Category: Blog Tour

Cecilia Gray’s Writing Do’s (Author Guest Post)

Posted July 16, 2012 by Jana in Blog Tour, Guest Post / 1 Comment

Cecilia Gray lives in Oakland where she reads, writes and breaks for food. She has written 7 books, the most recent of which (Fall for You) is the beginning of the young adult contemporary romance series, Jane Austen Academy. Two of her other novels: A Delightful Arrangement (The Gentlemen Next Door #1) and An Illicit Engagement (The Gentlemen Next Door #2) have spent time on several romance bestsellers lists in Spain, Italy, the UK, and the USA.

I’m delighted to have Cecilia here today to discuss some writing tips as part of the AToMR tour celebrating her newest book, Fall for You.

 

Dieting has never worked for me. The second you tell me what I can’t eat, it’s all I can think about is eating it. No carbs? I’ll eat a pizza. No fat? I want bacon.

The same is true of writing. Don’t tell me what I can’t do. I’ll want to do it. No starting a story with a dream? I’ll give my heroine a 300-page nightmare.

Instead, I’d rather focus on should I should be doing.

I should be eating more vegetables and lentils. I should be going organic. I should be eating nonfat yogurt.

Here are my writing “you-shoulds”:

  • You should draw the reader in by posing a question.

    I don’t mean an obvious question-with-a-question mark. I mean a sentence that begs a question, any question.I was listening to the new Maroon 5 song and the first line is, “I’m at a payphone trying to call home all of the change I spent on you.” The sentence brings up all kinds of questions. Who is he trying to call? Why is he trying to call them? Where in sweet hell did he find a payphone? Even though I know nothing about the situation in the song, I sympathize with the singer, because he’s desperately trying to reach someone and I know the feeling.Your first sentence should engage the reader to question what is happening, and more improtantly, to care about what is happening.

  • You should force the reader to set their own stage.

This is a fancy way of saying show don’t tell, and the reason it works because it switches the reader from reading passively to reading actively, and if a reader is more actively drawn into a story, they have more stakes in the outcome.

“She was sad” says less than “She fought the sting of tears at the corners of her eyes.” (Apologies for both sentences being pretty lame….)

Both beg the question, why is she crying. But the second also makes you realize she doesn’t want to be crying, that she is desperate not to cry, which adds depth and dimension to her emotional state.

  • You should invite the reader to complete their own story.

Consider the following endings (my apologies for any spoilers):

–    Life of Pi when the veracity of Pi’s story is thrown into doubt and you must decide whether he was really in a boat with a tiger or a man who murders his mother
    The ending of Inception when you must decide whether the hero has found happiness with his family or is trapped in a coma
–    Before Sunrise or Before Sunset when you have to decide whether the couple will stay together – and whether it’s the right decision
–    The Giver when you must decide what journey the hero takes
These stories have powerful endings precisely because their resolution depends on the reader.

This doesn’t absolve you of telling a satisfying story, but consider whether the satisfaction really comes from  tying up every loose end. Is there a thread better left untold? Is there a question you want to leave for your reader?

All three Do’s have one thing in common: reader engagement. Each Do is a way of waking up your reader, forcing your reader to read deeper, asking your reader to care more, think more, do more.
Getting your reader to do more is more work for you, but if you’re stressing about it – you could always eat a pizza.

Thanks, Cecilia! Stop by the tour schedule and visit the other tour stops to read reviews of Fall for You, more guest posts, book excerpts, and other cool things!


Inner Child: Let’s Hear it for Almigal by Wendy Kupfer (Review)

Posted July 10, 2012 by Jana in Blog Tour, Children's Book Review, Inner Child / 2 Comments

InnerChild

Inner Child is an original Artsy Reader Girl feature, where I take a moment to highlight a cute book for kids! I love children’s books. Hey, I started out on them! They are the foundation of my love of reading. When I need a smile, or a quick dose of the “good old days”, I never hesitate to crack open a picture book and feed my inner child.

 

Title: Let’s Hear it for Almigal
Author: Wendy Kupfer
Illustrator: Tammie Lyon
Release Date: April 16, 2012
Publisher: Handfinger Press
Format: Kindle
Source: JKSCommunications/Netgalley
Buy it Here: Amazon (Used copies available Amazon Marketplace.) or Here for brand new copies from the book’s website.
Add It: Goodreads

This fun and original picture book introduces Almigal, a spunky little girl with hearing loss who is now determined to hear every single sound in the universe thanks to her new cotton candy pink cochlear implants. These sounds include a baby’s funny giggle, the robin’s chirps outside the window, the soft song played during ballet class, and especially her best friend Chloe’s teeny-tiny voice. But most of all, Almigal wants to hear her parents whisper to her when they tuck her into bed every night. Almigal’s spirit will have both children and parents alike rooting for her, while the story delivers a positive message about accepting and celebrating differences.

This book is pretty darling. From what I could tell, the illustrations are gorgeous. I read this on my Kindle, so all the illustrations were tiny and in grey and white, but I could see that the lines were soft, the images whimsical,  and from the cover, I can tell that the colors are vibrant and girly.

Let’s Hear it for Almigal does a great job at explaining that every person is different in their own way. Some speak Spanish, some have little voices, some wear glasses, some have twin sisters, and some are deaf like Almigal. Almigal embraces the fact that she is deaf, and needs hearing aides. She loves being different, and even changed her name from Ali to Almigal, because nobody else has that name. What a great heroine to look up to. Even at my age, I feel weird if I’m different. Embrace it! It’s empowering. Still, though, being different can make you sad sometimes. Almigal struggles with this, making her relatable for almost every child out there.

This book also teaches responsibility. Almigal’s cochlear implants are expensive, and she is taught that they must be taken care of. The same idea goes for children who get glasses for the first time.

Finally, it teaches children that being deaf is not a problem. In fact, it’s kind of cool because you get special little implements that help you hear. And they come in all different colors. Again, this goes for anything: glasses, braces, casts, wheelchairs, etc. Even though the book focuses on a deaf child, the example can be applied to any situation where a child is different.

I definitely enjoyed this story, and think it would be great for children who deal with deafness, whether it be with themselves, a family member, a friend, or a classmate. Moreover, it teaches children that being different is cool. And you know what? Sometimes we adults need to remember that, too. I can just see myself reading this book to a class of mine, and then listing out all the cool ways people are different. Some role-playing might even be fun.


