off more than I can chew. Anyone who knows me fairly well has often asked how I manage to do so much. Sometimes, I ask the same thing. If I wanted to sound impressive, this is probably where I would spew some advice about staying organized, and show you my tidy desk, immaculate room and de-cluttered living conditions. If I were honest, I would admit I fly by the seat of my pants more than I probably should.

Organization has never really come easy for me. I try boxes, I try files, I have tried sticky-notes and scraps of paper to remind me when and what to do. In the age of technology, you'd think most of this would get more streamlined and easier, but I probably complicate things more than I should. I have tried more to-do list apps than I care to admit, and most of them seemed to just get in the way. I have an iphone, but I haven't even deleted my "School Work" schedule and I graduated a week ago. 

The sad thing is, it hasn't been updated since December.

That all being said, there have been things that helped. If you're like me, some of these simple to use apps may be a game changer for you. Even if you don't keep every task, at least having them all laid out and ready to view can push you to get things done. In my world, seeing the mountain of tasks makes me more inclined to tackle it, and there are some fun ways to do this.

Tool 1: Habit RPG
This was my first attempt to get my life together. This to-do list is built like a video game, complete with coins, rewards, and fun little characters. As you complete tasks, you level up, and unlock different features. It is certainly one of the funnest little to-do lists I've seen, and many of my friends are great at keeping up with it.

I tried Habit RPG as a beta user, and for awhile it worked. The problem was the "consequences" for not getting stuff done soon became a deterrent. I was dying every few weeks, and I realized many of my goals were probably too unrealistic to survive. The rewards were also hard for me to follow through with. I didn't always wait to "buy" myself that soda or hour of Netflix. If I wanted to do it, I would probably do it, so I ended up abandoning this one in the end. Yet I think the premise was really useful, and it was free. I like free. 

Tool 2: Astrid To-Do List
So I used this app when I had my android phone. It was pretty good at bugging me to get things done and I felt pretty productive with it. The tasks were easy to organize, and it would remind me to work on stuff whenever I asked it to. Tasks were easy to add and delete, which is a big thing for me. I never want to spend a ton of time putting new things on a list or it becomes a deterrent. 

When I was using Astrid, one of the drawbacks was all my tasks were stuck on my phone at that time. Now they have some interfaces to add tasks on your computer and stuff, so that may work better, but I eventually moved on to Google calendar for better organization in the end.

Tool 3: Goodreads
Okay, so this doesn't organize everything, but it is great for my reading list. I can easily see everything I need to read, and it has pictures which makes it much easier to find the book when I get down the list. Lists on Goodreads are easy to organize, so I can jump around in my reading list if I need to. I can also see how carried away I get on reading ambitions. It's easier to throw a few books on my calendar, it's another thing to see them stacked up as a wall of book covers. 

Also, it has widgets for my blog. I like widgets. 

Tool 4: Google Calendar
Sometimes, the fallback is the best thing. Google Calendar has been my organization platform for awhile now, but I like having everything in one place. I have 3 separate calendars, and I can update and organize them separately. The best thing is, two of these are ones I share. When I have shows I am scheduled for, I can add them to my business calendar, and it updates automatically via widget on my website. When I re-organize my blogging schedule, it shows here. When I go to the Google Calendar home page, however, I can view everything at the same time. My personal appointments and my work appointments are all in the same place, so it's easy to glance at things and work on them in a timely manner. 

As much as I like Google Calendar, however, it was missing a little of the fun that made me like my other to-do lists. That's where Trello came in.

Tool 5: Trello
Trello is a free to use organization system that you can share as a business, or just as an independent user. What I like about it is the ability to sort and sift through various tasks so you don't feel "cluttered" by all the small things. You can add pictures, lists, and color organize your list. There is even a calendar view so you can look at tasks at a glance. I actually linked my Google Calendar with Trello via a website called Zapier, that automatically takes any new blogging events and puts them on my Trello to-do list. 

