Category Archives: book tour
by Christina Banagh
Fourteen-year-old twins Minty and Jess are inseparable. Maybe they bicker now and then, even crave a bit of space once in a while. But they have a connection. Unbreakable. Steadfast. Nothing can tear them apart. Until a family trip to the coast puts their bond in jeopardy. As Minty tries to rescue her dog from drowning she ends up fighting for her life. Will Minty survive? If she doesn’t, how will Jess cope without her? Only the stormy sea has the answer.
MY THOUGHTS: 4.5 OUT OF 5 FLEURS DE LIS
It’s absolutely impossible to review this book without giving up a very important spoiler that somehow didn’t make it into this book’s synopsis. Minty and Jess are teenaged twins living in Scotland. When one day the girls make a fateful trip to the rocky shore, Minty loses her life and Jess in short order loses her sanity. Minty’s spirit continues to hang around her family’s home, but it’s so hard to watch the living when you are seeing them break down. As twins, Minty and Jess shared a special bond…but will it be unbreakable even in death?
The book started off quickly but around the middle things got repetitive and the plot suffered a bit. Minty and Jess are twins, but so different from each other. Even though those differences exist, Jess experiences Minty’s loss like no one else because of the connection they shared. It was absolutely heartbreaking to see Jess go through all of the stages of grief, but it was also fulfilling to read because the author made it all feel so real.
Minty meets another ghost, trapped spirit, or whatever you want to call it shortly after he death. His name is Jack, and while Minty finds him irritating, he is also the only company she has and she needs his help. I mostly found him annoying myself. He and Minty don’t really have a romantic relationship, but he is extremely standoffish at times and often makes fun of Minty. She gave him a lot more leeway than I would have.
While I think the book was too long and several scenes could have been cut out, overall Minty was a great read and very emotional. I like that it didn’t fall prey to most YA stereotypes, and that the main focus was on family instead of a romance. The end was great and left me in tears. I’d recommend the book to anyone who has a firm sibling bond, or readers who’d like to experience one.
About the Author
Christina Banach is a former head teacher who lives in Scotland, UK, with her husband and their two rescue dogs. She loves walking; delicious food and wine; evenings at the theatre; exploring new places; surfing the Net; listening to music; and anything that makes her laugh. Plus she has a bit of a thing about shoes and handbags. She loves reading, and is especially keen on young adult and children’s fiction (all those years buying for school libraries!).
She is currently working on her next novel.
You can win a copy of the book or an Amazon Gift Card!
I Ate a Cicada Today
by Jeff Crossan
Based on a song of outrageous rhymes, I Ate a Cicada Today is a humorous children’s picture book illustrated in ink and watercolor with an accompanying CD. Each two-page spread features a verse about a different animal or insect including such fanciful scenarios as “I peppered a leopard today” and “I hid a giant squid today.” The CD is a guitar/vocal performance of the song by author/illustrator Jeff Crossan, who interjects each verse with a short spoken aside to provide added comic punch to the zany lyrics.
MY THOUGHTS: 4 OUT OF 5 FLEURS DE LIS
This is a super, super cute book written in verse like a song. In fact, the version on sale has a CD with it, but I didn’t get to hear this part yet. The author mixes funny lines about doing weird actions with animals with little tidbits of information about said animal, in a way that kids will remember.
I really liked the illustrations. They were beautifully done and made the verses really come to life. My 5 year old thought some of the pictures were really funny without even knowing what the lines were about!
The book is a bit long for bedtime reading, and there are some words you will have to explain the meaning of to your children. But it seems each set of verses can be a tiny tale all their own. This is a wildly inventive children’s offering that I think kids and parents will love reading.
Tell us a little about yourself.
Maybe I can answer your first request by telling you about a few firsts relating to my writing background. I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware and the first creative writing effort I recall was done on the back porch of my home there when I was about seven or eight years old. I wrote lyrics to the tune of Stephen Foster’s song “Beautiful Dreamer.” It was titled “Happy That Day.”
The first news article I wrote as a professional reporter was about a newly installed No Left Turn sign on a busy street in Newark, Delaware and how people who’d been making that turn for years were unpleasantly surprised when they were pulled over and ticketed by the local police. The lead was, “Some habits aren’t hard to break. Some habits are. Michael Piovoso has a law-breaking habit.”
