Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ringing in the New Year with my favorite books of 2011!!!!

Looking back over 2011, I realize I have read so many great books this year.  While I read a large variety, I noticed that it was mostly the Young Adult books that I chose to review for my blog.  From blockbuster hits to small indie gems, these are my favorite books of the year:


The Trylle Trilogy by Amanda Hocking has gotten a lot of press this year as an example of an indie author striking gold.  I see now that St. Martin’s Press has released these books in traditional form now, but when I read them in January, they were the first $2.99 e-books that I downloaded onto my brand new Nook back in January.  While the version I read could have used some editing, the strength of Hocking’s unique Trylle world sucked me right in.  I also loved the way she chose to end the love triangle. 

Succubus Revealed by Richelle Mead was my most anticipated book of the year.  While Mead’s Vampire Academy series may be more popular, it is the romance between Georgina Kincaid and Seth Mortensen that made my heart race.  I have been in love with this series for the past couple of years, and the final book was bittersweet.  Never has a series caused me to fall in love, broken my heart and mended it together again the way this one had.  And it was funny too! 

Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson was, by far, the most well-written book I read this year.  A mix of paranormal, sci-fi, suspense and romance, this book had something for everyone.  The main character, Allison, has a condition called Synesthesia which mixes up the way she perceives the information coming to her through her five senses.  For example, she can see the color of sounds, feel personalities in words and taste when someone is lying.  The descriptions showing the world from Allison's perspective are fascinating.  Here's the twist, what is metaphor to the reader is real to the character.  Brilliant!

Scent and Shadow by Mercy Loomis is my favorite vampire book of the year, and considering how many vampire books I read, that means a lot.   Gabriel is how vampires are meant to drinking animal blood to appease his conscience, no human turning his stone heart to mush, no sparkles.  The author describes this book as almost an anti-romance.  The characters get their happy ending, but it is nothing like you would expect.  Sometimes, I like vamps to be the monsters they are meant to be, and Scent and Shadow delivers.

Starcrossed by Josephine Angelini received my highest ranking out of all of my reviews this year, a Greek inspired romance with a modern day Helen of Troy. Helen is beautiful, but incredibly awkward, which makes her endearing.  Oh, and then there is Lucas.  *swoon*  He is completely hot!  But it isn’t just his looks—let’s face it, every male lead in YA novels is the most gorgeous boy ever—Lucas is strong and smart and thoughtful.  The sexual tension between him and Helen practically ignites the pages.  Even when Helen wanted to kill him and later when they found out they couldn’t be together, you just know there has to be a way to make it happen. 

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins proved that sophomore novels can be just as good as the debuts.  After the stunning success of Anna and the French Kiss, Perkins returned with another beautiful teenage romance filled with unique characters and sexual tension.  Lola is not a perfect girl.  She makes poor decisions and lots of mistakes, but that makes her real.  I have known many girls like Lola.  She lies when she is afraid to tell the truth.  She struggles with her identity.  Her heart is traitorous and out of control.  In other words, she is a typical teenage girl.  Lola’s costumes are both an expression of who she is and a mask to hide from the world.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin was one of the most haunting stories I read all year.  After being diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder resulting from a tragic accident, of which she has no memory, Mara and her family move to Florida for her recuperation.  But while she tries desperately to pretend she is getting better, she’s not.  Are her hallucinations mental illness or something more?  All she knows is that when she gets angry, the bodies start piling up. 

On the Island by Tracey Garvis-Graves is another indie book that I fell in love with.  I lost a lot of sleep this week over this book!  You might think that a story which largely takes place on a deserted island would get boring, but let me assure you, there is plenty of action, humor and romance to keep the pace moving.  So much more than a simple survivor story, On The Island takes two highly developed characters--both at turning points in their lives--and forces them to into an endurance situation which will alter them both forever.  Along the way, they have to confront issues such as life & death, what they want out of life, whether they will even have a future beyond the island and the effect their thirteen year age gap might have on their feelings for each other.

