Book Review: Pretty Guilty Women by Gina Lamanna

At the rehearsal for a wedding at a fabulous Californian resort a man is dead and four different women insist that they alone are responsible.  

Each woman’s story is alternated with a police interrogation in which Detective Ramone tries to sort through the confusing and contradictory accounts that each woman claim’s is the truth.

I was hooked on Pretty Guilty Women from the opening chapter, it was suspenseful and creepy. That feeling lessened a bit as I waited for the story to progress, but the pacing was good, and it held my interest throughout. I wasn’t completely surprised at the revelation of “who dunnit”, but it didn’t lessen the enjoyment of the book for me.

*I received a copy of Pretty Guilty Women from NetGalley and Sourcebooks in exchange for an honest review

Book Review: Gravemaidens by Kelly Coon

Kammani is a healer, a skill she learned from her father who was banished into a life of poverty after failing to save the son of a ruler. Now the ruler is dying and, according to tradition, the three most beautiful girls have been chosen for the ultimate honor of accompanying him in the tomb—and the afterlife. One of the girls is Kammani’s sister.

Now Kammani will be challenged at every turn as she desperately tries to challenge tradition and her own skills to save her sister.

Gravemaidens is a dark, intense, pulse-pounding story. The supporting characters are well-developed, the setting is vibrant and rich. There were a few plot developments that I found to be a bit convenient, but it didn’t really distract me from the pace and enjoyment of the story. I’m looking forward to the next book!

*I received a copy of Gravemaidens from NetGalley and Random House Children’s in exchange for an honest review

Book Review: A Life Without Living (The Strega Series #1) by S.C. Alban

Kate is married to a man who is handsome and sexy, though he’s also a bit controlling. She also has very vivid dreams that she’s trying to get to—and help—the man she loves, but that man isn’t her husband, and her husband may not even be who she thinks he is.

Giovanni (Gio) has been cursed with immortality. He uses every day of his life to find and save a woman he’s watched die numerous times, the woman he loves. But now there’s a timeline, it’s his last chance to save her, if only he can find her in time.

As the two plot lines converge, Kate and Gio are drawn together by factors that have been in play for generations and may drive them apart forever.

A Life Without Living is definitely outside of my usual reading habits, but I found the writing engaging and the storyline interesting and intriguing. I can’t wait for book 2!

*I received a copy of A Life Without Living from NetGalley and Foster Embry Publishing in exchange for an honest review

Literary Support Crews

Here’s the thing about being an author: it’s a solitary, always in your head kind of thing. I can ask for help with the very tangible steps in the process (critiques, beta-reading, listening to passages), but there are times when an idea or image is a whisper of a thought in my head, something that hasn’t been worked out yet, and may not be for years. But it’s there, and I want to know everything I can about it while it’s swimming around in my brain.

So how does a writer take a whisper of a thought and turn it into a total sensory experience? Well you imagine each and every sound, sight and sensation that could go with that (imagined) moment in time. And sometimes, you risk exposing the humiliating randomness of your brain, and you ask for help to “experience” what you’ve imagined.

Being the friend of an author isn’t the same as being friends with a photographer, painter, or musician (or so I imagine). To take part in the process with a writer or photographer, you might be asked to pose, with a musician you can hear the creative process as the piece is developed. With an author–well, a lot of time we don’t even know where the piece is going, can’t describe it, and you won’t even see it until it’s done-ish.

But what’s important is to have those people in your life that you can turn to and say, “So, I have this totally random thing I’d like your help with.”

And so it was, in Scotland when my own family and friends (my literary support crew!) helped me capture the sounds and images of what it might be like to march into an enemy castle…

Storming the castle…

Book Review: All Boy by Mia Kerick

Callie is attending Beaufort Hills Academy in an effort to put a humiliating high school experience behind her. But, as much as she wants to be her own person, she can’t get past her desire to fit in.

Jayden is also looking for a new start at Beaufort Hills Academy, one that involves living—for the first time—as a boy. With his strict religious upbringing, Jayden has never had the freedom to live the life he feels is true to his inner self.

Callie and Jayden are drawn to each other, and soon discover that keeping secrets isn’t so easy. But love is love–right?

All Boy is an achingly raw story about two teenagers who are looking for the freedom to live their lives, and to be accepted for who they are in a world that isn’t always receptive to the unique spirit of individuals. Mia Kerick has done a flawless job in presenting the pain and isolation of these two characters. The emotions are palpable, the writing is smooth and the story completely compelling.

