Sunday, November 23, 2014

Book Review: FAKING NORMAL by Courtney C. Stevens

Faking NormalFaking Normal by Courtney C. Stevens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the kind of brutally honest that reads like brave and a hug all rolled into one, which is odd. Hugs aren't brave. Somehow this is: a brave little hug, and I needed that.

Alexi and Bodee were perfect and created a nice foil to Alexi's sister Kayla and Kayla's on again off again boyfriend, Craig, who's practically family. I also enjoyed the well-developed friendships between Alexi, Heather, and Liz. Their car and classroom banter made for great reading and kept me turning pages.

This book is not afraid to face tough subject matter. It starts with a funeral. Alexi can't stop from scratching at her neck when she's overwhelmed by memories from what happened this summer, and she'd rather do anything than talk about it with anyone. So, instead, she counts the space between the vent above her bed, writes song lyrics on the desk in 4th period and waits for "Captain Lyric" to reply. She might even be falling for him, which is a whole lot better for Alexi than the line up of boy bait Heather keeps parading before her. Dane, Hayden, the football team. Or maybe she'd be more comfortable with Bodee. After all, she can't seem to lie to him, even when he notices things no one else does. And when Bodee moves in as Alexi's mom's pet project, things between Alexi and Bodee are all kinds of awkward and extremely close at the same time. They've got a great friendship going, and if Alexi isn't careful, she could ruin everything that's working for her.

As bits and pieces of Alexi's past unfold, several possible suspects come forth as the likely culprit of who hurt Alexi bad enough to make her want to keep hurting herself for not stopping him. Why can't she say no? Why can't she speak up for herself? What's beneath the surface, that she keeps trying to scratch at to come out? Will we ever figure out the truth?

Well, truth does have a way of working its way to the surface, but not in the way you'd think. The special code language of song lyrics is one avenue. It's somehow safe to use what's said (and especially what's unsaid) in song lyrics, that allows Alexi and Captain Lyric to discuss these unspoken matters that trouble her so, and on the top of that list: Who is Captain Lyric? So, we've got to figure out who hurt her, and who Captain Lyric is, and while we're at it, which boy is right for Alexi? Who should she got to prom with? This is where it all gets good.

Alexi can put on a good front. She "Fakes Normal" with the best of them. But underneath the veneer, she's got a lot to sort out and face, if she can channel brave long enough to find her voice and speak the truth. As Alexi and Bodee grow closer, they help each other to find a way to speak to those dark places neither wants to face, and Alexi's tree fort is a great and safe place to start.

I was shocked by the ending, and found the way the story resolved hugely satisfying. I am amazed by this debut, and I've added Courtney Stevens to my short list of "auto read" authors. FAKING NORMAL is a must read, and should be required reading for high schools, who need to talk about this important topic.

I think my heart was stabbed with knitting needles a few dozen times by all that happens between Alexi, and Bodee, the KoolAid Kid, named for the way he changes hair colors like jeans. I sure hope we're not done with these characters. I see there's a prequel, but I need a duology to find out what happens next. There was a start, but definitely not a finish. So much left wide open to figure out, and I'm betting on a slightly different response from Mom and Dad, so there's that. What a stunning and well-articulated debut, full of subtle nuances, and brilliant characters I won't soon forget. Breathtaking and beautiful.

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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Cover Reveal: Burn Baby Burn Baby by Kevin Craig

Curiosity Quills is excited to reveal the cover for contemporary, young-adult Burn Baby Burn Baby, by Kevin Craig, which is due for release December 11, 2014. The cover was designed by CQ managing partner Eugene Teplitsky:

Burn Baby Burn 1000

About Burn Baby Burn Baby: Seventeen-year-old Francis Fripp’s confidence is practically non-existent since his abusive father drenched him in accelerant and threw a match at him eight years ago. Now badly scarred, Francis relies on his best friend Trig to protect him from the constant bullying doled out at the hands of his nemesis, Brandon Hayley—the unrelenting boy who gave him the dreaded nickname of Burn Baby.

