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Review of The Bees by Laline Paull

Our Mother who are in labor
Hallowed by they womb
Thy Marriage Done
Thy Queendom come
And then the life everafter
~ Prayer to The Queen Bee

The bees cover

Last month, my book club read a book entitled The Bees by Laline Paul. I’ve heard of The Bees given that there’s been plenty of of buzz about this book as of late (Get it? Buzz! Buzz!) but it wasn’t on my TBR list. Now one of the reasons I belong to my book club (other than getting out of the house) is that so I read books that I normally wouldn’t pick up – to make me step outside of my comfort zone. The Bees definitely did that.

What I Didn’t Expect

First off, The Bees is a fiction book – it is not a study about the life of bees, though the reader does learn plenty about the life of bees and the hive hierarchy.

The book opens with people talking about a beehive in the back yard. Then, the book completely switches gears. The rest of the story is told from the point of view of an overly large – and exceptionally talented – sanitation worker bee named Flora 717. I waited, expecting that the point of view would switch back to the humans. It did not until the final closing scene of the book. As I began reading, a realization struck me: This book is not going to be about humans. There aren’t going to be any humans in this storyline at all. It’s going to be about bees, told from the point of view of a bee.

How Interesting Is The Life of a Bee?

I will say that initially, I was skeptical. I mean, how interesting could the life a worker bee be? Buzz Buzz. You’d be surprised! And I was – surprised and pleased that instead of a boring read about bee, I found an original, rich, engrossing book – and even an enjoyable book – in The Bees.

So What’s It Really About?

The novel investigates the life of a beehive and in so doing, unravels the following themes: politics, religion, freedom, independence, fanaticism, conformity, power, environmental influences, big government, defying authority, police brutality and more. There’s even an attempted coup at the end. Sounds riveting, no? It was!

Accept, Obey, Serve

Above all else, there were three rules to live by in the hive mind: Accept, Obey, Serve and we hear this mantra repeated over and over until it becomes deeply ingrained in each bee’s psyche. This kind of made me think of a dystopian society ruled by one ruler for they often use such matras to control their followers (subjects). The Capital in the Hunger Games comes to mind.

There was also another rule, one that must never be broken under the penalty of immediate death: Only the Queen may lay. Guess which rule gets broken?

Verdict

If you don’t particularly care for books that anthropomorphize critters, then this book may not be for you. However, if you enjoy dystopian books or think you might enjoy a read about the inner workings and drama of a beehive told from the point of view of a special, headstrong, independent bee, then it’s definitely worth a read. From what I know about bees, it’s obvious that the author definitely did her homework in portraying the intricacies of hive life.

I enjoyed this fascinating, well-written characterization of honey bees and am glad I read it. I found it innovative, intriguing, suspenseful, original and at times, humorous and page-turning. Who knew that a novel about the life cycle of bees could be so interesting? And who knew that I would enjoy reading such a book? I know that I’ll never look at a bee in quite the same way. I would have loved to have seen a map of the hive as an attachment to the book. I must say that now, I’m a bit intrigued.

I give it five buzzing stars out of five!

Want to find out what all the buzz is about? Check it out

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Book Review: One Man Guy

One man guy book cover

This month, my Goodread’s book club featured book of the month was a delightful story entitled One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva and I found it to be not only a refreshing tale of young romance, but so much more.

The blurb is as follows:

Alek Khederian should have guessed something was wrong when his parents took him to a restaurant. Everyone knows that Armenians never eat out. Why bother, when their home cooking is far superior to anything “these Americans” could come up with? Between bouts of interrogating the waitress and criticizing the menu, Alek’s parents announce that he’ll be attending summer school in order to bring up his grades. Alek is sure this experience will be the perfect hellish end to his hellish freshmen year of high school. He never could’ve predicted that he’d meet someone like Ethan.

Ethan is everything Alek wishes he were: confident, free-spirited, and irreverent. When Ethan gets Alek to cut school and go to a Rufus Wainwright concert in New York City’s Central Park, Alek embarks on his first adventure outside the confines of his suburban New Jersey existence. He can’t believe a guy this cool wants to be his friend. And before long, it seems like Ethan wants to be more than friends. Alek has never thought about having a boyfriend—he’s barely ever had a girlfriend—but maybe it’s time to think again. Michael Barakiva’s One Man Guy is a romantic, moving, laugh-out-loud-funny story about what happens when one person cracks open your world and helps you see everything—and, most of all, yourself–like you never have before.

Thinking on how I would classify this beautiful story, I’d probably say it was along the lines of a young adult gay romanic comedy, for there are more than one scenes that made me laugh out loud. Each page of this novel made me want more and beckoned me to keep reading. I was in fact surprised at how quickly I tore through this book, anxiously awaiting to see how the tender new relationship between Alec and Ethan would develop.

Speaking of develop, the author gives us extremely well-developed main characters and by the end of the novel, I felt as though I were saying goodbye to old friends. These vivid, well-drawn characters come to life on the pages of this book and stay with you well after the book is finished. The supporting cast of colorful characters are also memorable and entertaining: Becky – Alek’s rollerblading, old-movie obsessed, say-it-the-way-it-is BFF is a welcome addition to the story, as was Alek’s fussy, nitpicking mother and his older brother Nik, the “dutiful son” who embarks on voyage of self-discovery himself.

I love a slow romance (rather than a “love and first sight, marry me now kind of romance) and One Man Guy didn’t disappoint. It was a delight to watch Alec’s journey of self-discovery, especially the witty manner in which he managed to overcome the roadblocks to his and Ethan’s relationship and I was relieved to see that the author kept the heavy angst to a bare minimum. I tend not to be a fan of angsty novels. It was also fun to see the orderly, by-the-book world of Alec turned upside down by this enigmatic new boy who came into his life.