Ashfall by Mike Mullin is my choice for debut novel of the year.  This post-disaster story follows a teenage boy’s fight for survival after the devastating eruption of the Yellowstone super volcano.  My first impression of this book is how incredibly well researched it is.  Not only did Mullin have the science down -- he calculated the exact spot in the country to set the story based on the ashfall projected from such an eruption -- but he also knew how the characters would feel, both physically and emotionally over what was happening around them.  The opening scenes where Alex is experiencing the first 24 hours of noise and darkness were amazing!  I felt like I was there right alongside him.  This feeling stayed with me throughout the book, putting me on the edge of my seat the whole time.  I am eagerly awaiting the follow up Ashen Winter due out in 2012. 

I'm sure 2012 will bring it's share of wonderful books also.  Here are a few that I'm looking forward to:

The Golden Lily by Richelle Mead
City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Hallowed by Cynthia Hand
Lover Reborn by J.R. Ward
Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
A Million Suns by Beth Revis
Fever by Lauren DeStefano
Spellbound by Rachel Hawkins
The One That I Want by Jennifer Echols
Blue-Blooded Vamp by Jaye Wells
Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin

So, do you have any books that you are eagerly anticipating for 2012?  Share with me!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Review: ‘Along for the Ride’ by Sarah Dessen

Ever since her parents began fighting, Auden has been unable to sleep at night. Now, spending a summer at a charming beach town with her father and his new family, she has to find new places to pass the time she spends awake. And so she meets Eli, a fellow insomniac who becomes her nighttime guide. Together, they embark on parallel quests: for Auden, to experience the carefree teenage life she has missed; for Eli, to come to terms with the death of a friend. In her trademark blockbuster-style, Sarah Dessen creates a powerful and irresistible story of two people learning how to connect.

Along for the Ride

I really liked this book.  The characters were unique, intelligent and well-developed.  That goes for the side characters also, which is really unusual for a young adult book.  Looking at the cover, I was expecting a light, summer-type read.  But these characters have real issues, and they are all moving forward, albeit at different paces.  There is not a stereotypical character in this book.  Each have layers to them that peal back as the story progresses. 

Auden starts the story off as a bit of a snob.  Having been raised by two ultra-selfish intellectuals, she almost couldn’t help it.  I loved watching her progress to a more open-minded person throughout the course of the book.  Although I did have problems with how she treated Eli.  He was this fragile young man who was just beginning to show signs of healing after the death of his best friend, but Auden treats him a bit carelessly.  I suppose that was part of her growth process, but it still made me sad to see it. 

Speaking of Auden and Eli, the romance plotline is very understated.  Considering the cover of the book, this also took me by surprise.  The story really revolves around Auden and her progression.  Eli does play a role in her development, and he develops himself too, but I love how Dessen allows them to work their lives out on their own.  Eli doesn’t fix Auden, and Auden doesn’t fix Eli.  Not only is this refreshing, but it sends a good message. 

Overall, I give Along for the Ride...

Plot - 4 bookmarks
Character development - 5 bookmarks
Moral lessons - 4 1/2 bookmarks (not preachy and kind of understated, but the reader learns along with Auden)
Dream cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Rooney Mara (Auden), Jackson Rathbone (Eli), Joseph Morgan (Hollis), Mary Marguerite Keane (Maggie), Peter Sarsgaard (Dad), Jane Adams (Mom), Jessica Chastain (Heidi)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Review: ‘Madison’s Life Lessons’ by Gracen Miller

Fate can mark one early for a particular future.

Madison Wescott’s life is Hell on earth. Her father, a Baptist Preacher, convinces her she’s morally corrupt when men notice her blooming beauty. She strives to be unnoticeable, but nothing satisfies her condemning parents.

And sometimes fate has nothing to do with one’s potential.

Temptation rears its head when Micah Dominus visits her father’s church on Christmas morning, but she is unprepared for her physical reaction to him. Frightened by her own emotions, she is grateful she’ll never see him again. But when he shows up again at a friend’s funeral, and at other times in her life, she’s swayed by his charisma. Micah becomes her white knight through the good and bad, but can they create the perfect life together? Or has she just located the beginning of the Road to Hell?

