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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth 5 of 5 stars.

AN UNFORGETTABLE SOTRY OF MOTHERHOOD,
THE BRAVERY OF A COMMUNITY, 
AND THE STRENGTH OF
REMARKABLE AND INSPIRING WOMEN

At the age of twenty-two, Jennifer Worth leaves her comfortable home to move to a convent and become a midwife in postwar London's East End slums. The colorful characters she meets while delivering babies--from the plucky, warmhearted nuns with whom she lives, to the woman with twenty-four children, to the prostitutes and  dockers of the city's seedier side--illuminate a fascinating time in history.

Jennifer Worth is a remarkable woman with a beautiful story to tell, one painted by the all the colors of real life in 1950's London. She shows us what it's like to be a young woman, dedicated to the care of other women on a bicycle with a simple bag headed to home deliveries, something almost inconceivable today. We get to see what life is like for the feisty nuns at the convent where she lives.

Worth not only illustrates a world full of big and beautiful characters living their day-to-day lives, but seamlessly incorporates information on the history of women's healthcare that not only gives us an insight into the past but into the present politics surrounding the issue. She did this so well that it didn't burden the story in the least and I felt like I learned a great deal over the course of the book.

Some of the characters she depicts made me laugh out loud while other made me cry. One of the most important topics she touches on is the red-light district in London at that time. She does a marvelous job showing the reality of the situation by letting us see it through the eyes of a poor, young girl who was coerced into stepping into that world and then found herself trapped within it. Parts of it are very hard to read, but I feel it is something important to show when we have the reality of it all around us today as part of the human trafficking situation.

Overall, I adored this book and I think anyone who is a fan of the BBC series will as well. Jennifer Worth is a natural storyteller with a good sense of pace and suspense. It is as far from 'a boring memoir' as one can get.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Why I Didn't Love TFIOS

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green 4 of 5 stars

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten. (Book blurb)

Okay.
. . .

Okay, honestly, this review is far over-due. It has taken me some time to get my thoughts and feelings toward this book straight, and I'm still not certain that I have entirely figured them out. That said, I can find very little wrong with the The Fault in Our Stars. John Green, though I may not feel him to be the writing-god hero-of-romance talent that some claim him to be, is a good writer. He is, however, a good writer of contemporary commercial fiction rather than a literary genius. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I enjoyed the book, but I realized near the end that something had been keeping me somewhat emotionally distant from the characters. I didn't cry at the end like I had expected too. Being one to bawl loud and long over any little thing in a novel, this was very strange.  Given some time to think about it, I believe the main reason is because of Hazel's Nihilistic attitudes--any form of Nihilism being nothing less than repulsive to me--which seem to stem from a strange mix of acceptance toward her prognosis, hopelessness, and an elevated sense of her own intelligence.

And there is nothing wrong in any of this. It's just off-putting to me. I like spiritualism in any and every sense. Without a feeling of hope, there is--for me--never any true, traumatic loss. I wasn't able to attachment myself to Hazel the way others were for the above reasons, and I, unfortunately, didn't find Augustus all that romantic.

Did anyone else feel the book fell a little short of the hype?


The Movie

No doubt, the movie was cute. I love the actors who played in it, and they did a marvelous job. Again, I just didn't connect with the story that well. I felt that the vibe between Hazel and Gus was more sappy than it was romantic, and the fact that I went on opening night and had to listen to all the girls whispering "Okay" back and forth to each other and sobbing like they had just lost their best friend probably didn't help matters. The experience was funny though, and I always love seeing reactions to movie adaptations.

As far as the translation from book-to-movie went, I think it was superb. I especially like how they showed the text messages. It was a beautiful, well-produced movie.

And that's all I have to say. I may read another John Green novel in the future, but I'm afraid that this isn't my genre and I don't expect to have the same fervent love for his work as so many my age appear to have.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson

A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Ibbotson 5 of 5 stars.

An improper romance. . .