Now that is not to say that this novel is simply a sweet little romance. While it is that, it is also more. It’s a study of two cultures coming together and the clashes that can sometimes result of that coming together. It’s about the hurdles of family drama, of embracing your heritage and accepting who you are while maintaining your connection to your roots. Moreover, it’s about the need to understand that sometimes, it’s okay to break the rules – just as long as you know when it’s NOT okay to break them.

While the book is geared toward young adults (high school age) I feel it’s a book that all ages can enjoy and I find this romantic and humorous coming of age tale to be a remarkable addition to the YA/LGBT genre. It’s a charming, captivating and entertaining tale with likable and memorable characters, with just the right amount of romance peppered throughout. What more could you ask of book?

Recommended!!

You can check out One Man Guy HERE

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Review of Timebound by Rysa Walker

Timebound cover

I’m a sucker for time-travel novels (I even wrote one) so my interest was peaked when I stumbled across an interview with author Rysa Walker during which she discussed her book Timebound, the first book in the Chronos Files series. I was so intrigued that I bought it….and after having finished it, I think I have found myself a new favorite series.

The story begins when 16 year old Kate Keller’s sickly grandmother (also named Kate) tells her granddaughter that she has genetically inherited a supernatural ability to travel through time. She gives Kate a blue glowing medallion and explains that it is the medallion that enables those of their bloodline to time travel; however only those with the right gene can use the device. Her grandmother promises to begin training Kate on how to use the device.

But shortly thereafter, everything instantly changes in Kate’s world. A murder in the past combined with a sinister plot has changed Kate’s timeline and her reality. The present and past that she knew now never took place. With a blink of an eye, Kate suddenly finds her herself in a classroom with a strange teacher and fellow students she doesn’t recognize. People she loved are gone and friends no longer know her – and she learns that if she so much as removes the medallion from her neck even for a moment, she will instantly blink out of existence.

To fix the timeline and restore things back to the way they were, Kate must tear herself away from those she loves and travel back in time to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair where she is to face more than one known murderer. Once Kate returns to the past, she engages in a struggle for survival in a race against time as she tries to prevent a terrible chain of events from taking place and altering the past – or should I say, one of the “pasts”. While in 1893 she uncovers a sinister plot which will devestate the entire world, which makes her success even more crucial.

It’s difficult to talk about this book without giving out spoilers. Suffice it to say that this is an exquisite addition to the YA genre and this exciting novel left me satisfied yet wanting more. The fast-paced story combines mystery, young romance, multiple timelines, power, murder, action, politics, real-life villains and religious zealots – all with an intriguing plot line that kept me turning the page.

I’ve read my share of time travel books whose timelines were so confusing and convoluted that it was difficult to keep track of what was going on and why. This was not the case with Timebound. I felt that the timelines and the intricate web that the author weaved were clearly presented – although it does require the reader to pay attention while reading. There are times when even the main characters are momentarily confused by the various timelines.

The characterizations are excellent. The author brings Kate, her grandmother and all the other supporting characters (including her two love interests from two different timelines) vividly to life in this mind-boggling, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants romp. Think Doctor Who meets Marty McFly but with a tinge of sweet romance thrown in. The author expertly handled the different settings which at times were so vibrant and vivid that they played out like a movie. While Timebound is technically classified as a Young Adult novel, I feel that the intricate and well-crafted plot as well as the riveting storyline will appeal to a much wider audience regardless of age.

From what I could gather, this is the Walker’s first full-length novel and I felt that she shows notable talent in her believable plot development, careful attention to detail and well thought-out characters. Walker intelligently gives us an exciting YA adventure with twists and turns, where answers are elusive and love is mind-bogglingly complicated and impossible – but no matter how complicated, Kate finds that the only impossible thing is to walk away.

This is the beginning of an new exciting series and I can’t wait to read the recently released second book, Time’s Edge. Recommended!!

You can check out Timebound HERE.

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The Clockwork Dagger – a Thrilling Steampunk Adventure

The clockwork dagger cover

I decided that I wanted to read something different so I thought I’d dip my toe into the Steampunk genre. I’ve never been particularly drawn to Steampunk but when someone recommended to me a novel entitled The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato, suggesting that I might enjoy a combinaton of fantasy, magic and steampunk elements, I was intrigued.

Below is the publisher’s blub:

Orphaned as a child, Octavia Leander was doomed to grow up on the streets until Miss Percival saved her and taught her to become a medician. Gifted with incredible powers, the young healer is about to embark on her first mission, visiting suffering cities in the far reaches of the war-scarred realm. But the airship on which she is traveling is plagued by a series of strange and disturbing occurrences, including murder, and Octavia herself is threatened.

Suddenly, she is caught up in a flurry of intrigue: the dashingly attractive steward may be one of the infamous Clockwork Daggers—the Queen’s spies and assassins—and her cabin-mate harbors disturbing secrets. But the danger is only beginning, for Octavia discovers that the deadly conspiracy aboard the airship may reach the crown itself.

After I completed the novel, I can say that The Clockwork Dagger was an excellent recommendation. This Steampunk airship adventure was well-written with eloquent prose and a gripping plot. I especially enjoyed the combination of both Steampunk and magical elements – kind of a magic meets technology theme with a tinge of romance.

Most of the novel’s action takes place on an Airship called the Argus on which we meet many zany – and dangerous – characters. Being true to the genre, the setting for the novel occurs during the prudish Victorian era. Thus, we have the puritan prim & proper attitudes and language combined with mystery, mayhem, danger, gremlins, corrupt governments, assassins, war, swashbucking spies and murder – all of which were expertly weaved into the story.

We are introducted to many strange contraptions, ideas and beliefs which aid in drawing us further into this Steampunk world. It’s a world that’s both magical and mechanical – modern yet ancient. I felt that the author did an excellent job at creating a believable and fascinating society.

The plot is full of surprises, twists and turns and at one point, we – along with our clever heroine – aren’t quite sure whom to trust. Though the setting takes place in an era of Victorian morals and behavior, I loved the fact that Octavia was no pushover and when threatened or in a crisis, she deftly held her own. While certainly a woman of the period, she also demonstrated wit, quick thinking and bravery. Our fiesty heroine was not afraid to break social behavior expectations when necessary.

