Saturday, December 29, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥: Nette by Barbara Rayne

Nette
Barbara Rayne

Page Count: 158
Release Date: 21 March 2012
Publisher: CreateSpace (self-published)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!)

In a world where gender was distinguished by the eye color, blue for female and brown for male, she had the misfortune of being born as brown eyed girl. Being ugly and a freak to everyone was the least of her troubles. Immortal and destined to be a queen, her mere existence was a threat to the king. After everyone she loved was brutally murdered, she had no choice but to pursue the path she was destined. In a world that made it clear there was no place in it for her, immortal Nette will have to make room even if it means killing them all.

Review


Nette, whose biological makeup defies every rule of the norm, directly experienced the harshness of law and society since the day she was born. Her only crime is existing.

It isn't just her brown eyes that set her apart, however. She was born with great power, as a prophet stated, the power of immortality, whose purpose is to overrule the unjust King Garlid. Because of her differences, no one will accept her. And this, we readers learn, takes a turn for the worst on not only her self-esteem, but also on her morality. Innocent, adventurous Nette goes through hell and high water and soon transforms into a merciless, indestructible Queen.

The journey Nette goes on in order to fulfill her prophecy takes place in an ambitious fantastical world; the adventure is the perfect dangerous blend of suspense, betrayal, and companionship. I loved the plot Rayne creates, but the writing, not so much. The simple, first-person style reads almost in a formal fashion, except it uses contemporary diction. I wouldn't have minded the informal language, considering Nette takes place in the future, but I would have liked the style to match. There is absolutely no showing; the language is all telling—from Nette's irritatingly unworldly and unskilled point of view, at that. This stylistic flaw, along with the countless grammatical mistakes and typographical errors, made Nette a difficult read; I really had to work to comprehend it.

I do like the characters Rayne creates. King Raul, the love interest, in particular, was a pleasant character, though he isn't particularly deep. I wish the author would have elaborated upon the characters better. The good characters are likable and the bad characters dislikable, but that's about as far as characterization goes. Nothing from Nette will be haunting me tomorrow.

The theme of societal brutality and the effect it has on human compassion is especially strong, but again, I wish it had been analyzed more thoughtfully. The overall structure and flow of this book are kind of a mess, but I can tell it has its high points. Albeit, they're rather cloaked by the thick, awkward dialogue and impenetrable narration, but I promise they're there. With a bit of cleaning up, Nette might have potential to be a hit among dystopian thriller aficionados.

Pros


Interesting dystopian premise // Nice love story // Well-depicted characters; protagonists are perfectly lovable while antagonists are detestable // Doesn't lack action and gore // Feelings of frustration and injustice are portrayed well

Cons


Narration is off-key: passive and shows rather than tells // Tone is unfeeling and unmoving // Needs an editor badly // Characters are not explored deeply; I felt detached from them // Dialogue too stilted and actions too fantastical; I couldn't imagine any of this playing out in front of me

Love

"You lost your memory, so you don't know I can kill you with a single move, throw you on the floor..."
"I choose the second option."

Verdict


I didn't hate Nette, but I certainly didn't enjoy reading it either. The dystopian society Rayne immerses readers in is fascinating, and the characterization accurate, but stylistically, this one is terribly unfulfilling. There were aspects I really liked, such as the naturally flowing plot, but can't say I recommend it.

5 hearts: Doesn't particularly light any of my fires; I feel indifferent about this book. ♥♥♥♥♥

Friday, December 28, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Healer by J.L. Bowen

Healer
J.L. Bowen

Page Count: 289
Release Date: 13 April 2012
Publisher: Featherweight Press
Source: Complimentary copy provided by author, via Innovative Online Book Tours, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you both!)

Thirteen-year-old Armond Costa heals in three days, no matter what abuse his uncle and aunt inflict upon him. On his fourteenth birthday, he sprouts wings and discovers his aunt and uncle had lied to him. He's the lost Golden Demon's Healer. His father, King of the Golden Demons, insists he return with him and save his people from being persecuted by their mortal enemies, the Dark Demons. Now, Armond must choose between the Ellis brothers and seventeen-year-old Rusty Owens—the only family he's ever known—or condemn the Golden Demons to extinction.

Review


The eternal battle between Golden and Dark Demons comes to life beautifully in Bowen's paranormal young adult release. Armond's life has only ever involved pain—excruciating physical pain from his aunt and uncle, the two people who should have loved him most after the death of his parents, both of whom he has never known. He's secluded from the real world because he's different (or so his aunt and uncle say): no matter what kind of harm is inflicted upon him, he always, always heals. But it doesn't mean he doesn't feel pain. Broken bones and sawed-off limbs renew, but he still feels the pain... all of it.

When he turns fourteen, however, he learns just why he's been doomed to such a hideous life; it's because his "family" is hiding something from him. He is discovered by a mysterious, frightening clan, who announce Armond's true identity as the Healer of the Golden Demons (the good guys!) and introduce him to the world of Havenwood, where danger permeates the skies in constant threat of the Dark Demons' evil ways. 

This coming-of-age story is the perfect blend of danger (real blood, guts, and death, here... love it!), family values, and adventure. It's not clean and idealized; it's raw, horrific, and brutal, but that's what makes it so enjoyable. Armond must come to terms with his destiny—even if he can't tell truth from lies because he's constantly being betrayed—as well as his identity, and the whole journey is a glittering, satisfying experience.

The concept of healing, as well as the war between good and evil, is fascinating as well. The world Bowen creates is rich, vibrant, and highly unpredictable, and it's the kind of magical realm I would love to live in.