**I received a copy of All Boy in exchange for an honest review.

Not An(other) Author Blog

Yesterday I wrote a blog post that was focused on something I was currently thinking about. Friends had a baby and I wrote all the rambling little thoughts in my head. And it felt good, which is a breakthrough for me because I’ve really been struggling with my blog for quite a while.

As a writer, there are a lot of things you’re told you should do. Having a blog is one of them. I’ve had a blog since long before I considered myself a writer. I wrote about all the weird little observations I had about life and parenting, sometimes just blogged about nothing particular, I simply relocated my bizarre, irrational train of thought from my brain to the digital world and hit “Publish.”

But as a writer there’s the belief (and so many people will tell you!–so, SO many people) that you really have to focus on your platform, your social media presence, and ensuring that you have great, focused content. So I worked on making my blog more reflective of me as an author.

I visited the blogs of other authors (you should really check them out, they have amazingly helpful articles!) and worked hard to cultivate the content I thought would offer something from me…an (*ahem*) published author (I hope you read that with a thick, thick tone of ironic self-importance).

I obsessed about the kind of content I should offer in my blog, what kind of relevant, focused topics could I cover that would make my blog stand out, or even just keep people from sharing it as an example of what not to do. Periodically I came up with (and even wrote!) a few writing related blogs, sharing what I know about submissions, finding inspiration and craft. It didn’t take long for my posts to slow down to a slow crawl as I struggled with finding the inspiration to write more content.

I did an entire series of author interviews (which I love and will continue periodically because I firmly believe indie authors & their books don’t get enough exposure), and I’ve been continuously posting book reviews (which I’ll also do because *insert previous reason and include all authors/books*). But I could not find the motivation to come up with new, focused content.

And yesterday, I was more excited about a blog post than I have been in a very long time, and it wasn’t because of the topic. It’s because I was doing what I started blogging to accomplish: just regurgitating the thoughts in my head out into the world! There was no pressure, no need to make a point, no “audience” that I was trying reach. It was just me and my words, and it was then that I had my great blogging epiphany: I can’t do focused!!! My mind really isn’t focused, why should my blog be?

So, I’ve entirely reconsidered my “platform” as a writer and here’s what I’ve decided: I can’t construct a presence. The only way to be authentic as both an author–and a human–is to put my most authentic self out into the world. I can’t construct myself as a well-polished, poised and articulate writing professional online because there’s no way I can carry that off in real life. I’m real, and I’m flawed, and I can’t help what sparks my passion from day to day. One day I might be really interested in sharing something I’ve learned about the writing or publishing industry, but the next day I’m obsessively contemplating the binding properties of Cheeto’s dust. And that’s the shit I’m gonna blog about (oh, yeah, I’m also gonna cuss–and use the word “gonna”–as much as I damn well see fit!)

Words of Welcome for a New Baby Boy (aka- Words of Warning for Parents of a New Baby Boy)

Friends from work welcomed a new baby boy early this morning.

Of course, every time a new baby makes an appearance on the periphery of one’s life, it causes one to sit back, reminisce, and then assault the new parents with a litany of advice and rules (most of which we rolled our eyes at and chalked up to complete bullshit when we were on the receiving end!).

So, I’d just like to take a moment to welcome little Colton into the world and offer him some support as he makes this transition into the exterior world. So, little baby, these are the things I’ll tell your parents. It’s real-world advice that most people won’t discuss in “mixed company”, but I’m here for you. It’s really what I do best (and because after three kids, I still don’t really know shit about layettes and how many onsies a person should have–which may explain a lot about my parenting journey, but back to your parents…).

I’ll tell them that:

  1. You’re going to pee on things. Lots of things. Like, not even now, or when you’re potty training, but a few years later. Just when they assume it shouldn’t be an issue.
  2. In the first few months, as they transition into the sleep-depraved, coffee-fueled parents they thought only existed in sit-coms, the magic words are: Always cover the wee-wee. They may be too tired to take the extra step, they may think they can change a diaper fast. But nothing on earth is as fast as the sudden breeze that sweeps in from tinkle-land and causes a baby boy to respond. As fast as that stream is, it’s also multi-directional, and nothing will wake them up faster than the light tinkle of urine spraying the window blinds over their shoulder at 2 am.
  3. Never put the baby directly on the couch, bed or carpet. Always have a blanket or towel (cheap ones that you don’t care about, but not so cheap that they give off carcinogenic fumes when you burn them!). You may think a diaper and clothing serve as a barrier, but there will be blowouts of such magnificent proportions that you can’t get into the same room without getting some on you. Trust me people, poop travels…far!
  4. Speaking of poop–never, ever, ever again assume that something is chocolate.
  5. You will do and say things that will make them question their own sanity. You’ll also say things that–however innocent–will sound completely inappropriate. Usually in public. In a very loud voice. In that two-second time span when every other sound on earth has paused. And everyone will look at them with the judgiest of judgemental faces. And just when you have everyone’s attention, you just feel free to say one more thing to really tip the balance out of their favor (trust me, they’ll just smile and shrug. There’s really nothing else they can do!).
  6. They’ll have to make rules they never imagined they’d have to verbalize: a) You cannot pee on your brother; b) Sneaking food in your underwear isn’t a good idea; c) You can’t put sausage patties in a toaster; d) You can’t use the plastic bins just because you’re in the middle of a LEGO project–get up and go to the bathroom. (I’m really not profiling–a lot of things boys do just involve pee)