I like Trello because it gives me a place to organize all the things that DON'T have a specific "due date". Sometimes, stuff needs to get done, and I don't want the pressure of putting a time limit on it. For business I often have minor to-do lists I just want to be able to look up when I'm on the go. "Oh, I need to make 100 keychains to restock inventory. I should add that to the list..." Trello lets me have the flexibility to do that, plus, it's got an app so I can migrate from phone to the web. It'll also bug me on my phone, which I appreciate. 


Overall, I don't think there is one program that really does everything for me. I like the current combination I have of Trello and Google Calendar with Zapier doing the updates in between. While it's not perfect (if I archive a task on Trello, it doesn't remove it from Google Calendar, for example), I think you learn to pick what works best for you. For me, the big thing is ease of access: I need to be able to pick up my phone and check to see what I have planned for a certain month or day if someone asks. But I also like adding tasks manually on my computer rather than my phone, because typing on an phone takes foreeeever. I didn't need all the bells and whistles of rewards points, just the satisfaction of a task completed, and a schedule kept. And most of all, I wanted the flexibility to change my schedule when life happens.

Because life happens, believe me.

What about you guys? What tools do you use to organized? 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Shatter ME
Author: Tahereh Mafi
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Pages: 340
Release Date: October 2nd, 2012
Source: Oyster Book Subscription Service

Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.

The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war – and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.

Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

Shatter Me is a book I've been waiting to read for a long time. And sadly, my feelings are torn about this book. While I like the plot and some of the general elements of the book, I found the narration style distracting and stylistically overdone most of the time. Thankfully, I read an e-book version, so I avoided the strikethroughs I've heard rumors about, but I'm not sure it spared me much.

Initially, I liked the fragmented thought pattern. It really showed the struggles Juliette was having in my eyes. After being in isolation for so long, you could feel her mental torment as she tried to make sense of things. I got what it was meant to show, and the broken helplessness that the narrator has trying to cling to some sense of reality.


A big but...

The continuous imagery, counting and metaphors felt overdone and heavy. Sometimes, they didn't even seem to make sense. If you'd like to understand just how much they didn't make sense, feel free to read any of the one-star reviews on Goodreads. Just to give you a taste:

"He leans back against the couch. Runs a free hand over his face. Seasons change. Stars explode. Someone is walking on the moon." 
Just, what
Shat­ter Me, oth­er­wise known as: When Cre­ative Writ­ing Class Goes Wrong.
“His eyes scan the sil­hou­ette of my struc­ture and the slow motion makes my heart race. I catch the rose petals as they fall from my cheeks, as they float around the frame of my body, as they cover me in some­thing that feels like the absence of courage.” The absence of courage?
While I wasn't as completely irritated as some people, it is hard to read a whole book where the girl is constantly swooning and crying and emotionally a borderline nutcase. Everyone wants to convince her she's not crazy, but you know, half the time I was pretty convinced she was.

It's hard to side with Juliette, and it's hard to see her through Adam's eyes. I think the first person narration hurt this book in a lot of places, because we can only see the world through her broken viewpoint. She has this imagery she is using to see the world and make sense of it, maintain her sanity, if you will, but it's distracting as a reader. It's like watching an entire movie from that home-video, shaky camera viewpoint. Every once and awhile, you just want someone to grab the camera and show her how to hold the darn thing. 

Ready, aim, there is the plot!

The end was... promising and disappointing, I guess. Suddenly there are more people with abilities, cool beans! Again, I feel torn by that. I love x-men and super powers and books like that. In fact, they are some of my favorites. But the whole safe haven for freaks felt like an after thought in this book. It seemed like "Hey, they just escaped certain death, but we need a better ending... lets throw in a school!" I don't know.It felt a little disjointed to me.

I think the romance was overdone, and it felt really desperate, and not as developed as maybe it could have been. Because Juliette was dying for touch, it seemed like anyone she could make physical contact with was automatically going to be desirable, even a psychopath. I wanted to see more emotional growth as she shakes off the rattling effects of her isolation. I really just wanted to see Juliette take a step back and love or hate Adam without that blinding her. 