The first song I was fortunate enough to have recorded was “You’re Gonna Ruin My Bad Reputation,” a number one record for country singer Ronnie McDowell. I’d love to become that fortunate again.
The first children’s song I wrote was “I Ate a Cicada Today,” which has now turned into my first children’s picture book.
What made you want to become a writer?
I think great writing made me want to become a writer. When I was five years old I heard “Zip-a-Dee-Do-Dah” in the Disney movie “Song of the South,” an Academy Award-winning song, and I wanted to write a song like that. In first grade I read Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Suess and it made me want to write and illustrate a children’s book. And today, when I hear a great song or read a great book, I still think to myself, “Why haven’t you written something like that, you slacker?” So I sit right down and write a note to myself to remind me to do that.
Who or what gives you inspiration?
As I just mentioned, sometimes it’s hearing or reading something that inspires me. Other times a cicada slams into my face in a parking lot and launches me into a rhyming frenzy.
Tell us about I Ate a Cicada Today.
The story of how the book evolved over many years is told in detail on its website. But I haven’t spoken much about the song itself, which also changed quite a bit over time. Originally, each verse was only four lines long, three of which were identical. The first verse, for instance, was “I ate a cicada today/I ate a cicada today/It flew in my mouth and it didn’t fly out/I ate a cicada today.” I soon realized that was too repetitive and allowed for a minimal amount of color or information. So I changed the second line to each verse. For the cicada it became, “I know that sounds crazy to say.” Eventually, I realized I wanted to put even more story into the verses so I stopped singing after each third line and added the spoken asides, which opened things up to all sorts of possibilities. Finally, I thought it would add variety to the song if I changed the tempos or time signatures on the verses to reflect the stories being told. The turtle verse, for example, is in waltz time and the hotwired Rottweiler is rock ‘n roll.
What’s the hardest part of being a writer?
Convincing a bank to lend you money. And deadlines. Even the word sounds ominous. When I was a reporter I hated writing under deadline pressure. I’m too much of a perfectionist to be satisfied with a first draft and that was often all I had time to write. Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson said he wrote best under a deadline and likened himself to the rabbit that choses to wait by the side of the road until the headlights are upon him before dashing madly in front of the oncoming car. That’s not me.
What do you need around you to write (special drink, lucky items, etc)?
I don’t need much. A pencil and a pad of paper will do. If I’m writing a song I’ll also need a guitar and a tape recorder. I prefer writing with a pencil to get started rather than a computer. It’s just more comfortable for me. And any posture is possible. I also like to have a large window with a view and plenty of natural light.
What are some of your favorite books?
It’s difficult to choose but if I use the number of times I’ve read a book to gauge where it stands among my favorites I’d have to say, To Kill a Mockingbird, Huckleberry Finn and The Grapes of Wrath. I’ve read each multiple times. When it comes to children’s books I really enjoy Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. Of the recent books I’ve read I like Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half, a unique combination comic book and memoir of sorts, which made me laugh out loud.
Are your characters based on anyone you know?
Most of the characters in I Ate a Cicada Today are animals and although I may have a passing acquaintance with some of them from occasional visits to the zoo I can’t claim to know them well. The little blond-haired boy who appears several times in the book was based on my son, Jon, who I not only know, but love. The little girl is my daughter Sara, who I know and love equally as much as Jon.
What, if anything, are you working on right now?
I have an idea for another children’s picture book based on one of the other children’s songs I’ve written. I haven’t begun working on the illustrations yet but I’ve been giving some thought as to how to best format them. Right now I’m busy doing all the things I need to do to support I Ate a Cicada Today.
Why do you love writing?
I love words and language, description and stories, rhythm and rhyme and everything that writing is. Aside from all that, I also enjoy the solitude that goes hand in hand with writing. I’m an only child and I entertained myself with solitary, creative pursuits a lot when I was a boy. That inclination has stayed with me.
