Sundays are for Writing #109

Well…it ended up being a good writing week. Being stuck at home due to ice/snow all week will do that for you. If you’ve seen the Texas weather on the news this week, well, I live right in the middle of all that. We just don’t get weather like that here usually. I was extremely blessed and didn’t lose power or water. I had no internet for four days, but that’s a small thing compared to people having no heat in single-digit temps.

I got in my three fiction sessions, and I also wrote seven book reviews (with no internet for most of the week, I was unable to work from home, so I had a lot of extra free time to read).

Happy writing!

Book Review: Of Silver and Shadow, by Jennifer Gruenke

of silver and shadow
Image belongs to North Star/Flux.

Title:  Of Silver and Shadow
AuthorJennifer Gruenke
Genre:  Fantasy
Rating:  5 out of 5

Ren Kolins is a silver wielder—a dangerous thing to be in the kingdom of Erdis, where magic has been outlawed for a century. Ren is just trying to survive, sticking to a life of petty thievery, card games, and pit fighting to get by. But when a wealthy rebel leader discovers her secret, he offers her a fortune to join his revolution. The caveat: she won’t see a single coin until they overthrow the King.

Behind the castle walls, a brutal group of warriors known as the King’s Children is engaged in a competition: the first to find the rebel leader will be made King’s Fang, the right hand of the King of Erdis. And Adley Farre is hunting down the rebels one by one, torturing her way to Ren and the rebel leader, and the coveted King’s Fang title.

But time is running out for all of them, including the youngest Prince of Erdis, who finds himself pulled into the rebellion. Political tensions have reached a boiling point, and Ren and the rebels must take the throne before war breaks out.

I was entranced by this book from the very beginning! Ren’s attitude and brashness is a little much at ties, but I feel that’s a growth opportunity to grow for her, and I did enjoy her sass. Even the secondary characters are vivid and vibrant—like the prince—and the settling felt realistic and almost-visible to me. A fantastic read!

Jennifer Gruenke grew up in California and now lives in Charlotte. Of Silver and Shadow is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of North Star/Flux in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: Amelia Unabridged, by Ashley Schumacher

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

TitleAmelia Unabridged
AuthorAshley Schumacher
Genre:  YA
Rating:  5 out of 5

Eighteen-year-old Amelia Griffin is obsessed with the famous Orman Chronicles, written by the young and reclusive prodigy N. E. Endsley. They’re the books that brought her and her best friend Jenna together after Amelia’s father left and her family imploded. So when Amelia and Jenna get the opportunity to attend a book festival with Endsley in attendance, Amelia is ecstatic. It’s the perfect way to start off their last summer before college.

In a heartbeat, everything goes horribly wrong. When Jenna gets a chance to meet the author and Amelia doesn’t, the two have a blowout fight like they’ve never experienced. And before Amelia has a chance to mend things, Jenna is killed in a freak car accident. Grief-stricken, and without her best friend to guide her, Amelia questions everything she had planned for the future.

When a mysterious, rare edition of the Orman Chronicles arrives, Amelia is convinced that it somehow came from Jenna. Tracking the book to an obscure but enchanting bookstore in Michigan, Amelia is shocked to find herself face-to-face with the enigmatic and handsome N. E. Endsley himself, the reason for Amelia’s and Jenna’s fight and perhaps the clue to what Jenna wanted to tell her all along.

I loved this read! I completely identified with Amelia throughout the entire book. Her friendship with Jenna was fun and so realistic! Her grief over Jenna’s death and her struggle to find sense in a world that suddenly doesn’t contain any was heartrending.

The details of the bookstore and the small-town life were enchanting. I need this bookstore in my life!  The characters are fantastic—all of them—and I loved every single page of this. Go read it!

Ashley Schumacher lives in Dallas. Amelia Unabridged is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: We Run the Tides, by Vendela Vida

Image belongs to Ecco.

TitleWe Run the Tides
Author: Vendela Vida
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  3 out of 5

Teenage Eulabee and her magnetic best friend, Maria Fabiola, own the streets of Sea Cliff, their foggy oceanside San Francisco neighborhood. They know Sea Cliff’s homes and beaches, its hidden corners and eccentric characters—as well as the upscale all-girls’ school they attend. One day, walking to school with friends, they witness a horrible act—or do they? Eulabee and Maria Fabiola vehemently disagree on what happened, and their rupture is followed by Maria Fabiola’s sudden disappearance—a potential kidnapping that shakes the quiet community and threatens to expose unspoken truths.    

