Thursday, January 22, 2015

Candis Terry: What I Loved About Writing Sweet Surprise

Today, I'm delighted to have Candis Terry on the blog to talk about the writing of Sweet Surprise. I love her Sweet, Texas series (read my review of Something Sweeter here) and am so excited to be a part of the Sweet Surprise tour!


Candis Terry:
What I Loved About Writing Sweet Surprise

When you get to the fourth or fifth book in a series it can be easy to get burned out. Or so I’ve been told. Each book in the Sweet, Texas series has been completely different for me, and after I’ve finished each one I’ve always been anxious to get right back to the Wilder family and that magical little town in the Texas Hill Country. Writing Sweet Surprise was extra special because Fiona Wilder—a single mom—finally got her own story. For me, it was difficult to watch her through the previous books because as the ex-wife of Jackson Wilder she had to sit by and watch everyone else get their happy ever afters—including her ex husband. Even though she and Jackson have a great, warm, and loving relationship as exes, I kept thinking it still had to be hard when you were the one who always had to go home to a cold, empty bed. Fiona didn’t feel that way though. She never slighted Jackson or his new wife because she knew they were really meant to be together. Still, it was a blast for me to help her find the path to happiness although it wasn’t an easy one. Fiona doubted herself every step of the way. But each rocky step was worth the doubt. Because she was rewarded tenfold with a hero who was perfect for her in every way. Fireman Mike Halsey is truly a man she will be able to love and count on even when she’s old and gray.

In real life we don’t always get to see someone find their perfect mate let alone live happily ever after with them. I was overjoyed to help Fiona find the love of her life.

Question . . . when you read a book, is there usually one bullet-point moment or emotion that you take away from the story?


About the Author

Candis Terry was born and raised near the sunny beaches of Southern California and now makes her home on an Idaho farm. She's experienced life in such diverse ways as working in a Hollywood recording studio to scooping up road apples left by her daughter's rodeo queening horse to working as a graphic designer. Only one thing has remained constant: Candis' passion for writing stories about relationships, the push and pull in the search for love, and the security one finds in their own happily ever after. Though her stories are set in small towns, Candis' wish is to give each of her characters a great big memorable love story rich with quirky characters, tons of fun, and a happy ending

Connect with Candis
Website | Facebook | Twitter



About the Book


Sweet Surprise
by Candis Terry

Genre: Contemporary
Paperback: 384 Pages
Publication: January 27, 2015
by Avon Romance


Playing naughty or nice . . .

Fiona Wilder knows all about falling in lust. Love? That's another story. Determined not to repeat past mistakes, the single mom and cupcake shop owner is focused on walking the straight and narrow. But trouble has a way of finding her. And this time it comes in the form of a smoking hot firefighter who knows all the delicious ways to ignite her bad-girl fuse.

Can lead to heartbreak . . .

Firefighter Mike Halsey learned long ago that playing with fire just gets you burned. He's put his demons behind him, and if there's one line he won't cross, it's getting involved with his best friend's ex. But when fate throws him in the path of the beautiful, strong, and off-limits Fiona, will he be able to fight their attraction? Or will he willingly go down in flames?

Or a sweet surprise!



Giveaway

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Review: Sweetblood by Pete Hautman



Sweetblood
Pete Hautman

Genre: YA Contemporary
Paperback: 242 Pages
Publication: August 10, 2004
by Simon Pulse



Lucy Szabo thinks she knows where the myth of vampires came from. She's sure that that the first vampires ever were dying diabetics. And she should know. She's diabetic herself. When she gets involved with Draco, a self-proclaimed "real" vampire she meets in a Transylvania chat room, her world starts to crash down around her. Soon, her whole life--grades, relationships and health--are spiralling dangerously out of control. Lucy needs to make some important choices to take back control of her life--but is it already too late?  

Review

I know we're two weeks in already, but happy 2015, readers! I was away in Mexico visiting family, hence why I haven't posted in the last few weeks. But while I was gone, I did some reading and took notes to be ready for this new post! Now on to the review.