I don't know. I didn't hate it, but I felt it had a lot more potential it could have embraced. I would read the sequel, but I would honestly be praying the writing style has changed a bit or I will probably rage quit before finding out how it ends. 

It was like eating a giant bowl of sugary metaphors. 

Sometimes you just need a little sustenance. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Life II by Scott Spotson

Life II
Author: Scott Spotson
Publisher:  Amazon 
Pages: 633
Release Date: February 5th, 2013
Source: Received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Upon discovering a 1958 book titled "Account of Time Travel on Earth Using Wave Theory," 42-year-old Max Thorning's life is thrown into chaos. Seeking answers to the book's cryptic clues, he discovers Dr. Time, a seemingly benign alien who has control of the Time Weaver, a remarkable device that can command any scene from the Earth's past. Dr. Time offers him a choice to go back into Time, to any point in his lifespan that he can vividly recall. The catch: he can only bring his memories, and can only live the future one day at a time. Follow Max's dilemma as he goes back to his 16-year-old self and tries to forge his destiny into a new one called Life II.

Of all the stories I've read about time travel, Life II beats them in my opinion. It has a somewhat realistic, heartfelt, and unique look at all the "what-ifs" you would face if you suddenly had the chance to go back in time. Rather than following a renegade time-traveler, and focusing entirely on an action packed plot, Life II follows one man as he gives up his old life for a chance to start again, and then lives with the consequences of that experience.

What I like about Life II is there is no returning to the future: once you go into the past, there is no turning back. This gives a sense of finality and commitment to time travel I think many stories are missing. I also like that this story focuses not just the science-fiction aspects of time, but on the reality of time itself. Max is left distinctly aware of the value of every minute, and regardless of the consequences, it emphasizes the need to embracing the time we're given. While the book may be slower to some people, I found it refreshing. It's not going to fill your need for action, but leave you looking at your own life and wondering what you would have done in Max's shoes. 

I like that Max isn't perfect, and he does go off the rails for a while. He doesn't relive his second life perfectly, but he learns and grows in his own way. The book is long, but filled with different characters and a rather well rounded plot. This is a book that makes you sit back and consider your own life as a whole, and learn to embrace it, good and bad. I appreciate a book that lets me think a little, and Life II certainly delivered. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Human by Milan Bakrania

Author: Milan Bakrania
Publisher:  Matador
Pages: 200
Release Date: February 28th, 2014
Source: Netgalley

Zenith has been 'dead' ever since his Uncle Ryan mysteriously disappeared when he was a child. 

Present day - Zenith is now 42 years old. The world is at the mercy of a relentless virus. His friend, Joy Irani, is missing. No one has seen him. It's all too familiar! But Zenith will stop at nothing to find him.

A series of anonymous text messages leads him to a deserted village. Moments later, he finds himself on a boat heading into the open ocean...

HUMAN is a week long account of an irritable cleaner from India as he sets out on a journey of a lifetime. From a bustling city to a place where the stars descend from the sky, it's going to be a week like no other!

At this time I would typically leave my disclaimer that I received this book in exchange for an honest review. Well, I did receive it from Netgalley for free, so with that out of the way, here is the honesty:

I am just not a fan. 

I went through several stages while reading this book. I gave it the benefit of the doubt first, and I ignored the style differences I didn't like; then I tried to wait for the plot to unravel, and I tried to read around the italics. Eventually, i just felt weighed down. The book felt like a really heavy chain dragging me along. There was too much I didn't like, and I felt like I was forcing myself to read. The longer I read, the faster I wanted to go, and after awhile, I'll be honest, I was just ready for it to be over. 

I'm usually not a one/two-star person. But I just couldn't get past all of the things that made this book feel so unreadable.