There are some parts that seem unrealistic to me, including the paranormal elements' exposure to the "real world". The way the public reacts to Armond's healing powers seems a bit stilted. Another thing that's a bit off-key is that once Armond enters Havenwood to stay with the Golden Demons, our world, or "reality," just seems to disappear. He doesn't go back, and he doesn't directly mention it either, which makes me think that Bowen should have tied up those loose ends somehow.

Some of Armond's interactions with new faces are a bit awkward too, but J.L. Bowen's writing style is mostly smooth and easy to follow. I didn't have to trudge through it at all—the story just moved along by itself! There's a bit of a contradiction to the book, though. Armond is fourteen in the progression of the novel, and he's often immature and inexperienced, which makes me want to recommend this one to younger readers (aged 11-14), but there is also some sexual, violent, language, and drug content that is obviously targeted for older readers (13-17). I'm torn between which age group I'd recommend it more to. Younger readers may be disturbed, while older readers may be irritated by the often childish voice. I honestly think it could satisfy both age groups, but you've been warned.

In terms of conventions, there are quite a few grammar and spelling mistakes, even though I had a finished copy... but I won't complain too much about that. With a little cleaning up and clearing up, I think we have a real winner with Healer.

Love

I had prayed that ... he'd been loved.

Pros


Flows smoothly // Absorbing, readable style // Breathtaking magical world created // Suspenseful // Easy to sympathize with characters // Good cast of characters // Perfectly gruesome // Story moves quickly // Fitting for young adult audience

Cons


Some awkward character encounters // Doesn't seem too realistic in contemporary setting // Should be targeted for younger readers because it often reads childishly; however, wouldn't be completely appropriate for them because of content // Frequent typos

Verdict


Lush and fast-paced, Healer follows the perilous fight between good and evil. This is not your mother's chaste children's novel; this is a suspenseful, shocking, and violent read that has deeper sentiments about love and identity as well. While younger readers may find Healer disturbing and older readers, a bit juvenile, it contains highly developed paranormal elements and true-to-life characters that will strike a chord with any age group. Very S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders meets Francine Pascal's Fearless meets Warner Brothers's Charmed.

8 hearts: An engaging read; highly recommended. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Interview and Giveaway with Chri from Ink Skies!

We've got a very special guest visiting Books à la Mode today. She's the co-owner of Ink Skies, the genius who helped design my revamped site, and one of the nicest people I've met on the blogosphere! Everyone, help me welcome Chri!

Introduce yourself, girlie!

Hey there :) I'm a high-school book blogger. I'm admittedly one of the quietest people you'll ever meet in real life, but I seem to be talkative enough online. And when I really get talking either online or in real life, I can ramble for hours.

I've always been an avid reader, and when there isn't a book in my hand there'll probably be an iPod or my tablet and laptop. Aside from reading, music and digital art are two of my other hobbies. I love earthy, autumn colors and pale, pastel colors. I love hoodies and jeans and fingerless gloves and beanie hats. I write poetry anonymously for my school magazine, and I play left-wing or defense for my school's field hockey team in the winter when they decide it's too close to Christmas and no one's going to bother buying school magazines when they can save up for presents and Christmas treats. And everyone calls me Chri.

You're superwoman! You make me feel like an underachiever ugh. I love your style, by the way! How would your friends describe you?

Ooh. We had to describe the person sitting next to us in class today in a maximum of ten words, and my best friend had to describe me—can I just steal her ten word description? xD Okay.

"Quiet, artsy, shy, nice, honest, disorganized, OCD, quiet... and quiet."

Bahahah kinda sounds like me... minus the two quiets LOL. Which sites do you run?

I co-blog with a friend, Meg, at Ink Skies—a tribute to Inkpop... any inkies out there?—and it's a place where we talk about out more-than-healthy bookish obsessions, gush over covers and color schemes and fonts, rant and rave about books we've read, and parade the books we wish we could read but that our meager high-school budgets won't allow for. Simply put, it's a book blog.

I also design blogs over at Painting Skies Designs. I design Blogger blogs, but my à la carte items (headers, banners, buttons, signatures, rating systems, etc.) can be purchased and used for blogs with blogs hosted on other sites as well. Hopefully you decide to stop on by for a peek? *bribes* I run custom and pre-made design giveaways often, too. xP

Oh, yes she does!!! Psssssst, readers! Stick around until the end and you'll see what I mean. Scratch what I said earlier. NOW you're making me feel like an underachiever, Chri. How did you come about blogging?

The long answer: "I got a Goodreads account first, wrote a couple crappy, never-to-see-the-light-again reviews for a while, and then I started clicking on all those bright, colorful graphics people add to the top or bottom of their posts. I was a blog lurker for a while before I plucked up the courage to make my own blog. And then after a few false starts and a couple bad experiences, here I am!"

Short and boring: "I just kind of fell into it."

How did you start designing? How did you become so good?!?!? (that last one's more out of my own curiosity, but please bear with me).

Aw, thanks :) Around the time I started my third book blog (first two times were false starts, and I deleted those blogs after a few weeks to retreat back into my lurker's cave), I got a little bored of searching through the same freebie templates all the time. And there's only so many free, book blog-style templates—after a while you notice that they start popping up on loads of blogs and it simply isn't unique and original to yours anymore. So, armed with meager Photoshop skills, I decided to search the all-knowing Google for some HTML tips and make my own design.

The first few were pretty bad, but I found a bunch of tutorials and studied a lot of my favorite blog designs, and I've gone a ways since then. I haven't had any web design training, and though I have had digital art and graphic design classes, I still have a long way to go before becoming, you know, an amazing blog designer, but blog designing's something I love doing. I started out wanting to make my own blog look nice, and now I want to do the same for others. I want to provide people with gorgeous, affordable designs, and so I set up my design blog in an attempt to try to do just that.