Murder for Choir by Joelle Charbonneau (Review & Giveaway)

Posted July 5, 2012 by Jana in Adult Fiction, Blog Tour, Book Review / 14 Comments

Murder for Choir by Joelle Charbonneau (Review & Giveaway)Muder for Choir by Joelle Charbonneau
Series: Glee Club #1
Published by Berkley on July 3, 2012
Genres: Mystery
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher (Mail)
Amazon Add to Goodreads
3 Stars
Even as a struggling opera singer, Paige Marshall has never seen anything like the cutthroat competition of the Prospect Glen High School show choir. Coaching these championship-hungry students may be her toughest gig yet...

Especially when her best young male singer is suspected of killing the arrogant coach of Prospect Glen's fiercest rival. To clear his name, Paige will have to sort through a chorus of suspects, and go note-for-note with a killer who wants her out of the spotlight for good.

Welcome to today’s stop on the JKS Communications virtual book tour for Joelle Charbonneau’s newest book, Murder for Choir, a cozy mystery filled with singing, dancing, competition, and intrigue. I’m so glad you stopped by!

Seeing as how I was a show choir girl all through high school and college, I was incredibly excited to find a mystery novel that centered around such a fun time in my life. It was also nice to step away from the young adult books for a little while and read about people closer to my age. As always my main points are bolded. :)

1. I think the idea for this book was fun and unique. You can do a lot with a show choir, and there are a lot of story elements you can tackle. I’ve never watched the TV show Glee, but a blurb on the cover said, “Imagine if Stephanie Plum joined the cast of Glee…” I’ve also never read a Stephanie Plum novel! Haha. So, I can’t agree or disagree. Perhaps this will give you an idea, though, of what the book is like. :)

2. Paige Marshall is one of those characters that you want to either scream at or be best friends with. On the one hand, she’s always getting herself into trouble. She’s that heroine in the movies who walks out in the dark in her socks because she thinks she heard someone out there. You want to yell at her, “GET INSIDE, DUMMY!” I feel like she was lacking in basic, common sense. It got her in trouble. On the other hand, though, she’s sweet and is doing all of this to save a teenage boy who was accused of murder. She had good intentions, so I guess I can look past that. Haha. She’s also pretty funny.

3. Paige’s three co-workers: Devlyn (my favorite), Larry, and Felicia, were great characters. They were all very different from one another, with dynamic personalities, which was really nice. Sometimes supporting characters are boring and kind of mush together. I really liked them, though, except for officer Mike. I did not like him at all. Throughout the entire book he seemed aloof and unorganized. Plus, he seemed to be a total playboy. Paige’s Aunt Millie was a little over the top for me. She kind of reminds me of Richard’s mother in the TV show, Castle, if you’re familiar with that: tacky clothes, money, a Mark Kay pink Cadillac, and a pushy personality. Both women love their families, though, which is why I can let the tackiness slide and adore them both. And I must admit, Millie was hilarious. Her taxidermy pets and pink platform shoes were heartwarming.

4. The mystery was very intriguing, but not entirely realistic to me. Paige, a teacher, took the police investigation on herself and ended up getting into a lot of trouble. She should have been arrested so many times for interfering with a police investigation, but she never did. If you can look past the fact that this all would most likely never happen, and just enjoy the story for what it is you’ll be fine. :) I had to keep reminding myself of this throughout the book. I guess I watch too much CIS/NCIS/Castle/Blue Bloods. I just wasn’t buying it.

5. Regardless of my former point, I was kept guessing on who did it until about the last quarter of the book. I actually figured it out before Paige did, which made me really proud of myself! Usually the ending is a surprise to me.

6. Maybe I was just lucky, but my show choir experiences were not this cut throat and ruthless. Directors did not have to sleep with adjudicators in order to get higher scores or placements. Students did not wish someone dead or threaten people in the hopes of winning a competition or getting ahead. We all just liked each other and enjoyed the music we made together. So to me, this also felt unrealistic. But the author is a major musician and performer, so maybe she saw this kind of thing happen in her choral experiences. I was just surprised. Haha.

Overall, this is a fun little mystery. I enjoyed the characters and the basic plot line. Joelle is a great storyteller, and I enjoyed her writing style. While I found things to be a little unrealistic, once I looked past that and just focused on the story I began to enjoy it more. Was it my favorite book? No. But I would recommend it to people who love mysteries, a little romance, a little suspense, and choral singing.

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Head on over to the other stops on this tour for more reviews, author interviews and guest posts, and more giveaways!


Cicada by Belle Whittington (Book Review + Giveaways!)

Posted June 18, 2012 by Jana in Blog Tour, Book Review, Giveaway, Young Adult / 5 Comments

Cicada by Belle Whittington (Book Review + Giveaways!)Cicada by Belle Whittington
Series: Cicada #1
Also in this series: Firefly, Monarch
Published by CreateSpace on September 13, 2011
Genres: Paranormal, Paranormal Romance, Romance, Science Fiction
Pages: 220
Format: eBook
Source: Author
Amazon Add to Goodreads
Summertime for Blair Reynolds and her friends had always been carefree and fun... until the summer they happened upon something that was not human. As they band together in a fight for their lives, Blair's true love becomes something more than human. Something unnatural. And their survival depends entirely upon their ability to keep a secret.