The new girl at school, Rachel Higgins, is the first to see past Francis’s pariah-inducing scars. If Brandon’s bullying doesn’t destroy him, Francis might experience life as a normal teenager for the first time in his life. He just has to avoid Brandon and convince himself he’s worthy of Rachel’s attentions. Sounds easy enough, but Francis himself has a hard time seeing past his scars. And Brandon is getting violently frustrated, as his attempts to bully Francis are constantly thwarted. Francis is in turmoil as he simultaneously rushes toward his first kiss and a possible violent end.

Add Burn Baby Burn Baby to your Goodreads 'to-be-read' list.

Kevin Craig - Author pic

About The Author: Kevin Craig is the author of three previous novels; Summer on Fire, Sebastian’s Poet, and The Reasons. He is a 4-time winner of the Muskoka Novel Marathon’s Best Novel Award. Kevin is also a playwright and has had eight 10-minute plays produced. His poetry, short stories, memoir and articles have been published internationally. Kevin was a founding member of the Ontario Writers’ Conference and a long-time member of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR). He is represented by literary agent Stacey Donaghy of Donaghy Literary Group.

Find Kevin Craig Online: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book Review: INTO THE FIRE by Kelly Hashway writing as Ashelyn Drake
Seventeen-year-old Cara Tillman’s life is a perfectly normal one until Logan Schmidt moves to Ashlan Falls. Cara is inexplicably drawn to him, but she’s not exactly complaining. Logan’s like no boy she’s ever met, and he brings out a side of Cara that she isn’t used to. As the two get closer, everything is nearly perfect, and Cara looks forward to the future.
But Cara isn’t a normal girl. She’s a member of a small group of people descended from the mythical phoenix bird, and her time is running out. Rebirth is nearing, which means she’ll forget her life up to this point—she’ll forget Logan and everything they mean to one another.. But that may be the least of Cara’s problems. 
A phoenix hunter is on the loose, and he’s determined to put an end to the lives of people like Cara and her family, once and for all.

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Into the Fire by Ashelyn Drake
Publication Date: September 9, 2014
Publisher: Month9Books
Grab your copy today, but watch out, you might get singed!

Ashelyn Drake is a New Adult and Young Adult romance author. While it’s rare for her not to have either a book in hand or her fingers flying across a laptop, she also enjoys spending time with her family. She believes you are never too old to enjoy a good swing set and there’s never a bad time for some dark chocolate. She is represented by Sarah Negovetich of Corvisiero Literary Agency.
Author Links:  Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads
 Book Review: INTO THE FIRE by Kelly Hashway writing as Ashelyn Drake

I have been waiting for this book and this series for quite some time. I heard about it years ago, way before it was sold to Month9Books and back before Kelly took off as a published author with her first series, TOUCH OF DEATH. Needless to say, I had high expectations, and Kelly has delivered in flames of fire licking every page, scorching me with her characters of Cara and Logan, and singeing my fingertips as I turned each page. Okay, I lied. As I swiped each ePage. I read an eCopy of the book. You get the idea.
First of all, I loved that this book is written in alternating first person POV. It's not an easy feat to pull off. You have to know which character perspective to write from for each chapter, to best capture all of the tension for each point along the way. Kelly did an amazing job with this, and I was delighted to see her pull off a convincing male character in Logan, among others.
As I read, I got hooked and drawn into the story, and I didn't mind the excessive kissing all the time. I might have flinched like the boy in Princess Bride, whose grandfather comes over to read him the story, and he asks glibly: "Is this a kissing book?" The answer is: most definitely, YES.
I loved the concept of the race of beings who appear human, but are actually descendants of Phoenixes. I have a penchant for phoenixes, and dragons. In fact, I've got a tattoo on my right upper arm from my shoulder down to just above where my shirt sleeve ends above the elbow. Sure, a glimpse flashes here and there, and I've been asked about it more than once, but I love my tattoo of a dragon entwined with a phoenix, and the meaning. I hope book 2 and 3 will explore the Phoenix lore a bit more. While it was referenced well, throughout the book, I did want more, but I guess there wasn't much room because, you guessed it. Kissing. That's way more important, anyway.
I found the traits of a phoenix, before first rebirth and beyond, fascinating. Some traits are positives, like healing, and the shriek. Other traits are not so great, like forgetting everything from your former life, and the fact that there are Hunters bent on stealing the life force or essence from a phoenix to gain prolonged life and eventual immortality. This definitely raised the stakes when Phoenixes started "going up in flames" due to a Hunter on the loose.
At the center of the story is Cara, who must face her first rebirth just when her life finally delivered the boy of her dreams, and she's convinced the premonition dream she keeps having holds the key to finding a way to avoid forgetting about the boy she can't stop kissing.
The climax was horrific, and brought me right to the end, with a cliffhanger that left me begging for more, despite the elevated heat scorching me with every flickering page. This is a must read series for male and female readers alike. I thoroughly enjoyed Kelly's characters and how her chapters are riddled with plot twists and huge stakes. I have a few ideas where I think the next book will go, but I'll wait to discuss until after you've all read your copies and told all your friends to get copies as well. Plus, you can win your very own copy via the widget below.
4 out of 5 stars, or shrieking phoenixes, because, you know, phoenixes.
Highly, highly recommended. A must read.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