About the Author
Jeff Crossan is an award-winning, Emmy-nominated songwriter. His hit songs include the number one country tune, “You’re Gonna Ruin My Bad Reputation,” which received a BMI Million Air Award. A graduate of the University of Richmond with a degree in journalism, he is a former newspaper reporter/photographer, music journalist and syndicated radio writer. For several years his cartoons appeared in the Presbyterian Voice. He lives in Franklin, Tennessee with his wife, Linda. They have a daughter and a son who have helped them assemble a fine assortment of mammals, reptiles, fish and insects.
I Ate A Cicada Today is his first children’s book.
Camp Utopia and the Forgiveness Diet
by Jenny Ruden
Sixteen-year-old Baltimore teen Bethany Stern knows the only way out of spending her summer at Camp Utopia, a fat camp in Northern California, is weight-loss. Desperate, she tries The Forgiveness Diet, the latest fad whose infomercial promises that all she has to do is forgive her deadbeat dad, her scandalous sister, and the teenage magician next door and (unrequited) love of her life. But when the diet fails and her camp nemesis delivers the ultimate blow, Bee bids sayonara to Camp-not-Utopian-at-all to begin what she believes will be her “real” summer adventure, only to learn that running away isn’t as easy—or as healing—as it seems.
Her wry and honest voice bring humor and poignancy for anyone, fat or thin, tired of hearing “you’d be so pretty if…[insert unwelcome judgment about your appearance from loved one or perfect stranger].”
MY THOUGHTS: 4 OUT OF 5 FLEURS DE LIS
As a bigger girl myself, I knew I had to read about Bethany’s journey to fat camp. If I had a dollar for every time in my life I heard, “Well you’d be so pretty if you lost weight,” or, “You’re very beautiful for a big girl,”then I could have sent myself to fat camp. The main character, and I’m guessing by extension the author, knows exactly what it’s like to be in the same position. I identified so much with Bethany sometimes, it kind of scared me.
Bee knows she needs to lose weight, OK? Like, she totally gets it. She knows if she could just shed that roll around her belly, her mother wouldn’t hound her so much, her older sister might be nicer, and maybe she could nail down her best friend TJ. But she likes to eat. She doesn’t know how to do the whole weight loss thing the right way. So that’s why, even though she’s dreading it, Bethany makes the road trip to California to spend the summer at Camp Utopia.
Right off the bat, I couldn’t believe the way Bethany’s own family and friends talked to her. They would tell her to her face that she needed to lose weight (and in a rather rude manner), call her fat, and even worse insults. During the road trip, it actually really pissed me off that Bethany’s sister was letting her boyfriend be so cruel to Bee. I have two sisters, and though we may pick on each other, I dare someone else to say something inappropriate to one of us. It’s as if the author was trying to make a point as to how often and ruthlessly overweight people get picked on, but in my opinion it went overboard. I was like, “OK, I GET IT!”
Bethany is a pretty witty girl, and she takes most of the insults hurled her way in stride. A girl can’t hold out forever, though, and that’s why I’m glad when Bee had her breakdown she had a good friend alongside her. There is also romance, but it’s not a main plot point and its’ progression is unusual to say the least.
The book drags in the middle some. I didn’t see the point of Bethany and her friend Cambridge’s little foray into a drug filled party, and I think the book could have done without that scene and a few others that seemed like page fillers. But by the end, there are a couple of really cool surprises and the book wraps up in a believable way.
I think a lot of girls will relate to Bethany and her journey, teenagers or even older. The author had a way of making you feel for a character while also being able to see their flaws. This was a fun summer read and I definitely recommend it.
About the Author
Jenny Ruden has published short stories and essays in Nerve, Salon, Eclectica Magazine, Literary Mama and High Desert Journal. She won an Orlando award for creative nonfiction, was named a finalist in Glimmertrain’s short fiction contest, and has been nominated for the Pushcart prize two years in a row. She has worked with teenagers for over ten years as a teacher of Reading, Writing and GED, and has an MFA in Fiction from the University of Oregon. She lives with her husband, two daughters, two basset hounds and cat in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Visit her website jennyruden.com, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
by E.B. Tatby
All her life, sixteen-year-old Kenza Atlas has heard the stories, but she never believed them. She never expected the allure of power or, worse, how far the dark shadows could cast. Genies and wishing are for fairy tales, not teenage girls, and especially not in Omaha.