Hello! Thanks so much for stopping by my blog as I help kick off the AToMR blog tour for Belle Whittington’s Cicada, book #1 in an exciting and suspenseful young adult sci-fi trilogy (haha. Long sentence there!)! When you are finished reading my review, make sure to find the complete schedule of tour events at the bottom. Also, find the opportunity to win one of 12 ebook copies of Cicada and/or an electronic firefly in a jar in honor of the upcoming sequel to Cicada, called Firefly. Both Rafflecopters are at the bottom of this review. :)

Going into this book, I was not really sure what to expect at all. I mean… cicadas are bugs. And they are noisy little guys! I used to live in Louisiana, and every summer night was accompanied by the sounds of cicadas in the trees. One time I saw one and flipped out. I’m really against bugs in general. And then I read the book blurb, which does not tell you much, and saw the “not human” and thought: Oooo! Aliens! And sci-fi. And hopefully not huge bugs, because I would have a major problem with that. Cicada surprised me! I was not expecting such a suspenseful, romantic, creepy, mysterious, and exciting story. I’m a huge lover of reading conspiracy theories (I don’t believe most of them, but they are fun to think about!), so when crop circles and aliens and UFOs and secret government agencies came into play, I was up all night reading. This was a great story! As always, my main points are bolded. :)

1. This is a way different kind of story than most sci-fi books I’ve come across lately. It’s kind of a mix of the movie Signs and the Wings series by Aprilynn Pike. Weird, I know. That sounds crazy. Seriously, though! You’ve got the aliens and the crop circles and the “I’m freaking out about the fact that you’re outside in the dark right now” feeling, mixed with the “my boyfriend, who I thought was normal, is not normal at all and is changing and becoming a new person, and I might not see him for a while, but I need to pull through this and be strong” kind of situation.

2. Welcome to a young adult romance without a love triangle! Do you know how much I loved the fact that the main story was not centered around two boys fighting over one girl? It was glorious! Everett, the geeky guy in the group is Blaire’s best friend, and things develop from that. It’s a natural, common kind of real life relationship and I was very happy to see that surface in a sea of books with love triangles.

3. The characters were a lot of fun, but Blair was not my favorite at all. She was kind of an ordinary heroine to me. Her brother Andrew, though, was so great to read about. He is this sweet big brother who has a whole bunch of secrets, and really adores and protects his sister. Blair’s mom kind of weirded me out. She spoke to Blair a lot in sing-sing rhymes, which I found… well, weird. Haha. David is a baseball stud, whose batting skills came in handy and made me like him a lot. He’s also a very caring friend. Then there’s Natalie… and her role in the story confused me. She and David have a thing for each other, but don’t act on it because college is coming up and they will have to part ways. But they are still cuddly and dependent on each other, and then all of a sudden, the relationship escalates, but we were given no clues that it was happening! That romance was a bit unconvincing, but it’s probably because they are supporting characters, so we don’t get much info on them.

4. The creep-factor in Cicada had this chicken quivering under every blanket she owned. There’s just something about people walking through really dark, dense woods in the middle of the DARK. Plus, as Blair and all her friends started to get more and more involved with this non-human situation at hand, they became targets of a very dangerous group of people who were out to kill them. Now me, I’d hide in my closet. Or I’d move. Join a convent. Flee the country. What did they do? They went searching for these people! They entered mysterious buildings with green lights inside in the MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. Because surely, waiting until it’s light out is not at all practical. You know how you watch a movie, and the main character hears a noise outside, so they walk out to see what it is? And they’re all, “Hello? Is someone there?” And you’re like, “DUH! GETINSIDERIGHTNOW!” Yeah. Exactly. Would you go snooping around scary city in the middle of the night? No, I think not. I was so creeped out that I called my little sister at 2:00 in the morning and asked her to go with me when I brushed my teeth, so that I would not have to walk across the dark hallway alone (because I swear I heard an alien out there). Yes, I’m admitting this to you. And I’m a chicken. This might be something your mom would read as a bedtime story to a 7-year-old you. Don’t judge me if you read this and are not scared. Toast popping out of the toaster has me practically running in place.

5. I wish there was a bit more substance. There was a lot of riding around “in the darkness” and searching a building and four-wheeling and visiting a storage facility. I wish we had been given some more character development and a few different events. The story was relatively short, though, so maybe we’ll get more in book #2. :)

6. The main climax of the book moved really quickly. It took a while to build up, which I enjoyed, but then BAM! Crazy thing happens, and then crazy thing is somewhat resolved within a few pages. I would have liked a little more time between the crazy and the resolution. We are led to believe (through what the characters say) that fixing this major, major problem is going to be extremely hard, but they do it rather easily within just a few pages. I wanted to go through more turmoil and more worry. I wanted the characters to have to struggle more. This is really hard to explain without spoiling things. If you’ve read the book, you know what I mean.

7. The vague blurb was obviously written vaguely for a reason, so I’m not going to spoil anything for you. I find that sometimes a book’s back cover summary gives way too much away. This one leaves you with a lot of questions, which brings me to my next point: this book has left me with SO MANY QUESTIONS, which really frustrated me! Haha. I’m glad there’s a couple more books coming out in this story, and hopefully I’ll know what’s going on by the end of those. :P

This is a really nice debut from Belle Whittington. Of course, there is room for improvement, but isn’t there always? I’m excited to see what she does with the following stories, and it’ll be fun to watch her writing style and storytelling develop as her books continue. The sign of a great author is that each of their books are better than the ones before. I can see Belle being one of those authors. I enjoyed the story a lot, and am going to be on the lookout for the next one. I’d recommend this to lovers of sci-fi romances and conspiracy theories.
 

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Here’s a link to a video of what the electronic firefly looks like. Very cool!

a Rafflecopter giveaway
These giveaways include everyone on every stop of this blog tour, so there is no guarantee that one of my readers will win. Also, I’m not the one in charge of choosing the winners. They are. :)

Follow the tour! Here’s the schedule.


Author Interview with Anna Banks & an Of Poseidon Giveaway!

Posted June 2, 2012 by Jana in Author Interview, Blog Tour, Giveaway / 38 Comments

Hello! Welcome to the final stop on the official Of Poseidon blog tour! So nice of you to stop by. :) If you’re late joining in on the fun, here’s the tour itinerary. Definitely visit the other stops if you haven’t. There’s lots of great stuff at each one.