The Clockwork Dagger was non-stop action and intrigue and I enjoyed the story immensely. In fact, I stayed up way past my bedtime because I couldn’t stop reading. It was a thrilling and engaging read with excellent dialog, well-developed characters, fast-paced action and a storyline that kept me turning the pages.

I look forward to the next book in the series (The Clockwork Crown) and to future books from this author. Because of her, I will be adding additional Steampunk-themed books to my every-growing reading list. Recommended!

You can check out The Clockwork Dagger HERE

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Review of Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon

Show your work

Are you a creative who hates marketing? Or perhaps a writer or artist who has no idea how to get noticed above all the online noise?

I recently discovered a book entitled Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon that might help. It’s a book that not only provides ideas, tips and tricks on how to get your work out into the world, but gives you the motivation to do so.

I personally hate self-promotion and have never felt that I was all that good at it. I find marketing even more challenging these days when everyone vying (some of them quite loudly) for people to pay attention to their work. What Kleon does is provide practical, useable advice – action steps that are not only fun to take but can help to get you and your work noticed.

I remember a fellow author friend of mine once told me: “If nobody reads your work, then you haven’t written it.” Kleon’s motivational push seems to be along these same lines. He tells us not to sit on and hide our work, but rather, put it out there. If you want your creative work to be known and discovered, you have to share it with the world. You have to get your stuff seen – and in this book, Kleon shows us how to.

Kleon provides examples, quotes, illustrations and anecdotes in each chapter that bring his advice to life. The book is broken down into 10 chapters, with each focusing on a specific method for showing your work. The chapters are further broken in subchapters, providing several different ways of approaching the method as well as concrete actions that you can take.

The chapters are:

  1. You Don’t Have To Be A Genius
  2. Think Process, Not Product
  3. Share Something Small Every Day
  4. Open Up Your Cabinet of Curiosities
  5. Tell Good Stories
  6. Teach What You Know
  7. Don’t Turn Into Human Spam
  8. Learn To Take A Punch
  9. Sell Out
  10. Stick Around

He starts out the book with a quote by John Cleese:

“Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.”

Indeed, Kleon has introduced an entirely new way of operating in Show Your Work!. Rather than simply put our work out there and pray it gets noticed, Kleon recommends instead that we share our process with our audience. People don’t want to buy simply a book – they want to connect with you as the author. They want the a human experience. They want to be involved in the creation of a work. In other words, as he states in chapter 2 *”Think Process, Not Product.”

Show Your Work! may be small, but it packs a serious punch! This engaging book is chock full of his stories and inspiring stories of other creatives who have decided to step back and see the bigger picture – people who have chosen to show and share their work.

I recommend this easy-to-read book for anyone who could use a little help in getting the word out about their art or simply for anyone ready to share their work, their creativity and their passion with the world.

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Review of the War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The war of art cover

“The enemy of the artist is the small-time Ego, which begets Resistance, which is the dragon that guards the gold. That’s why an artist must be a warrior and, like all warriors, artists over time acquire modesty and humility.” ~ Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Don’t be fooled by the size of Steven Pressfield’s gem of a book, “The War of Art.” While may be a small book, it is chock full of big and valuable ideas. This is a book for creatives — for people whose creativity is their passion: writers, artists, musicians, sculptors, dancers, actors/actresses, photographers – whatever passion fires you up and gets you excited.

This book takes you on a journey to battle against what Pressfield calls “The Resistance”, which he states “is the most toxic force on the planet.” So what is this Resistance? Resistance is inertia, that force which prevents us from doing the work we were meant to do. It is that which makes us say, “I don’t think I’ll work today. Maybe I’ll try again tomorrow.” It’s that force that makes us tell ourselves, “What’s the use. My manuscript is crap. My work stinks. I’m just not cut out to be a writer. I wonder who’s on Facebook?” Pressfield asks us:

“Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.”

And what’s worse, is that Resistance only shows itself when you do something that really matters to you – all the more reason to combat it any way we can. For an excellent example of the of Resistance operates, Pressfield says:

“Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you.

“Resistance will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man.

“Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned. If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get.”

In the War of Art, Pressfield teaches us how to take even the most stubborn and tempting Resistances (such as those excuses we tell ourselves when we don’t want to do our work) and blow them to pieces. Using the war metaphor, we learn how to battle this unseen foe, but in order to do this we first need to recognize and know our enemy – and he shows us how to do so. He also reminds us that Resistance wants to take us down the easy road and wants us to just work hard enough to get by. But as Pressfield states:

“We come into this world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become. We are who we are from the cradle, and we’re stuck with it.

“Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”

“Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work”

The difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is a person’s ability to stomp on and crush Resistance, which tends to slam us extra hard as we near the end of a project, when we are close to completing our work. In each of these short-and-to-the-point chapters, Pressfield offers a prescription to combat this enemy by getting into the nitty-gritty of all those things that hold us back, those things that tell us we’re just not quite good enough.

The tips in this book help us to recognize and destroy the inner naysayer (which Julia Cameron and others call the “Inner Critic”) and instead, shows us how to go pro, for it is in going pro that we banish our enemy.

While reading this book, it made me personally aware of all the “junk” that was holding me back and made me face my own excuses head on. You won’t find 12-steps, chapter exercises or required journaling in this book. What you will find are no-nonsense methods for finishing your work and getting it out into the world, overcoming and smashing to bits those blocks that hold you back, defeating the negative self-talk in our heads and unblocking the barriers to our creativity. This book will certainly make you more aware of when Resistance digs its sharp claws into you and holds on for dear life.

While topic of Resistance is complex and certainly not a light one, Pressfield presents his ideas in a friendly, conversational manner, which renders the book not only approachable but also enjoyable.

If you’re looking to break through your own creative blocks or simply need some motivation, you can’t do much better than The War of Art: Break Through Your Block and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. Recommended!

You can check out the book HERE.

