Sunday, April 29, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥: Lost in Italy by Stacey Joy Netzel

Release Date: October 25th, 2011
Publisher: CreateSpace (self-published)
Page Count: 345
Source: Complimentary copy provided by author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!)

Life is a little different unscripted...

Halli Sanders spent two years planning the trip of a lifetime to Italy. Her itinerary did not include being stranded by her siblings, kidnapped by a sexy American movie star, dodging bullets, or fleeing criminals in a car chase around Lake Como.

Trent Tomlin put his movie career on hold to investigate his brother's murder-ruled-suicide at his Italian villa. He's closing in on the suspects when Halli unwittingly films the murder of the retired cop helping him. The killers will stop at nothing to get the evidence—including holding Halli's family as collateral.

Thrust into the role of real-life hero, Trent finds himself falling for the Plaine Jane whose beauty blossoms with every challenge they face. But can he keep the evidence out of the wrong hands and get justice for his brother without betraying Halli and her family?
It's every girl's fantasy to go to a foreign country—one as dazzling and romantic like Italy, at that—and fall in love with a stranger. It's every girl's fantasy to be that one girl for an overrated, over-hotpants movie star, the one that he falls for without knowing it, and the one that's hard to get. Lost in Italy combines these two scenarios to make up Halli and Trent's story.

In that respect (meaning, regarding plot), I feel this novel is a bit farfetched. The situation just seems highly unlikely: first, that Halli would just coincidentally run into Trent Tomlin, who's apparently an even bigger deal than Tom Cruise, and second, that he would fall for her "plain Jane"ness. It is extraordinarily rare for men to go after the plain type. Maybe Halli is different in that she doesn't throw herself on him at their first meeting, but I feel there's nothing that marvelous about her that would make a guy like Trent fall for her.

I'm not saying I don't like her character, though. She's a strong, stubborn, and determined member of Lost in Italy's cast, and I do have a sense of respect for her. I just think Netzel does a poor job convincing me that Trent's affections for her are plausible. They're genuine, all right; you can see it in Trent and Halli's interactions that he really cares and that deep down, she cares as well. However, it's just the synopsis itself that has me doubtful.

The action seems a little forced. Don't get me wrong, the aspect of danger and the thrill is adrenaline-pumping, but there are places I felt were a little weak in the rush. The situation seems more riveting than the actual action; the situation, meaning, a murder caught on camera and the convicts who will go to every length to destroy the evidence.

One thing I did enjoy was how there are secondary plots outside of Trent and Halli's romance (or rather, Trent's doggish pursuit of Halli, considering she doesn't really budge for him until the last quarter of the book). There's a steamy forbidden attraction involving the enemy, someone on the side of Halli's predators, and of course, the entire blackmail/ransom story itself. Netzel's style is clear and to-the-point, which makes Lost in Italy a fast read, but not a very fascinating one.

On another note, something that is pretty exciting is that I'm quoted in the book! A portion of my review for Shattered Trust made it to her review pages in the back:
Yippee!! And on the back cover too!!!
What an honor to be featured in a publication.

As much as I love the cover ;) I do have to say I'm disappointed with Lost in Italy, considering how much I enjoyed her other novel. This book just didn't do Netzel justice; I feel it isn't an accurate representation of her (usual) work. Maybe it's the improbable storyline, or maybe it's the noticeably flavorless writing style; nevertheless, I can't really gush about this one.

Stephanie Loves: "'And how about dessert?'
The moment the words left his mouth, he could've kicked himself for not keeping the question to himself. In the close confines of the boat, with her recently showered fresh scent lingering in the air like it had in the car, his mind immediately flashed back to the scorching kiss at the Villa Melzi that morning. The one at Simone's had been nice, too, but it'd ended badly—how could it not with a gun involved?—and, that one certainly didn't make him crave a long, slow, hot dessert like the one in the garden did. His mouth actually watered as he fiddled with the camera in his hands.
'Sponge cake with fresh fruit and cream.'
He made a noncommittal noise, still vying for control over his over-imaginative mind.
'You want something else?'
She was bent over, digging pots and pans and a cutting board from his small cupboards. He eyed her tempting curves and said, 'Nothing you'd go for.'
— whooooooo-ee! This was sizzling.

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

Friday, April 20, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Undead Much? by Stacey Jay

Undead Much? (Megan Berry #2)
Stacey Jay

Release Date: January 21st, 2010
Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin)
Page Count: 306
Source: Complimentary copy received through LibraryThing Member Giveaways in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!)