I’m so excited to have Anna Banks, author of Of Poseidon (a book I just so happened to LOVE) here on the blog to discuss her new book and to tell us a little bit about herself. Don’t forget to enter the giveaway (USA/Canada only… sorry!) for a chance to win a bound copy of Of Poseidon! You can find it at the bottom of the interview. :)

1. Tell us 5-10 quintessential Anna-isms. What should we know about you? 

– I believe in Sasquatch.
– I don’t get the hiccups. Just one big hiccup that hurts the deepest parts of me, then I’m done.
– I love love love to scare pedestrians. Beeping, screaming, swerving, etc.
– I can shoot a sling shot (which also applied to scaring pedestrians, in my teen years…)
– My body is comprised of approximately 13% fried chicken, 7.567% chocolate, and _________% wine (completely dependent on the strength of the wine at that moment)

2. If you’re not writing, where are you?
I’m watching The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones or I’m reading someone else’s brilliant book and getting jealous about it (Right now I’m giving John Green the stank eye). Or I could be pedestrian-hunting…

3. Did you always imagine being an author? What were your back-up plans? (And please include any extraordinary childhood dreams like a princess or professional cake sampler… or a mermaid.)Yes I did always want to be an author, ever since I read Anne of Green Gables, but I never thought I could do it. I really thought somehow that I would save the world in some epic way (from what, I’m not sure, but it felt like destiny when I was twelve). If the world didn’t need saving, then certainly Prince William and I would have a chance meeting and fall instantly in love and get married (though I do think Kate is handling that much better than I could have, so all is well). I also really really wanted to be an actress (and still secretly do).

4. I liked mermaid books before they were popular, so thanks for writing Of Poseidon for me! I really appreciate it. Other than wanting to please me… what made you choose mermaids and mythology? Okay, so I never actually read a mermaid book before I started to write one. I was looking for something to write besides vampires, weres, etc. Then I watched this documentary about how they’d found a giant squid—something scientists had long written off as myth, fishermen’s lore. Then I wondered what else could be out there that we don’t know about? Could mermaids exist? BTW, after doing so much research, I believe in my heart of hearts that mermaids *could* scientifically exist…

5. Tell us where “ohmysweetgoodness” comes from! I laughed every time I read that!
You know how you stub your toe and you almost cuss but then you save it like “Fuuuuuudge.”  Well, that’s what I did one day. Only, I was annoyed and it started out like, “Oh my _______” and it was going to end badly but I saved it before I shamed myself. Then I thought it was a cool word, so certainly if it was a cool word then Emma should say it…

6. Speaking of laughing, you are so funny! I giggled a lot throughout this book. Emma’s inner dialogue is hilarious. Is this a true testament to your personality? I just know we’d have fun sitting and talking.
Yes, I’m almost exactly like Emma in that regard. I apologize in advance for things that I may say or do on tour. I know at the different stops there will be readers that are more stoic, more serious, more respectable than I am and who like books that are serious stoic and serious and respectable.

They won’t “get” me and I just know there will be that awkward silence after my jokes, like when someone farts and everyone in the room absolutely knows who it was but no one will tell because you’re at a funeral, for crying out loud, and the dilemma isn’t only that it’s inappropriate to fart at a funeral but it may well be inappropriate to chastise someone who farts at a funeral because bigger things are going on at the moment and the person who farted might be having a hard time emotionally and it just kind of debuted physically. That kind of “OMG did that really just happen and how should I react?” awkward silence, you know?

7. Emma is incredibly quirky and a bit of an accident waiting to happen. And Galen is completely swoon-worthy. Oh, and Toraf. I LOVE him! Where do you find your inspiration for characters? They all seem so real.
I write characters that offset each other. You know, opposites attract and such. I really have always loved bickering couples, like Anne and Gilbert, Lizzy and Mr. Darcy, Scarlett and Rhett.

And I’m glad you love Toraf. He’s my favorite character, hands down. He’s incredibly fun to write because nothing is off limits with him. He’s simply capably of incomprehensible mischief.

8. If you were to write yourself into Of Poseidon, who would you be? An existing character, or would you write a new one for yourself?
I would write myself as that intelligent outsider who figures out that something is amiss and starts asking all the right questions and makes the other characters tell me what’s really going on—and I haven’t decided if they would trust me or if Rachel would have to off me…

9. Of Poseidon alternates back and forth between Emma and Galen’s perspectives. How was it taking on the story from Galen’s point of view? Did you find it challenging jumping into a guy’s head?
I don’t think it was challenging. I knew the story simply must be told this way. I even turned down an agent’s offer of rep because (not only because) he wanted me to remove Galen’s point of view and just go with Emma’s. Turns out I was right—Galen’s point of view seems to be the favorite one, out of the two.

10. You wrote some amazing underwater scenes. Your descriptions of the world down there are gorgeous. What kind of research did you do? Snorkeling? Scuba diving? Glass-bottom boats? Lots of The Little Mermaid? Haha. Or did you just pull this all out of your imagination?
There is really no way to explain myself other than this: I. Am. A. Nerd. I watch the heck out of some documentaries, and I must have recorded every episode of Blue Planet. I also did internet research, but a lot was imagined. Ooops?

11. What’s next? I hear there’s a sequel in the works! YAY! That cliffhanger nearly killed me. Can you tell us anything about it? What are your plans after that?
I can tell you that the Gift of Triton makes an appearance in the next one, in a big way.  After Of Triton is signed sealed delivered, I’m working on a top secret project I’m calling Nemesis at the moment and I lurve the idea but I’m not sure if I can pull it off just yet, so that’s all I really wanna say about it, in case I chicken out.

Thanks again for stopping by, Anna! I’m so excited for Of Triton, and am also quite curious about your top secret project after that! Everyone, go out and buy Of Poseidon right now! Or… try your luck at this awesome giveaway instead (offered by Anna and Macmillan Publishing). Either way, I hope you’ll love it as much as I did, and as much as I’m sure Anna loved writing it!

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Sound of the Heart by Genevieve Graham (Review & Guest Post)

Posted May 22, 2012 by Jana in Adult Fiction, Blog Tour, Book Review, Guest Post / 3 Comments

Sound of the Heart by Genevieve Graham (Review & Guest Post)Sound of the Heart by Genevieve Graham
Series: The MacDonnells #2
Also in this series: Under the Same Sky
Published by Berkley on May 1, 2012
Genres: Historical Romance, Romance
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
Source: Author
Amazon Add to Goodreads
4 Stars
Dougal MacDonnell, a fierce warrior from the Highlands of Scotland, is able to hear the thoughts of other men and dream how the future will unfold. Devastated by the loss of his family during the Battle of Culloden in 1746, he fosters a deep hatred for the English. But when Glenna, the love of his life and a Scottish outlaw, is captured and shipped overseas, Dougal is forced to join an English army made of vanquished Scots. Now fighting on the side of his sworn enemies, he embarks on a journey that will take him across the seas to the colonies. There he will risk everything for the chance to find his true love.