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Review of The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth

Freaks shall inherit the earth book cover

I’ve read a lot of business book over the years but none have them have stayed with me like Chris Brogan’s The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth. Now some might be put off by the term freaks but Chris explains that being a freak is a good thing. He defines a freak as someone who does things their own way and who doesn’t necessarily “fit in” without some effort. It’s someone who does not do business the way the rules dictate and who is not a fan of settling or compromising. It’s doing business on your own terms and, as Chris puts it, “You’re looking for ways to allow your weirdness to be an asset and not the deficit that people have tried to convince you it is.”

The tone of the book is casual and conversational – it feels as though you’re chatting with the author over a cup of coffee at a local cafe. But don’t let its informality fool you – there are a plethora of valuable gems in this book that can help you in your business and personal life, regardless of whether you’re a new entrepreneur, someone who works a day job, or a seasoned businessperson.

He starts about by defining what business is and then covers such topics as how fear can mess up your business, how to schedule your workday, how to overcome obstacles and challenges, why community and connection is important, and how to build your own media empire, just to name a few.

One of my favorite chapters was the Creating Systems That Work for You chapter, in which he talked about establishing a compass – five to seven reminders that you need to focus on daily. He provides an example of his own compass and how he incorporates it into his business as part of his system. By creating a compass myself, I have become more focused on the important things and am accomplishing much more than previously.

I found the chapter entitled Structure a Framework for Your Days to be life-changing and after reading it, my entire attitude on goal-setting changed. His helpful A Daily Framework table provides an excellent starting point and can help keep you on track in both your business life and personal life.

The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth is not only for entrepreneurs. A good majority of the information can be used even if you are employed by someone else, regardless of whether or not you plan on staring your own business down the road. Moreover, he dedicates an entire chapter to the topic which he entitled “Are You an Employeepreneur?” He defines and employeepreneur as “someone who has a job in a company, but is executing it like an owner”. In this chapter, Chris provides information how to excel at your day job and finding ways to accomplish your work goals. Lots of excellent stuff here.

The book is not just theory like so many business books out there but rather provides actionable tools to get you going. It also provides help to overcome those obstacles and pitfalls that inevitably appear in any business.

The book contains the following chapters (each of wish is broken down into several subsections):

  • Business New and Old and New Again
  • The Wild Colors and the Solid Spine
  • Choose Your Own Adventure: Defining Success
  • Skill Building for Your Business Goals
  • Fall in Love with Not Knowing
  • Structure a Framework for Your Days
  • Are You an Employeepreneur?
  • Create Systems That Work for You
  • Are You a Solo or Small Business Owner?
  • Fall in Love with Not Knowing, Redux
  • Worship Obstacles and Challenges
  • Build Your Own Media Empire
  • Connect with Your Freaks
  • Own Everything
  • What It All Goes Wrong
  • Take Action! Fight Crime! Save the World!

If you are thinking of becoming an entrepreneur, are a business person who tends to approach their business more unconventionally than others (or would like to) or are simply looking for some invaluable business tips, tricks, gems, tools and practical advice, then The Freaks Who Inherit the Earth is definitely worth a read. Recommended!

You can check out the book HERE

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Review of Secret (Elementals)

Secret book cover

We’ve already seen life through the eyes of the elementals Chris, Gabriel, and Hunter. In the latest book in the Elemental series, Secret, it’s finally Nick’s turn to tell his story – and a complicated one, it is. Nick certainly ended up being a much more complex character than I had originally thought.

Now I will warn you upfront – this is one of those books that is very difficult to put down. In fact, I read the entire book in one sitting, staying up until almost dawn. Hmm..I remember that happening the last time I read a book in the Elemental series.

Nick has a Secret

Nick is the good twin, the reasonable one, the well-behaved one. But he has a secret….a HUGE secret that is eating him alive so much so that’s he’s broken. He is crippled by stress, worried sick, can’t sleep and, although once being a star A student, is now flunking exams at school.

Since Nick’s secret was revealed in Breathless, I’m not giving away any spoilers when I tell you what that secret is: He is struggling with his sexuality and is having one hell of a time coming to terms with his attraction to Quinn’s dancing partner, Adam – and Adam’s attraction to him.

But how is Nick supposed to “come out” in a testosterone-filled household of his three brothers and Hunter, a former guide? And moreover, how will Gabriel, his macho, volatile twin brother react if – or when – he finds out?

And So Does Quinn

In this book, we delve a little more into the world of Quinn who is Nick’s pretend girlfriend. I really warmed up to Quinn in this novel and loved the fact that the author presented her story as sort of a sub-story to Nick’s.

Her world is falling apart quickly and her home life goes from bad to worse to deadly. Being the saucy, snarky young lady that she is, she tells nobody about her predicament, determined to manage on her own – except the fact that she’s spending nights out in the woods, too afraid to go home.

But help does come….and from the arms of a most unlikely source, much to the chagrin of the Merricks.

Adam Has Secrets Too

While Nick is trying to come to terms with his feelings for Adam, we learn that Adam has a dark, disturbing past of his own and is still trying to come to terms with it….and not always very successfully. One bad decision on Nick’s part tears Adam away from him and their budding relationship ends before it barely begins. Can Nick fix it? Or are Adam and Nick both too emotionally messed up?

And Then There’s the Guide

What would be the point of an Elemental book if there wasn’t somebody out trying to kill the Merrick boys? In that aspect, this book doesn’t disappoint. Right in the midst of everyone’s home and personal drama, a new guide comes to town and he’s worse than the last one (remember Shadow?). He’s ruthless, unfeeling and completely detached from humanity – and he won’t rest until each and every one of the Merrick’s are dead.

The Verdict

The author did a masterful job in her characterizations, plot development, attention to detail as well as illustrating the complicated relationships between the characters. This novel just isn’t about a bad man* trying to kill the Merrick brothers. It also touches on matters of self-discovery, friendship, brotherhood, family dynamics, judgement of others, using others and even romance.

