Thursday, December 1, 2016

Lost in the Woods by Dennis Mews

When Nadia Hamilton found herself lost in the woods, she wished she'd never moved to The Grange School and been dragged along on their pathetic camping trip. No-one warned her that teen Craig Wilson, on the run from the police and two desperate gunmen, was hiding in these same woods. What was in the secret cave, and was it true a wild animal was on the loose? But perhaps most terrifying of all was how a small fire could explode out of control and threaten to kill them all.

The Lowdown:
A girl repeatedly gets lost in the woods on a class trip.
A boy steals a car and runs into the woods, unwittingly taking along something of great importance to a couple of gangsters.

Some Questions:
Why is a teacher allowed to take a co-ed class on a camping trip alone?
Why are the gangsters so stupid?

There are a few technical issues in the manuscript, but overall it's not bad. A few of the chapters seem to drag on and could have been omitted from the story. But the action picks up and it again becomes an interesting read. It's definitely safe enough for a younger teenage audience.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Jana by Michael J. Sahno

Because of her sexual orientation, Jana Odessi loses her child care job. It's not until she is halfway across the country on a road trip with her partner that Jana realizes she must decide whether she has the strength to return home and fight for her right to be herself.

Jana was presented to me as a lesbian On the Road, although not in those words. I thought I was getting into a slice-of-life road trip story, and I was... eventually. It literally took half the book to get there. The first 48% detailed the tendious wrongful termination case Jana brought up against her former employer. And I mean every detail, even down to the opposing lawyer's lack of cuff links.

Obviously the case was an important part of her journey, but for someone expecting to read a different type of novel it seemed unnecessary to go into so much detail. Of course there are people looking for that type of legal drama and they would probably love the first half of Jana. Then they might be disappointed to find themselves tossed into a tale of two women driving across the country. Basically, I felt the story was bipolar and couldn't decide which kind of story it wanted to be.

The writing, however, was smooth and laid back. I loved that the story was set in the 90s but wasn't about the 90s. There were no moments when the writer felt the need to smack his reader in the face with nostalgia. It was a good reminder of a decade when things were beginning to change and people were finally starting to be open where they once had to hide. I feel that it's important to be reminded of how those changes felt at the time.

My biggest gripe with Jana was that the narration jumped back and forth from past to present tense. This would be fine if the narrator were telling a story in the present but also referring to the past. This wasn't the case here. The story continued mostly chronologically but for whatever reason the writer spent some chapters in the past voice and some in the present. I don't generally like reading narration in the present tense, but it at the very least has to be consistent.

I found Jana to be a fairly good read and an important one. Just because I wasn't on board all the way through doesn't mean other readers won't be. I still recommend it and hope that it reaches a lot of people.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Been So Busy

I apologize for being absent for so long. Usually I don't go more than ten days without a review, but I've been moving into my new house and that's been intense. You can be sure I'm still reading and I'll have my next review soon. If I've promised you a review it's still on track. If your promise date has passed, please drop me an email and I'll make sure it hasn't slipped through the cracks.

Below are a few titles I'll be reviewing before the end of the year.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Nothing Stays the Same by Catherine Chant

How far would you go to save someone's life? Leah and Brennan are going all the way back to 1973. One Choice Changes Everything... In 1973, The Beat Detectors are the hottest TV pop band to hit the airwaves since The Monkees, thanks to the appealing vocals of rising teen idol Ronnie Basford. But behind the scenes, not everything is rainbows and unicorns. Ronnie realizes much too late that one bad decision can ruin your whole life. Forty years later, Ronnie is dead from an apparent suicide and his sixteen-year-old son Brennan wants answers. He needs to understand how it all went so wrong. When he finds himself dropped back in time, to the set of his father's TV show, he's determined to redirect the course of his father's life and create the happy ending Ronnie deserved. Soccer star Leah Reinard has been crushing on Brennan Basford for ages. When they end up at the same summer job, she thinks the fates have finally aligned in her favor. That is, until Brennan suddenly disappears from existence. One day he's there, the next day, he's gone. And no one but Leah even remembers him. Can Leah find Brennan in time to stop him from ruining both their futures?

Anyone who knows me knows that I couldn't resist this book. It has two elements that I love: time travel and early pop idols. So I was super excited when I was offered a copy for review.

Have you ever listened to a favorite old song, closed your eyes, and felt like you could actually be transported back in time? I know I have. And apparently so has Catherine Chant because she made it her time travel device of choice in Nothing Stays the Same.

Every time travel story has to establish a set of time travel rules such as How does time travel happen? and How does it affect the future? These concepts were laid out clearly without a ton of explaining or complicated and awkward conversations. This author's time travel rules were different from most stories I've read. In fact, the characters only had to listen to a record, focus on a memory, and whoosh! Back in time.

Nothing Stays the Same is fun and colorful. There are funny moments but also heart-wrenching ones. It's a clean, young adult novel with suspense, romance, and plenty of mystery. It's a great read for teens but also for those of us who spent an unmentionable amount of hours dreaming of the Monkees and David Cassidy and the like.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Love Give Us One Death by Jeff P. Jones

In the end the cover is well worn.
Love Give Us One Death is a mix of fact and fiction. This story of Bonnie and Clyde is an intentionally distorted account of real events. Jeff P. Jones has sprinkled in Bonnie's poetry as well witness retellings- real and imagined.

