Saturday, August 31, 2013

Books of Note: August Reads

Well, I didn't get to read as many books as I was planning on this month, but I did read 36 books since July, being able to count that as my summer reading! I even finished the giant stack of books I got from the library at the beginning =) August is always a busy month for me, so I didn't really read all that many, and I somehow managed to write reviews for only a few of the books, but there were still some good reads this month, so here were some that I liked best.

In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?

Featuring haunting archival early-twentieth-century photographs, this is a tense, romantic story set in a past that is eerily like our own time.


Thoughts on the Overall Book: If I'm going to read a paranormal romance (as I assume this book would be classed as) this is the kind of story I expect and want to read. This book was exciting, dark, and had a great mystery that totally shocked me when the culprit was revealed, all with a lovely gothic feel.

Cover--Yea or Nay: Yes! I really love this cover, in fact, it might go on my favorite covers of 2013 list. Not only is it awesome because it's a picture from the book, but I really think it catches Mary Shelly's character well. (And I love her goggles)

Characters: I was just a little worried about Mary Shelly in the first couple chapters because she seemed to come across just a little too importunate, but very soon, she evened out into a really awesome character with a quick wit, and enough stubbornness to be admirable, but not too much to make her have the Attitude. And, though I am not a science geek (history buff, I am and always will be) I really liked how she had a love for science, it made her a great character, probably because she was kind of an outcast because of it. I also really liked Stephen, he was quiet and gentle but not without a little fire in his soul. As a ghost, I just seriously wanted to give him a hug. His half-brother Julius, was a very fun character to hate. Yes, he kind of fluctuates in the story, but I always hated him, and I think Mary Shelly felt the same. I'm still not exactly sure how I felt about Aunt Eva. She didn't really bother me, but sometimes she could really get on my nerves. I actually liked her better initially, because I thought she was going to be kind of a tough, wartime woman, but unfortunately, once I got to know her, she kind of drove me up the wall on occasion with all her worrying and screeching.

The Romance: Since Stephen is a ghost, and Mary Shelly is a smart girl, the romance didn't really bother me. Her love for Stephen is obviously what drives the story and her need to help him, but there's not all that much time for romance per se in the book.

Writing Style: I really liked the writing style. First person past tense (thankfully) from Mary's point of view. She's a good protagonist and narrator, and I didn't mind being in her head at all. The author was somehow able to conjure up a very dark, dingy world and I found I could picture it all very well. I actually did something with this book that I have never done before and that was picture it all in sepia, or black and white. It just seemed more appropriate, and I did it subconsciously without knowing I was doing so. Now, I NEVER read plague stories, in fact, I hate them with a vengeance, and if there wasn't a paranormal aspect to this book, I would not have read it, but as it was, I though the Spanish Influenza made a good gothic backdrop to the story, and you can't change history either. There were some weird parts in this book too, and I'm going to warn potential readers about that now, because sometimes there were moments of what just happened??? but they all make sense in the end. I was thankful that a friend of mine read this book first and warned me because otherwise it would have shocked me much more. What I really liked about the feel of this book, was the fact that while everything was brutally real and seemed so, there was also lots about this book that felt very fantasy, or more sci-fi. I liked all the stuff about the ghosts, which apart from them being real, was all historically accurate. I also liked how there were parts, like where Stephen talks about his nightmares, where the reader is never sure whether to take things literally or figuratively. I'm not going to spoil the surprise.

Accuracy/ Believability: The time period is very sound from what I know. I'll admit most of my knowledge of WWI is military, and British/European, but from what I do know of the home front, it seems legitimate. The dialogue, and people's feelings about the war and other things, are also very accurate. I liked how, while Mary Shelly thinks that the war is a total waste of life, and pointless, the author never makes it seem like she's trying to jam that into reader's heads. Although, that might have been because I feel very much the same as Mary Shelly about WWI.

Unfortunately, everyone's perspective on PTSD (or shell-shock) in this book was accurate as well. It makes me sick to think of all those poor men coming back home broken, and no one knew how to fix them or even wanted to. And they were marked as cowards for it when it really should have been classed as a sickness.

Problems/What bothered me: Nothing, it's kind of one of those books that you just have to go along for the ride.