The author starts in diary format, but then the writing proceeds in first person, with sporadic italic 'thoughts' written in spontaneous intervals. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to where they go, and I found them distracting and unnecessary. The main character is also impossible for me to relate to. He is an unhappy man with a cynical attitude who spends much of the story mentally insulting everyone around him. He is constantly "thinking" insulting things about people, and after awhile, you find it hard to take his side. And how come every woman in this story seems to be a whore or a b****? His attitude towards his wife made me uncomfortable. 

Also, who describes their daily poop in their diary? Really? 

I thought maybe it was cultural differences for awhile. Maybe it's just because I've never lived in this country and don't understand the social norms. But that doesn't mean I'm okay with them, and I really don't enjoy reading about them. The book felt very crude at points, but not in the "ha ha" funny way I can sometimes get into. This is that old guy hitting on someone twenty years younger than him type crude that just makes you feel a bit uncomfortable. It was hard to get past.

It was disappointing because the author has moments where it seems the book could be promising. Descriptions thrown in here and there create good mental pictures, and had it been in third person, maybe I would have enjoyed it more. Yet the format and the way all those descriptions were put together killed it for me. One moment there is a great description about a skyline, then there is an awkward aside about needing to go to work. All in all, I couldn't get into the plot enough to tell you if even that had promise. I was busy drowning out the narrator.

Oh look, it's time for me to end this review.

Maybe someone will see what I didn't, but this was just not the book for me.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Summer Review Preparations

Hey everyone,

Mati here. This is sort of my "News Update" for the month. I am finally done with school, so I am getting to work finishing up my current review requests. I added a fancy little calendar at the bottom of my blog that should show all of the books I am planning on reading, with an optimistic time-frame attached to them. Authors, if you and I have talked and you do NOT see your book on the list, feel free to contact me and I'll get it sorted out.

Books on my to-read list may rearrange themselves a bit depending on a number of factors: mood, location, ease of access, whim, phases of the moon, etc. Sometimes I feel like reading something journalistic, and other times I need fluff, so if a book migrates across my list, don't take it too personally. This month a lot of my kindle books got attention since I could read them on my phone, but I'm hoping to at least get through all of the print books I have sitting here before too long.

Thanks for your patience, and if anyone is reading this, thanks for being a follower! Having a few readers every once and awhile keeps me from just talking to myself. ; )

Looking forward to a summer of books! Hope you are too!

- Mati

Highmark by Jeffrey V. Johnson

Author: Jeffrey V. Johnson
Publisher:  Amazon 
Pages: 320
Release Date: March 2014
Source: Received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Abe had never gotten the chance to do anything more interesting or dangerous than collate, and the errand that Mr. Ebensworth sent him on that morning was only the best assignment he'd ever gotten because of the dearth of competition. He was to go down to Underton and fetch a girl for her aunt's wedding. Having never been to Underton, the literal underworld city in caves beneath Highmark, Abe was looking forward to the simple errand quite a bit.

And initially it was just as he expected it to be. Fascinating and different, the glowing town was overflowing with slightly-seedy charms and hints of magic all around. All that changed when Abe finally found the girl, and suddenly he was surrounded by threats and danger, suddenly immersed in a magical and terrifying mystery.
What was she involved with? Who was the monster pursuing her, and how could Abe hope to survive with only the skills of proper filing to aid him?

When I first started reading Highmark, I was immediately drawn into the prose Jeffrey V. Johnson was writing. The first half of the book was very well placed, interesting, and had just enough mystery to draw the story forward. However, by the end I felt like some of that mystery was left unresolved, and I was a bit confused by the way the story ended. While it is a good book, and other readers may enjoy it, I'm not sure it was my cup of tea in the end.

The one main flaw this book had for me was an undefined sense of place. We start in Highmark, explore Underton, but as the story progresses I had trouble understanding either of the settings. Was Highmark supposed to be like our world, but in the past? Was this all in an entirely different universe that resembled ours a bit? At one point Abe seems confused by what a television is, so that just confused me more. I needed a bit more understanding of where I was to fully immerse myself in things.