Q: How many guys does it take to make your boyfriend wild with jealousy?
A: Only one, if he's UNDEAD.

Megan Berry had a perfectly average new-sundress-and-boy-obsessed life—until her power to settle the Undead returned. Oh, and then her best friend tried to kill her—and ruin homecoming—with a bunch of black magically raised zombies. At least she got a spot on the pom squad and a smokin' boyfriend (Ethan). But now Megan is in deep fertilizer all over again. Why? Well, let's see...

  • Feral new super-strong zombies? Check.
  • Cheerleader vs. pom squad turf war threatening half time as they know it? Check.
  • An Undead psychic hottie (Cliff) who's predicting a zombie apocalypse — and doing his best to tempt Megan away from Ethan? Yum. I mean, Check.
  • Earth-shattering secrets that could land Megan in Settler prison for life? Um... It wasn't me!!!
Everyone thinks Megan's at fault for the new uber-zombie uprising. Looks like she'll need the help of both Cliff and Ethan if she's going to prove her innocence before it's too late.
What Stephanie Thinks: Vampires and werewolves are overrated in the Young Adult paranormal scene, so it was really refreshing to be able to read a novel about, not only zombies, but zombie slayers, in Undead Much?. The second installment in Megan Berry's dedicated, dangerous, and literally deadly misadventures is one you don't want to miss. Both Jay's easy, entertaining voice, and the multiple dilemmas Megan faces in the life she could only dream was normal, will appeal to all lovers of the genre.

First and foremost, I find this an excellent example of paranormal for teens. Megan is totally kick-ass and gets her job done right—though the Zombie Settler council suspects her of dark magic that she isn't even channelling—but she also remains reserved about it—adolescent maturity at its highest—and has the exact same problems most non-Settler teenage girls have in their lives. As a Settler, her job is to use her powers to return the raised dead back to their graves and seal them in forever. However, she isn't just another Settler; she's one with massive powers that could, if used for the wrong purposes, destroy both her, and the entire magical community as well.

Recently however, her powers have been ineffective in Settling zombies—and they've even failed her a few times during zombie attacks. With powers as immense as hers, she used to be unbeatable, but now, she's a bit disappointed. The worst part is that the Council, the authority, thinks SHE'S the one resurrecting the freakishly strong zombies. She needs to prove her innocence, as well as explain why she, the only one with enough power to even do such a thing, is the one who's in the most danger of all.

This book is also a romance, one I think teenagers will swoon over. The love triangle created between her, her extremely hot and understanding boyfriend, Ethan, and a cute but mysteriously human-like zombie, Cliff, is very pure in relationship terms, yet the tensions sizzle on each page. Megan struggles with regular girl problems—such as dealing with the discomfort of going to second base—and these, alongside her mission to prove the Council wrong, as well as embark on an unwelcome path to discover her own identity, makes Undead Much? an engrossing and, for me, addicting read.

My only complaint is sometimes Megan's problems seem really trivial; she makes mountains out of molehills often. Perhaps Jay was just trying to convey Meg's personality in that way, but it's hard to sympathize with a protagonist and narrator who nags and acts like a four-year-old sometimes. Other than that, I think Undead Much? is a highly successful novel that dignifies and embraces the Young Adult genre by incorporating adventurous, romantic, and moral anecdotes to satisfy readers in every way. I definitely am looking forward to the sequel.

Stephanie Loves: "'I don't want you to ruin your chances to do something you love.'"

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

Thursday, April 19, 2012

❤author: Dave Becker Interview and Giveaway!

❤ I'm thrilled to welcome author, Dave Becker, to the blog today. Welcome to ¡Miraculous!, Dave! Will you please share a short bio with us?

Dave Becker has spent the past 20 years lying to people for a living. Fiction seemed like the next logical step. The Faustian Host is his first novel.

Congrats on the release! Tell us little bit about your debut.

Plymouth Rock is bleeding. Day has turned to night. Hundred-pound hailstones level buildings. The small town of Clement seems cursed, and the residents know who's to blame: the new kid, Tony Marino.

After losing his family and his home, 14-year-old Tony is forced to move from Florida to Massachusetts to attend Kalos Academy, an unconventional school for gifted children. Strange things begin to happen the day he arrives, and soon stories of plagues, monsters, and mystical objects surround him. Refusing to believe superstitions, Tony struggles to explain the occurrences logically, until he comes face to face with a satanic cult determined to bring about the end of the world.