After the Russian Revolution turns her world topsy-turvy, Anna, a young Russian countess, has no choice but to flee to England. Penniless, Anna hides her aristocratic background and takes a job as servant in the household of the esteemed Westerholme family, armed only with an outdated housekeeping manual and sheer determination. Desperate to keep her past a secret, Anna is nearly overwhelmed by her new duties--not to mention her instant attraction to Rupert, the handsome Earl of Westerholme. To make matters worse, Rupert appears to be falling for her as well. As their attraction grows stronger, Anna finds it more and more difficult to keep her most dearly held secrets from unraveling. And then there's the small matter of Rupert's beautiful and nasty fiance... (Book blurb)

A Countess Below Stairs is a beautiful narrative that floats easily between characters, nations, and cultures without so much as a stumble. It is the story of a penniless, aristocratic girl with a heart for service and of a man bound by a promise to his elder brother who died in the war that he would try and save the money-draining family estate. It is not a love story. It is a character story, moved along by a hilarious and twisty but beautiful plot. It is not that terribly romantic, but it is funny and endearing and will make you root for the protagonists and wish true bodily harm on the villains.

Eva Ibbotson, to me, is a master storyteller. One of my favorite books of all time is A Company of Swans, and I am fully convinced that no one can write romance quite like Ibbotson. I was expecting a little more of that from A Countess Below Stairs, but it was more plot oriented, feeling a bit Downton Abbey-ish as they fight to save the estate, which is fine. It was a fun book to read. I loved the Russian characters and the history that was within it, and to be quite honest, Ibbotson's prose is so wonderful the story could have been going in complete circles and I would have still enjoyed it.

This is a book for people who appreciate beautiful writing and love a good story.

To order A Countess Below Stairs from Eva Ibbotson from Amazon.com, please click here.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore 4 of 5 stars.

Welcome to a glorious realm 
of mystery, magic, heroism and danger.

In a world where a small percentage of people have an extreme skill called a Grace, King Leck's Grace allowed him to tell lies that everyone believed.

When Bitterblue became queen at ten years old, she thought her father's murder meant the end of his violent, sociopathic influence.

She was wrong.

The intensely anticipated companion to the New York Times bestsellers Graceling and Fire is even more "rageful, exhilarating, wistful," and romantic. Now eighteen and believing her advisers are overprotecting her, Bitterblue begins sneaking outside the castle at night to walk the streets of her own city, disguised and alone--risking her life as well as her heart. (Book blurb)

At the age of ten, Bitterblue inherited a kingdom still swathed in the mental fog created by her father's Graced lies. She herself can barely untangle truth from fallacy in her own mind when she struggles to grasp the reality behind her childhood memories. Coddled by her advisers and imprisoned behind her desk and stacks and stacks of papers requiring her signature, Bitterblue spends eight years unaware of the darkness still lingering in her castle and the terrible poverty clinging to her beautiful streets.

Curiosity and a sharp mind finally lead Bitterblue to explore what really lies in Bitterblue City. When she does she is faced with one mystery after the other. She becomes a truth-seeker wrapped up in a web of deceit and intrigue as she begins to discover just how deep and lasting her father's reign was. Or who is still affected by his power. The only people Bitterblue can fully trust in her increasingly dangerous world are her old friends Katsa and Po and their companions.

Kristin Cashore is an exquisitely simple writer who seems to have a "Grace" for world-building. Bitterblue is yet another example of her beautiful, tight prose wrapped up in a forever thrumming, character-driven plot. Cashore fans will devour this book, with it's lovely cast including everyone's all-time favorites Katsa and Po.

I enjoyed reading Bitterblue very much. I always love Cashore's prose, and I particularly liked the cast of characters in this novel which is both a sequel to Graceling and a companion to Fire. We were able to see characters from both of those books as well as meet some new ones like the charming and piratical Saf. What did surprise me, however, was that I had a hard time loving Bitterblue. She's a lovely character, but--for me--she pales in comparison to characters like Katsa and Fire.

Other than my slight dissatisfaction with the protagonist, I loved this book. I continue to love the world of Cashore's novels as it keeps getting even more solid and real in my mind. I enjoy the gruesome realism used to depict the atrocities that happened in Leck's time, and I think that Cashore does a wonderful job drawing a line just before things become too descriptive.

The vibrant characters, the satisfying pace of the plot, the intrigue, and the glittering, fantastic world are sure to be loved by any and all fantasy fans. There is virtually no one who I wouldn't suggest Bitterblue or any of Kristin Cashore's other novels to.