The second flaw with this book as the rather confusing ending. It felt a little too chaotic for me. People were on the same side, people weren't on the same side. Abe seemed lost, and I felt lost. It felt like things were supposed to come together in an "aha!" moment, but I don't really feel like the main point was clear enough to me. This was one of those endings that just had you pausing and asking "Wait...what just happened?" I just think there were too many twists for the story to have a clear sense of direction. 

The characters seemed believable to me, however, Abe's relationships with other characters felt distant and surface level. Abe is one of those characters who is sort of sheep like. He just wants someone to point his gun and tell him who to shoot at. The more people get involved, the more chaotic he seems to be spinning, unable to make his own choices. I would have been okay with it if Abe had developed by the end of the book, but he still just felt too passive. It was cute when Begonia was bossing him around, but he never grows out of that, so he felt a little spineless by the end. 

Overall, the writing itself was good, and I enjoyed a lot of the author's humor, but the plot needed a bit more work to give a sense of clarity and finality on the last page.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Fire of the Sea by Lyndsay Johnson

This week I have had the pleasure of reviewing Fire of the Sea, and participating in its blog tour. If you haven't heard of this book, it was certainly a beautifully done novel  with some unique elements I enjoyed. Below is my review and rating, and best of luck Lyndsay with the rest of your tour. 

Fire of the Sea
Author: Lyndsay Johnson
Publisher:  48fourteen Publishing
Pages: 379
Release Date: March 24th, 2014
Source: Received a copy from the author in exchange for 
an honest review
Social Media:
 Book Trailer:

Sharp, sleek, and golden. Like the dagger she has worn since childhood, eighteen-year-old Aeva is all three of these things. But there is something else that this mermaid and her prized weapon share – they are both hunted.

Hidden within the caves off Iceland’s dark shore, Aeva waits to take her place as the next ruler of the Meriads. But when Aeva uses her potent and alluring song to save a drowning human, she disrupts a delicate balance. Realizing she has unexpectedly bound herself to Gunnar, Aeva is torn between duty and love.

Aeva severs one life to begin another, and soon finds herself not only rejected by the sea, but also stalked by an old enemy. As the worlds of myth and man intertwine, Aeva will challenge fate to protect her own sacred relic and the man she loves.

But legends and lies cast an intricate net. With time and safety quickly unraveling for Aeva and Gunnar, there is only one clear course: Find and defeat Delphine before she can shift again.

I'll be honest, I've read a lot of mermaid stories lately, and I can be a tough critic when it comes to them. My favorite stories are ones that defy norms and bring their own unique twist to the traditional, and Fire of the Sea managed to do this. While there were a few elements that felt a little cliche, Lyndsay Johnson's beautiful writing and engaging story kept me reading in the end. If you love a good mermaid story, I think I'd add this to the list.

Aeva is a strong female character, destined to become a ruler once she comes of age. But she saves a human, and threatens to ruin everything. Becoming an enemy of the sea, she must find a way to right the balance or leave the ocean forever. Yet the bond she created with the man she saved cannot be abandoned, aiding her choice. 

Some of these elements will feel a little "been there, done that", especially if you've recently read or watched any version of The Little Mermaid. Cut and dry: mermaid saves guy from drowning, falls in love, leaves the ocean to be with him. It is hard to shake that initial "fairy-tale retelling" sort of vibe. Yet the book has it's own unique elements, especially by bringing Selkies/Selurs into the mix, and embracing elements of Norse mythology. Even if it were a straight retelling, it would have been a new enough take on things to keep my interest. 

I like Gunnar, and while Aeva and him seem to fall in love really fast, it makes sense with the story line. He seems cautious about the whole experience, and more realistic than some love interests I've seen in books. Aeva's friends are unique as well, and while I miss the during the second half of the book, I still felt they were fleshed out and didn't feel static like some minor characters end up being. 

The story itself is well paced, and it was easy to read in just a couple of sittings. Overall it would be a good summer read if you like a good fantasy. 

About the Author:

Lyndsay grew up in the wide expanses of Texas, where the only thing stronger than the accents was the state pride. An over-active imagination, tale-telling father, and encouraging librarian mother lead to her love of all things creative.