What inspired you to write it and then how did you get published? Tell us your call story.

The Faustian Host is actually my third novel, but the first to be published. I've spent the past ten years trying to pitch several novels, screenplays, short stories, dirty jokes, etc. with no success. After several failed attempts, I decided to try my hand at a young adult novel - something my kids might want to read.

I first pitched The Faustian Host to literary agents, and immediately there was a different reaction to this book. Within a few days, I received more requests for the manuscript than all my previous attempts combined. Unfortunately, none offered representation.

At the encouragement of an author friend of mine, I decided to query major publishers directly. Despite strict policies not to accept any materials directly from authors, within 24 hours, three of the top six publishers in the world asked for the manuscript. That's when I knew I had a story that was definitely marketable. But like the agents, none of the editors offered a contract (technically, Random House and Scholastic are still considering it, but it's been months since I last heard from them).

Finally, my wife suggested something I'd toyed with for years: self-publishing. I'm a graphic designer, web programmer, copywriter, and marketing consultant by trade, so I just happened to possess all the skills and experience necessary to pull it off. I published The Faustian Host in March 2012 for Kindle and Nook, and it should be available for iBooks as well.

So I received some incredible validation from major publishers (Little Brown actually stated that they never accept unagented submissions, but they really wanted to read The Faustian Host but I never got "the call." I'll settle for the novel gaining in popularity and selling well. At least I got the exact cover and design for the book I always envisioned.

 How did you arrive at writing your particular genre? Is there any other genre you'd like to tackle in the future?

I've been a youth leader at my church for over 20 years, so I've developed a genuine love and admiration for teens. Since I communicate regularly with them, I felt I had a knack for writing young adult fiction, and figured it was worth a shot. I've also written adult novels, and have a psychological thriller entitled Mindfront that will be available in November.

❤ Looking forward to that. How much of your actual life gets written into your fictional stories?

Quite a bit in this one. I was part of the gifted program as a child, which shaped the entire structure of the fictional school, Kalos Academy, in the novel. The kids in The Faustian Host adopt an Ethiopian village, which is exactly what my church did several years ago, and I've been to the village twice to teach English, provide AIDS medication, and distribute food and vitamins. There's also a fight scene where the protagonist battles a school bully with "swords" which are simply PVC pipes wrapped in electrical tape. Sounds strange, but I engaged in the very same activity with a group of slightly brain-damaged guys one very late and painful night.

❤ What are your biggest motivations for writing?

I'm a visual artist as well as a writer, so I'm constantly plagued by dreams, visions, and ideas. If my work seems good, then that makes me creative. If not, I'm just insane. Either way, that's the way I am, and it's not going to change.

❤ How would you describe your writing style and tone?

I love to learn, so whatever I write ends up being infused with odd facts and trivia. In The Faustian Host, I created a school for gifted kids for that very purpose. The cool thing is that while much of the information seems irrelevant, some of it ends up saving the kids' lives.

Give aspiring writers a piece of advice you wish you had known before getting published.

Writing isn't easy and won't make you rich. Even if you land a major publishing deal, you will have to work tirelessly to promote your book to try to get it to sell until you surrender to working tirelessly on writing your next book which you will have to work tirelessly at promoting. That's ultimately another reason why I published The Faustian Host myself. I have friends who are mid-list writers and I knew I'd have to do a ton of work anyway, so I figured I might as well try it on my own terms.

❤ What about you would surprise your readers?

I have memorized all the countries, capitals, and flags of the world. So, if I'm ever kidnapped, blindfolded, and taken anywhere in the world, all I have to do is get a glimpse of a flag, and I'll immediately know what city I need to get to to find the US embassy to get home. Maybe there's a book in there somewhere. Or maybe I'm insane. See what I mean?

❤ Puahaha! All the best people are ;] Who are some authors you idolize?

I'm a voracious and eclectic reader, so I admire way too many writers to list. The first author I remember knowing by name was Dr. Seuss, and I probably still have a few of his books memorized from reading them so many times to my kids. The first author that made me want to be a writer was Judy Blume. The first author that made me want to be a better writer was Edgar Allen Poe. The first author that made me realize I'll never be a great writer was John Milton.