To order Bitterblue from Amazon.com, please click here.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Falconer by Elizabeth May


 

The Falconer by Elizabeth May 5 of 5 stars.


One girl's nightmare 

is this girl's faery tale.

SHE'S A STUNNER.

Edinburgh, 1844. Eighteen-year-old Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the Marquess of Douglas, has everything a girl could dream of: brains, charm, wealth, a title--and drop-dead beauty.

SHE'S A LIAR.

But Aileana only looks the part of an aristocratic young lady. She's leading a double life: She has a rare ability to sense the s├Čthichean--the faery race obsessed with slaughtering humans--and, with the aid of a mysterious mentor, has spent the year since her mother died learning how to kill them.

SHE'S A MURDERER.

Now Aileana is dedicated to slaying the fae before they take innocent lives. With her abilities and her knack for inventing ingenious tools and weapons--from flying machines to detonators to lightning pistols--ruthless Aileana has one goal: Destroy the faery who destroyed her mother.

SHE'S A FALCONER.

The last in a line of female warrior born with a gift for hunting and killing the fae, Aileana is the sole hope of preventing a powerful faery population from massacring all of humanity. Suddenly, her quest is a lot more complicated. She still longs to avenge her mother's murder--but she'll have to save the world first. (Jacket blurb)

Lady Aileana Kameron has run on pure rage and hatred since the night she watched her mother's gruesome murder at the hands of a ruthless and deadly s├Čthichean. Covered in her mother's blood and armed with only an iron blade she had gone in search of vengeance only to be met by an unlikely savior, Kiaran McKay, a faery of the same race that murdered her mother.

Smothering her grief beneath her seething anger, Aileana enters into a bitter alliance with Kiaran in which he teaches her how to kill his kind. Aileana doesn't understand him or his motives because Kiaran is hiding from her the real reason why he is training her. And it is not for her own personal vengeance.

The Falconer by Elizabeth May is a vibrant, fast-paced steampunk novel that will hold you captive from the first moment and leave you breathless at the end. I loved ever single second of this novel. It was one of those books that as soon as I finish it, I immediately open it up and begin it again. It deserves an encore!

The characters are atypical and interesting, the lore surrounding the story is sound, and the prose is precise and quick. I loved the depth and personalities of the characters. I was cheering for Aileana the whole time and sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would become of Kiaran. Too often in YA fantasy the supposedly feral and sexy mythical hero turns out to be far too predictable and boring. Kiaran, however, remained a wildcard up to the very end, and I loved that.

The end, by the way, is absolutely wretched. The kind of cliffhanger that haunts you and leaves you making up fanfic plots as you desperately wait for the next book.

Elizabeth May has fashioned a marvelous fantasy with a kick-ass heroine in a dark steampunk world with a plot that will keep you flipping the pages. I look forward to so much more from this brilliant debut author! The Falconer is, by far, my favorite book this year.

**This novel was sent to me for review by Chronicle Books. My opinions are completely unbiased. I would like to take a moment to say that Chronicle Books does an amazing job with their bindings. This book, like all the others I have received from them, is absolutely exquisite. No only is the jacket pretty, but the engravings on the book itself are beautiful as well.

To order The Falconer by Elizabeth May from Amazon.com, please click here.

To find out more about Elizabeth May, click here to check out her website!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Page Turners by Kevin T. Johns

The Page Turners by Kevin T. Johns 5 of 5 stars.


Violent bullies. Broken homes. Black magic. Killer fiction.

Nate and his friends are thrilled to discover an ancient book of magic spells hidden in the school library--they now have the means to stand up to the villains who make high-school life such a battle. But, when the book's dark magic releases a fictional killer in the real world, the teens will need to prove they have what it takes to be heroes, or fall as bloody victims in their own horror story turned real. (Book blurb)

A rag-tag group of grade nine nerds, each with his own difficulties at home, gather together for a book club called The Page Turners. The boys have found that the only place they truly feel safe from the critical eyes of the small town Maplewright and the dangers of being on the low end of the totem pole in highschool is within the walls of fiction and fantasy. When the boys stumble across an ancient text of magic spells, however, they couldn't guess what sort of darkness would emerge when those walls come crumbling down. 