The story was slow for the first half. It took a long time for me to read because I didn't feel the momentum of the story. It was very dense and the abstract writing made it a little confusing. The timeline of events jumped around. Sometimes the author's prose got in the way of his storytelling. But the second half picked up and I couldn't put it down. It wasn't until this point that I realized the poetic nature of the book.

There's sadness in Love Give Us One Death. It makes the readers wonder what they did it all for as there's no glamour like in the stories told by the newspapers of the time.

Overall it was a good experience. I enjoyed the unique style of fiction.

"The longstanding fears fell away, and though she wasn't ready to be taken, death took her all the same."

 Love Give Us One Death releases October 25th.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Class of '59 by John A. Heldt

Class of '59 is the newest time-travel romance from John A. Heldt, author of Indiana Belle. Continuing with the same time-hopping scenario as his previous books, Heldt tells the story of Mark who accidentally lands in 2017. There he meets Mary Beth and her sister Piper who he brings back to his own time. Piper is ecstatic to experience high school in 1959. Mary Beth is content to spend time with her charming time-traveling companion Mark.

I didn't love this installment of the American Journey series as much as I did Indiana Belle. I liked that it was a light read, but felt it was missing some of the depth of the previous book. The romance between Mary Beth and Mark was sweet but moved slowly. Some mundane details and conversations could have been cut.

However, the time-travel element kept me hooked on the story. Class of '59 has all the elements of a 1950s teen romp: poodle skirts, malt shops and drag races. Their exploration of the '50s was fun. Mary Beth and Piper even have an encounter with an Old Hollywood celebrity.  The foursome made a mistake early on that was sure to catch up with them. This lead to a fast-paced and action-packed conclusion.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

On Handling Bad Reviews

One of the hot topics among book reviewers right now is poor behavior from authors regarding bad reviews. There are very few book bloggers out there who enjoy giving bad reviews and so far I haven't met any of them. But sometimes it can't be helped. Reviewers are approached by authors seeking reviews to market their books and bump their ratings. The reviewers give their time to read and then write at no charge to these authors. And I can tell you that, as of this post, I have gotten fewer than a half-dozen thank-yous from the authors whose books I've reviewed. Most don't give me a second thought once their review is posted. So all is well when the review is favorable. 

Unfortunately, there have been a few authors who have retaliated against their reviewers for posting negative reviews. I haven't been on the receiving end of this behavior yet, but I suspect that in the future I might be. 

People, I'm an author, too. Getting reviews is hard. Getting bad reviews hurts. But if you got into this thankless business without a thick skin, then you better hang up your typewriter ASAP because it's not going to get easier. Publishing is a scary thing. You're putting your soul on paper (or whatever) and tossing it out into the world for everyone to see. Some people won't like your book. Some people didn't like Harry Potter (me) and that book seems to be doing fine. Every review, even the bad ones, is a chance to further develop your craft. Even bad feedback is constructive. Sometimes ridiculous reviews can even help sell your book.
Below is my response to a review of my book last year. Note that I didn't respond directly to the reviewer. Never, I repeat NEVER do that unless it's to say thanks. You'll only end up looking childish and insecure. This response was posted on my author blog as part of sharing my publishing journey with my readers. You can read the original review here.

So, some may have noticed that I recently received a scathing review for Here with Me Now on Goodreads. As a writer and a former dancer who once tried acting (and failed miserably) and did a long stint in outbound telemarketing, I've developed a very thick skin. Of course a bad review makes my flesh burn for a minute, but then I look at it reasonably.

The positive side of this woman's review is that she didn't say she hated the book because of poor writing or bad pacing or any of those mechanics that would really embarrass me as a writer. The reviewer hated the story. Well, you can't argue an opinion of a story. Specifically, she hated that there's a moment where Mallory's male classmate slaps her across the face. Sorry, but it's a fact of life. Sometimes boys hit girls. Then she hated that the mom was relieved that her daughter wasn't a lesbian. Again, plenty of moms throughout history have uttered those same words. Neither of those scenes in the book are condoning violence or intolerance. Neither of those are statements on how the world should be. They're simply demonstrating the experiences of this particular teenage girl. Here with Me Now is a slice-of-life novel, not an episode of Full House. If you're looking for a sugar-coated account of high school, might I suggest Sweet Valley High or The Baby-sitters Club?

Then the reviewer goes on to complain that Mallory was obsessive and annoying and out of touch with reality. Well, at least she got the point of the story even if she didn't like it. I wrote this novel in the first-person voice of an irrational teenage girl. She doesn't have the outside narration to explain her ridiculous thoughts or the experience of the reader to tell her she's out of her mind. She's a girl and this is how some girls think. Not all girls, but some. This one. I mean, honestly, if I'd wanted to write about a level-headed teenager who thinks clearly and makes the right decisions there would have been no reason to write anything at all. But there's no reason to be so angry about it.

So, no. I'm not upset about getting a bad review. I actually appreciate the reviewer's assistance in summing up the message of the story: "...this is why teenagers can not make consenting decisions related to having sex with [an] adult. They do not realize the consequences!" It seems like she fully understood what I was trying to say. Maybe I should have hired her to write my tag line.

Anyway, bring on the reviews. I'm up for it.