Interesting story about this book: when I was a sophomore in high school, I was usually the first of my friends to get to the cafeteria and save a table for the rest of us. One day I felt my foot nudge something under the table and, lo and behold, I found this book by my shoe. No one came looking for it, so I decided to take it home and read it; it's now been a resident of my bookshelves for more than seven years. The book held well when I read it as a teenager, and it continues to do so even when reading it as an adult.

I really liked Lucy as a character. She has really clear cut convictions, isn't afraid to be herself, and is pretty mature for your average sixteen-year-old. This, along with the fact that she's dealing with pressure from parents and teachers and a crush on a new student, made her easy to relate to. That being said, there were times when I felt it was hard to connect with her because of how "surly and mouthy" she is, to borrow her own words. She was a bit rough around the edges and an outsider at school, and I'm not entirely sure why she feels she has to be this way. She's asked if it's because of her diabetes, but she doesn't exactly answer the question.

For the most part, I liked the potential love interests in the book. Lucy's best friend Mark serves as a great contrast to her, a goofball jock who's known her since they were kids, and their relationship is portrayed well despite the fact that Mark doesn't turn up often in the book. However, when he does pop up, we get the feeling that though their relationship is platonic, Lucy starts to consider the possibility of it becoming something more. The new boy in school, Dylan, immediately catches Lucy's attention when he first arrives, and Hautman captures those crush feelings beautifully. Since she's so tough, it was actually kind of cute to see how easily she melted over Dylan when she meets him, and even more so when they spend more time together. However, towards the end we get to see Dylan in a new light, and I felt like this change happened too abruptly and would've liked a more gradual transition into it.

There are plenty of adults featured in this book, but I wanted more of a focus on two in particular: Lucy's endocrinologist, Dr. Harlan "Fish" Fisher, and her tattoo artist friend, Antoinette. We get snippets of conversations Lucy has had with Fish and some scenes with him in the present, but I would've liked to have seen something from when she first became his patient and how she comes to trust him so much. The case was the same for Antoinette, owner of Antoinette's Body Art in Harker Village, an area Lucy regularly visits. Antoinette, like Fish, is one of the few adults Lucy seems to really respect and is able to talk to, and I wanted to know why. Lucy mentions that she's had many conversations with Antoinette in the past but we don't get any flashbacks to them, which I think would've been great development to their relationship. I especially wanted to see the beginning of said relationship, as I was curious as to how a teenage girl would become friends with a tattoo artist Antoinette's age.

There is one adult in the book whom I have very mixed feelings for: Wayne Smith, the butterfly rancher who throws crazy Goth parties and poses as the "vampire" Draco online. His physical appearance makes him seem really unassuming, but his manner of speaking reveals him to be eloquent and intelligent, a contrast that I really liked. But I did find myself wanting to know more about him. For someone who frequently surrounds himself with Goths, Wayne doesn't actually mention a lot about Goth culture, other than a few jokes. When asked about his past or his online persona as Draco, he dodges the questions almost entirely. Being surrounded by so much mystery and the lack of more personal info actually made him more unsettling the further I read into the book. Like Fish and Antoinette, I thought Wayne could've been fleshed out a little more, but through information given to the reader instead of more time with him. Seriously, I never thought someone so normal-sounding could come across as so creepy.

While there aren't actually any vampires in the book, there are a lot of talks about them. I really liked Lucy's theory about vampire legends springing up as an explanation for uncured diabetes, and how she explains it sounds kind of reasonable. This may just be personal curiosity, but I wanted to know how Lucy became so interested in vampires, more specifically Anne Rice's vampires. She's reading Queen of the Damned (which I happen to be currently reading) at the beginning of the book, but beyond that, she doesn't really mention any more vampire literature, despite her claims of being well read on the subject, nor does she bring up vampire films or TV shows. Again, it could just be me wanting to know more, but I thought seeing Lucy as she develops an interest in vampires could've added to her current outlook and shown how she pieced together her theory about vampires and diabetes.