But despite the exasperating, appalling, confusing, and human waste covered moments they’ll never be the same. They’ll barely be able to recall a time when you weren’t in their lives, they’re first and last thoughts each day will be of you, and every cell in their bodies will be finely tuned to where you are in the world and will know on a cosmic level if you are safe, well, and happy. And if you do nothing else in the world, the fact that you exist has made them exactly who they are right now, and it is the very best of everything!

Book Review: The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets by Molly Fader

The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets is a novel about the beautiful, imperfect ties that bind families together.

Delia is struggling. She’s trying to maintain it all with a rebellious teenage daughter and a demanding infant. If that weren’t enough to deal with, she is feeling increasingly isolated from her husband, dealing with the stress of her family’s charter business, and her elderly mother is ailing and in need of more care.

Delia’s sister Lindy, on the other hand, left town seventeen years ago to live her life in the city and has never looked back…until now. When she gets a call about their mother, Lindy returns for her first look at the people her mother and sister have become.

The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets opens with a heavy sense of the isolation Delia has lived with. A traumatic event seventeen years ago—that drove Lindy away and strained the family relationships—is slowly revealed throughout the book. Molly Fader has done an amazing job with capturing the dynamics of siblings who love each other, but are still dealing with the hurt of the past.

This is a deep and heart wrenching book, but also a lovely tale of sisters and the strength and love that bind a family together.

*I received a copy of The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets from NetGalley and Graydon House in exchange for an honest review

Author Interview: Emily Shore

Name: Emily Shore
Author of: The Uncaged Series (The Aviary, The Garden, The Temple, The Temple Twins, The Aquarium) and The Ruby Trilogy (Ruby in the Rough, Ruby in the Ruins).

Excerpt from the Uncaged series:

My cage used to be the hotels where I grew up. There, I knew what to do and how to act. Now, I would choose to spend an eternity inside those walls, just being Serenity instead of a caged bird. At least in the hotel, I always had one constant. Sky. Who will I become here? Girls have adopted their feathers, seemingly as easy as zipping up a jacket. But I wear my lightning on my sleeve, and I always will. After Dove departs, I thumb my silver tattoo. Like flames and frost, it taunts my skin. Somehow, I must keep the Aviary from conquering me.


From: Rochester, NY

Can you tell me about the first piece you remember writing? Honestly, I can’t. I was an extremely early budding author and began writing stories from the time I knew how to string sentences together. But my earliest memories were writing fairy tales from classic books I was raised on like Chronicles of Narnia, Arabian Nights, Hans Christian Anderson and of course…Disney.

When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as a profession? From a young age, it was always acting or writing. Dolphin therapy, for a time but I couldn’t hack the science. And since I never got into any high school or community college plays but still loved to write with straight A-s…

Is there anyone who went out of their way to help or advise you during your journey to become a published author? You mean other than fictional characters who doubled as my friends in a lonely childhood? No. I faced a lot of challenges and pressure to NOT write. As I was pursuing my creative writing degree, my fiancé now husband, was my only encourager.

Do you exclusively write young adult? Which genres do you prefer to write? I have exclusively written YA but in the fall, I would love to tackle my first NA novel and turn one of my old YA longer works into a NA short series. Someday, I will write a children’s book but not quite there.

What is your schedule like when you’re writing a book? Is it difficult to achieve a work, life, write balance? Let’s see…mommy of two little girls + international adoption + home buying/selling + anti trafficking presentations + babysitting a single moms kids during the week + promoting my recently published Uncaged Series = I cant wait till the fall (school for both my girls!)

How long does it generally take you to write a first draft? How long do you spend on revisions? Pre-children=1-4 months. Post-children=3-6 months with three self line edits.