But when a Moroccan jinn with undulating tattoos and mysterious black eyes whisks her 500 years back in time, she witnesses the death of her powerful ancestor and the gorgeous slave she loved. They sacrificed themselves to escape the Caliph, a tyrant named Mazin.
And now he’s after Kenza.
He’s tracked her to her present time. Now she spends her days stealing paranoid glances over her shoulder, obsessing over a slave who died hundreds of years ago, and praying her family will survive.
MY THOUGHTS: 3 OUT OF 5 FLEURS DE LIS
This is one of the few books I have read that have Jinn (genies) as the main supernatural character. While I appreciate novelty in the YA world, I’m not sure I will ever love Jinn as a creature.
Kenza has a Moroccan heritage, and as such, her father has been telling her tales of Jinn and evil in her family generations back. But Kenza was unprepared for the fact that all of the stories her dad told her were actually true…which she realizes when a Jinn shows up in her bedroom and transports her to the past. Kenza learns that she shares a body with a powerful relative whose past will intertwine with Kenza’s present in a potentially dangerous way.
Kenza is a teenager, and while she’s not particularly rebellious, her parents are quite strict. Perhaps this stems from her father’s upbringing in a place other than America, but it makes it somewhat difficult for Kenza to fit in. She’s even bullied at school. So I don’t blame her when she jumps at the chance to get away from her parents and her terrible school life.
While the Jinn action starts almost immediately, it still takes quite a while for the book to get rolling. Kenza goes back and forth through time, but doesn’t actually question the fact of Jinn being real as much as I feel a normal person would. It also took me a little time to get used to the idea of a Jinn being a part of another person’s body.
The romance can kind of seem like a case of insta-love, but it’s hard to say that it is really–Kenza shares her Jinn ancestor’s thoughts and memories, so while it seems Kenza is falling for Amal when she’s barely seen him, maybe it’s just because of feelings she’s getting from the past.
I can tell this is the author’s first book; the conversations are sometimes stilted and the writing doesn’t flow as easily as it should. Still, I appreciate a new idea in fiction, and I think if the author puts more work into writing this series could gain a lot of fans.
About the Author
E.B. Tatby was born and raised in Sioux City, Iowa. She is living her life-long dream of being an Author and is passionate about inspiring others (especially teens) to follow their dreams. Above all, she wants to remind them of the power to wish.
I Wish, a YA story, is her first published novel. She is currently working on a sequel.
For More Information
- Visit E.B. Tatby’s website.
- Connect with E.B. on Facebook and Twitter.
- Visit E.B.’s blog.
- Contact E.B. Tatby.
For More Information
- I Wish is available at Amazon.
- Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble.
- Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
- Read Chapter One here.
In the Mirror
by Kaira Rouda
What choices would you make if you knew you might die soon?
In the Mirror is the story of Jennifer Benson, a woman who seems to have it all. Diagnosed with cancer, she enters an experimental treatment facility to tackle her disease the same way she tackled her life – head on. But while she’s busy fighting for a cure, running her business, planning a party, staying connected with her kids, and trying to keep her sanity, she ignores her own intuition and warnings from others and reignites an old relationship best left behind.
If you knew you might die, what choices would you make? How would it affect your marriage? How would you live each day? And how would you say no to the one who got away?
About the Author
Kaira Rouda is an award-winning and bestselling author of both fiction and nonfiction. Her books include: Real You Incorporated: 8 Essentials for Women Entrepreneurs; Here, Home, Hope; All the Difference;In the Mirror; and the short story,A Mother’s Day. She lives in Southern California with her husband and four children and is at work on her next novel.
Her latest novel is the women’s fiction, In the Mirror.
For More Information
- Visit Kaira Rouda’s website.
- Connect with Kaira on Facebookand Twitter.
- Follow her on Pinterest and connect on Goodreads.
- Visit Kaira’s blog.
- More books by Kaira Rouda.
- Contact Kaira.
- In the Mirror is available at Amazon.
- Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble or Kobo.
- Download your copy at iTunes.