I also had a bit of an issue with the portrayal of Goths in this book. Lucy blows them off as a fashion-obsessed dorks who aspire to be super pale and able to wilt flowers with a single glance. As was the case with her knowledge about vampires, I wanted to know how Lucy knows what she does about Goths and Goth culture, little and inaccurate as this knowledge may be. While I am by no means an encyclopedia of Goth, I can admit that there aren't really any major Goth references, other than maybe a handful sprinkled throughout the book and, to an extent, Lucy's interest in vampires (a common cliche among Goths is that we're obsessed with vampires). Even the Goths Lucy encounters don't really add anything to the reader's knowledge of Goth and only give off the impression of being the partying type. As a Goth myself, this disappointed me.

I think the biggest question of the book is that of personal identity. At the beginning, Lucy reveals that she was once an honors student but her grades have been slipping as of late. As someone who was an honors student during all her grade school years, I could relate to the desire Lucy feels to take it easy and not have everyone freak out about the sudden change. Some moments showing her during those times would've been a good contrast to the present Lucy, so we could see why she decided that taking time for herself was more important than keeping up something others want for her. There are also numerous times when Lucy says "I am [insert name/nickname/character]," and these tied back to the notion of trying on different identities until a suitable one comes around. Antoinette gives her a talk about how identity changes, which seems to unlock a few doors for Lucy and made me want more moments with Antoinette. Overall, I thought this was a great thing to contemplate, even as an adult: your identity doesn't have to be set in stone and can change a lot, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

On the whole, this book was pretty interesting. The feelings of being a misfit in high school came rushing back to me, and the nods to pop culture and literature references worked well. I still think there could've been so much more done with some of the characters, and there could've been more nods to vampires in books and TV, as well as to Goths. What really gives this book its appeal is the notion of the outsider figuring out where she belongs and who she wants to be. I think that's something anyone can relate to, obsessed with vampires or not.

Rating: 4 stars


Series

N/A

Similar Books
  • Thirsty by M.T. Anderson
  • The Science of Vampires by Katherine Ramsland
Content
  • Mild language
  • Drinking
  • Brief touching

Monday, January 12, 2015

Review: Torn Away by Jennifer Brown



Torn Away
Jennifer Brown


Genre: YA Contemporary
Hardback: 288 Pages
Publication: May 6, 2014
by Little Brown BFYR



Jersey Cameron has always loved a good storm. Watching the clouds roll in and the wind pick up. Smelling the electricity in the air. Dancing barefoot in the rain. She lives in the Midwest, after all, where the weather is sure to keep you guessing. Jersey knows what to do when the tornado sirens sound. But she never could have prepared for this.

When her town is devastated by a tornado, Jersey loses everything. As she struggles to overcome her grief, she's sent to live with relatives she hardly knows-family who might as well be strangers. In an unfamiliar place, can Jersey discover that even on the darkest of days, there are some things no tornado can destroy?

In this powerful and poignant novel, acclaimed author Jennifer Brown delivers a story of love, loss, hope, and survival.


Review

I’ve been a fan of Jennifer Brown’s works since I read Perfect Escape back in 2012. I love how she tackles serious issues relating to teens and how she keeps the family near and present in the protagonist’s life. Family is so important to me, and it breaks my heart that family is so absent in many MG/YA books on the market today — with some books even suggesting that parents aren’t reliable or can’t be trusted with our biggest, darkest secrets. While it may not always be the case, I'm sure most of us find our parents fairly dependable. It is important to have novels that portray strong familial bonds and show us that family is there for us if only we open our hearts to them. This is a theme that is especially strong in Torn Away.

The only family that Jersey has ever known is her immediate family. Her dad left when she was little, and her mom is estranged from her family. The only tie she has to her extended family is the little porcelain cat she receives on her birthday each year. Nevertheless, she's not especially eager to meet her extended family because her mom hasn't had anything good to say about them, so when the tornado takes away everything from her, she's far from thrilled to meet them. Jersey's feelings are understandable. Not only has she lost the only family she's ever known, she's being uprooted from all that she has remaining and being sent to relatives that she's been taught to hate. I won't go into detail about this because of potential spoilers. What you should know is that, during her time with different relations, Jersey learns truths about her mother and, in the process, what it means to be family.