Secret is a solid, fast moving, emotional roller-coaster of a story. If you haven’t yet read this series, start out with Spark, told from Nick’s twin brother Gabriel’s point of view. If you’ve read all of the other Elemental novels, then this one is not to be missed. This might be my favorite Elemental novel thus far, although I enjoyed all of them immensely.

Recommended!

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Review of Life Lessons by Kaje Harper

Life lessons book cover

Life Lessons Series

I’ve been meaning to read the the Life Lessons series by Kaje Harper for awhile now but have not as of yet gotten around to it so I was overjoyed when I noticed that my Goodreads book club was reading the first book in the series, Life Lessons in March. Now this author is not new to me. I’ve read two other books of hers: Sole Support and Into Deep Waters, both of which I really enjoyed. I had no idea what the book was about but it didn’t take long to figure out that it was a mystery/detective novel because it…

Starts Out With a Body

Right from the get-go, this adrenaline-filled story hits the ground running. The novel opens one evening at Roosevelt High School as young teacher Tony Hart prepares to leave for the night. As soon as the elevator door opens, one of his colleagues, Brian Weston, stumbles into him and drops to the floor. It’s then that Tony notices the knife sticking in Westin’s chest. Tony checks for a pulse. He’s dead.

Panicked, Tony leaves the body in the elevator and calls the police from his classroom. He then anxiously awaits their arrival.

Enter Mac

Homicide detective Jared MacLean – who goes by Mac – arrives on the scene. He and Tony appear to be complete opposites. While Tony is young, a tad twink-ish, opinionated, out & proud and somewhat sarcastic, Mac is masculine, pushing 40, gruff, by-the-book, and straight (or so it seems initially).

We learn as the novel progresses that Mac has had a difficult background – he is a widower and the legal father of a daughter who is not his. The daugher is being raised by his religious crackpot of a cousin, who won’t allow Mac in her house because she believes that Mac and his former wife (now deceased) had the child out of wedlock. We also learn that he is gay but is so deeply in the closet that he doesn’t ever acknowledge Hart’s flirting – or his growing own attraction to the young teacher.

I also found the police procedural scenes to be well-done, thorough and believable. Many authors tend to do a “data dump” when describing crime and police procedures. This was not the case here – the author expertly unfurled information only as we needed it.

The Plot Thickens

The relationship between the two men unfolds a little at a time with Hart being angry with himself for lusting after a straight cop and Mac being unable to let Hart know that his advances are not unwelcome, as he stay firm in his conviction that he will remain in the closet.

The author reveals the inner-workings of the characters slowly, allowing us to get to really know the them. No love at first sight here. In fact, it begins to appear that Mac is never going to let Hart know that he is also gay and attracted to Hart.

There was one especially revealing event in the story – the day Mac and Hart ran into each other at the zoo, each accompanied by a kid. I found their day at the zoo to be one of the more tender moments of the book, as the two men, on neutral turf and off the clock, conversed freely and honestly, providing each other with a synopsis of their life story – and yes, Mac’s sexuality was still unknown to Hart at this time.

No Relief For Hart

The plot of our murder mystery thickens as well and Tony Hart is right in the thick of things, with several threats against his life, as well as another murder and an attempted murder.

Toward the end of the book, we realize that Tony is not the wimpy twink we may have pegged him for. We learn that he is no pushover and can definitely hold his own in a crisis.

And the Part We’ve Been Waiting For…

The stress, as well as the body count, is rising. The threats against Hart’s life are becoming more serious and a murderer is still on the loose. Along with the tension of a high-profile murder case, each man is trying to deal with the attraction he feels for the other. Finally, it all explodes and Hart and Mac ended up in each other’s arm…and in bed. [Fanning myself].

The sex was hot…yet, not overdone. I’ve read so many novels in which once the characters have sex for the first time, we find them jumping in bed with each other every two pages – with the plot of the book gets lost in the process. Not so here. The sex scenes are well-done, relevant to the story and do not overpower or take away from the plot.

The End

Do our heroes survive unscathed? Don’t worry – I won’t tell you how it ends. But I will say that you are in for one hell of a roller-coaster ride! The denouement is tense, exciting, surprising and adrenaline-filled. And believe me, by the end you will really care about what happens to these characters.

The Verdict

Once again, this author did not disappoint. This well-written story was compelling and gripping enough to keep me turning the pages, wondering what was going to happen next. The storyline was fast-moving but not so fast-paced that you lost what was going on. This book was part crime/detective novel, part slow romance – although I will say that theirs is not a fluffy gushing-over-each-other type of romance. This novel is touching, compelling, absorbing and scary in all the right places with extremely well-developed characters. I can’t wait to read the next one in the series. Recommended!

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Review of Just Between Us by J.H. Trumble

Just Between Us

Awhile back, I wrote a review of J.H. Trumble’s book “Don’t Let Me Go” during which I expressed how much I loved that book. I was delighted to see that the Goodread’s Young Adult LGBT fiction group featured another of her books, Just Between Us” for February’s read – not that I needed an excuse to read another of this wonderful author’s books.

Luke is Back!

I was pleased to see a familiar face – seventeen year old Luke Chesser, who served as a secondary character in Don’t Let Me Go. This time, he gets his own book…well, sort of….he shares it with Curtis Cameron (more on him in a bit). While it certainly can be helpful to have read Don’t Let Me Go, it is not necessary – this book stands entirely on its own.

That being said, in “Just Between Us” we see Luke, still freshly heartbroken from the Adam/Nate debacle in the first book, now living in Texas with his mother (I was relived to see his abusive father out of the picture – at least for the time being). He is still very much involved with the marching band at his new high school and during practice, notices the handsome and charming nineteen year-old Curtis Cameron, the new band field tech who had graduated from the same high school. Luke plays hard to get at first but it doesn’t take long before Curtis’s charming way digs right into Luke’s heart and he find himself falling hard for Curtis – and Curtis for him. The two become inseparable….for awhile.