Cancel the Wedding
by Carolyn T. Dingman
On the surface, Olivia has it all: a high-powered career, a loving family, and a handsome fiancé. She even seems to be coming to terms with her mother Jane’s premature death from cancer. But when Jane’s final wish is revealed, Olivia and her elder sister Georgia are mystified. Their mother rarely spoke of her rural Southern hometown, and never went back to visit—so why does she want them to return to Huntley, Georgia, to scatter her ashes?
Jane’s request offers Olivia a temporary escape from the reality she’s long been denying: she hates her “dream” job, and she’s not really sure she wants to marry her groom-to-be. With her 14-year-old niece, Logan, riding shotgun, she heads South on a summer road trip looking for answers about her mother.
As Olivia gets to know the town’s inhabitants, she begins to peel back the secrets of her mother’s early life—truths that force her to finally question her own future. But when Olivia is confronted with a tragedy and finds an opportunity to right a terrible wrong, will it give her the courage to accept her mother’s past—and say yes to her own desire to start over?
MY THOUGHTS: 3 OUT OF 5 FLEURS DE LIS
While Cancel the Wedding isn’t the deepest thing you’ll read, it makes for a good beach book and a quick getaway from whatever might be troubling you.
Our main character is Olivia, a 32 year old who’s soon to be married to her high-powered attorney fiance, Leo. However, when Leo surprises her by telling her that he’s got the date and venue picked out, Olivia sort of freaks out and decides it’s time for an impromptu road trip down to Georgia with her teenage niece. Olivia aims to spread her mother’s ashes according to her final wishes, and just maybe found out about the past her mom Janie never wanted to share.
Once she gets there, though, Olivia finds out there is so much more to the story than she could have imagined. She soon realizes that it will take some time to uncover all her mom’s secrets, and it’s OK with her because she needs some time away from her life anyway. Helping her along this journey is town newspaperman Elliot, whose sweet southern demeanor quickly pulls Olivia in.
I believe that a book’s review is ultimately affected by what the reader expects the book to be. I was hoping that Cancel the Wedding would be a book of discovery and growth, but unfortunately the writing and characters fall into that chick lit, rom com rut that is so filled with stereotypes.
Olivia is a woman in her thirties but she can’t pull herself together enough to break things off with a fiance she doesn’t love. He’s always busy and from the way he seems to be wanting to marry her only to further his career, you know as a reader that there is no chance they are going to work out. Inserting a new, angelic guy into the mix just really leads you down the road you think.
But, the journey was OK. At first, I thought I had it figured out as far as the terrible secret Olivia’s mom had hidden, but I soon found that I did not, and at least that was refreshing. The book also touches on some of the things I was thinking as I was reading it: Why did Janie hide her past but want to be back in it after her death? How did Janie’s husband cope with everything? How will her children shoulder the truth? I didn’t exactly get the answers I may have been looking for, but at least the book attempted to address these issues.
The romance unfolds exactly the way you think it will in this type of book, and there was no surprise there. While Olivia is immature and runs from confrontation, Elliot is painted as a saint, so it’s easy to see that Olivia will choose him over her overbearing fiance Leo. I also thought the scenes at the end with everyone present were wrapped up a little too neatly and on the unrealistic side for my taste, but hey, maybe my life is just too drama filled.
As I said, if you’re looking for light hearted summer reading material, Cancel the Wedding is a nice choice.
About the Author
Carolyn T. Dingman lives in her adopted hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband and two daughters. Cancel the Wedding is her first novel.
Death at Carp High
by Jeremy Gold
Jake Brown Mysteries, Book One
Jake Brown is your average, above-average kid. He generally has his mind on the usual things high school seniors think about: girls, avoiding Spanish class, girls, pizza, surfing, girls, and of course, girls. None of that changes when he and his best friend, Dean, go surfing and find a body with a hole in its head floating beyond the waves. Suddenly, Jake’s life is about to change, some of it in a good way, some of it, not so much.
Shortly after “the big discovery,” Sydney, a cross country teammate of Jake’s, asks him to go to Morp—Prom spelled backwards—a Sadie Hawkins-style dance where the girls ask out the boys. As if life isn’t exciting enough trying to solve a murder, it looks like Jake is about to have his fondest wish granted—a real, live girlfriend. Despite Sydney’s obvious attraction to him, it takes a little work to convince Jake the attraction is real. Luckily, Sydney is very convincing.