If there's one thing this novel did right, it's definitely the emotions. Following Jersey along her journey was one big heartbreak. Few people understand what she's gone through, and she's not even sure who all made it out of the tornado. She has lost so much and is emotionally alone in the world except for her phone communication with her (ex)neighbor, who is there supporting her as much as he can along the way. Note: If you're reading this and expecting a love plot, don't get your hopes up! There were times when I suspected that Jersey liked him because of the attention she pays to him and how she calls him in times of need, but they were mostly suspicions. I didn't sense a romance brewing until maybe the end of the novel.

I was surprised to find that a good portion of the novel is focused on the aftermath of the tornado. Given the synopsis, I thought that we would see more of Jersey's extended family. While we get to see Jersey go through the different stages of grief, I feel like the novel tried to cover too much ground, so the plotline wasn't as tight as it could have been. Nevertheless, I do feel like the strongest part section of the novel was at the beginning when we see Jersey and the rest of town pick through the aftermath of the tornado. This novel might have done better to focus on that part of her journey and then continue her story in a sequel or two.

Overall, this was an enjoyable novel. I'm still a fan of Jennifer Brown's writing and will be sure to check out her next book!

An ARC was provided by Little Brown for review

Rating: 4 stars

Series
  • N/A

Content
  • Language
  • Name calling, verbal abuse
  • Some violence

Monday, January 5, 2015

Review: Messenger of Fear by Michael Grant



Messenger of Fear
Michael Grant

Series: Messenger of Fear #1
Genre: HorrorParanormal
Hardback: 272 Pages
Publication: September 23, 2014
by Katherine Tegan Books



I remembered my name – Mara. But, standing in that ghostly place, faced with the solemn young man in the black coat with silver skulls for buttons, I could recall nothing else about myself.

And then the games began.

The Messenger sees the darkness in young hearts, and the damage it inflicts upon the world. If they go unpunished, he offers the wicked a game. Win, and they can go free. Lose, and they will live out their greatest fear.

But what does any of this have to do with Mara? She is about to find out . . .


Review

One of the things that drew me to this book is that the synopsis doesn't really explain anything—a pretty bad decision looking back. While I understand that a lot is kept from Mara until the very end, I wish that I had known going in that there was going to be a lot of violence and terrible scenes. The synopsis wasn't kidding that people will live out their greatest fear; it maybe only forgot to mention that we get to live it out with them. It also fails to mention that there is a lot more going on in this book than the "games," which serve mostly as a side plot. The main focus is on the story of a girl named Samantha Early and the unraveling of how her story relates to Mara's present situation.

For the first couple chapters, I was intrigued by Mara's situation. Why is the Messenger of Fear having her tag alongside him, and why is he showing her Samantha's story? What does Mara have to learn from all this? I even found myself fascinated by the same things she is curious about. It quickly got old and routine, however. Mara has little control over events, which means that she's forced to follow the Messenger of Fear, which means that the reader too is mostly tagging along for the ride. There's little suspense and action. We don't even have any stakes because we don't know what they are. I wish that Oriax's interest in happenings was explored a bit more. I feel like her presence in the novel could have helped amp the stakes and add more tension to the plot. As it is, her presence is like a spider crawling on the wall: ominous yet not much of a force to be reckoned with as of yet.

I think that it's really cool how Mara is half-Caucasian half-Chinese; however, not much is done with this element of diversity except for her appearance. While there's nothing wrong with that—it's important that we have diversity in books—being Chinese, I remember being delighted whenever I came across a book that featured an Asian heroine and which explored Asian culture and experiences. There are so few of these kinds of books. I'm not asking to explore the culture in depth but it would have been nice to see more of Mara's experiences growing up with a Caucasian father and Chinese mother. What was the culture like at home and what traditions did they have?