Can you describe the preparation/research you do for each book? Depends on the book. With my Uncaged Series, I spent upwards of ten years researching as I wrote and I still learn more about trafficking every day. I love my paranormal books because I don’t research too much. But when I do…vampire species and wolf behavior and everything undead oh my!

Do you have any quirky writing habits (the things you’d never want anyone to know)? Not really. I’m pretty much one of those stereotypical authors with her cats and her headphones clicking away on my laptop while wearing pajamas and drinking tea…and occasionally some vodka!

Have you ever done a literary pilgrimage—or any interesting research—for your novels? If not, do you have a research destination bucket list? I’ve loved traveling in the past pre-children and it was a thrill to take in as much as I could so I could use it for world building and location fodder. Germany is in my paranormal series releasing this fall! #1 on my bucket list is Paris.

Inspiration comes in many forms. Can you recall the exact moment of inspiration for each of your projects? Every book is different! For one, it was a dream. For another, it was literally one photo. For The Uncaged Series, it happened when I went to Germany and overheard a conversation in an underground pub about the Red Light District. More inspiration came from Taken starting Liam Nelson – not the norm for sex trafficking – but I’ve written about that whole journey in a couple blog posts on my site.

Do you have a specific genre you prefer to read? YA any genre, but I am selective regarding the books in whichever particular genre. What are your favorites? A Clean Teen Publishing Classic: Lauren Nicolle Taylor. I love every single book she’s written and it’s very difficult for me to choose a favorite. Laini Taylor is the Queen of Paranormal fantasy and I could read all of her books on repeat. Yes, I’m aware they share similar names. Coincidence? You decide.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find or know the real inspiration for? Little hints in my books parallel to modern day issues that someone with more awareness might recognize. But that’s why I also have discussion questions. More humor hints and a prominent theme will be in my paranormal series this fall.

Are your characters inspired—in part or whole—by people in your real life? Absolutely! Yes, I’ve also tried very hard to model some of my characters opposite of people in my life and real life, too.

Name one book you think is entirely underappreciated. My over-appreciated list is longer. Ballad by Maggie Stievfater. Dark urban fantasy. The MC makes me laugh every time. A Northern Light, ya historical, is another

Name one book that was a guilty pleasure. The Thousandth Floor. It’s cheesy, its soap opera-y, it’s easy reading, colorful cast of characters, and high tech I drool over.

Be honest: Do you Google yourself? Once or twice. My husband googles me more.

As a writer, which animal would you choose as your mascot/avatar/patronus? You think me a damsel in distress? No, I am the DRAGON and I will swallow you whole!

Is there one thing you think you, as a writer, should be better at, but secretly struggle with? Characterization. Perhaps this is me speaking from a place of having written 25 books in ten years. Hopefully, in another ten years, I’ll have more to offer with growth.

What is one word of advice you’d give to an aspiring writer? For potential self publishing or small press authors: #1. You might not like to hear this, but work full time at a good paying job for awhile, accumulate a Publishing fund, and hire a professional, accredited editor. They are worth their weight in gold. Listen to them. Don’t listen to your professor. They know craft. Not necessarily publishing. #2 I don’t have to tell you not to give up. If you’re a real writer, you won’t.

What is one word of advice you’d give to a newly published author? Depends. Are they Big Five or small press or self published? If they’re Big Five: fangirling followed by begging them to read my book, small press: twinsies!, self published: successful? Loudly congratulating you outside and silently jealous inside, especially if you are a mom but self published when your kids were in grade school or older.

In what ways do you “pay it forward” to help other aspiring writers? I’m a social media and word of mouth praiser and excellent reviewer. For the authors I love, I can’t sing their praises enough!

Where can people find more about you?
• Website: Www.emilybethshore.com
• Facebook: Facebook.com/authoremilyshore
• Twitter: @emilybethshore
• Instagram: @emilybshore

The Uncaged Series:

The Aviary

“Gentlemen, we have a special treat for you today. Feast your eyes on this pure-blooded beauty!”

Sixteen-year-old Serenity has spent her entire life in hiding to protect her from this exact moment. In a world where beauty is bought and sold on the streets like a corporate commodity, Serenity’s natural assets are more like liabilities. Despite her parents’ best efforts, she’s been taken―ripped from her home and the only life she’s ever known―to find herself on sale to the highest bidder. And that bidder? Enigmatic and dangerous, Luc is the director of The Aviary―an elite museum where girls are displayed as living art by day…and cater to the lascivious whims of the highest bidder by night. In this elaborate and competitive world, girls go by names like Raven and Nightingale, and will stop at nothing to become top Bird.