(Even though this is a companion novel, it can be read as a stand-alone. The first book is Dougal’s brother’s story.)

I read Genevieve’s Under the Same Sky and reviewed it over at The Broke and the Bookish last month, so I was excited when Genevieve contacted me and asked if I was interested in reading this companion novel. Under the Same Sky was a tricky read for me, as some of the subject matter was highly distressing, and my tender heart had a hard time reading the recounting of certain historical happenings, including rape, abuse, and war. I wrote to Genevieve about my struggles, and we began discussing history and how women were treated during the times this book covers. Genevieve is here today to talk about what she and I discussed (how researching opens up so many unknown truths), and you can find her guest post beneath my review of Sound of the Heart. Now, on to my review (which I will try to keep brief so this post does not turn into a HUGE read!)! I fear my review will be vague, as there are so many ways to include spoilery… but I will do my best to not spoil anything! As always, my main points are bolded. :)

1. I went into this book expecting a darker read, like Under the Same Sky. The covers of both books are rather deceptive, so don’t assume you’ll be getting a light, fluffy romance when you pick them up. Sound of the Heart is much lighter than Under the Same Sky, and I actually ended up liking it even more than I liked the first one. I rarely like sequels or companions as much as the first book, so I was pleasantly surprised at my reaction to this one.

2. Now, we’re still dealing with some heavy subject matter, it’s just spread more thinly throughout the book, plus there’s much less violence towards women, which is what I struggled with in book 1.

  • The bulk of the first part of the book tells us all about Dougal’s time being imprisoned as a POW after he survives the Battle of Culloden (which is actually told in great detail in Under the Same Sky). The struggles of life in prison during this time are told in great detail, and I felt so badly for Dougal and all the others with him. There was a lot of violence, and prisoners were killed or beaten for the smallest reasons.
  • Women were treated very poorly and we read some instances of rape and abuse. It’s much tamer and less detailed than in Under the Same Sky.

3. I really liked Dougal. You don’t learn much about him in the first book, but I liked him just as much as I liked his brother, Andrew in Under the Same Sky. We’re given another sexy Scottish Highlander with a cute accent and a sweet demeanor. He befriends and watches over two younger boys who are imprisoned with him, and I loved the tender bond the three formed. He sort of adopts them as his own brothers after his family died in the battle. The loyalty to his family was very touching. I love family guys. I also really liked his friend Joseph, who had a lot of personality and a sense of humor that lightened the mood during the dark times of the story.

4. Glenna is a very dynamic character, with a lot of secrets. I won’t tell you how she falls into Dougal’s life, because that’s a spoiler, but I really liked her. I appreciate the fact that Genevieve writes strong female characters. So many historical romances make women look like submissive, meek little chickens with no backbones or common sense. Glenna was SO strong, just like Maggie was in Under the Same Sky. She was thrown some major curve balls in life, but she’s still a sweet character with a lot of street smarts.

She is captured from her humble home with Dougal and shipped overseas, where she is sold into slavery. Hello? I had no idea white slavery existed during this time, nor did I know that Scottish men and women were essentially kidnapped and shipped to the Americas to serve as slaves or fight for the English Army. Her life as a servant starts out better than most, but then things go wrong and she is placed into a terrifying situation. She fights back, though, and I kept saying, “Yes! You go girl!” all throughout the book. I loved watching her grow. She also runs across some wonderful friends, and I enjoyed reading their stories as well. They all had such sweet personalities, even though their lives were far from pleasant.

5. The romance was really wonderful. Glenna and Dougal are adorable together! Sadly, a lot of this book is them trying to get back to one another once they are separated, but you can feel the longing they share. Their love keeps them alive, and I really enjoyed reading about a love with that kind of power.

6. Again, Genevieve does not disappoint with her writing style. It’s gorgeous. She has a way of packing you up and taking you to the settings in the book. She also has the power to make you feel what the characters are feeling. I know that’s why I struggled so much with Under the Same Sky, and why I ended up really enjoying both books. It’s because her writing is so powerful that it feels real. You’re sent on this roller coaster of emotions and feelings, and when the ride is over you’re as in love with the characters as they are with each other.

Overall, I’m so glad I read this book. I loved reading about Dougal and Glenna’s love story, and I enjoyed learning more about the history during this time in Scotland, England, and the American Colonies. I would recommend this to lovers of historical romance and historical fiction. Genevieve has a book 3 in the making, and I KNOW I want to read it! It tells the story of Adelaide, Maggie’s sister in Under the Same Sky. SO exciting! Hopefully Penguin picks it up, as I know it’ll be nothing short of amazing.

Genevieve Graham graduated from the University of Toronto in 1986 with a Bachelor of Music in Performance (playing the oboe). While on a ski vacation in Alberta, she met her future husband in a chairlift lineup and subsequently moved to Calgary to be with him. They have recently settled in a small, peaceful town in Nova Scotia with their two beautiful daughters. Writing became an essential part of Genevieve’s life a few years ago, when she began to write her debut novel, Under the Same Sky. The companion novel, Sound of the Heart, will be in stores May 1, 2012.

The Trouble with Research…
is that you find out stuff.

 
I write Historical Fiction, so that means there’s going to be a certain amount of research involved. When I started writing, I had no experience with researching, other than what I did eons ago in school, but I was excited about starting. My first book, “Under the Same Sky”, takes place in the 1700’s, a time of which I had no knowledge, other than what I had read in well-written historical fiction, like the “Outlander” series by Diana Gabaldon, and the “Into the Wilderness” series by Sara Donati. The time period sounded gritty and exciting and full of adventure. A perfect setting!

When I realized my hero’s name was Andrew MacDonnell, I enthusiastically went online and researched the MacDonnell clan tartan. When I got past all the advertisements (and pried my eyes off pictures of models and movie stars in kilts), I ran headlong into a discovery that made me shake my head with confusion. Did you know … It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that clans began to claim their own tartan? Until that time, the variation in tartans was a regional thing. The striped patterns were based on the dyes available in the region. Oh, and in the beginning I had no idea that the words ‘plaid’ and ‘tartan’ weren’t technically interchangeable. Maybe in North America they are, but in Scotland, a ‘plaid’ is a wool tartan blanket which the people slung over their shoulder.