In the beginning, Jake and Dean try keeping Lily and Sydney out of harm’s way. Their concern for their girlfriends doesn’t last long. Eventually, the four of them become entangled in clues—and making sure dire threats from their prime suspect don’t pan out. Jake might not say he’s gotten himself into a life-threating situation but not wanting to say it doesn’t make it any less true.
“Death at Carp High” has as many peaks and troughs as a winter swell at Rincon, and it’s all Jake and Dean can do to avoid wiping out.
About the Author
Jeremy Gold is seventeen years old…in his mind. He lives in Carpinteria, California, a small beachside town, ten miles south of its more celebrated sister, Santa Barbara. He loves hiking, mountain bike riding, and of course, writing. Death at Carp High is the first in the six-part Jake Brown mystery series.
Jeremy and his wife, Calla, have been married since 1979. Any resemblance between their 21-year-old son, Dan, and Jake Brown is purely…understandable.
This is the Water
by Yannick Murphy
In a quiet New England community members of the swim team and their dedicated parents are preparing for a home meet. The most that Annie, a swim-mom of two girls, has to worry about is whether or not she fed her daughters enough carbs the night before; why her husband, Thomas, hasn’t kissed her in ages; and why she can’t get over the loss of her brother who shot himself a few years ago. But Annie’s world is about to change. From the bleachers, looking down at the swimmers, a dark haired man watches a girl. No one notices him. Annie is busy getting to know Paul, who flirts with Annie despite the fact that he’s married to her friend Chris, and despite Annie’s greying hair and crow’s feet. Chris is busy trying to discover whether or not Paul is really having an affair, and the swimmers are trying to shave milliseconds off their race times by squeezing themselves into skin-tight bathing suits and visualizing themselves winning their races.
But when a girl on the team is murdered at a nearby highway rest stop-the same rest stop where Paul made a gruesome discovery years ago-the parents suddenly find themselves adrift. Paul turns to Annie for comfort. Annie finds herself falling in love. Chris becomes obsessed with unmasking the killer.
With a serial killer now too close for comfort, Annie and her fellow swim-parents must make choices about where their loyalties lie. As a series of startling events unfold, Annie discovers what it means to follow your intuition, even if love, as well as lives, could be lost.
MY THOUGHTS: 3.5 OUT OF 5 FLEURS DE LIS
It takes a little while to get into the style of this novel; the story is oddly told in second person and in the present tense. While this is something rarely seen in a traditional novel, it makes for a different, and sometimes intense, reading experience. But once I was sucked in to the story, I couldn’t put it down.
Most of the book takes place in or around a swimming pool. The main character, Annie, is the mother of two young girls who are competitive swimmers. The man who is the killer spends a lot of time at the pool too, watching the meets and practices and carefully choosing his next victim. While there’s never any mystery as to who the killer is, that doesn’t change the fact that the reader gets chills when getting into his mind and actually seeing him describe committing the murders.
For the most part, I think this book would have been better with the exclusion of several characters and subplots, but the addition of some others. As an example, we do not hear anything about a murdered girl’s parents and their journey through grief, but you see a random swim dad’s thoughts about how his boys are swimming in the practice. This dad never came up again in the rest of the novel, and the paragraphs from his point of view were apropos of nothing. In addition to the cheating subplot, which I felt didn’t add much or develop the story, paragraphs full of swimming jargon and descriptions of nature gave the novel an overall bloated feeling.
Where this book did work was the way that the unique narration style allowed the reader to get into the heads of characters better. In addition to seeing Annie’s neuroses, we see her feelings of rejection from her husband, guilt about how she sometimes treats her daughters, and desire when she’s around the guy she is starting an affair with. Though Annie is the main character, we also see into the mind of the killer, and his matter of fact way of describing things is quite chilling.
As I said, this book is different from the start, and I can tell that it’s one that won’t appeal to all readers. If you can stick with it, I think you’ll be happy with the ending, even though to me it was a bit anticlimactic. This writer has talent, for sure.