Don't worry about not being "amazing" because I guarantee you Painting Skies Designs is pretty pro. I'm serious, everyone. Chri's designs are maaaaahvelous! List your all-time favorite books (because just naming one is toRTURE) and tell us why you love them.

The Catastrophic History of You and Me by Jess Rothenberg: This book is beautiful, sweet, funny, heartbreaking, and full of surprise—right until the very end. What's there not to like?

Angelfall by Susan Ee: Nothing much to say except this? THIS is what the angels are. They kind of 'follow the myths' in a way that's completely original to the story. The post-apocalyptic world is horrifying, mesmerizing, and gritty. I'm in love with this one.

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma: For one, I'm in love with the writing and the flow of the words. I love how flawed and imperfect the characters are, and the way the bond between Ruby and Chloe's bond is portrayed—never through words, but just actions. And that's enough.

These are just off the top of my head, so I know that the instant this interview is posted, fifty million more titles are going to flood into my head and I'll bang my head agains my desk and wonder why I didn't remember this book and that book and that one amazing book. Happens all the time >___<

I trust your judgment and just added all of those to my never-ending to-read shelf. Why do I do this to myself??? What's the best part about blogging? The worst?

I think the best part is the people—everyone's really nice and supportive and enthusiastic. It's wonderful to be part of a community like this. The worst? The drama. Definitely the drama.

What else do you do when you aren't doing something blog-related?

I'd say sleeping, but lately school's been taking up so much of my time so unfortunately now I'd probably be studying. Or procrastinating by sleeping.

Sounds like my life, ha. What's the secret to being successful and staying sane as a blogger and designer?

Just knowing when enough is enough, and knowing what you're capable of doing and where your limits are. It's so easy to just completely immerse yourself into dozens of blog designs and book bloggy things (reviews, discussion posts, cover reveals, blog tours, etc.), but you can't simply do everything. So yep, the secret to being successful and staying sane would lie in knowing your limits and not overworking yourself.

Excellent advice that I stand by as well. Do any of your friends or family regularly read your content? If not, would you want them to?

GOSH NO.

Two for two! I would DIE if my family found mine... What are some tips you have for new bloggers—some things you wish you had known before you started blogging?

Take your time. Not everything's going to come to you overnight and, you know what? That other blog might be completely amazing and huge and everything you want yours to be, but it isn't your blog. Your blog can be that someday, but if you keep looking at other people's blog's and designs and trying to be like theirs, you're only going to end up looking like a replica of theirs. Focus on your own stuff and doing your own thing. Keep at your own pace. Everything'll work out if you do. Really.

Very, very wise. Is there anything you want to ask bloggers or readers?

Hm... Oh, here's one: what do you think of memes? How much is too much?

Where can readers keep up with you?


Giveaway


Thanks so much for joining us today, ma chérie! Readers, Chri has generously offered ONE superfreakingtastically lucky reader a blog makeover courtesy of Painting Skies Designs. If you want to see her magic in action, you can look through her portfolio here, or... just stay where you are! Books à la Mode is living, breathing proof of her wondrous talent. She took my site, which initially looked like this...
...and sculpted it with her flesh and blood and tears, to this:
I personally adore her minimalist style... it's classy, professional, easy to navigate, and a breath of fresh air!

So. Are you interested? To enter, leave a comment on this interview with your response to Chri's question: what do you think of memes? How much is too much? I personally am not a fan of memes (no surprise there—I complain about shameless posting just for comments and followers all the time). But I do have a (rather undeveloped) meme called Back to the Classics, which is a free no-deadline meme to talk about "classics" in the literary world.
Guess who designed the header? ;)

For additional entries, you can follow Chri's blogs via GFC, follow her on Twitter, friend/follow her on Goodreads, and Tweet about this awesome giveaway for the www to see and marvel at. Fill out the Rafflecopter form below to confirm all your entries:
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Rules and Disclosure:
Giveaway ends 11 January, 2013.
Open INTERNATIONALLY for bloggers who use the Blogger platform. Users of other platforms will receive a blog header, button, and theme consultation as a substitute. Woohooo!
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their prizes will be forfeited.
I am in no way responsible for the prize, only for selecting a winner.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Best of 2012 Giveaway Hop!


The Hop


The Best of 2012 Giveaway Hop, hosted by Kathy at I Am A Reader, Not A Writer, works like this: each participating blog hosts a giveaway and then we link up together allowing our followers to hop easily from one giveaway to another.  For followers, it means lots of chances to win free books. For blogs hosting giveaways, it means lots of new visitors and followers. It's a win-win! The Best of 2012 Giveaway Hop is scheduled from December 27th at 12.01 AM until December 31st at 11:59 PM (EST).


The Prizes


This hop will feature the best reads of 2012... one of mine (and now my all-time favorite!) is The Siren by Tiffany Reisz. If you haven't tried the The Original Sinners series yet, you are missing out! Read my (incredibly incoherent, blubbery, fangirly) review here, and my (equally illegible and pathetically geeky) review for the sequel, The Angel, here.
Notorious Nora Sutherlin is famous for her delicious works of erotica, each one more popular with readers than the last. But her latest manuscript is different—more serious, more personal—and she's sure it'll be her breakout book... if it ever sees the light of day.

Zachary Easton holds Nora's fate in his well-manicured hands. The demanding British editor agrees to handle the book on one condition: he wants complete control. Nora must rewrite the entire novel to his exacting standards—in six weeks—or it's no deal.