Supernatural forces more powerful than fate can claim one’s destiny…

(Amazon product description)

Madison's Life Lessons (The Road to Hell series)

This novella is the introduction to Gracen Miller’s Road to Hell series.  Knowing that, I fully expected it to have some major cliffhangers--after all, the purpose of it is to get you to read the rest of the series--however, I didn’t feel there was enough of a completed plot arc in the novella to make it a satisfying read.  I appreciate what the author was trying to do here, but if they are not able to bring a novella to a conclusion, it makes me wonder if the series is going to be one long, never ending story spanning over several books. 

As far as characters go, I liked Madison enough.  She was a bit stupid and naive, but then she was supposed to have been super sheltered by her preacher father, so that sort of made sense.  What I had a big problem with was the skeevy old men constantly sexualizing this fifteen year old girl.  Her father was the worst!  I swear there was something incestuous in his preoccupation with his daughter’s sexuality. 

Micah was intriguing.  I found him intelligent and dangerous and sexy...all the things that make a good alpha male.  If I go on to read more in this series, it will be because of Micah.

Normally, opening novellas for paranormal series serve as a vehicle to set up the world.  Unfortunately, this story really didn’t do that.  I get there is something paranormal going on here, but the novella never explained anything.  Is Micah a fallen angel, a demon?  I don’t know.  I get the feeling Madison is not just a normal human, but what is she?  What is her mother?  I didn’t get the mother at all.  How could she be this idealistic preacher’s wife for fifteen years of Madison’s life, and then get it on with guys right in front of her daughter with no problem?  That scene was just creepy and gross.  There are too many unanswered questions. 

Overall, I give Madison’s Life Lessons...

Plot - 3 bookmarks (was interesting enough, but lacked conclusion)
Character development - 3 bookmarks (Madison grew and matured as she learned her ‘life lessons,’ but she still came across as too innocent and kind of stupid. Not much character growth in the other characters.)
World building - 1 1/2 bookmarks (Very little set-up or explanation)
Dream cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Ashley Benson (Madison), David Anders (Micah), Monica Porter (the mother), Aaron Eckhart (the father)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Author Spotlight: Kenneth Weene

Join me in welcoming Arizona author Kenneth Weene, whose books are getting rave reviews on!  

Image of Kenneth Weene

JLR:  Many writers agonize over writing query letters.  Do you have any tips on what people should do or not do in query letters?

KW:  First let me say that I only sent queries to three publishers, and my first novel was accepted by one of those three. What I did was to carefully peruse the write-ups I found about the three. Then I wrote my query letters based on what I saw in each of those publishers. If I were to give one piece of advice it would be to write personalized queries not use a general formatted letter. Also, don’t shotgun publishers (or agents). Rather look for the place where your work will fit. Study the publication list of a publisher; is it consistent with your aesthetic? It is far too easy for writers to forget that you must establish personal relationships with your readers – including the ones at an agency or publishing house. Since you are looking for them, it falls on you to make sure that the fit for that relationship is right.

JLR:  How have you been able to use social media (Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.) in your marketing plan?  Do you have any advice for new authors looking to promote themselves on these sites?

KW:  I will share two secrets I’ve learned and that seem to stand me in good stead.

First, be real. Have opinions and interests. Don’t just post about your books. The key is having a personal relationship with the reader. (Notice a theme developing here?) They want even need to feel that there is a real interaction. Which, by the way, is why I don’t have fan pages for my books. I think they are immediately alienating.

Second, I follow an 80-10-10 rule. If you look at my Facebook page, my Linkedin posts, my tweets, you will see this rule in action. Eighty percent of my posts are about non-writing topics. For example, I care mightily about the environment, politics, history, and general philosophical issues. I also love humor. Ten percent are writing related, but not about Ken Weene. I support my fellow authors published by my publisher, All Things That Matter Press, but I also try to mention other writers and writing related topics. For example, if I go to a play, I post about it. If I see an interesting piece of news about a writer, up it goes. One thing I don’t do much of is posting about books I’ve read. If I started doing that, I might hold myself up as too much a critic and that would alienate. Yes, that last ten percent is about my writing. I try, by the way, to keep those posts interesting both by using catchy ideas and humor and by trying to keep active on the web (and in print). For example, I will certainly be posting about this interview -  a new place, a new set of comments, and still a reminder of what I am about and the titles of my books.

JLR:  Do you have a book trailer?  How has the trailer influenced sales?  (Feel free to post a link to your trailer if you want.)