For that first book, I also studied the Cherokee and other Native American tribes and absolutely loved researching them. I dug in deep, exploring the seven different clans within tribes, the animal totems, the beliefs after death, hunting rituals … and I ended up with about 50,000 extra words that had nothing to do with the story. They were pretty fascinating reading, but took the story completely off track. So I cut them and stored those chapters away for another time.

I’ve come to believe deeply in the importance of revealing truths in historical fiction. While I’m no expert, I know a lot of things now that I never knew before. For example, I was aware that it was tough to be a woman back then, but I had no idea just how bad it was. One in three women died in childbirth. One in three! Was every one of those babies fathered by a husband? No. Rape was a fairly common occurrence back then and since women had little protection and no rights, it was practically impossible to punish the perpetrator. Unwanted pregnancies were occasionally terminated by herbal concoctions or more brutal methods, but the mother rarely survived. If she did, it would be a miracle if she ever managed to bear another baby.

“Sound of the Heart” gives the reader a taste of prison life for battle captives in 1746. When the defeated Scottish warriors arrived at the prison, after walking three hours, were they fed? No. They were locked up for two days with no food and no medical aid. Did men die easily on the battlefield, succumbing to wounds with a final loving word whispered to their loves? Since pain relief was barely used and loved ones were often miles away, I’d say no.

Some authors research political aspects, society rules, formal issues. All are valid, important facts within historical fiction. I have chosen to follow a grittier path. My characters are every-man and every-woman, commoners who have never seen silk or pearls. Often, though, they have a little something “extra” (like psychic powers). I throw them into scenes they might not survive if it weren’t for their strength of character or something changing in the situation that frees them. Like my characters, I don’t know anything about the “regency” side of history. I only know about the often agonizingly painful realities of life back then.

“Sound of the Heart” also introduces readers to an ugly aspect of history that many of us (including me) otherwise wouldn’t know about: white slavery. Beginning in the 1600’s, hundreds of thousands of white slaves were taken to the colonies. They were treated as badly as their black counterparts, and often worse. They were usually less expensive, because they were constantly being replaced. After all, the colonies were a hot climate compared to overseas. Working plantation fields was far too much for them, and many died.

I know some people are put off by violence in historical fiction, and I’m sorry when my stories upset them. I salute those readers who battle through the difficult parts so they can get to the end. I was once accused of using rape as something of a plot vehicle, which actually left me slack-jawed. The thing is, just because I include these things in the stories doesn’t mean I make them up. I don’t. These are real situations. And just like white slavery today, it is important that we stop looking the other way. I refuse to sugar coat the truth, and I don’t pull punches. At the same time, I stay away from gratuitousness.

Okay. Hopping off my soapbox now.

I guess the moral for today is you never know what you’ll find when you start researching the past. But chances are, if you persevere and keep digging, you’ll come away with treasure.


A Hidden Fire by Elizabeth Hunter (Book Review)

Posted March 8, 2012 by Jana in Adult Fiction, Blog Tour, Book Review / 3 Comments

A Hidden Fire by Elizabeth Hunter (Book Review)A Hidden Fire by Elizabeth Hunter
Series: Elemental Mysteries #1
Published by Self on October 18, 2011
Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Format: eBook
Source: Publisher (Mail)
Amazon Add to Goodreads
3 Stars
"No secret stays hidden forever."

A phone call from an old friend sets Dr. Giovanni Vecchio back on the path of a mystery he'd abandoned years before. He never expected a young librarian could hold the key to the search, nor could he have expected the danger she would attract. Now he and Beatrice De Novo will follow a twisted maze that leads from the archives of a university library, through the fires of Renaissance Florence, and toward a confrontation they never could have predicted.

I was really excited to sign up for this book as part of the Elemental Mysteries Blog Tour, celebrating the third book’s release. The premise sounded pretty awesome. I loved the idea of the main character being a librarian, and there being such a focus on extremely old literature. And Giovanni is totally an Italian name, and combining that with the mention of Renaissance Florence, I was sold! Books and Italy. What more could I ask for? A Hidden Fire had its moments, but overall I was a little disappointed. It fell short of its potential, and I feel like it could have been so much better than it was.

1. The whole beginning is pretty mysterious. Beatrice is a librarian at the Houston University in the Special Collections reading room, picking up a new shift where she ends up spending time with Dr. Giovanni Vecchio, who is translating a very old document. He’s a unique person with a hidden past, and we go a while in the book before we find out who he is and why he’s connected to bunch of old literature. Beatrice is more to him than a librarian. Danger surrounds her, plus he’s developing feelings for her.

2. I liked the main characters. Beatrice is smart, shy, and bookish.She’s extremely level-headed, all things considered. I love her sarcasm and quick wit. I think we’d be friends. Giovanni is a sexy bad boy. He’s also very scholarly and is always reading or researching something. He’s also reclusive, with a very rich past that is coming back to haunt him. I loved the banter between the two of them. The sexual tension was definitely there. I just with they had done more with it.

3. The romance is kind of silly and unbelievable. You can tell Gio and Beatrice care about each other, but it’s weird. He treats her like a child he needs to protect, and she treats him like a knight in shining armor. They never really hash out their feelings or intentions. Sometimes they have to put on a steamy act in front of spectators, but then they avoid one another for quite a while after. They are always holding back, but never indicate to each other why. So they always appear to mad at the other, when in reality they are lusting after one another. It wasn’t really romantic to me. It was just frustrating and never really got resolved. I guess that’s book 2’s job.

4. The supporting characters were great. Gio’s butler, Caspar, is so sweet and grandfatherly, especially with Beatrice. He’s also very protective and caring towards Gio. He’s clearly part of the family. I love his cat, Doyle, as well. Caspar starts a cute little something up with B’s grandma, who is also a strong character with a lot of spunk. Gio has a friend named Carwyn, who is definitely my favorite character in this book. He’s a Welsh priest who has been around for quite a while, and has a lot of life experience. He’s funny, flirtatious, and becomes a great friend to Beatrice. He always seems to know how she’s thinking and feeling, and knows just what to say to put her mind at ease. I’m kind of envious of Beatrice. She has so many sweet men keeping an eye on her!

5. The settings were unique, and I liked them. I enjoyed all the library time, and it was fun to picture what everything looked like and smelled like. I love libraries! Gio’s house sounds pretty cool. We also get to explore Greece and Chile in this book, which was cool.