Nora's grueling writing sessions with Zach are draining... and shockingly arousing. And a dangerous former lover has her wondering which is more torturous—staying away from him... or returning to his bed?

Nora thought she knew everything about being pushed to your limits. But in a world where passion is pain, nothing is ever that simple.

I understand this book may not be for everybody. Even if you like erotica, you might end up hating this book because it's so, so tragic. That's what I love about it, though. So as a substitute, I'll leave another option open for another book I read this year, this time for my lit class: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. This one's an absolute classic!
They carried malaria tablets, love letters, 28-pound mine detectors, dope, illustrated bibles, each other. And if they made it home alive, they carried unrelenting images of a nightmarish war that history is only beginning to absorb. Since its first publication, The Things They Carried has become an unparalleled Vietnam testament, a classic work of American literature, and a profound study of men at war that illuminates the capacity, and the limits, of the human heart and soul.

Neither a novel nor a short story collection, it is an arc of fictional episodes, taking place in the childhoods of its characters, in the jungles of Vietnam and back home in America two decades later.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥: Bitten by Dan O'Brien and Giveaway!

Bitten (Lauren Westlake Mysteries #1)
Dan O'Brien

Page Count: 274
Release Date: 16 April, 2012
Publisher: self-published
Source: Complimentary copy provided by author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!)

A predator stalks a cold northern Minnesotan town. There is talk of wolves walking on two legs and attacking people in the deep woods. Lauren Westlake, resourceful and determined FBI Agent, has found a connection between the strange murders in the north and a case file almost a hundred years old. Traveling to the cold north, she begins an investigation that spirals deep into the darkness of mythology and nightmares. Filled with creatures of the night and an ancient romance, the revelation of who hunts beneath the moon is more grisly than anyone could have imagined.

Review


I reviewed O'Brien's The Journey back in July, and while it didn't exactly strike my fancy, I decided to give the author another try with this one. Bitten flows in a slightly different vein, with the same eerie glow, but a more developed plot, cast, and structure that made it way more enjoyable.

The victim toll of brutal, violent murders is rising in the previously quiet and uneventful town of Locke, Minnesota, and federal agent, Lauren Westlake, arrives, determined to find out who—or what—is behind the random slaughters. While she is unfamiliar with small, cold Locke, the town regulars are convinced that there has got to be something beyond government measure responsible for the uncorrelated events... a conviction Lauren, herself, soon painfully discovers.


As far as horror literature goes, O'Brien has a direct, unabashed writing style that is descriptive, shocking, and just detached enough to be highly appropriate for the content conveyed. It is, however, too choppy at times, and the author seems to have a bit of an aversion to contractions, which made Bitten overall a difficult read. Vocabulary- and structure-wise, the book is pretty minimalist, but because of the unclear and unkempt writing, you have to trudge through this one.

The characters are too disinterested and flat for me to have felt anything while reading. While there is a bit of romance, nothing really stirred inside of me because of how unfamiliar I was with the involved parties, even by the end of the book. The poor characterization certainly detracts from my enjoyment of the novel, but its mystery/thriller elements prove that it is primarily plot-driven, which makes up for lack of persona somewhat.

My biggest problem with this book is the stilted dialogue, which branches off of poor characterization and goes hand-in-hand with the contraction-less diction. If the way characters think and talk just doesn't seem realistic to me, there is a 100% chance I will pick it apart. Let me tell you: "I am not sure that it would be the best idea..." is a severely outdated, awkward, and yes, awkwardly outdated, way for anyone to speak in any modern era. Bitten is completely composed of sentences like that, which, if you're like me and enjoy REAL dialogue, may have you tearing your hair out by the roots after a while.

I'm not completely ripping Bitten apart, though. I was impressed with O'Brien's ability to carry out a dark, sensual undertone throughout the entire novel. I couldn't turn one page without a sense of foreboding, of unease, and that kind of effect on a reader is quite an achievement. The aspect of werewolves is fresh, too. Bitten does not have your typical romanticized shapeshifter/alpha-male hero; instead, we've got a creepy, gruesome, and completely uncensored monster roaming about—the original werewolf.

Love

"We let others complicate our lives. We choose to live that way. We choose to include people in our lives."

Pros


Hint of romance // Vividly and gruesomely descriptive // Dark, foreboding mood // Highly thrilling and shocking // Creative incorporation of werewolves

Cons


No contractions found anywhere // Very choppy, difficult style // Unsatisfying ending // Lots of typos // Stiff, unrealistic dialogue // Flat, shallow characters // Slow-moving

Verdict


Aside from the undeveloped cast of characters and disconnected style, Bitten is a promising story that will appeal to lovers of shapeshifters, literary horror—the good ol' blood and guts—and mystery. A decent read, Bitten is a werewolf novel with serious bite!

6 hearts: Satisfying for a first read, but I'm not going back. ♥♥♥♥♥♥

Giveaway!


Dan has generously offered one copy each of The Journey and Bitten for you pretty readers today. That's two winners total! To enter the giveaway, fill out the Rafflecopter form below:
a Rafflecopter giveaway
Rules and Disclosure:
Giveaway ends January 9th at 11.59 EST (your time).
Open to US residents only. Sorry, international!
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their prizes will be forfeited.
I am in no way responsible for the prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤ Plus, you get extra entries ;)
Good luck!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Snow by Kathryn Hewitt Promo and Giveaway!

Brought to you by Virtual Book Tour Café...