Conclusion: 4 stars. And can I just say that the conclusion of this story made me shout out loud? I honestly did not guess what was going to happen or who was responsible. I was so sickened and angry at the cause of Stephen's death, that I was totally smacked to find out the killer. Very well done, I must say. It's been a long time since I've been that surprised by an outcome to a mystery. I was going in probably every other direction imaginable.

Recommended Audience: Girl read, older teens (17 and up) due to content. The flu is painted pretty well, and there is some definite brutalness--things that made ME sick, and that's saying something. Also there's some more intimate scenes between Mary and Stephen, but they don't last too long.

Magic has been in a sad state in the Ununited Kingdom for years, but now it’s finally on the rise and boneheaded King Snodd IV knows it. If he succeeds at his plot, the very future of magic will be at risk! Sensible sixteen-year-old Jennifer Strange, acting manager of Kazam Mystical Arts Management and its hapless crew of sorcerers, has little chance against the king and his cronies—but there’s no way Kazam will let go of the noble powers of magic without a fight. A suspenseful, satirical story of Quarkbeasts, trolls, and wizidrical crackle!


Thoughts on the Overall Book: Like the first Chronicles of Kazam book, "The Song of the Quarkbeast" was a very fun, witty, escapist read. Not a huge amount of action or plot, but enjoyable and never boring.

Cover--Yea or Nay: Yes, I like the cover; it looks like a modern day fantasy novel, and I think reflects the overall feel of the book.

Characters: Jennifer continues to be an awesome protagonist, and pretty much the same as in the first book. I still love Tiger and the other cast of Kazam as well. We aren't introduced to a lot of new characters, but the ones we do get to meet, such as Once Magnificent Boo, ex sorceress turned Quarkbeast rescuer, I enjoyed reading about. Blix was a good slimy kind of fellow who you enjoy hating and, even though he only made a cameo appearance, I really enjoyed the King's Useless Brother. He was pretty hilarious and kind of endearing in his own way.

The Romance: None, unless you count Perkins crush on Jennifer, which I didn't have a problem with. She's too sensible to make it a problem.

Writing Style: Jasper Fforde's writing style is what makes these books. Jennifer's narration is always matter of fact, witty, and very enjoyable to read. I find myself laughing a lot reading these books, and I really love the satirical style the author uses. Like the first book, the real plot doesn't really show up in this one until the middle of the book, which would bother me if the plain stuff in these wasn't so engaging. As it is, while I could stop reading and put the book down easily enough through the first half, I was never bored with it, and it never felt like it lagged. I think the fact that the plots of these books aren't so desperately earnest is what makes them good escapist reads, and they always do make sense in the end, so I won't complain.

Accuracy/ Believability: Not applicable.

Problems/What bothered me: Not really any problems. We still haven't figured out why the Kingdoms are Ununited, but I've come to the conclusion that it's not important, and I'm thinking it's just part of the satire of the book.

Conclusion: 3 stars. Very enjoyable book, and one that's great to sit down with after a long day with a cup of coffee or tea. I look forward to future installments of the series.

Recommended Audience: ages 13 and up, guy or girl read. Again, I think readers of Patricia C Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles would enjoy these.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tour Stop and Excerpt for "Keeper of Reign" by Emma Right

Sixteen-year-old Jules Blaze is an Elfie - half elf, half fairy, living in a cursed Kingdom. The Keepers, entrusted to protect sacred Books written in blood, have long forgotten their purpose and struggle with the effects of the curse.

Jules finds himself in the crosshairs of an evil lord bent on destroying Keepers and their Books. His mother is a Keeper and she has disappeared, along with his grandparents. His father is nowhere to be found, and Jules now finds himself alone with four siblings to protect and a house ravaged by the enemies.

War rages on all sides of his homeland. Agents and assassins sent by the evil Gehzurolle are determined to kill him. Jules must find an ancient book whose secrets are the only thing that could give him answers and save him, his family and his homeland.

Emma Right is a happy wife and homeschooling mother of five. Besides running a busy home, she regularly reads and writes stories for children. An avid Christian, she enjoys writing stories with themes involving family-life, friendship, faithfulness, and seeking wisdom, all in an imaginary fantastical world. She has written several young adult novels and plans on writing many more. Right worked for two advertising agencies and has won several major awards, including the prestigious Clio Award. She currently resides in California where she takes care of her children and her many pets.