Curtis

Curtis attempts to convince himself that Luke is too young, that he doesn’t want to get involved with a high school student. But he can’t help himself…Luke is just too darned sweet and shy. But before their relationship has a chance to get off the ground, Curtis receives a shocking phone-call while at a family gathering from his ex-lover who accuses Curtis of infecting him with HIV.

Curtis blows it off, not taking the call seriously although it is still in the back of his mind. He finds himself reluctant to take his and Luke’s relationship to the next level just in case. Luke, realizing that Curtis is avoiding physical intimacy, begins pressuring Curtis even more. Curtis finally breaks down and gets tested so he can, with a clear conscience, begin a relationship with Luke.

The World Comes Crashing Down

Curtis discovers he’s HIV Positive. Ashamed and horrified, he refuses to begin treatment, living in what can best be classified as a state of denial. His life spirals downward and he inadvertently cuts himself off from Luke and his supportive family because of his own shame and self-loathing. But moreover, he decides that he cannot – and will not – ever consider having a relationship with Luke. He simply cannot risk infecting this sweet young man with this terrible disease. So before it even begins, their budding relationship is over as Curtis erects more and more impenetrable walls between him and Luke.

This is where the reading gets tough. As a reader, I found it excruciating at times to take this journey with Curtis, watching him self-destruct before our eyes. Being a product of the 80’s, I lost many dear friends to AIDS so I found this book exceptionally difficult to get through in places, as it brought up memories of people whose lives were cut way too short. Luckily, times are different these days and if the patient begins treatment in time, most can expect to live a long life. I applaud the author for presenting timely, well-researched information on HIV and attempting to clear up the many misconceptions surrounding this disease.

Everyone Finds Out

Luke learns the truth about why Curtis had practically cut him out of his life and lashes out in anger and hurt at Curtis. It is about this time that Curtis makes it very clear that they will never have a relationship together. Against his better judgment, Luke promises not to tell Curtis’s family about the illness. We continue to witness Curtis’s slow decline, which is utterly heartbreaking in and of itself, but equally upsetting to watch is his complete rejection of Luke, who is willing to stand by his side no matter what, throughout the good and the bad.

Finally, due to circumstances out of the control of Curtis’, the cat is out of the bag – his family learns the truth.

The Verdict

This was an incredibly touching portrayal of a young man who finds out he is HIV positive. The characters are extremely well-developed and I felt that the reader could really relate to everything Curtis was going thorough – including his shame, fear, disgust, self-pity and self-hatred. While one may not agree with Curtis’s methods, one can certainly understand his fear of infecting the young man that he had grown to love with a potentially life-threatening disease. The character of Luke, who was portrayed as clingy and somewhat needed in Don’t Let Me Go ended up being the adult in the relationship and was called upon to make some tough decisions.

This story made me laugh in places, cry in places and often, wished I could wring Curtis’s neck until he came to his senses. The characters in this novel, including the secondary ones, truly come to life on the pages in all their tenacity, shame, love, hate, fear and human follies. This compelling and powerful character-driven story tackled a sensitive issue with expertise and compassion .

My only niggle with the book – and it’s a personal preference niggle – was that it is written using multiple first point of view; that is to say, one chapter is told from Curtis’s first person perspective while the next is told from Luke’s. I found this a little bit distracting and a couple of times, had to peek back at the beginning of the chapter to refresh my memory on whose mind we were seeing the world through.

Just Between Us is not a light and fluffy feel-good type of read but rather is a heartfelt and at times, raw & gritty peak into the life of a college student recently diagnosed with HIV and the young man who chooses to love him regardless. Recommended!!

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Review of Dialog: Techniques & Exercises for Writing Effective Dialog

Dialog book image

This post is for my fellow writer friends out there. I just completed another book in the Write Great Fiction series and wanted to share it with you. It is entitled Dialog: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialog and is written by Gloria Kempton. I’ve been slowly working my way through the Write Great Fiction series and up until now, my favorites have been Revision & Self-Editing and Plot & Structure, both of which are written by James Bell. After reading Dialog: Techniques and exercises for crafting effective dialog, I now add this book to my favorites list as well.

For many writers, writing dialog is one of the more difficult aspects of the craft and certainly can be tricky. If you are struggling with dialog or wish to add a little extra polish to it, you’ll find this handy guide an invaluable tool.

The material is presented in a fun, witty and informal matter which makes it especially approachable and does an excellent job at illustrating the mechanical aspects of writing conversation between characters Using passages from well-known novels such as Harry Potter and Moby Dick, the author provides concise examples of the “Do’s”and “Don’t” of writing dialog. The book is not just filled with tips and tricks, but additionally delves into specific details of dialog and dialog structure using specific passages as examples.

The book is broken down into the following Chapters:

  • Chapter 1: Releasing the Voice Within—The Purpose of Dialog
  • Chapter 2: Mute Characters and Stories—Abolishing Your Fears
  • Chapter 3: The Genre, Mainstream, and Literary Story—The Dialog Matters
  • Chapter 4: Wheels of Motion—Dialog That Propels the Story Forward
  • Chapter 5: Narrative, Dialog, and Action—Learning to Weave the Spoken Word
  • Chapter 6: In Their Own Words—Delivering the Characters and Their Motivations to the Reader
  • Chapter 7: There Is a Place—Using Dialog to Reveal Story Setting and Background
  • Chapter 8: Breaks or Accelerator—Dialog as a Means of Pacing
  • Chapter 9: Tightening the Tension and Suspense—Dialog That Intensifies the Conflict
  • Chapter 10: It Was a Dark and Stormy Night—Using Dialog to Set the Mood and Facilitate the Emotion
  • Chapter 11: The Uhs, Ands, and Ers—Some How-Tos of Dialog Quirks
  • Chapter 12: Whoops! Dialog That Doesn’t Deliver—The Most Common Mistakes
  • Chapter 13: Punctuation and Last Minute Considerations—Tying Up the Loose Ends
  • Chapter 14: Dialog Dos and Don’ts—Some Practical Tips
  • Chapter 15: Connecting With Readers—You Can Make a Difference
  • Appendix: Checklist

As you can see from the chapter breakdown above, this comprehensive guide provides a wealth of information that can help you to bring your characters to life and move your dialog writing to the next level. I’ve not seen a better book devoted to the study of dialog than this one and found it not only helpful, thought-provoking and enlightening, but also essential. This in-depth book has found welcome place on my literary bookshelf. Recommended!