From WestBow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson...
How do you know, at fifteen, what love and affection really mean? Ruth learned all too soon that love is commitment, and affection has a price. But who will ultimately make the commitment, and who will pay the price? At fifteen, Ruth thought she had her life planned out. That is until she met Luke, a charming new cadet from the local military school. After entering into a seemingly harmless teenage romance, Luke's possessive attitude and subtle remarks begin to undermine Ruth's confidence, sending her into an emotional tailspin. A beautiful young girl is suddenly lost in a grown-up world, trying desperately to hang on to a love she thought would last forever. Shattered dreams and hopeless tears become the bricks that build walls around Ruth; yet just below her broken heart, a beautiful vessel is being formed. Join Ruth on her wedding day, five years later, as her childhood friend helps her journey back to face the demons of her past.

Snow is a fiction novel, based on true events, about the struggles of a teenage girl and the consequences of a devastating mistake. Whether readers are young adults, exploring their sexuality for the first time, or an older adult, struggling to understand their teenage daughter, everyone will have a character in which to relate.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Author: Michael Williams Guest and Giveaway!

Brought to you by First Rule Publicity...
Michael Williams

Vine: An Urban Legend

Page Count: 192
Genre: Mythic Fiction
Release Date: 28 March, 2012
Publisher: 
Blackwyrm Publishing

Amateur theatre director Stephen Thorne plots a sensational production of a Greek tragedy in order to ruffle feathers in the small city where he lives. Accompanied by an eccentric and fly-by-night cast and crew, he prepares for opening night, unaware that as he unleashes the play, he has drawn the attention of ancient and powerful forces.

Michael Williams’ Vine weds Greek Tragedy and urban legend with dangerous intoxication, as the drama rushes to its dark and inevitable conclusion.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Belonging by Robin Lee Hatcher

Belonging (Where the Heart Lives #1)
Robin Lee Hatcher

Page Count: 277
Release Date: 23 August 2011
Publisher: Zondervan
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!!)

Can two bitter pasts make one sweet future?

In the high desert town of Frenchman's Bluff, Idaho, Felicia Kristoffersen has set out to create a future for herself that is better than her painful past. Alone in the world with only her faith to sustain her, she must prove herself as this tiny community's new school teacher. She cannot, must not, fail. But, there are those who never wanted her there to begin with.

Five years after the death of his wife, local merchant Colin Murphy cares about just one thing: raising his daughter, Charity. Colin wants to give her the educational advantages he never had. The new schoolmarm's inexperience doesn't sit well with him, and if this teacher up and marries like the last one did, Charity's heart will be broken once again.

A woman who hasn't known love. A man who lost the love he had.

In the midst of the wide, sage-covered plains, each is about to discover that life's bitterest circumstances truly can work together for good.

Review


At ten, Felicia Brennan Kristofferson was orphaned; at twenty-six, she was orphaned for the second time. The deaths of her adoptive parents leaves her completely independent—save the malicious "cousin" who wants her to marry into the Kristofferson family to face the fate of inevitable domestic houselife—so the teaching job that brings her to Frenchman's Bluff, Idaho, is a haven—a godsend. 

The small, close-knit town welcomes Felicia with open arms, but there are a few who underestimate and actually disapprove of her position. Their suspicions are not without reason, however; the previous two schoolteachers each stayed less than one year each, before marrying off and ditching the children completely, so some parents are concerned she just may be taking advantage of the job, as the others did.

Felicia's incredible dedication to her career, her students, and to God, however, proves that she only has one motive to be in Frenchman's Bluff, and that is to serve the Lord and the children. Her heart contains nothing pureness, and maybe a few nostalgic bruises; she is determined to take this fresh start and make it right. I was amazed at how well and how deeply her character is explored. All of the characters are remarkably well-developed, secondary characters included. I loved the good guys and hated the bad; Hatcher makes it very easy to tap into the minds of each cast member, from the main character, to the antagonist, which I know is not an easy feat in and of itself.

The plot is tasteful and well-crafted, incorporating bits of Christian values smoothly. The storyline is not terribly exciting, but it's planned perfectly, and mighty clever. The development of Felicia's relationships with all the townspeople, as well as with Colin and Charity, is a real treat. While I did like how the inspirational messages weren't forced, I did feel sometimes the book was unreasonably preachy. Felicia silently prays or makes a plea to God at every ill thought and every remote turn in plan; not only is this slightly annoying, but it's also unnecessary. As a character, she's irritatingly sensitive; she tears up at every reminder of her past. I know it's sad, and I know she's a fragile woman, but that kind of behavior is girly (in a bad way) and weak. I would have liked to have seen more strength from Felicia—the kind of strength acquired over ten years, of overcoming the heartbreak of being torn apart from family at a young age. Colin's character is a bit more relatable; he too, has an upsetting past, but his safe, widowed, day-to-day life is his own way of recovery. His dedication to his daughter, especially, is incredibly real and hits close to home.

Stylistically, Hatcher is a gem. Her words flow smoothly and beautifully. The procession of the story moves seamlessly; I didn't have to plod through it at all! One thing that did irk me was the curtness of the dialogue: lots of one-worded responses from not just one, but all of the characters. Maybe this was the norm in 1897, but to me, it just sounds unwelcoming. The deep probing of—the scars, fears, and secrets of—each of the characters' minds makes up for it, though. I really have no complaints on how Hatcher chose to portray her characters fully.

I cannot confidently classify this as a romance novel. In the traditional sense, yes, it's a romance in that boy meets girl on the first page and boy gets girl by the last, but it's rather unorthodox. There is no attraction—in fact, there is unattraction—until about halfway throughout. Then small, totally non-sexual, tingly feelings rise in Colin and Felicia's stomachs whenever they see each other—more than a several times—and then they abruptly SPOILER get married and live happily ever after. I will say their relationship is complex, especially with Colin's initial reservations and Felicia's interaction with his young daughter, but it just didn't seem at all romantic to me. It bothered me that Colin's character is compromised when it is revealed that he never was in love with his wife. He loved her, of course, and is still grieving her death, but his marriage to her is described as "practical." I feel this is uncharacteristic and was only included so that his relationship could further with Felicia. Again, this makes the so-called romance unrealistic and a bit stilted. For a content advisory, there isn't one; the romance is 100% chaste (absolutely no sex, absolutely no physical interaction except at the end—in hindsight, this may be why I didn't enjoy it as much) because it sticks to traditional 19th century Christian values.