Keeper of Reign is a finalist in the reader's Choice Award 2013

FaceBook, Twitter & author website links



JULES PEEKED. THE intruder had a walking stick and was tap- tapping the stone floor as his feet shuffled across the library ground. Except or the light from his lantern, a rusty can with a stumpy candle within, the old library was as dark as a cave. He kept his lantern low, making it impossible to see his face.

He and Miranda turned their dragonfly lanterns off just as they’d heard the door creak open as it slid on its tracks. From behind a particularly dusty book, Jules peered at the dark form shuffling and waving his stick as though testing every bit of stone on the floor. Jules felt his nose tingle as the moments wore on.

Then it happened. He sneezed. The muffled explosion wasn’t loud, but in the dead silence of the library with only the intruder’s shuffling feet and the distinct tapping of the stick, it might as well have been a blast.

Instantly, the tapping and shuffling ceased. From almost nowhere the metal tip of a stick rapped Jules gently on the crown of his head. “Come out,” the intruder demanded, voice stern and angry.

Jules could hardly believe it.

Emma will be awarding a $15 Amazon or Barnes & Noble gift card to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Tour Stop and Excerpt for "Sapphire" by Bryan Alaspa

Jimmy Parker is a typical high school student. Unpopular with the girls and picked on by the boys, he’s just trying to survive long enough to escape the tiny Pennsylvanian town of Knorr. With Jimmy and his friend, George, heading to the school dance, they expect nothing but the usual ritual humiliation from their peers. But when a girl in a brilliant blue dress enters their lives at the side of a lonely old bridge…everything changes.

Her name is Sapphire, and she is the most alluring girl that Jimmy has ever met. Yet, there is something strange about her; something different. Why has he never seen her at school? Why does she only want to meet up near the bridge? And why does everybody keep warning Jimmy to stay away from her?

Before long, Jimmy is plunged into a decades-old mystery. The town of Knorr has many secrets; some held by powerful men. Men that would do anything to keep them from getting out. Something dark happened one night in Knorr, and now Jimmy is a part of it whether he likes it or not.

And Sapphire holds the key to understanding it all.

Jimmy discovers that his bond with the mysterious girl creates a unique power between them. A power that bridges time, space, and even dimensions. It is the one thing that could save them both.

Because sometimes the most powerful force on Earth is love.

Praise for Sapphire:

“A superb, well written story with a 50 year timeline. Initially a ghost story that turns into a mystery that becomes adventure and investigation turns again into a whodunit.” ~Robert Drake, Amazon Reviewer

“I was drawn to this book for the cover and it had been recommended to me by friend who knows my love of Western PA. I thought this book really captured the rural feel of a teenager's life and just as I was feeling a little complacent about it, Jimmy and George meet up with Sapphire on the river bank and the story really takes off.” ~Mary H., Amazon Reviewer

“A story of mystery and murder. A chilling, ghostly tale. An account of the pains and joys of youth, a romance, a love story like no other.” ~Daniel Cheely, Amazon Reviewer

 Bryan W. Alaspa is a freelance writer and professional author of both fiction and non-fiction. Having lived in Chicago almost his entire life, he spent a few years living in St. Louis. Bryan's writing first began when he sat down and wrote a three -page story on his mom’s electric typewriter in the third grade.  It’s been all up-hill since then!

With over 20 books in both fiction and non-fiction genres available,  you can find most of them at with few books just for your Kindle and iPad users.  Be sure to check them out.

A blogger for some time, you can learn about upcoming books as well as various author events Bryan is involved in.

had given him as a kid when he wanted a toy that was just too expensive.  It was the same look she had given him when he begged her for a cell phone.  And he saw the exact same look from her whenever he talked about needing a car.