Luc comes to idolize Serenity’s purity and aims to turn her into his grandest exhibit of all time―The Swan. In no time, she becomes one of the most coveted exhibits in Aviary history. When she discovers Luc holds the key to finding her parents, she must learn to play The Swan to perfection…to win his heart and earn his trust. But she doesn’t anticipate falling for him in the process. Now she faces an impossible choice: escape The Aviary and lose her only chance at finding her parents―or become Luc’s Swan for good and lose her identity forever.

The Garden

Serenity is willing to do anything to find her sister, the twin Force has raised in the Temple since birth. But when Sky refuses to help, Serenity has no choice but to go to Luc—whose plan is to use Serenity as bait. Together, they embark to Force’s island vacation spot—the Garden, an exotic Museum that displays girls as Flowers. When their plan takes a turn for the worse, Jade, the Garden Director, captures Luc and Serenity. With both their lives in the balance, Serenity has no choice but to bow to Jade, who may be even more ruthless and determined than Luc. Serenity will become the Skeleton Flower.

The Ruby Series:

Ruby in the Rough

For four years, Ruby has escaped the gangs and sweepers hunting her. Until now…
For the past four years, Ruby has lived in what was once a sprawling city of business and commerce. Now, it is the Ghetto; its main commerce exists in the form of females. Whether breeders, laborers, gang girls, or sex slaves, the Ghetto features any and every service with the Hotel as its central area of business. Thanks to her roof-topping skills and street smarts, which have made her impossible to catch, Ruby has made the Ghetto’s most-wanted list. Fortunately, she has one ally: a young man named Ink, the one man determined not to sell her. Unlike Ruby, Ink has no desire to leave the Ghetto, but she owes him a life debt and is trapped as much by her honor as by the soldiers patrolling the only exits out of the city.
Whether scavenging for food or holing up in an abandoned clock tower, Ruby and Ink remain unlikely partners until their home in an abandoned train yard is discovered. While Ink escapes, Ruby is captured by the roughest gang in the Ghetto. All too soon, Ruby learns she is bound for the Hotel where she will be used up piece by piece until there is nothing left. Unless she can escape and get the target off her back once and for all.

Ruby in the Ruins

“Ruby!” I hear my father calling out to me, and I try to contain my giggles, keep them hiding behind the thick bush that is my hiding spot. My giggles poke through the leaves but not enough for him to hear.

Or so I thought.

“Aww, you found me!” I protest, puckering my lower lip into a pout when my father sweeps away some of the branches. “I was really trying to be quiet.”

“You did very well,” my father assures me and scoops me into his arms.

“I’m nine years old now. I’m getting better at hiding,” I tell him proudly while winding my arms around his neck.

“That you are.” He beams and swings me around before setting me on the ground.

“So how did you find me?” I follow him back to the barn, eager to see the new goat kid that was born yesterday. Playing hide-and-seek was the only thing that could keep me distracted until Daddy was ready to let me in.

Daddy rubs my head, playing with some of my hair. “This right here.” He tugs on a cluster. “Could see your red hair through the brush. If you ever need to really hide, you’ll have to make sure you cover it up.”

“Or I could just cut it like Mal’s.”

Sighing, my father squats down next to me, his big palm cupping the side of my face, strong blue eyes insistent as an oncoming wave. “Never cut your hair, Ruby. Don’t ever change anything. Don’t let this world dictate how you look or even how you survive. Just survive. On your terms.”

And it has been on my terms all these years. Until now.

Ink

The worst of it isn’t the jump from the train.

The worst is the landing.

It’s the second time I’ve been tossed from a moving vehicle in less than twenty-four hours. Except this time, it was voluntary. As soon as I heard the gunshots and saw Ruby fall off the back of the train through the window, it didn’t take me long to follow.

Only now I’m regretting it because I won’t be any help to Ruby if I’m dead.

Book Review: Bethlehem by Karen Kelly

Bethlehem is the story of a strong family and two very different women from two distinctly different times who’ve now come together under one roof: 1960’s housewife Joanna and her 1920’s-era mother-in-law.

This is a slow-growing, character-driven story about the invisible ties that develop between people through our lives. The characters (there are a lot to keep track of and it felt overwhelming early on) are richly developed and intriguing, each with a unique history, motivation and voice.

Karen Kelly writes of each era and character in a way that brings them to life without slowing the pace or feeling too showy. The stories of both women are beautifully woven together until the finale beautiful end, which left me a little misty eyed.  

*I received a copy of Bethlehem from St. Martin’s Press and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review