The power of staying faithful to God and leading life with a pure, wholesome outlook prove to be the key to happiness in Belonging. Through Felicia, readers understand and rejoice because, no matter what troubles and turmoils arise, God always saves and protects. Accidents will occur, plans will be ruined, and people will try to get in the way, but in the end, maintaining a loving, kind heart is what makes individuals truly belong.

Pros


Amazing character development // Easy, smooth flow to story; book moves and finishes quickly // Well-penned writing style // Colin and Felicia have a strong rapport, though not necessarily a romance // Strong morals on family and love // Believable situations and characters // Not too dense with historical information; fictional town and setting actually quite charming

Cons


Slightly preachy in religious message // Felicia is pathetic at times // Romance is poorly developed // Dialogue sometimes unrealistic and lacks emotion

Love

Kathleen could scarcely believe those words had come out of her mouth ... She must be losing her mind.

Or perhaps she was beginning to find it.

Verdict


Belonging is a heartwarming, clean, and gorgeously-crafted Christian historical that encompasses an absence—and a discovery—of belonging, a passion for God, and a huge misunderstanding, or rather: several small misunderstandings that constitute for one conflict of fate. By demonstrating the importance of determination, dedication, and faith, Belonging conveys the almighty power of love—for God, for family, and for oneself through one woman's search for a place to belong. The religious undertone is strong, and the characterization, stronger; Hatcher has succeeded in telling an inspirational, absorbing, and completely feel-good story. 

8 hearts: An engaging read; highly recommended. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Friday, December 21, 2012

Author: Bill Rolfe Guest Post and Giveaway!


From LTD Publications...
When success and even love are not enough, you need a miracle...

Daniel Clay has good looks, money, and a rising career as a New York investment advisor. Meanwhile, his personal life is barren of love and family. But when a distant relative dies and leaves him a house in England, Daniel embarks on a life-changing journey—toward love and his soul's awakening.

He meets and falls in love with Claire, a children's palliative care nurse. With her help, he opens his home and heart to comfort young patients in their final days. As Claire tends to the children in a beautiful glassed-in room overlooking the sea, Daniel prays for miracles. Just when his prayers are answered, a mysterious illness strikes him down and relentlessly drains away his life. With no hope for a cure, Daniel holds fast to a deep secret that he can never reveal. And now, he needs a miracle of his own.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mid-Winters Eve Giveaway Hop 2012!

The Hop


The Mid-Winter's Eve Giveaway Hop, hosted by Kathy at I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and Oasis for YA, works like this: each participating blog hosts a giveaway and then we link up together allowing our followers to hop easily from one giveaway to another.  For followers, it means lots of chances to win free books. For blogs hosting giveaways, it means lots of new visitors and followers. It's a win-win! The Mid-Winter's Eve Giveaway Hop is scheduled from December 21st at 12.01 AM until December 27th at 11:59 PM (EST).


The Prizes

I've got a prize package of FIVE lovely books by five fabulous up-and-coming authors for this giveaway, courtesy of the lovely JKS Communications. One lucky US winner will be the owner of these brand new spankin' books:

In Ticket to Hollywood, the second of 11 comic novels about Denver cab driver Brendan Murphy, a.k.a “Murph,” a young woman on the way to a showing of The Great Gatsby leaves her purse behind in Murph’s Rocky Mountain Taxi Cab #127—and then goes missing. Murph finds himself confronted by police and loses his job. He becomes entangled with filmmakers and makes his way to Los Angeles in search of the lost woman and in desperate need to restore his reputation and regain normalcy, which in Murph’s case means doing as little as possible.

Fifteen-year-old Albert has just received an invitation that could transform his disappointing life completely—a chance to belong to an advanced and hidden society that only reveals itself to a select few.

Immersed in a new world of mind-boggling technology and intriguing peers, Albert will overcome his fears enough to ignore a few suspicious details. But soon he'll find his family dragged to the center of a scandal that threatens to tear them apart and erase their very identities.

A conflicted Albert must find the strength to challenge authority by relying on his newfound allies and gift for Revelation.

Prepare for adventure, humor and suspense in this fast-paced tale of a “normal” family striving for their place in a “perfect” world.


Caitlyn is a telepath in a world where having any Paranormal power is illegal. Caitlyn is on the run from government troopers, who can enslave, torture, or even kill her, or make her hunt other Paranormals. When Caitlyn settles down in a city, she falls for Alex, a Normal (someone without Paranormal powers), which is dangerous because he can turn her in. And she discovers renegade Paranormals who want to destroy all Normals. Caitlyn must decide whether she's going to stay in hiding to protect herself, or take a stand to save the world.


Set in the mysterious world of Sagaria, this enchanting tale of adventure and friendship will charm teens and adults alike, and is the latest novel in the Sagaria series. Young Sagandran Sacks enters Sagaria in search of his missing grandfather, and soon finds himself on a quest to save not just Sagaria but two other worlds—the Shadow World and Earthworld—from the evil Shadow Master.