Sapphire (excerpt)


Bryan W. Alaspa


Jimmy stood in front of the full-length mirror and did not like what he saw.  The sleeves were too short.  The white cuffs of his shirt stuck out from the sleeves of his jacket.  Any dork could see that. Unfortunately, most of the student body at Knorr High School already thought of him as a dork.  The last thing he wanted was feeling that way during his senior prom.  However, here he was, looking at an image that could only be described as “dork.” 
“No one will notice,” said his mother from behind him.  She was hovering over his shoulder like a specter.  She was smiling and proud.  “You can take it off once you get there, and no one will even be paying any attention.  Everyone will be too busy having a good time to care what you’re wearing.”
Jimmy sighed and tugged uselessly at the jacket’s sleeve.  “Mom, you just have no clue.”
She came forward and hugged him.  Then she leaned in and kissed him on the cheek.  Jimmy felt even more like a geek. 
“I’m not supposed to,” she said.  “Mothers are not supposed to have a clue.”
“Why couldn’t I have rented one?”  Jimmy asked for the nine-hundredth time that afternoon.
“You know why,” she said, turning her back and fussing with something out of his sightline.  “We can’t afford it.  Your uncle had this perfectly serviceable tuxedo and it’s a shame not to use it.”
She reappeared beside him in the mirror, her hand on her hip.  Her mouth was a tight line.  Jimmy knew that poking at the nerve that they were not a family of means was a low blow.  He had seen that look before.  This was the same look she

“I spent a lot of time getting the shirt and pants to fit you,” she said.  “I did the best I could with the jacket.  If you want, you can spend the night at home with me instead of going at all.  So, either deal with this situation the best you can or don’t go.  I really don’t care.”
She cared.  Jimmy knew she cared.  She and his father had worked their fingers to the bone to provide for Jimmy.  The family had never gone hungry.  They had never been without clothes.  They may have shopped for their new school wardrobe at Goodwill, but they had clothes.  They may have eaten more macaroni and cheese than others, but they were never hungry.  Their car may have been rusted through and coughed out oily blue smoke, but they always got where they needed to go.  The house may have been run down and it may have been in the part of town most of the other kids avoided, but they always had a roof over their heads.  Then his father had died, suddenly, a few years ago.  The pain was always there, behind Jimmy’s eyes, lurking around every corner.  His dad had done what he could to make sure his family was cared for, but it had not been easy.  His mother worked very hard.
Jimmy smiled his crooked smile. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly.  “I appreciate it, Mom.  Come on, it wouldn’t be a weekend if I didn’t complain about something.”
His mother’s face softened and then her smile returned.  Jimmy managed to turn away, searching for the bow tie, before she could plant another kiss on him.  He was only willing to be gracious up to a certain point.  He found the tie and fiddled with it for a moment.  When he turned back toward the mirror his mother was fiddling with something behind him again.  He affixed the tie and straightened it.  He took another look.  His image still said “dork,” but he had lived with that image for a long time. 
Before too long he would be elsewhere, and all of the things he had gone through in high school would be over.  He could live with looking like a dork for another night.  Besides, he was going with his best friend George, anyway, so things couldn’t get too bad.
“When is George getting here?” his mother asked.
“About five more minutes,” Jimmy said.
“I wish you two had managed to find some nice girls to ask,” his mother said.
“Mom, there isn’t a girl in Knorr High School that would be caught dead attending the senior prom with Jimmy Parker or George Howell,” he said as he adjusted his tie one more time.  It immediately went crooked again, and he decided that the tie really didn’t matter.
“I’m sure that’s not true,” his mother said.
Jimmy turned to face her.  “Mom, trust me on this one.  George and I are not the most popular kids in school.  In fact, we are far from it.”