6. I laughed a lot. There was a lot of joking around, sarcastic remarks, flirtatious moments, and interesting tastes in clothing. The characters lovingly made fun of each other. It was refreshing, since the underlying story is a bit dark and dangerous.

7. I liked the incorporation of the elements (fire, earth, wind, and water). Each book in the series focuses on one, and this one obviously focused on fire. And I liked the paranormal elements. I’m not going to say what those are, for fear of spoiling things for you, but it’s an interesting twist.

8. Really, my only complaint is that some of the plot dragged on and on, and was rather repetitive. There was a lot of sitting around and talking, with not a lot of action until the last part of the book. This is a long book, yet the bulk of the story felt rushed at the end. Nothing was tied up for us.

I would recommend this to people who enjoy paranormal urban fantasies with a tiny bit of romance. I’m thinking book 2 will open things up a lot more, and I’m curious to see what happens next! Book 2 (This Same Earth) is already out, book 3 (The Force of the Wind) is out this month, and the concluding book (A Fall of Water) has a tentative release date in June of this year.

To visit more stops with reviews of books 2 and 3, interviews with the author and characters, book excerpts, and chances to win all three books, click here


On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves (Review & Intl Giveaway)

Posted March 5, 2012 by Jana in Adult Fiction, Blog Tour, Book Review, Giveaway / 16 Comments

On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves (Review & Intl Giveaway)On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves
Series: On the Island #1
Also in this series: Uncharted
Published by CreateSpace on October 11, 2010
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Contemporary Romance, Romance, Survival
Pages: 329
Format: eBook
Source: Author
Amazon Add to Goodreads
5 Stars
When thirty-year-old English teacher Anna Emerson is offered a job tutoring T.J. Callahan at his family's summer rental in the Maldives, she accepts without hesitation; a working vacation on a tropical island trumps the library any day. T.J. Callahan has no desire to leave town, not that anyone asked him. He's almost seventeen and if having cancer wasn't bad enough, now he has to spend his first summer in remission with his family - and a stack of overdue assignments - instead of his friends.

Anna and T.J. are en route to join T.J.'s family in the Maldives when the pilot of their seaplane suffers a fatal heart attack and crash-lands in the Indian Ocean. Adrift in shark-infested waters, their life jackets keep them afloat until they make it to the shore of an uninhabited island.

Now Anna and T.J. just want to survive and they must work together to obtain water, food, fire, and shelter. Their basic needs might be met but as the days turn to weeks, and then months, the castaways encounter plenty of other obstacles, including violent tropical storms, the many dangers lurking in the sea, and the possibility that T.J.'s cancer could return. As T.J. celebrates yet another birthday on the island, Anna begins to wonder if the biggest challenge of all might be living with a boy who is gradually becoming a man.

I was pretty leery of this book. A 33-year-old woman and a 17-year-old boy? I was worried it would be written in a tasteless way, or that it would seem creepy. I was also worried that this book would be as boring as the movie Castaway. Nothing against the movie, but only so much can happen on an island. Gilligan’s Island was entertaining, but it was because of all the shenanigans. I was worried this would be either boring or cheesy. It definitely was not either of those things. As always, my main points are bolded. :)

1. The age difference is not weird, nor is it a big deal. Nothing happens until TJ is almost 19, so don’t worry. He has been through and conquered cancer, and he’s surviving on an island. He is very mature and has a lot of life experience. You will not be weirded out by this concept. I’m mentioning this first because it was the first thing that scared me about this book. Haha.

2. I was hooked from the first page and read over half of the book in one sitting. The beginning is particularly intense, as the plane crash and the process of making it to shore is pretty crazy. The whole book is intense, to be honest. I mean, these two went through everything! Health issues, vicious wildlife, constant worry, depression, etc. I seriously was hooked. I kept saying to myself, “Just one more chapter. Then I’ll go to sleep.”

3. I really liked the two main characters. They strengthened each other and became very close. Anna is smart and caring. She was a mother figure to TJ until he grew up. TJ is strong and incredibly mature. He really takes care of Anna. Their relationship was really very sweet, as it formed from a bond that most people will never understand. I appreciated that they waited on being intimate until TJ was the proper age. If it had happened when they first crashed and he was 16, I would have probably quit reading. I’m not going to spoil anything for you, but let me just say that some of the biggest obstacles they dealt with were not on the island. But they stuck together and pulled through. I love a strong set of characters, and these are probably some of the strongest I’ve ever read about.

4. The narration alternates back and forth between the two characters, allowing us to read what’s going on through both their minds. I loved that.

5. The descriptions of the island and the weather were very detailed and well done. I felt like I was there. Also, the intense moments (like animal attacks) were so intense that I almost quit blinking. I loved how the author took me to the exact moment and dropped me in the middle of it.

6. Remember how I said, “Only so much can happen on an island?” I was wrong! I read through years of these two and their island happenings, and I didn’t get bored once. That takes extreme talent on the author’s part. When over half the book consists of two people, an island, and nature, you would think there’s not much to work with. Things could get boring and repetitive really fast. The conversations and critical events kept me wondering what was going to happen next, and I actually wished that more of the book took place on the island.

7. The writing is flawless. I can’t believe it’s Tracey’s first book! Really, it was beautiful.

8. This book pulled intense emotions out of me. I was scared for these two, and I felt the love they had for each other. Their story is very moving–how they relied so heavily on each other, how they could not think of losing one another, how as long as they were together they would be ok. I mean, they were each others’ reasons for surviving. Talk about intense emotion. If someone got sick or hurt, the other one immediately dreaded life. And I was there for the whole thing. I felt all of it, and it was powerful.

9. There were funny moments too, don’t get me wrong. I laughed at some of the things they said to each other. I laughed at the chicken named “Chicken” who they adopted as a pet. I mean, the little guy curled up in Anna’s lap! How whimsical! They played with dolphins in the lagoon almost every day. And before they acted upon it, the sexual tension and the things they said to each other were hilarious.

10. I appreciated the authenticity of the story. Tracey did not sugarcoat anything. She made things seem believable. I mean, if you’re stranded on an island for a few years, you’re going to deal with gross hygiene, bad diet, crummy weather, sickness, and other dangers. This could really happen, and I think that’s part of why I loved it so much.