When it comes to books on her bedside table, young adult lit has always been a favorite (Blue Balliett, Libba Bray, and Stephenie Meyer, to name a few.) But it was actually an old, yellowing copy of Scandinavian Folk and Fairy Tales that planted a particularly relentless seed. Shapeshifters and sea nymphs began forming the seed of an idea that would eventually grow into Lyndsay’s debut novel, Fire of the Sea.

When she is not writing, you can find Lyndsay spending time with her family in the Rocky Mountains of Utah. She enjoys sitting in dark theaters, trying new gluten-free recipes, watching breaking storms over the peaks out her window, and secret naps.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Pilgrims Don't Were Pink
Author: Stephanie Kate Strohm
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers 
Pages: 204
Release Date: May 8th, 2012
Source: Oyster, a book subscription service

Libby Kelting had always felt herself born out of time. No wonder the historical romance-reading, Jane Austen-adaptation-watching, all-around history nerd jumped at the chance to intern at Camden Harbor, Maine’s Oldest Living History Museum. But at Camden Harbor Libby’s just plain out of place, no matter how cute she looks in a corset. Her cat-loving coworker wants her dead, the too-smart-for-his-own-good local reporter keeps pushing her buttons, her gorgeous sailor may be more shipwreck than dreamboat — plus Camden Harbor’s haunted. Over the course of one unforgettable summer, Libby learns that boys, like ghosts, aren’t always what they seem.

Pilgrims Don't Wear Pink is a fun novel that I enjoyed more than I expected to. To be honest, I wasn't sure how much I would like the novel as Libby is such a different person from myself. I don't like fashion, I rarely wear makeup, and I think I have one pink article of clothing in my entire closet. Yet there was still something charming about this book that kept my interest.

Cam, unfortunately, is extremely stereotypical as an initial love interest. That far too perfect, out to get in your pants type guy stands out to me from a mile away. I felt frustrated that Libby was so easily won over by him. She seems like she's really smart, at least when it comes to history, but really dumb when it comes to guys. Then there was Garrett, and I actually related more to him than probably anyone else in the book. I'm a nerd, and I've been a journalist, so I think I ended up staying in the story just for him. At the same time, I ended up feeling frustrated because why would he end up with a girl like Libby? I'm not sure I really understood what it was that connected them. 

I like Libby's best friend, although some of the characters didn't feel entirely fleshed out in the story. It was a light read, but aGood one? I guess I'm on the fence about that. It felt like maybe a story that would be a sort of "pallet cleanser" type category. Nice to read, would read a sequel, but not something I would be dying to go back to.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Story of Serendipity

Quick fact about me as a blogger: I am both a writer, and an artist, and much of my free time is also spent doing crafty things for my art business. I do re-purposed art from time to time, and I will often go to auctions to pick up interesting things to turn into artwork.

About two years ago, I ended up buying about 50 books for a few bucks. Most were old, really worn out, and there were few titles I recognized. I ended up selling a large chunk of them to a book store, but I saved four books, three of which were destined to be re-purposed as art.

Now, before anyone cringes that I used books for crafts, the books I had chosen were in the "well loved" category. My rule with book art is I won't sacrifice a book someone could still read. The first two were classics with missing pages: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Frankenstein. The third was a book about oil companies that had a really small font that would work well for tiny bottles, and it was also fairly roughed up. But the last book ended up in the pile in a somewhat accidental way. I picked it up because I saw the words "Dragon" and "Volume 1", and thought it may be something interesting to read later down the road. With several moves, it ended up getting tossed back in the arts and crafts box, and was soon forgotten about.

Fast forward to last September, I attended Salt Lake Comic Con with my publisher. We ended up being next to Tracy and Laura Hickman, and I got to know them as we talked during the duration of the show. While they were wonderful people, I admit I had never read their work. I picked up on of Tracy's stand alone works, the Immortals, but decided I would try to read his more popular "DragonLance" books if I could find a book one.