She reached out and pinched his cheeks.  This was the one thing worse than the kiss on the cheek.  One thing was certain: his mother had some kind of cheek fetish.
“But you’re such a smart, nice kid,” she said.
Jimmy snorted.  “Mom, even in your day the smart and nice kids were not the popular ones in school, were they?”
She put her hands on his shoulders.  “I found your father in high school.  He was smart and nice.”
“He also played football,” Jimmy said.
“He was the kicker,” she said.  “You know, back in the old days when dinosaurs walked the Earth, and your father and I were young.”
“Kickers still wear uniforms,” Jimmy said.  He paused to make sure his hair looked OK one more time.  The cowlick towards the back of his head was still there despite the industrial strength hair gel he had put in there.
Just then, the phone rang.  Jimmy’s mother vanished into the kitchen and Jimmy turned back to the mirror and adjusted his tie for the millionth time.  He also tried to plaster his hair down, but to no avail.  He sighed.  He was always going to look this way, right?
“Jimmy,” his mother said, returning to the bedroom.  “It’s Jesse.”
Jimmy smiled.  Jesse was the town’s librarian.  The library was small, but filled with wonder, as far as Jimmy was concerned.  It overlooked a river and was surrounded by touristy attractions, but inside it was all books and musty smells.  Jimmy had buried himself there when his father died and Jesse had taken a kind of liking to him.  It may have been a stretch to say that Jesse was a father figure, but their relationship was pretty close.  Jimmy ran to the phone.
“Hey, Jimmy! Are you looking sharp in your suit?” Jesse asked.
Jimmy laughed.  “Jesse, I would not look sharp wearing a suit full of razor blades.”
“Come on, you know that isn’t true,” Jesse said.  “I’m sure you and George will have a good time.  Maybe try to get up the nerve to ask a girl to dance.”
“I wouldn’t put money on that,” Jimmy said.  “I’m betting most of the girls there arrive with dates.”
“You just never know,” Jesse said.  “I had a pretty amazing time the night of the big dance when I was your age.  And I ended up going with a beautiful girl, to boot.  You need to be a bit more positive.”
A honk came from outside.  This was followed shortly by a sound that was only slightly quieter than a Howitzer shell going off in the living room.  George had arrived with his car.  The engine settled into a low rattle as the car set about trying to shake itself to pieces again.  
“Yo, Jimmy!” came the bellow from the car. That could only have been George leaning out the driver’s side window.  George was not known for being subtle.
“That sounds like George,” Jesse said.
“Yeah, that’s him,” Jimmy said.
There was a pause.  It seemed like there was more to say, but anything else would have crossed some line between them and that line was still held by Jimmy’s father, even though he was gone. 
“You be careful tonight, Jimmy,” Jesse said.  “Come by the library when you can and tell me all about it or give me a call tomorrow.”
“I will,” Jimmy said, and paused, then added. “Thanks for calling.”
“You bet,” Jesse said.    
Then he was gone, and Jimmy ran back to the bedroom.  His mother was there with her hands to her throat in an unconscious anxious gesture she often did, looking as if maybe she had been crying.  His mom appreciated how Jesse looked after him, but the pain of losing his father was still there.  Jimmy smiled and gave her a kiss on the cheek.  Another honk came from outside, so Jimmy had to move.
Jimmy tried to move past his mother, but she grabbed him by the shoulders, pulling him back and looking him full in the face again.  She smiled, and, much to Jimmy’s consternation, he saw tears swimming in her eyes.  She was about to give him some sort of speech about how proud she was of him.  It would be similar to one she had given him when he had first gotten the scholarship to attend Clark University.
“Be careful,” she said instead, her voice quavering.  “And have fun.”
Jimmy smiled.  This time, he leaned in and kissed her on the cheek.  He left quickly just because he did not want to see her cry.  He ran down the hall and through the living room. 
Jimmy bolted through the door and heard it bang shut behind him. George was hanging out the window of his car, his tuxedo jacket already tossed in the backseat.  He had a huge grin on his face, his hair already wild and windblown from driving with the window down. 
“Come on, the party awaits!” he yelled in the rather odd way of speaking that George had and that so marked him as an outsider, and leaned back into the car, reaching over the passenger’s seat to unlock the door.
“What’s it waiting for?” Jimmy asked as he opened the large, rusty door with a loud screeching sound.
“Us, my man,” George said as Jimmy planted his ass on the passenger seat and slammed the door.  “It is waiting for us.”
Jimmy laughed.  “You do live in an amazing fantasy world.”
George leaned around the passenger seat to peer out the back window as he shifted into reverse.  “You should move into my world, my friend,” he said.  “Plenty of room, and the fun never stops.”
Jimmy laughed again.  He thought that maybe it would be a night to remember, after all. Once Jimmy was situated in the passenger seat, as often happened when he was with George, Jimmy’s own form of speech slipped into the oddly formal way that George spoke.
   “Then lead on, sir,” he said. “Lead on!”

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