Overall, the characters and story fell flat. The characters are pretty stereotypical like the ones you'd expect to see in a caricature of high school life, and Oriax is like the busty seductress you'd expect to see in a mature video game. The Messenger of Fear is like the tall dark brooding guy from an anime. It didn't really feel like the characters grew. Mostly, this first book seems to serve as a prequel to events to come. Even as Mara strives to understand what the Messenger of Fear is trying to teach her, we the readers make our own revelations about this new world and how it influences our own world. Honestly, I'm not sure what the whole moral of the lesson is and what exactly the Messenger of Fear is trying to teach Mara. For the most part, it feels like this books is made up of a series of episodic events stringed together.

I do warn: though the writing is more youthful, seeming to target younger YA readers, there is a lot of violence and gory detail. I mentioned this earlier, but I want to stress it again. It's gross; it's terrible. And yet the descriptions aren't so vivid that I wanted to cringe. Rather, I was mostly grossed out. Regardless, if you're not into this stuff, I suggest passing on this book.

It definitely seems like there is more to this world than has been introduced in this book. I really wish we'd been given more information on what is to come. It would have helped me decide whether this is a world that I want to explore more (while giving the plot more tension and intrigue). At the moment, however, I'm not interested in pursuing the series further. I'll wait to see what other readers have to say about the second and third books when they come out. If it seems promising, I might be convinced to given the second book a try.

* The story kind of reminds me of the Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan, the difference being that Ranger's Apprentice is set in a fantasy world and has a lot more action going on.

An ARC was provided by Harper Collins for review

Rating: 2 stars

Series
  • Messenger of Fear
  • Untitled 2
  • Untitled 3

Similar Books
  • Ranger's Apprentice series by John Flanagan
Content
  • A lot of violence and gory details
  • Sex implied but not shown
  • Bullying

Monday, December 29, 2014

Review: Hidden by Donna Jo Napoli



Hidden
Donna Jo Napoli


Genre: Historical
Hardback: 384 Pages
Publication: December 30, 2014
by Paula Wiseman Books (S&S imprint)



Lost at sea when her sister is taken captive on a marauding slave ship, Brigid is far removed from the only life she knew as a princess and the pampered daughter of an Irish king.

Now Brigid has few choices. Alone and abandoned, she disguises herself as a boy and vows to find her innocent sister taken into slavery. Through her search many years pass and she grows from being a child to a woman, tough Brigid does not give up. She lives from the land, meets friend and foe along the way, and gains a reputation as a woman thought to be fierce enough to conquer men. It is not fierceness that guides her but the love of sister and the longing for her family to be united. One day she finds her way, knowing that her only real power comes from within herself.


Review

I love how historical novels like Hidden give us a look into life as it was in the past. Hidden explores the adventures of an Irish girl who finds herself in Norse territory. I especially enjoyed seeing the different cultures of the time and wish that more time was spent world building. There's so much potential for historical fiction to teach us about the lives that people led in the past.  I also love the focus of sisterly bonds. Though Brigid and her sister become separated at a young age, Brigid always remembers her sister and makes decisions based on what will allow her to chase after her sister faster. We don't see familial bonds enough in YA lit, so I was delighted to see this.

It was surprising to see that family wasn't the entire focus of the novel. The synopsis is misleading in that it doesn't tell us how much of Brigid's growth depicted throughout the novel. This causes Brigid's concern for her sister to be put on the back burner. I think it's really neat how the novel takes us through the important moments of Brigid's life. It helps give us a feel of how Brigid has grown over the years and how her experiences with different people help shape her into the person that she becomes. However, this comes with a cost. While it shows us the overarching span of Brigid's growth, we don't get to know her with the depth that we might have otherwise gotten if the story had focused on a more specific timeline. Just when I got settled into one period of Brigid's life, the story skips a few years to show us what she got out of her time in the place she was staying and has her move on. This is problematic because it feels more like we're watching a documentary of Brigid's life rather than partaking of an adventure alongside her. Furthermore, it takes the focus off Brigid's goal of finding her sister, which is the entire reason that Brigid postpones her journey home.