After several months of searching, I didn't have much luck. Every thrift store had a wall of Tracy's books, but none of them started at the beginning. There were several different story lines, lots of starting places, but none were that infamous "book one" I wanted to find. I set the task on the back burner, and school mostly put it out of my mind.

Graduation season is coming up for college, and my grandparents were making their way up to visit this month, so I resolved to clean my craft room. This meant going through boxes, transferring items to sturdier totes, and virtually reshuffling everything in the backroom. Somehow that stack of four books resurfaced, and migrated around the room for a good week. When I finally got to them, however, I was started when I realized I recognized the series name at the top of one of the books. Ironically, when I set aside a book two years ago to read, I had picked out Tracy Hickman's Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Volume 1 of the DragonLance Chronicles.

I never knew I would meet the author, and get to respect him as a person before I would get to read his writing. And I never expected such a well worn paperback would somehow become an instantly cherished item.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

In the Mirror by Kaira Rouda

In the Mirror
Author: Kaira Rouda
Publisher:  Real You Publishing Group 
Pages: 214
Release Date: May 1st, 2014
Source: Free copy from Netgalley.

If you knew you may die soon, what choices would you make?

Jennifer Benson has it all: a successful career, a perfect husband, two kids and abundant friendships. The only problem is she may be dying. IN THE MIRROR is the realistic love story about a woman facing a deadly illness, and her loves past and present. It's a story that unfolds with a delightful blend of humor and poignancy, ringing true in the heart of anyone who has ignored a warning of her own.

When I started reading this book, I wasn't sure what to expect. To be honest, it was tough on me, especially when a close relative was diagnosed with cancer shortly after I started the book. Some parts of the story were done really well: the concept of being 'on pause' while the rest of the world continues on, the desperation for normalcy, the struggles to survive both for the victim and the family. Had the book just been about those things, I think I would have liked it a lot more. 

I guess I had problems in the end with the main love triangle of the story. Alex's arrival produced some interesting trials for Jenn, but as time went on, it left me confused with who to side with. Was Alex right to show up and put Jennifer through all this? Was Jennifer right to accept his affections when she was married? Was Henry right not to trust her when she said nothing happened? Books like this leave me depressed as a reader. Everyone screwed up, and it doesn't feel like things will ever be right. It reflects real life, real struggles, but it doesn't give you much hope as a reader. 

I just needed a happier ending I guess. It's cancer, it screws stuff up, and I get that. But when you know someone who is going through it, the last thing you want is this feeling that life is out of your hands and there is no way to fix it.I just didn't feel the resolution I wanted in the end.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Random Q&A: Mati Raine

Because I don't have a review for you this week (I know, I'm lame. It's been a busy week!), I decided to do a random Q&A about my own experiences as a writer. If you have your own answers to one of these questions, I'd love to here your response as well!

Q&A: The Author's Life for Me?
Author: Mati Raine
Publisher: Fantastic Journeys Publishing
Books: Archipelago (YA Urban Fantasy)
Website: This blog! Also,

What is the hardest part about being a writer?
I think the hardest part about being an author I've found so far is when people critique something in your book you know will get answered further down the road. It both frustrates and excites me. You sit on your hands a little bit to keep from bouncing out of the chair yelling "WAIT! I KNOW THIS ANSWER!" While you hope every reader will keep going, there will be a few that rage quit and never let you finish your story.

Being a writer means someone will eventually hate what you've written, no matter how well edited, polished, written or executed a book is. It isn't a profession where there is a right or wrong answer, rather, you're always waiting to find your audience, then dedicate what you're doing to those chosen few. Someday, somehow you will upset or disappoint someone. You just have to pick which person you will let down. 

Do you ever get discouraged about writing? 
I'll be honest, I do get discouraged sometimes. While I do appreciate all feedback, I would be lying if I said I haven't dreamed of 5-star reviews from time to time. It is a delicate balance between humility and being calloused enough to handle the demands of writing. If you don't take any feedback to heart, you'll never improve your stories. But if you don't learn to tune out the harmful stuff, you'll quickly give up because negativity is painful.