It's something all pirates are taught when they're very young, but too many forget: never get on the wrong side of a librarian. Especially if the librarian is a lemming Sylvester Lemmington used to read about cannibals, impenetrable jungles, lethal carnivores, mysterious fortune-teller, voodoo magic, cutthroat pirates, shipwrecks, mutinies, spaceships and much else in his books, but he never thought he'd encounter them for real. Can Sylvester save his sweetheart, Viola, her tough-as-nails mom and the other friends he's acquired along the way? Can he find long-lost father, rescue his hometown of Foxglove from the murderous rule of its ruthless mayor and discover true happiness? Oh, did we mention that Sylvester has mistakenly received the most sought after treasure map ever? This means he also has to escape from the cruelest and craziest pirate captain who ever sailed the seas of Sagaria—the horrifying Cap'n Terrigan Rustbane who will stop at nothing to get his map back. A map that leads to a treasure beyond the wildest dreams of avarice. It's kind of a tall order, but then, Sylvester is a librarian... and a lemming.

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Anathema by Megg Jensen

Anathema (Cloud Prophet Trilogy #1)
Megg Jensen

Page Count: 185
Release Date: 18 April, 2012 (newest edition)
Publisher: Dark Side Publishing (self-published)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by author, via Romancing the Book, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you both!)

Forget prophecy. Make your own destiny.
Sheltered from the outside world with no hope for escape, slave girl Reychel dreads her fifteenth birthday—when her master’s symbol is burned on the back of her bald scalp. Her best friend disappears the night before, leaving her to face the branding ceremony alone. She soon discovers nothing is as it seems when people desperate for freedom beg for Reychel's help.

Can Reychel learn to believe in herself in time?

Review


Megg Jensen triggers readers unto a dark, deceptive journey into the fantastical world of Keree in her exciting young adult debut, Anathema. Forbidden by her master, King Kandek, to go outdoors or even near windows without his direct supervision, slave girl Reychel starts off terribly naïve and terribly sheltered. Slave life is all she has ever known, and her impending fifteenth birthday—the day she will be branded like an animal with Kandek's emblem—will mark her serving status officially. On the morning of, however, her best friend, Ivy, suddenly disappears, which twists every ounce of confidence she had into turmoil. For the first time, Reychel is completely alone, and she must face the excruciating pain and humiliation of the branding ceremony by herself.

The day of her fifteenth brings about stranger extremities, including a shady offer to be snuck away from Kandek's authoritarian rule. Once she flees from Kandek, however, she discovers everything in her life has been a lie, and realizes freedom does not necessarily come with escape from the kingdom. In order to fulfill a prophecy—that still doesn't seem completely legitimate—and save the innocents of Keree, Reychel must come to terms with her identity and learn who to trust—but more importantly, who not to.

I really enjoyed this thrilling, eventful story about manipulation, deceit, and true friendship. Reychel's voice as a young slave girl is very strong, thanks to Jensen's fast-paced, unrestricted style. While not masterful in tone, Jensen is swift, smooth, and gets the point across, which is all I'd ever ask for to begin with. The plot moves very quickly—I finished the book before I even realized!—and the concept of the slave trade is compelling as well. I love the magical elements too—lots of powers, such as telekinesis and soothsaying, going on. 

No event is ever predictable in Anathema, except of course, the ending. I was disappointed by it because of how thrilling of a ride the rest of the book was in comparison. There's also a touch of romance in this one, but it's very plain, rather boring, and again, pretty predictable. The moment we are introduced to the hero, we know he will be the heroine's love interest, which is honestly not exciting. I think Anathema could have done fine without the so-called romance.

In terms of plot, there is continuous action and depth, but with characters, there is much lacking. There are way too many characters introduced in the progress of the book, but none of them are actually deeply probed, Reychel included. Even with her first-person narration, I feel like I still don't know her well, and felt no sympathy for her by the time I closed the book. Jensen does a fabulous job at making her characters likable or dislikable, depending on their roles, but none of them really pop up from the pages. This weak characterization distinctly affects Reychel's portrayal, which I didn't care for. The author tries very hard to depict her as noble, brave, and the "kind" heroine, but I just didn't click with her; there's something missing from her personality, which just doesn't make her seem appealing. Ditto with the supporting characters, except I didn't mind not liking them; I just would have liked to see stronger characterization from the narrator, at least.

Anathema is very chaste. The language is mild and the romance, even milder (SPOILER: absolutely no sex (booo!); the furthest the romance blooms, is one kiss). There are some violent scenes, but they certainly won't be scarring anybody anytime soon. It isn't the mild content that makes me see it this way; rather, it's the rather childish outcomes and immature characters. Like I've mentioned, the characters, including our protagonist, are underdeveloped, which makes them seem very foolish and juvenile at times. The plot does have its dangerous, deviant moments, but overall lots of scenarios or difficult to buy, with ideal results... very happy-go-lucky, which may annoy more mature readers. Considering the type of edgy young adult fiction written today, I would suggest this one for younger teenagers, maybe of ages 11-15. 

Love

"Sounds easy enough." Tania snapped her fingers. "Hard would have been fine too."

Pros


Twists and turns are shocking // Plenty of secrets // Breathtaking climax // Heart-pounding mystery and suspense // Great young adult voice // Fast-paced plot // So much going on! // Enchanting magical elements // New concept of fantastical slave trade // Lovable (or equally heinous unlovable) supporting characters

Cons


Too chaste // Unrealistic situations // Unexplored characters; too many are introduced at once, but not really probed // Reychel, protagonist, while valiant, is unlikable // Unrealistic romance aspect that should have been left out // Overall very idealized; many outcomes are just best case scenario, rather than believable // Writing style isn't anything fancy // Stiff dialogue

Verdict


Anathema launches readers into a rich, intoxicating world full of magic and beauty, but also of injustice, deception, and lies. Overall very chaste in tone, but still containing glittering dark moments, this fresh fantasy novel is achieved in plot, but needs some attention on characters and character interaction. I enjoyed Anathema a lot, and recommended it for younger teens in for an electrifying, complex read.