This clearly wasn’t a good fit for me. Solid writing, but I found it on the edge of boring. I know it’s about young teenage girls, but it veered between over-the-top dramatic and bland and I just didn’t care about the characters. At all. The author did a wonderful job of bringing the setting—ritzy neighborhood, private school—to life, but I found it almost impossible to relate to the characters.

Vendela Vida is an award-winning author. We Run the Tides is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Ecco in exchange for an honest review.)

Sundays are for Writing #108

This was an interesting writing week. Three book reviews, and no fiction writing…because I realized that, although I’m only 40 pages into the new story, nothing is really happening (except for the opening scene), and I am, in essence, just feeling out the characters.

I think the Muse has been trying to tell me she’s bored, so I finally listened. Instead of three actual writing sessions, I did three sessions of brainstorming. I think the setting is key to fixing this issue, and now I know how I want to change that. I’ll probably spend this next week fine-tuning the idea, then see if I can use any of what I have with the new setting.

Happy writing!

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Vineyard at Painted Moon, by Susan Mallery

Image belongs to Harlequin.

TitleThe Vineyard at Painted Moon
AuthorSusan Mallery
Genre:  Fiction, romance
Rating:  3.0 out of 5

MacKenzie Dienes’s life isn’t perfect, but it’s as close as she could ever hope to get. Her marriage to Rhys, her best friend’s brother, is more friendship than true love. But passion is highly overrated, right? And she loves her job as the winemaker at Bel Apres, her in-laws’ vineyard. So what if it’s a family business and, even after decades of marriage and incredible professional success, she’s still barred from the family business meetings? It’s all enough…until one last night spent together leads to an incredibly honest—and painful—conversation. Rhys suggests that they divorce. They haven’t had a marriage in a long time and, while he wants her to keep her job at Bel Apres, he doesn’t think they should be married any longer. Shocked, MacKenzie reels at the prospect of losing the only family she’s ever really known…even though she knows deep in her heart that Rhys is right.

But when MacKenzie discovers she’s pregnant, walking away to begin a new life isn’t so easy. She never could have anticipated the changes it would bring to the relationships she cherishes most: her relationship with Barbara, her mother-in-law and partner at Bel Apres, Stephanie, her sister-in-law and best friend, and Bel Apres, the company she’s worked so hard to put on the map.

MacKenzie has always dreamed of creating a vineyard of her own, a chance to leave a legacy for her unborn child. So when the opportunity arises, she jumps at it and builds the Vineyard at Painted Moon. But following her dreams will come at a high price—one that MacKenzie isn’t so sure she’s willing to pay…

Susan Mallery is an excellent writer and creates realistic and believable characters. I haven’t read too many of her novels, but I’m familiar with her work. However…I did not like this novel. For one reason:  so many of the characters were awful people. They were believable enough and consistent—no dramatic changes in heart or personality—they were just completely unlikable.

MacKenzie was likable enough and totally sympathetic, and I like Stephanie and Four (another sister-in-law) and Bruno, but Barbara was truly a terrible person, and her third daughter wasn’t far behind. Both of them were spiteful, hateful, vindictive, and petty. And Rhys ended up being not far behind them—which was a bit of a surprise, as he was perfectly nice and reasonable to begin with, then became a jerk when his freedom was threatened. It’s extremely difficult for me to read books about characters like this, so it’s a testament to the writing quality that I even finished it.

Susan Mallery is a NYT-bestselling author. The Vineyard at Painted Moon is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Killer Content, by Olivia Blacke

Image belongs to Berkley.

TitleKiller Content
AuthorOlivia Blacke
Genre:  Cozy mystery
Rating:  3 out of 5

Bayou transplant Odessa Dean has a lot to learn about life in Brooklyn. So far she’s scored a rent free apartment in one of the nicest neighborhoods around by cat-sitting, and has a new job working at Untapped Books & Café. Hand-selling books and craft beers is easy for Odessa, but making new friends and learning how to ride the subway? Well, that might take her a little extra time.