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Review of The Order of the Poison Oak

OrderOfOak

The Russel Middlebrook Series Continues

Last week, I posted about The Geography Club book and movie by Brent Hartinger, and about how much I loved it. Imagine my delight when I discovered that there are now a series of books featuring Russel. So I snatched up the second one in the series: The Order of the Poison Oak and read it in one sitting. Though this book is geared towards Young Adults, I feel that this is a book that anyone can enjoy, regardless of age. As with The Geography Club, I found it an excellent read.

School’s Tough

(Geography Club spoilers below)
At the end of the last book, Russel, who just joined the Gay/Straight Alliance group at school, is outed to the entire school. In the beginning of The Order of the Poison Oak, things are not easy for our hero at Robert L. Goodkind High. Told through the perspective of Russel, we learn that he is the brunt of anti-gay slurs, gets his locker defaced on a regular basis and receives anonymous bullying e-mails. In regards to the old “Sticks and Stones adage, he writes:

”..did it ever occur to whoever wrote that stupid adage that hurtful words might be a pretty good indication that stick and stones are on the way?”

When his friend Gunnar asks Russel if he’d be interested in being a counselor at summer camp with him and their friend Min, Russel jumps at the chance. The idea of being somewhere where nobody knows about him sounds pretty good to him. So off they go….

Off to Summer Camp

Russel, Min and Gunnar arrive at Camp Serenity where they’ll be spending the rest of the summer. During an orientation meeting, Russel notices fellow counselor and strikingly handsome Web, who, as Russel describes him, “was much prettier than any postcard.” When the camp director pairs up counselors who will be working together, Russel plans on working it so he’ll be paired up with hunky Web but to his surprise and dismay, his friend Min cuts him off and pairs herself with Web. Later on, an argument ensues as to whether Web is gay or straight? Russel takes this as a challenge. So who gets him? Ah, but you’ll have to read the book to find out.

Monsters and Hellions and Brats, Oh My

The counselor gig turns out to be much more challenging that Russel had originally thought. The first group of kids who will spend two weeks at camp are disfigured burn survivors and the counselors are given two days of Burn Survivor Sensitivity Training to prepare them. But nothing could prepare Russel for the cabin full of 10-year-old monsters for whom he is to be responsible for the next couple of weeks. They refuse to listen to him and defy him at every opportunity. To make matters worse, it appears it is only Russel who has unruly kids – everyone else’s seem to be fairly well-behaved. Russel finally gains control and the respect of his kids, only to lose it later on through a careless inaction on his part. But he does end up redeeming himself later on through a delightful story he tells the kids and the “secret order” that develops from that story. This was an especially touching and heartfelt section of the book which made me like Russel all the more.

Love on the Rocks…

Russel develops a relationship with someone at camp, only to realize later that it is someone else that he had fallen in love with – he just doesn’t see it at first. Min’s relationship falls apart as well because of Russel’s actions and for a good portion of the book, the two are not on speaking terms. And Gunnar? Well, he decides that he is not going to date anyone at all and declares that he has completely given up on girls. A couple of embarrassing yet comical mishaps (ie. Gunnar tripping on a fish in front of the girl who like him) entrenches his decision even further. Funny that…it seems that love tends to find us especially when we try with all our might to push it away. At one point, things look pretty bleak for Russel, Min and Gunnar. But eventually, it all comes together (well, for most of them).

Learning and Growing

This is one of those books where the reader feels as though he or she is on an emotional roller-coaster – at times I was laughing, at times I teared up; at other times I cringed, while a few times I was angry – all of which indicates a story well told. While Russel certainly does his fair share of screwing up, he also learns and grows throughout the story and is a much different person at the end than he was on Page 1. Through his mistakes, he learns the importance of doing the “right thing” and ends up discovering that we are all special and unique, no matter what our outward appearance or how hard we think we have conformed. I found the characters to be well-developed and for me, they really came to life throughout this book. For me personally, this story brought back  fond memories of the many summers that I spent as a 4-H camp counselor. The Order of the Poison Oak contains all of the things that makes a story great: adventure, struggle, friendship, redemption and yes, even romance – and is an exquisite addition to the YA/LGBT genre. I look forward to reading the next book in the series.  Recommended!!

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Review of Don’t Let Me Go

Dont let go book cover image

Don’t Let Me Go by J.H. Trumble

I think I just might have a new favorite author — or at least one whose additional work I definitely will be reading. And that would be J.H. Trumble author of don’t let me go, a novel that I just completed and absolutely loved. I read the book in one sitting, staying up several hours past my bedtime because I simply could not put it down.

This delicate yet powerful character-driven story follows the love story between two young men, Adam and Nate. They meet in high school and almost immediately, are inseparable and the love that they feel for one another is evident almost from day one. Told from Nate’s point of view, we are privy to the ups and downs of young love as the two teens figure out who they are in the presence of each other and experience growth in the process. The author does an excellent job of weaving together a complicated first love and I found the writing to evocative, with the perfect amount of description.

It’s All About The Angst

But what’s a novel without a little angst, right? If you like angst, you’ll find plenty of it in this book. Shortly before Adam graduates, a horrific event occurs during with Nate suffers both physical and psychological injuries. Adam, whose love is the theater, is presented with an opportunity to go to New York with a theater troupe only a few months after the incident. The question is: should he go or should he stay? If he if goes, how will it affect their relationship?