About the Author
Yannick Murphy is the author of The Call; Signed, Mata Hari; Here They Come; and The Sea of Trees, as well as two story collections and several children’s books. She is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, a Chesterfield Screenwriting Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the Laurence L. & Thomas Winship/PEN New England Award. Her work has appeared in The Best American Nonrequired Reading and The O. Henry Prize Stories. She lives in Vermont with her husband and children.
Find out more about Yannick at her website.
Help for the Haunted
by John Searles
It begins with a call in the middle of snowy February evening. Lying in her bed, young Sylvie Mason overhears her parents on the phone across the hall. This is not the first late-night call they have received, since her mother and father have an uncommon occupation, helping “haunted souls” find peace. And yet, something in Sylvie senses that this call is different than the rest, especially when they are lured to the old church on the outskirts of town. Once there, her parents disappear, one after the other, behind the church’s red door, leaving Sylvie alone in the car. Not long after, she drifts off to sleep only to wake to the sound of gunfire.
Nearly a year later, we meet Sylvie again struggling with the loss of her parents, and living in the care of her older sister, who may be to blame for what happened the previous winter.
As the story moves back and forth in time, through the years leading up to the crime and the months following, the ever inquisitive and tender-hearted Sylvie pursues the mystery, moving closer to the knowledge of what occurred that night, as she comes to terms with her family’s past and uncovers secrets that have haunted them for years.
MY THOUGHTS: 3.75 OUT OF 5 FLEURS DE LIS
There were three things about the description of this book that made me want to read it: it’s a murder mystery, it has a touch of the supernatural, and it’s told from the point of view of a child. All three of these things blended together beautifully and really made the book a fun read for me.
Sylvie Mason is slowly trying to put her life back together after the murder of her parents. A freshman in high school, she’s currently in the guardianship of older sister Rose, who has been volatile in the past to say the least. As Sylvie tries to work through her jumbled feelings about the night of the murder, she eventually also starts to work out what the truth really is, both about the murders and her parents.
Sylvie is 14 years old and while at times she can seem wise beyond her years, she also still has some of her childlike innocence, even in the face of the life she has led so far. Rose, four years older than Sylvie, was named for her mother but couldn’t be any more different than her. While Rose had a lot of arguments and misunderstandings with her parents during her teenage years, for the most part she never took it out on her younger sister. Rose and Sylvie are such different girls though, that it was impossible for them to always see eye to eye.
The Masons held an unusual job: they traveled the country offering “help for the haunted,” bringing peace to those claiming to be plagued by some demon or spirit. They often brought their work home with them, and as they became more well known, it made the girls’ lives tougher. Kids teased Sylvie, telling her that her parents were crackpots and so she must be too. But it wasn’t only kids that were detractors for the Masons’ work; they had plenty of adults against what they were doing as well–within their own family as a matter of fact. All of these different aspects made it a challenge for the reader to figure out the motive and killer.
In the end, I was quite surprised by the truth–I can definitely say I didn’t see it coming. While in a way I think it was disappointing, in another way I really appreciate what the author did. Sometimes bringing something out of left field doesn’t work in a book, but when it ties everything together, it can work nicely.
I was left with a ton of unanswered questions, but then again, so was Sylvie. I enjoyed going on her journey for the truth and can only hope she puts her life together to have some semblance of normalcy for the future.
About the Author
John Searles is the author of the national bestsellers Boy Still Missing and Strange but True. He frequently appears as a book critic on NBC’s Today show and CBS’s The Early Show. He is the Editor-at-Large of Cosmopolitan. His essays have been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other national newspapers and magazines. He lives in New York City and can be found on Facebook and also on Twitter: @searlesbooks.
Special offer for book clubs:
Book clubs that sign up to chat with John Searles about Help for the Haunted could win a tote bag of books for each member of their book club! Find out more details about John Searles’ goal to speak to a book club in each state of the United States over at Book Club Girl!
by Sarah Daltry & Pete Clark
Not too long ago, in a town that, depending on your current location, is either not super far or actually quite close… (insert Star Wars theme music here…)
It is a time of chaotic hormones.
Two nerdy gents home for winter break have discovered a female gamer at a midnight release.
During the break, the gamer trio manages to reveal the game’s secret boss, a hidden enemy with enough power to destroy anything in its path.