8 hearts: An engaging read; highly recommended. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥: Anthology I: The Other Side by Hamidah Gul

Anthology I: The Other Side
Hamidah Gul

Page Count: 121
Release Date: 9 August 2012
Publisher: Lulu (self-published)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!)

A collection of stories about things that go bump in the night. Stories about the end of the world, what happens when your wishes come true, and when your emotions become your darkest enemy.

1. "The Suicide Case"—A story about how three lives are intertwined to balance the scales between good and evil.

2. "Come Home with Me"—Never invite her to come home with you. She will never leave till you are dead.

3. "The Other Side"—This story is written in the point of view of one man who witnesses the end of the world.

4. "Mission of Mercy"—This story is written in the point of view of the one who will end the world. This story is linked to The Other Side.

5. "The Best Friend"—Ever wondered what your best friend is thinking when she is smiling at you?

6. "The Lonely Heart"—A young man ponders the end of his life after being rejected by society and family but not everything is what it seems.

7. "Mary had a Little Lamb"—A young woman who receives a disturbing prophecy that someone she loves will end her life and the desperate measures she takes to keep that from happening.

8. "Mother and the Birds"—Flash fiction of what a mother wants her son to learn.

9. "The Death Star"—A story in the voice of a young star looking for his purpose in space and finally finding it.

10. "Children of the Mist"—Wishes do come true but at what expense? Five young children were given their dreams and now the time has come for them to make a choice whether they want to keep their dreams.

Review


Gul creatively captures the importance of perspective in fiction and in reality because, as we all know: there are two sides to every story... oftentimes, there are even more. It's difficult to sympathize with the enemy, the side we never consider, or the random passersby in a catastrophic incident, but in the balance of things, their stories matter just as much as the main point of view does. In The Other Side, readers delve into the minds of murderers, residents of nature, suicide victims, monsters, aliens, ghosts, both predator and prey, as well as destruction incarnate; the minds of the inanimate and insane that we'd never, ever imagine on our own.

The blurry issue of perception intrigues me greatly, which is why I think Gul hit home with the concept of writing from the ill-exposed "other side." However, there are many areas where this book is lacking, one being the grammar. I can excuse typography errors in a book (even big-house publishers' editors slip past a few misspellings and punctuation mistakes here and there), but poor grammar—especially when it's recurring—docks points overall because it detracts from reading flow as a whole. Gul seems to have trouble distinguishing between the past and present tenses, as well as between active and passive verbs. I expect these writing conventions to be followed in a published work; even if the author's first language is not English, there should have been an editor involved before marketing The Other Side. Overall, it made the voice very stiff and awkward. The anthology itself is very short, with easily manageable short stories, but because of the poor diction, I had some difficulty with it.

Here are my mini reviews for each of the stories in order of which they appear in the collection:

"Come Home With Me": Short and sweet story about soul-stealing spirits, their lure, and their resulting destruction. Chilling, deeply disturbing, and only lasts for a flash before it's over. One of my favorites!

"The Other Side": The human perspective of the apocalypse. Interesting idea, but unnecessarily lengthy and detailed. I had trouble following after the first few pages, but do understand the overall plot thanks to the followup story from a different point of view...

"Mission of Mercy": Fabulous retelling of "The Other Side" but from the aliens' point of view. Raises the perpetually spine-tingling question of what if? and will make readers double-take on the implications of unknown sides of a story. Moving, well-written, and much clearer in structure than the previous story.

"The Best Friend": A brief, surprising, and cheeky piece of flash fiction. I loved the twist in the end, as well as the author's amusing insinuations regarding a man's best friend.

"The Lonely Heart": Rich in language and poignant in message, this story details on a neglected son's unwillingness to hold on and his hardworking mother's misunderstanding of the world. Depressing tone with literary merit.

"Mary Had a Little Lamb": One of the more gruesome, more horrific stories in the collection. Very intense, up to the point where I thought it was rather melodramatic, but it's still an eerie read that teaches you never to forget those you love... because they just might kill you in the end.

"Mother and the Birds": The shortest, but most powerful story in the book that places readers in the minds and hearts of a particular animal of nature. We as humans may not understand nature, but this extended metaphor will tragically demonstrate what it is that sets us apart from it.

"Children of the Mist": Another compelling idea for a story, involving another hypothetical situation that constantly asks what if? We all have wishes, but what if they actually came true? "Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it"—this lesson, our protagonists painfully and devastatingly learn.

"The Suicide Case": I didn't really like this one because I don't fully understand it. It has shifting perspectives involving a several deaths and a resonating message about the importance of life, but it just didn't stick with me.

Love

You close your eyes to the ugliness of the world, and you revel in the silence that slumber brings as you tumble into serenity.

Pros


Fascinating concept regarding perspective play // Straightforward voice // Spine-chilling // Variety of stories // Short, quick reads // Pocket-sized book

Cons


Grammar errors, rather than typos; in desperate need of revision and editing  // Some stories difficult to make sense of // Overall awkward in tone

Verdict


The Other Side is a groundbreaking, spellbinding collection of short stories that goes where no book has gone before by probing the darkest recesses of the "other" minds. While I didn't care for the frequent grammatical errors because they made the narrative tone choppy and awkward, the concept is novel, invigorating, and refreshing, so I do recommend you give it a try.

6 hearts: Satisfying for a first read, but I'm not going back. ♥♥♥♥♥♥