Well, we know right from the first page that Adam does indeed go as the novel opens with tense scene during with Nate driving Adam to the airport. With the talented use of flashbacks, the author fills us in on how they arrived at this particular point in their lives and what the fallout (and there is indeed fallout) of Adam’s decision will be on Nate’s life and their relationship. Several misunderstandings on the part of the characters creates plenty of obstacles four our pair and their relationship, causing them to not always make the best decisions.

The characters themselves are meticulously developed and as such, the reader truly feels the depth of their relationship as they grow deeper in love and later on in the novel, further apart. The supporting cast of colorful characters is well presented such as Danial the tease who has shadows of his own; Annie, their best friend, who I suspect is still in love with Nate; and of course Granny, who spends her time looking at gay porn on the computer.

The writing is solid and clear, although some people might not like the author’s use of “time-jumping” — but I felt that it worked well in the story and was expertly handled, as it revealed a touching backstory that helped us to know and understand each character’s motivation.

Character Transformation

At one point in the story nearing the end of the novel, I found myself getting a tad disgusted with Adam and came to the conclusion that he was kind of a dick. In my eyes, this likable character had transformed into somewhat of an unlikeable brat. If you come to this same point, keep reading — he redeems himself later one (but he doesn’t have an easy time of it). The bad decisions he makes however, does render him more believable as a character as we are all prone to making the wrong choices here and there. But by the end of the novel, you will care deeply about these characters and what happens to them.

In the midst of turmoil, there is humor and I found myself laughing out loud several times throughout the story at the witty dialog that Trumble throws at us. Although there is a light touch in places, don’t be deceived — the author tells a very serious story during which our characters learn about love, loss, disappointment, bigotry, deceit, betrayal and friendship.

Don’t Let Me Go is an excellent young adult coming-of-age tale to which many gay and lesbian teens will be able to relate. I found this book to be a refreshing well-written and emotional story dealing with two gay teens who overcome past hurts to find love and the promise of a future together. I look forward to reading more of this author’s work. Recommended!

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Review of Every Day by David Levithan

Every day

Imagine that every day when you you woke up, you were a different person. Some days you were a girl, others a boy. Or you might by gay one day, straight the next. Maybe a drug addict on Monday and a Supermodel on Tuesday. Such is the life of sixteen-year-old “A”, the first person point of view character in the book Every Day by David Levithan.

I stumbled across this book awhile back on a reading list and the premise intrigued me. The plot of the books is as described above: our sixteen-year-old character inhabits a different body every day and has no control over where – or in whom – he’ll end up, although he does seem to stay within the same geographical area. I liked the fact that the author presents teenagers from all walks of life, prompting us to perhaps question the perceived notions and stereotypes we have of people. “A’s” personally doesn’t identify as either a girl or a boy – it’s different all the time. He never remembers a time when he didn’t occupy a new body daily – it’s always been this way.

What struck me while reading this book was the idea that this person could never forge any lasting relationships. There was nobody “A” loved, relied upon, depended upon. Not one person even knew who he was or that he even existed.  This point was really brought home when one of the young men he was “possessing”, Marc went to the funeral of his grandfather. During the service, tears welled up in “A’s” eyes  — not over any sadness for the stranger in the casket, but over the realization that “A” will never have a family to grieve over him. That he will never leave a trail of memories behind. That nobody even will even have known him. There will be nobody to attend his funeral when the time comes.

One day, “A” does the unspeakable; he falls in love. He inhabits the body of Justin, Rhiannon’s self-centered boyfriend and from that point forward A is smitten with her and his world changed. He decides that he is going to transcend his situation and tell Rhiannon his secret; he decides to let her how how he feels about her in the hopes that they can somehow build a life together.

This eloquently-written character driven novel has found a place among my list of favorite books. It causes us to think about the stereotypes we encounter in our daily lives and allows us to perhaps transcend our own biases and see the world in a different way. I loved “A’s” personality and enjoyed watching his emotional progression throughout the book. This refreshing novel pulled me in from the beginning and did not disappoint. Recommended!

You can check out the book HERE

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Telling Lies for Fun & Profit

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit

“Don’t begin at the beginning; first things second. Spring forward in storytelling and fall back with backstory.” ~ Lawrence Block

Telling Lies for Fun & Profit This post might be more of interest to my writer friends or for folks who are thinking of starting a writing career. An author friend recommended a classic book entitled Telling Lies for Fun and Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers by Lawrence Block. Block, who has written over 150 novels, leads us by the hand through the process of being a novel writer. If you’re looking for advice on plotting, characterization and structure, you may wish to look elsewhere. Telling Lies for Fun and Profit is more a book about the writing life rather than the mechanics of crafting a novel.

The book is a collection of columns that he wrote for various publications and include such themes as: studying the market, discovering your options as a writer, the question of slanting your writing for editors, writing a first novel, writing as an avocation, advice to a college writer, becoming a pro, how to read like a writer, coping with writer’s block, how to draw readers in close, distinguishing between a plot and an idea, point of view, self-discipline, creative procrastination, the trick of not beginning at the beginning, and much, much more.

This book is not only a treasure-house of information, it is an excellent at motivating yourself to write. It gets your juices flowing, your adrenaline pumping and generates enough excitement to get your butt off the couch and into the chair to write. What I really enjoyed about this book is the informal, friendly way he approached the reader. The conversational tone of the book made me feel as though I were reading a letter from an old friend who is offering some practical real-world advice. The book was rife with the author’s stories about his own experiences as a writer, gently guiding us with real-life examples yet urging us at the same time to write in our own unique voice.

Now this is not to say that there isn’t any information about the mechanics of writing for indeed, there is. He does provide practical tips for dialog, the proper use of strong verbs, rewriting, the use of adjectives and adverbs, surprise endings, locations/descriptions and creating plausible characters, just to mention a few; but each topic is peppered with his personal experiences as a writer.

If you are looking for a book about the process of writing, the writer’s life or simply looking for motivation to start or finish your novel, you can’t do much better than Telling Lies for Fun & Profit. Recommended!