Pursued by other gamers who want to be the first to beat this boss, George and Katie race to level up, and, in so doing, restore decency and sexual activity to their personal galaxy…
MY THOUGHTS: 3 OUT OF 5 FLEURS DE LIS
As a female who plays video games (I hate the term “girl gamer”), I should be offended by a lot of the things that happen in this book; after all, a girl uses her cleavage to her advantage in the very first chapter. While I definitely hated all the ridiculous stereotypes this book is filled with, I have to admit that this book did have an original twist on boy meets girl and romance.
First off, let me say if you aren’t what some would call a nerd, you will not understand this book, much less enjoy it. There are references to nerd culture, video games, movies, books, and the like in practically every line. I would call myself a geek, and there were some parts even I didn’t understand. This is one thing that massively bothered me, actually: every single character in this book has snarky, geeky comments to make, which are basically the only things that come out of their mouths. The main characters sounded more like 12 and 13 year olds with all the raunchy insults they were throwing around, and that is not good because they are supposed to be in college.
Let’s talk a little about our main characters. Katie, George, and Lanyon are home during their respective semester breaks. Katie is a loner who would rather spend her time leveling up than dressing up. George and Lanyon are lifelong best friends who probably (definitely) spend way too much time together, to the chagrin of both their love lives. All three of these people are at the game store waiting on the midnight release of the hottest new MMORPG. When Katie and George both grab for the last copy of the game, it’s not exactly a love at first sight moment. But as they spend more time together both in the real world and the online gaming one, sparks slowly start to fly and they begin dating–even if Lanyon is tagging along for every one.
As I said, this book is chock full of gamer stereotypes, so many so that I have to wonder if the authors are even gamers themselves. The characters in this novel subsist on Mountain Dew, Snickers, and Denny’s, and regularly stay up for more than 24 hours at a time in front of their consoles. Not only does this sound more like the behavior of teenagers than college students, but I feel like these kids’ parents would not be letting them get away with these kinds of things during their time at home and the holiday season. Maybe I’m just a pragmatist since I’m a parent myself.
The best thing about the book is that Katie and George’s courtship was so sweet and unique. They both really have no romantic backgrounds and no idea how to let one another know how they really feel. But, they try their best, and with the help (and hindrance) of their friends they come together without the ton of drama that YA and NA romances usually have.
I think this may be best suited for an audience a bit younger than me, though I’m glad I had the chance to read a refreshing romance for a change.
About the Authors
Sarah Daltry writes about the regular people who populate our lives. She’s written works in various genres – romance, erotica, fantasy, horror. Genre isn’t as important as telling a story about people and how their lives unfold. Sarah tends to focus on YA/NA characters but she’s been known to shake it up. Most of her stories are about relationships – romantic, familial, friendly – because love and empathy are the foundation of life. It doesn’t matter if the story is set in contemporary NY, historical Britain, or a fantasy world in the future – human beings are most interesting in the ways they interact with others. This is the principle behind all of Sarah’s stories.
Sarah has spent most of her life in school, from her BA and MA in English and writing to teaching both at the high school and college level. She also loves studying art history and really anything because learning is fun.
When Sarah isn’t writing, she tends to waste a lot of time checking Facebook for pictures of cats, shooting virtual zombies, and simply staring out the window.
She has written several books, most notably Bitter Fruits, an urban fantasy in the Eden’s Fall series, and the six-part New Adult contemporary Flowering series. Her most recent release is Primordial Dust, a YA fantasy.
Pete Clark likes writing, animals, potato chips, and cheese. Midnight Riders was his first published novel, although he can also proudly say he finally finished Helix Crashing, the fantasy novel he has been working on for over a decade. In addition, he has written Across the Barren Landscape, a collection of linked Western short stories, and Tales from Midnight’s Graveyard, a collection of non-linked horror, science fiction, and fantasy stories. He also writes plays, both dramatic and comedic.
Pete’s Website: http://punchmyselfintheface.wordpress.com
Pete’s Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/PeteClarkAuthor
Sarah’s Twitter: http://twitter.com/SarahDaltry
Pete’s Twitter: http://twitter.com/PeteClarkBooks
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