KW:  I’m a great believer in trailers. One nice thing is that my son is in the video business and does some of mine for me. Do they produce sales? That I don’t know. I can tell you one issue. You Tube doesn’t allow you to post videos with links; so while it is an excellent platform for getting noticed, placing trailers there means the viewer then has to independently go to Amazon or some such place to order your book. I prefer using a different type of service.

Here are two trailers – one for my first novel, Widow’s Walk
and the second for Memoirs From the Asylum

I haven’t got one for the book which will be coming out soon, Tales From the Dew Drop Inne: Because there’s one in every town, but you can be sure there will be one soon.

JLR:  What three books have most influenced you to become a writer?

KW:  Not so much to become a writer as to how I write – books that have affected my style.

First and foremost, Slaughterhouse Five. I love the way Vonnegut mixes the most intense human experience and emotion with a sense of ironic humor.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien taught me something of how the intensity of human emotion must then be tied to the concreteness of human behavior to make a good read.

Paul Harding’s book Tinkers came on the scene when I needed to be reminded that the flow and quality of language is an important part of a book’s quality.

Obviously, I could go on listing books and writers; but I shall abide by the limit of three.

JLR:  How long have you been writing, and when did you decide that you wanted to write for publication?

KW:  I started writing poetry about twenty years ago and I brought out a couple of chapbooks. When I retired (from psychology) and moved to Arizona, I started writing more prose. That was in 2002. Soon after I used one of the nicer vanity presses to bring out an anthology of prose and poetry. The major reason for doing that was to get past the psychological impediment that had kept me from becoming a writer as a first career. I won’t go into the specifics; suffice it to say that I called that anthology Songs For My Father. Feel free to come up with your own analysis.

Once the floodgates had been breached, there has been an endless flow of novels and stories; and I should mention also more poetry.

JLR:  Tell us a bit about your childhood.  Where did you grow up?  What was your family like?  Has your childhood influenced your writing?

KW:  Dysfunctional.

My mother certainly approached schizophrenia. She was a chronic liar within the family, a manipulator, and a perpetrator of Munchausen’s by Proxy. My brother, who is older, still has his sixth grade report card. Of the 360 attendance units (half days), he was absent for more than half; and that was a relatively good year and he was “the healthier” of us. I think in third grader I may have missed more than two thirds of the days.

My father was a rageaholic whose outbursts could not be predicted. The worst thing was that even compliance with his wishes could trigger him. When I was thirteen, he became so abusive one day that I almost attacked him with an axe. Luckily, somebody yelled my name, which brought me back to my senses. The next year I was off at boarding school. I guess I should mention that he was a schoolteacher and that he owned and operated summer camps. How’s that for a bit of irony?

Can you find the influences of that environment in my writing? Absolutely. Certainly in Memoirs From the Asylum it comes through loud and clear. However, my writing is not autobiographical. Most of Memoirs isn’t. Only a tiny part of Widow’s Walk reflects my life. And Tales From the Dew Drop Inne has nothing autobiographical in it.

Of course the basic themes of all three books do come from my own personal searching and questioning. But that is different from autobiography or memoir.

JLR:  Traveling has always been a great inspiration for my writing.  Have you been anywhere which particularly inspired you?  Anywhere you would like to visit?

KW:  Sadly I am too old to do as much traveling as I once did and loved. I have been to most of the fifty states, across Canada, and to many places throughout the world. So far most of my writing has been focused close to home, with a great deal of it set in New England and New York. I did fall back on my travel in Ireland for a bit of Widow’s Walk, but that was certainly not essential. Travel has, however, greatly influenced my writing at another level. It has made me aware of the different views people can take of the world and the different voices with which they speak.

Good writing has richness and nothing gives an author more diversity and richness than experiencing the world. If you have an opportunity to travel, take it!

JLR:  What do you think makes for a great romantic hero?  Is it all about the muscles and the smoldering eyes?

KW:  While I have yet to write a romance, there is certainly romance, sex, attraction, etc. to be found in my novels. While looks are important, true romance can’t rely only on the physical, not even when that physicality includes sex.