❤ Seems like all those authors constituted you to become the writer you are today! What’s the most interesting comment you have ever received about your books?
Very strong writing and a fascinating concept that avoids all the usual contemporary paranormal tropes.
This message was voiced by two different editors at two different major publishers, both explaining that they just couldn't justify taking a risk on an unknown author. That was enlightening.

 What's next for you?

Next, I'm going to paint a new mural in my house. Then I'm going to finish editing Mindfront, and then continue writing the sequel to The Faustian Host, hopefully finishing it by next summer.

Where can you be found on the web?

Before we conclude this interview, is there anything you'd like to ask our readers?

I'm holding a giveaway. If you become a fan of my author page on Facebook, one lucky winner will receive a signed, paperback copy of The Faustian Host. The novel is only available for purchase as an eBook; only 1o promotional paperbacks exist, so this is a wonderfully rare opportunity!
You heard Dave right! One lucky winner will receive a rare paperback issue of The Faustian Host by 'liking' his Facebook page! If bychance you don't use Facebook, become a fan or add him as a friend on his Goodreads page instead. To enter, leave a comment on this interview with your Facebook or Goodreads name that you are following Dave with.

Giveaway runs through May 31st, 2012 at 11.59 pm (your time).
Open to US readers only!
Please include your email address in your comment! If I don't know who to contact once you are chosen as the winner, your prize will be forfeited.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!

Monday, April 2, 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥: Ashton's Secret by Liana Laverentz

Ashton's Secret
Liana Laverentz

Release Date: May 28th, 2009
Publisher: The Wild Rose Press
Page Count: 250
Source: Complimentary copy provided by author in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you!)

From the moment he'd caught her snooping on his property, Meghan Edwards knew Nicholas Hawkinson was the man she'd been looking for. But would this dark, secretive stranger help her solve the mystery of her sister's death?

Nicholas Hawkinson wanted nothing to do with the city-girl photographer who asked too many questions. Five years ago the people of Ashton had been all too quick to accuse him of murder. They still considered him the town's black sheep, a bad boy at best and a killer who got away with it at most. The smartest thing for both of them would be to never mention Heather again.

Her sister was dead, and Meghan knew it wasn't suicide. So did Nick. Whether he liked it or not, Ashton's most dangerous man was the only one who could help her now. And Meghan wasn't leaving until she'd unraveled this sleepy little town's secret—or died trying.
What Stephanie Thinks: I absolutely love how Laverentz incorporates threatening suspense and jeopardy into her heartwarming romances. Ashton's Secret involves a tough love story because it isn't about two lovey-dovey people who fall for each other at first sight. In fact, Meghan Edwards, though attracted to the tall, dark, and handsome Nick when she meets him in an unfortunate snooping fiasco, hates his guts initially. He's impolite, he's disrespectful, and he just makes her feel like she's unwelcome in the small town of Ashton. Yet she knows he holds the key to her search to find out the truth about her little sister's death.

Which, she convinces herself, is the only reason she's putting up with his crap, the only reason she keeps coming back to Nick, as churlishly as he treats her. But is it really? Is her sister the only reason she's staying? In her subtle prying, in her attempt to get close to the man who may as well have been Heather's lover—or even her murderer—Meghan finds a deep, sensitive, and even loving side of Nick she wants to unravel further. And ever so slowly, he just might be letting her in. But Ashton has different plans.

I appreciate the twists and turns this book has, but find it to fall a little flat on the romance. Compared to Laverentz's other novels, this one doesn't give me that tingly swooping feeling I expect from her. Nick and Meghan squabble too much to really seem that in love, though their hot body language does indicate otherwise. Their relationship seems too quick and too unrealistic, but then again, I wouldn't point it out as the essence of this novel. I'd rather classify it as a suspense story because the mystery was definitely enough to keep me on edge the whole time.

Laverentz's writing style is still as clear and smooth as ever, another thing I really enjoyed. The plot is pretty straightforward and is really a puzzle—which is a good thing!—but the characters are hard to relate to. This one's a bit lengthy too, so I can't call it an easy breezy read, but I did like it overall. If mystery is more up your alley, as well as tough chicks and even tougher heroes, I'd definitely recommend this one for you.

Stephanie Loves: "His face remained expressionless, but his eyes filled with an unmistakable masculine glow that Meghan felt all the way down to her toes . . .
Bedroom eyes. The man was looking at her with bedroom eyes."

Radical Rating: 7 hearts: Not without flaws, but overall enjoyable. ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