11. Everything was resolved. Have you ever read a book and flipped out because the ending just sucked? This ending did not suck at all. I loved it. You will too.

Overall, I am so glad I took a leap of faith with this book. I loved it. The writing was amazing, the story inspiring, and the characters well-rounded and loveable. It’s during instances like this one when I realize how truly grateful I am to be a book blogger. I’m exposed to lesser-known novels all the time, and most of them (like this one) deserve much more recognition. It’s an honor to be able to help spread the word when a book is this good. I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good romance mixed with a ton of action, excitement, intrigue, and exotic places.

EDIT: I just noticed how many times I said “intense”. Oh. My. Gosh. 


a Rafflecopter giveaway

This tour runs through March 9th. To follow the other tour stops, which include author interviews, book excerpts, giveaways, and more reviews, click here.

Edit (June 13, 2012) – Tracey has announced on her blog, that Plume (an imprint of Penguin) bought On the Island, designed a new cover, and are publishing it! Her next novel was also bought up. She’s no longer a self-published author! I am SO excited for her, and so happy I was able to help get the word out about this book so many months ago. I love, LOVE this story and am SO excited about what’s in store for Tracey as a result!


Invisible by Jeanne Bannon (Book Excerpt and Giveaway)

Posted February 13, 2012 by Jana in Blog Tour, Book Excerpt, Giveaway, Young Adult / 8 Comments

Title: Invisible
Author: Jeanne Bannon
Release Date: September 7, 2011
Publisher: Solstice Publishing
Format: PDF e-book
Source: Free from the author for the blog tour.
Buy It: Amazon
Add It: Goodreads

Lola’s not pretty. Lola’s not popular. Lola wishes she could disappear … and then one day she does just that…

For seventeen-year-old Lola Savullo, life is a struggle. Born to funky parents who are more in than she could ever be, Lola’s dream of becoming a writer makes her an outsider even in her own home. Bullied and despised, Lola still has the support of her best pal Charlie and Grandma Rose.

Not only is she freakishly tall, Lola’s a big girl and when forced to wear a bathing suit at her summer job as a camp counselor, Lola’s only escape from deep embarrassment seems to be to literally vanish. Soon after, she discovers the roots of her new “ability”.

Slowly, with Charlie’s help, Lola learns to control the new super power. The possibilities are endless. Yet power can be abused, too…

Then, when tragedy strikes, Lola must summon her inner strength, both at home and at school. She has to stand up for herself, despite the temptations and possibilities of her newfound super power. 

Book Excerpt (Taken from the first chapter, so it’s spoiler free!):

Not only am I fat, I’m freakishly tall. God only knows why, since Mom is petite and Dad is on the short side. My older sister Eva is the spitting image of Mom, fair and fine boned. I take after Dad’s side, bulky, dark and thick. Dad says I must have gotten some of Uncle Sammy’s genes, the giant of the Savullo family, who tops out at 6ft 4 inches. Anyway, I’m sure you‘re getting a good mental picture right about now. 
My insides drop as if I placed a foot on a step that wasn’t there when I peer down at the coarse dark hair creeping from my calves to just past my knees, where it gradually peters out. Then I run a hand across the tops of my thighs. The triple bulge of my belly prevents me from a good look at my sorely neglected bikini area. Even in the blazing August sun, I wear baggy cotton Capri pants, never exposing more than an ankle. There’s never been a reason to shave. My eyes mist with tears, but I pinch them away. It’ll be hard enough to go out in public like this, but I won’t give them the satisfaction of seeing me cry. I lift my chin in resolve and open the door. 

The whistle blows, signalling the beginning of the session. Screams of delight fill the air, as the kids jump into the pool to find relief from the 90-degree heat. 

I fasten a towel around my waist as best I can. Towels never seem large enough to wrap completely and comfortably around the bulge of my stomach. To the pool I go, treading silently so as not to draw attention. 

“Where’s Lola?” Sonia, a fellow counselor, asks. 

At first I think she’s joking because I‘m right in front of her. I toss her an annoyed look and don’t bother to answer as I trudge past to the edge of the pool, where I pull off my towel and slip into the water.

 
“She’s probably taken off,” Jerod replies. He’s a year younger than I am, but looks older with his muscular build and chiseled jaw line. The girls love him. “I hope she doesn’t show,” he continues. “Who wants to see a hippo in a bathing suit anyway?”

Sonia laughs, a little too hard and places a hand on Jerod’s shoulder. 

Puzzlement and anger compete on my face. I’m standing no more than three feet away from them. I’m used to rude comments and I know what everyone thinks of me, but this is way beyond mean. The tears in my eyes spill down my cheeks and I slip under the water, hoping to wash away the evidence of my pain. Not that anyone would care, but crying could give them more ammunition; just another reason to taunt me. 

Kids bounce around me, laughing and playing. Justine stands like a sentinel, looking like a Bay Watch babe in her red suit, one hand gripping an emergency flotation device. Her steel blue eyes are focused on the activity in the pool. 

Jerod jumps in, nearly landing on my back. I barely have time to leap out of the way. My anger boils; blood rushes to my temples and pounds there, giving me an instant headache. I hurl myself at him, pushing with all my might, elbows aimed at his chest. I hit nothing but air and fly into the rough concrete wall of the pool, scraping a hole in my one piece and rubbing raw a patch of skin. Small blood pinpricks rise to the surface. 

“Hey!” I scream, bewildered. How’d he maneuver out of the way so fast? 

Jerod slips under the water and emerges at the other end of the pool in one long, slick glide. 

The steel in me comes up, anger replacing humiliation. I pull my bulk out of the water and march over to Justine. 

“Did you see what that asshole just did?” I bellow.

Justine brings the whistle that hangs from her neck to her lips and blows two sharp blasts, making my ears ring.

 
“Stop horsing around,” she calls to a group of boys, who offer sheepish grins and stop instantly. 

I step forward so she can see me. “Justine?” I reach to touch her shoulder but, impossibly, my hand falls through her. 

“Justine?” I call again, louder, my voice panic-laced. With both hands, I grab her, or try to. Again, it’s as if she’s not there. 

My mind is swept along in a current of anxiety. What’s happening? 

Then it hits me… it’s me who’s not there. 

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