As a psychologist (and in my personal life), I have learned that the best romance is a blend of the physical and such important things as communication, sharing of goals and humor, and a willingness to accept the weaknesses and foibles of the other person rather than holding them up to some template we call perfection.

The novel on which I am currently working, which I hope will be published in 2013, focuses very much on romance and love. If you decide you like my writing, I hope you’ll still be reading my books when The Stylite comes out. I really think it not only a fine and beautiful book but also one that will help people to understand and find real love.

JLR:  What are you writing now that Tales From the Dew Drop Inne: Because there’s one in every town is being readied for released?

KW:  I have two books in the pipeline. Times to Try the Soul of Man is a conspiracy/coming of age novel. Based on some disturbing modern history, Times needs to be brought out by a larger house. Therefore I now have an agent who is trying to place it. I’ve already mentioned The Stylite, which will hopefully go to the same house that publishes Times. I have a novella which is also looking for a home; its name is not yet fixed. Currently, besides being on the third rewrite of The Stylite I have been working on a longish short story, a piece of horror fiction. I do love crossing genre lines.

JLR:  Where can readers go to purchase your books?

KW:  The easiest thing is to go to Amazon and look for me, Kenneth Weene. As the new books come out, that same search will get those titles up as well. Here’s the link for me on Amazon.

If you want to check out some of my writing, you can also visit

Friday, December 2, 2011

Review: On The Island by Tracey Garvis-Graves

“When thirty-year-old English teacher Anna Emerson is offered a job tutoring T.J. Callahan at his family's summer rental in the Maldives, she accepts without hesitation; a working vacation on a tropical island trumps the library any day.

T.J. Callahan has no desire to leave town, not that anyone asked him. He's almost seventeen and if having cancer wasn't bad enough, now he has to spend his first summer in remission with his family - and a stack of overdue assignments - instead of his friends.

Anna and T.J. are en route to join T.J.'s family in the Maldives when the pilot of their seaplane suffers a fatal heart attack and crash-lands in the Indian Ocean. Adrift in shark-infested waters, their life jackets keep them afloat until they make it to the shore of an uninhabited island. Now Anna and T.J. just want to survive and they must work together to obtain water, food, fire, and shelter. Their basic needs might be met but as the days turn to weeks, and then months, the castaways encounter plenty of other obstacles, including violent tropical storms, the many dangers lurking in the sea, and the possibility that T.J.'s cancer could return. As T.J. celebrates yet another birthday on the island, Anna begins to wonder if the biggest challenge of all might be living with a boy who is gradually becoming a man.”
(Smashwords description)

 On the Island

I lost a lot of sleep this week over this book!  You might think that a story which largely takes place on a deserted island would get boring, but let me assure you, there is plenty of action, humor and romance to keep the pace moving.  So much more than a simple survivor story, On The Island takes two highly developed characters--both at turning points in their lives--and forces them to into an endurance situation which will alter them both forever.  Along the way, they have to confront issues such as life & death, what they want out of life, whether they will even have a future beyond the island and the effect their thirteen year age gap might have on their feelings for each other. 

Both characters were incredibly realistic.  T.J. is only a teenager when the book begins, but he’d already faced death once while fighting Hodgkin’s lymphoma, so you knew he had strength in him beyond his sixteen years.  The way the author gradually matured him over the course of several years felt so natural.  At first, T.J. would take foolish risks in his efforts to provide for Anna, like climbing up too high in a tree to reach the fruit she liked and falling, leaving him with a broken collar bone.  (Not cool on an island with no medical care.)  But as the story moved on, he became more practical and capable, more mature than a typical young man his age, but not so much that he didn’t retain a bit of his boyish playfulness. 

Anna also evolved, although not in the same way.  When the story begins, she is thirty-years-old, stuck in a long-term relationship which is going nowhere and her biological clock is putting pressure on her to start a family.  She takes the summer job in the Maldives as a way to step back and reassess the direction of her life.  Getting stranded on an island for a few years might seem to make this worse, but actually, it ends up giving her a new perspective on life. 

Overall, I give On The Island...

Plot - 4 bookmarks
Character development - 5 bookmarks
Love story - 4 1/2 bookmarks
Dream cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Lucas Till (T.J.), Anne Hathaway (Anna)