At the same time, it's moving to see Brigid sacrifice the different lives she might have otherwise led in pursuit of her own happiness. So many years pass before Brigid is able to begin her search for her sister. Anything could have happened in that time, and she doesn't have the Internet or media to help her. Nevertheless, she refuses to give up hope that she will find her sister one day. Her determination to rescue her sister leads her to touch lives she might not otherwise have come into contact with. It's a great reminder that our determination to reach out own goals can bring us to do things for others, thus resulting in greater happiness all around.

I do wish that the novel didn't skip around so much. The whole of Brigid's story is more than one novel has sufficient room to tell properly. It would have been better to tell it across several books or to skim over her younger years faster and focus the novel on the search for her sister. As it is, this was an enjoyable novel albeit one with a loose, poorly structured plot. I recommend this for readers looking for a historical novel that depicts Irish and Norse culture.

An ARC was provided by Simon & Schuster for review

Rating: 2.5 stars

Series
  • Hush (companion novel)

Content
  • Slavery
  • Rape scene (not very explicit)

Monday, December 22, 2014

Review: Penumbra by Keri Arthur



Penumbra
Keri Arthur

Series: Spook Squad #3
Genre: Urban FantasyCrime
Paperback: 320 Pages
Publication: October 28, 2014
by Dell



TWIN KILLING

Agent Sam Ryan wants out of the Special Investigations Unit. She’s sick of the attitude from her partner, Gabriel Stern. She’s sick of the paperwork. Most of all, she’s sick of feeling lonely. But her boss isn’t about to let her go that easily. He gives Sam a choice: either stay stuck in her office or guard a clone replacement of Dan Wetherton, a government minister. Sam reluctantly chooses the latter—even though she suspects she’s being used as bait to draw out the SIU’s elusive nemesis.

Gabriel would like nothing better than to be on his own, without a partner to hold him back. Then he learns that Sam has been assigned to protect Wetherton—or whatever it is that’s replaced him. Wetherton’s clone could have come from only one place: Hopeworth, the military base that contains the secrets of Sam’s past. Determined to protect her, Gabriel is drawn into a fight against unspeakable evil. And all too soon, Sam and Gabriel discover that the connection between them is far more powerful than anyone could ever have imagined.


Review

I came very very close several times to dnfing this book, but my curiosity to learn the answers to all my unanswered questions coming out of Generation 18 kept me pushing through to the end. Only to read the last pages and realize that they'll never be answered. Not to mention that the big war that's been promised to us from book one only really begins at the end of this book, so really what we've been reading is the prequel to the war that never happens.

This is too bad because the series had a great premise and was interesting enough that I kept reading it to the end because I wanted to find out what happens. Though Penumbra is supposed to reveal and conclude everything, however, I feel like it served primarily to push Sam and Gabriel's relationship into becoming something. Past Keri Arthur books have had a large focus on the romance, so it normally wouldn't have been overly problematic for me. Nevertheless, with so many gaping plot holes in Penumbra plot-wise and character-wise, it overtook the rest of the plot. There's also minimal world building, but that's a problem I've faced accepted comes along with Keri Arthur books because it does let us get to the action faster.

The romance was also poorly developed, something I thought would have still been there even if everything else fell apart. There was a lot of potential to explore Gabriel's psychology here as he struggles with his loyalty to Andrea and his hawk form that mates once only for life even as he feels an undeniable attraction to Sam (for reasons we never find out). However, he seems to get over it pretty quickly, which meant we don't get to see Sam fulfill her plans to try to seduce Gabriel. . .that seems to have gotten lost somewhere.

As it is, Penumbra is a disappointing, poorly executed "conclusion" to the Spook Squad series. Not only does it fail to answer the multitude questions that have been raised throughout the series, it switches over to an epilogue of sorts immediately after Sam and Gabriel promise to fight to take down Sethanon together. If you're looking for answers and a solid conclusion to the series, I wouldn't bother reading this one. If you care enough though, you can read it for answers to Sam's past and to see the beginnings of her happily ever after with Gabriel.

An ARC was provided by Random House for review

Rating: 1 star

Series

Content
  • Making out
  • Violence, gruesome deaths