When you get a few negative reviews in a row, it gets discouraging. You wonder if you did something wrong, if you jumped in too soon, if you could have done something better. You just have to hold onto the reasons WHY you did certain things. 

For instance, (spoiler alert) there is one love interest in my story people really like. Partway through, he turns into a jerk. I've had people really let down that I did this with one of their favorite characters, but I chose to do that BECAUSE he was so likable. Every romance story I read, there is a knight in shining armor, but it never reflected the real life experience I had that sometimes princes turn BACK into frogs. Love falls apart. People jump too fast, then realize something is wrong. I don't want readers to hate this guy, but feel and experience the blindsided hot/cold nature love can have in high school. One day you're dating, the next your dumped. There isn't always a perfect reason. 

Writing is about maintaining your goals admits all the garbling input around you. Sometimes it's like protecting a sand castle in a windstorm. It gets frustrating when people don't see 'what you intended' But when they get it, that's the reward that keeps you going. 

Is it hard to be a writer and a reviewer at the same time?
I know some reviewers that are very cautious about letting people know they write as well. There is a mentality at times that writers can't be readers, because they will suddenly be biased about what they're reviewing. Yes, authors can be biased, both in a positive and negative light. It is hard sometimes to give a negative review because I've been on the other side of one, and sometimes I want to give a higher review if I really like a particular author. But at the end of the day, I look at the story, and force myself to follow the review guidelines I already wrote for myself. Are there character flaws? Is the plot solid, etc, etc. Having my own checklist to follow helps keep me keep the focus on the story.

One hard thing about reviewing and writing at the same time is when people read your own writing. If you've critiqued something in one story, and someone finds a similar flaw in your own, it puts a slight blemish against you because 'you do the same thing'. It's like reading the work by an editor, and finding a grammar error. The problem is writers are often blind to our own writing. I'll be the first to admit that! I can spot quotation errors and punctuation issues in books, but my editor always has to move my punctuation marks inside my quotes all the time. This is because our brains often automatically correct those errors while we're working on things. This is why editors/beta readers/and reviewers are so meaningful, regardless of whether you are one of those individuals yourself. You need someone to look at your work who has enough distance from it to see clearly.

What is your favorite thing about writing?
My favorite thing about writing is actually just watching my characters grow. I know I'm the one 'controlling' them, but sometimes they still go off in directions I never intended. Characters are alive: I am a firm believer in that. If you write them well, they react, expand, and decided what to do all on their own. This is why I rarely outline: I want to let my characters respond to the environment, and I don't want to say 'this is where you're going'. Some of my favorite characters are the ones who don't give a crap what I want and ruin the story all on their own. Although 'ruin' usually means 'help' in the end. 

What is one thing you wished you could tell people reading your work?
I always wish readers could see all the files I have hidden away I used to build my world. Heck, as a reader, I always wish I could see all of the authors OWN world building processes. I can put the url to my website at the end of my book, but there is never a guarantee they will go there and look at things. As a reader, sometimes we take for granted the building blocks a novel is built on. When I open a book and see appendices or maps, sometimes I think 'hey, that's useful'. But a quick glance at a map never seems to reflect the hours I know when into planning everything on it. 

What are your writing goals for the upcoming year?
My writing goals for this year are to finish my next book, Confluence. With each review I get, I feel more motivated to get it into the market. It has one of my favorite characters in it, and I have been super excited to share her with people. But I also have a goal to get it written and edited well first. I've seen some rushed books this year, and I want to make sure I don't get caught in that hype. Some books can be written great in a short span of time (I think of the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer), but I think it's easy with the rise of the e-book industry to throw something out there before it's completely 'polished'. Writers may hate waiting for more than a year for a book, but I think being handed an unfinished book is much more disappointing. 

AUTHORS!!! What about you? How would you answers these Q&A questions? Send in your answers (along with some basic author info/links), and I will try to feature one or two of you this week here on my site!