The Page Turners is an incredible coming-of-age story for teens who have found comfort and refuge in the pages of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. The story is dark, lyric, and seamless as it transitions from excerpts of one fantastical story to the all too real lives of the three boys to story centers around and back again. The narrative is rich in imagery and foreshadowing as it progresses and the writing alone is sure to keep the reader enthralled. It, in itself, is a page turner.

Kevin T. Johns has crafted a wonderful piece that is sure to appeal to the audience of ages 12-16 and anyone who can remember being a bit of a fantasy geek. The differing situations and genuine reactions of the characters are sure to be relatable, in some way, to all readers. The author has an amazing gift for metaphor and uses in quite liberally--though with good structure--throughout the novel, giving the narrative a very unique and captivating tone. The story will catch and hold your attention from the very beginning. The varying stories within the story were my favorite part, and I would love to see Kevin Johns write a high-fantasy epic or something of the sort.

I would like to take a moment to point out how wonderfully put-together and bound The Page Turners is as well. It goes above and beyond many self-published or independently published print novels. It is a truly gorgeous book and well worth the full-market price. I could certainly see it proudly displayed on the shelves of an indie book store. 

All in all, The Page Turners is a fantastic read that I would suggest specifically for younger teens and die-hard fantasy lovers.

If you missed out on Kevin T. John's guest post Thursday, check it out here

Get your copy of The Page Turners!

Visit The Page Turners website here.

A special thanks to the author for giving me a chance to review this book. It has been a pleasure working with you!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Authors: Don't Go It Alone! - Guest Post by Kevin T. Jones


Guest Post by Kevin T. Johns, author of The Page Turners


The debut episode of Mistakes Rookie Authors Make, a weekly short-video series featuring writing tips for first-time authors, premiered online last Monday. 
The series is hosted by yours truly.
Unless you’ve already purchased my novel, The Page Turners, you probably have no idea who I am, and you’re probably asking yourself, “Just what qualifies this Kevin T. Johns guy to host a web series about mistakes rookie authors make in the drafting of their manuscripts?
Well, the answer is simple, my friends. 
I’m qualified to talk about the mistake authors make because… I’ve made them all myself!
Too long a book, too many character, a mish-mash of genres, not backing up my master copy, having no B plot, forcing rough drafts on friends and family, letting technology stand in my way, allowing myself to get distracted by other projects, giving in to apathy and laziness and self-doubt and fear – I’ve done it all folks!
Writing a novel is not an easy task, your high school education probably didn’t equip you with the skill-set required to write a novel. Heck, I have a master’s degree in English Literature, and it still took me eight years to craft The Page Turners.
Amongst the myriad of missteps I made along the way to publication, I think the largest was not seeking support, advice, and training from those who had been there before me, and already walked the path I was blindly stumbling my way down. 
Your average person doesn’t dive into advanced physics and expect to excel without the support of a teacher, and yet so many of us approach novel writing in just that manner 
We have this image of “the artist” in our society as this loner individual, existing on the periphery of society, capturing the metaphysical energies of the muse, and translating that power down onto the canvass or the written page. 
But that isn’t how it really works.
There is nothing metaphysical about writing a novel. Like everything else in life, what it takes to write and publish a book is hard work, perseverance, an adequate knowledge-base, and an appropriately developed skill-set.
I encourage any aspiring or struggling authors reading this to check out Mistakes Rookie Authors Make and sign-up for the mailing list to get a new episode sent their way every week, but if I could give them one piece of advice right now, it is this: Don’t go it alone, and don’t sit around waiting for the muse to visit you (she tends to be an often tardy mistress). 
Seek out the supports you need. The internet in an absolute wealth of knowledge. Get help from veterans, experts, coaches and mentors. Take training and attend workshops. And, most important of all, put in the hard work necessary.
There is nothing magical about the process involved in writing a novel. But, if you are lucky, that end product, the book itself, just might work some magic for your readers.






Kevin Johns is the author of The Page Turners, and host of Mistakes Rookie Authors Make, a weekly short-video series featuring writing tips for first-time novelists. Just visit http://yournovelblueprint.com to watch the latest episode and join the mailing list to get a new episode in your in-box every Monday!