But things turn more sour than an IPA when the death of a fellow waitress goes viral, caught on camera in the background of a couple’s flash-mob proposal video. Nothing about Bethany’s death feels right to Odessa–neither her sudden departure mid-shift nor the clues that only Odessa seems to catch. As an up-and-coming YouTube star, Bethany had more than one viewer waiting for her to fall from grace.

Determined to prove there’s a killer on the loose, Odessa takes matters into her own hands. But can she pin down Bethany’s killer before they take Odessa offline for good?

Blacke has some solid writing chops, but this just wasn’t a good fit for me. Odessa was quirky, but it was so over-the-top that it felt like a farce. The other characters felt like cookie cutters, and none of them were distinct enough to feel real. Odessa was also super-judgey, especially of her boss, who she basically treated like an idiot because he was older than her and “clueless.” Actually, Odessa’s personality bothered me more than her quirkiness:  she just wasn’t a nice person. Nosy, condescending, and self-centered, she acted even more immature than her age.

Olivia Blacke has lived all over the U.S. Killer Content is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Berkley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour: The Iron Raven, by Julie Kagawa

Image belongs to Inkyard Press.

TitleThe Iron Raven
Author Julie Kagawa
Genre:  YA, fantasy
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

You may have heard of me…

Robin Goodfellow. Puck. Prankster, joker, raven, fool… King Oberon’s right-hand jester from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The legends are many, but the truth will now be known as never before, as Puck finally tells his own story and faces a threat to the lands of Faery and the human world unlike any before.

With the Iron Queen Meghan Chase and her prince consort, Puck’s longtime rival Ash, and allies old and new by his side, Puck begins a fantastical and dangerous adventure not to be missed or forgotten.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read anything set in this world. Like, a really long time. But I remember Puck. He was always a character I loved. So, it was fun to read his story. The voice of this novel is perfect for his story, too.

Of course, all of faerie—and the human world—is at stake (it wouldn’t be a Kagawa book if it weren’t), but seeing the “old” Puck, a.k.a Robin Goodfellow, was the most unsettling part of this novel. Seeing Meghan and Ash again was great, too, but I think I need to go back and re-read all the other books again, so I feel a bit more up-to-speed. This was an excellent read. A touch of nostalgia, but Puck is front and center—and larger than life.

Julie Kagawa is a bestselling author. The iron Raven is her newest novel, the first book in The Iron Fey:  Evenfall.

(Galley courtesy of Inkyard Press exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Dearest Josephine, by Caroline George

Image belongs to Thomas Nelson.

Title: Dearest Josephine
AuthorCaroline George
Genre:  Fiction
Rating:  4 out of 5

2020: Chocolate and Earl Grey tea can’t fix Josie De Clare’s horrible year. She mourned the death of her father and suffered a teen-life crisis, which delayed her university plans. But when her father’s will reveals a family-owned property in Northern England, Josie leaves London to find clarity at the secluded manor house. While exploring the estate, she discovers two-hundred-year-old love letters written by an elusive novelist, all addressed to someone named Josephine. And then she discovers a novel in which it seems like she’s the heroine…

1820: Novelist Elias Roch loves a woman he can never be with. Born the bastard son to a nobleman and cast out from society, Elias seeks refuge in his mind with the quirky heroine who draws him into a fantasy world of scandal, betrayal, and unconditional love. Convinced she’s his soulmate, Elias writes letters to her, all of which divulge the tragedy and trials of his personal life.

As fiction blurs into reality, Josie and Elias must decide: How does one live if love can’t wait? Separated by two hundred years, they fight against time to find each other in a story of her, him, and the novel written by the man who loves her.

I’m honestly not sure what to say about this novel. I enjoyed it and the writing was excellent, but to me there was a major question left unanswered. The author tells the story creatively, using emails, texts, letters, a manuscript…There are three storylines—2020, Elias’ letters, and Elias’ manuscript—and I had difficulty telling the two Elias wrote apart, as they were partially very alike.

It seems, for all intents and purposes, that somehow Elias met Josephine in the past, but that “How?” question is never answered. That’s the biggest mystery of the story, and the reader never gets an answer. I loved how the 2020 storyline wrapped up, and Elias’ novel, too, but Elias’ own story was a bit disappointing to me, mainly because of the lack of resolution. Nevertheless, this was a solid read.

Caroline George is an award-winning author. Dearest Josephine is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Thomas Nelson exchange for an honest review.)