10 Truths I Learned as a Result of my Abuse


This blog post is a departure from my typical postings about writing, books and related topics. You may or may not want to read about the topic I'm speaking about today. I share from my own experience as a survivor, and my purpose is to build myself and others up. I respect your right to avoid such topics, so I am posting this disclaimer.

Thank you for your understanding.


Please come back on Friday to read my review of INTO THE FIRE by Kelly Hashway writing as Ashelyn Drake for her INTO THE FIRE blog tour.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book Review: The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely

The Gospel of WinterThe Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rarely does a book come along and creep into your bones and settle there with a chill you can't seem to shake, and you realize you're numb, and you've no idea how you got that way. Brendan Kiely has deftly articulated an unflinching, honest portrayal of what it is to be seduced and abused by a priest who uses the tenants of the Catholic church and the promise of truth and love and the pursuit of "good work" to trap a boy as he becomes a man in a world that lies and dupes him into thinking he can survive that betrayal and live a normal life.

Aidan Donovan may think he has it all, but he's not fooling anyone. From the start the reader can see right through the carefully articulated mask he's wearing at his mother's party. His family has money, but it's falling apart from the inside out. Aidan's father is in Europe with his mistress, and he's ready to tell his wife he isn't coming back. Aidan and his mother try to keep up the guise of a happy family, but the truth comes out before the party is over.

At the party, Aiden meets Mark Kowolski, a boy on the swim team, and two girls, Josie and Sophie, who join them in Aidan's father's study where they get into mischief drinking and smoking and whatever drugs the wealthy use to find their party high. Every line snorted or pill popped is just another layer of the mask worn to prove they've got it all together. But the line between truth and reality is threadbare and Aidan can't keep his ruse going before he loses it and everything falls apart.

When Aidan finds himself alone, after the others leave the party, Father Greg, the younger of two priests at Most Precious Blood, makes an appearance that helps Aidan find his legs and re-center himself under the protection of this man who gives him the promise of finding a cause to believe in, and a future full of promise and significance he so desperately needs.

His mother means well, but she crafts her own mask of "fake it 'til you make it," throwing a lavish party just before Aidan's father tells her he's leaving her for good. She's well-practiced at putting on the smile while her world is falling apart, the way her marriage is, and she's forced to start over.

While the book takes its time getting going, once all the pieces are in play, Aidan hurtles forward, going from party to party with his friends Mark, Josie, and Sophie, who join him in the dance of smoking and drinking and drugging until they're all too drunk or stoned to realize they're not fooling anyone.

As the edges of Aidan's reality start to come undone, and the seams begin to tear at the edges of his multi-layered mask, the truth of what is carefully hidden beneath the surface begins to unfold and force its way to the light of day. The truth always has a way of coming out, whether we want it to or not.

I won't spoil it for other readers, but as the story turns a corner and begins to fall apart, Kiely uses every stone carefully paved along the path of Aidan's life to shatter the glass house he's constructed around himself. With that much shattered glass, anyone in Aidan's place would have found himself cut and bleeding from an almost imperceptible and hidden source. Yet, it's as plain as the mask he's so quick to hide behind, he's simply forgotten the mask is there in the first place.

As a CSA survivor myself, I know the horror of Aidan's plight all too well. And as the others come forward, reeling from the living nightmare they've been thrust into, Aidan finds himself at the edge of a precipice, and he's terrified he'll get pulled into the current and drowned by the wave of lies and deceit that trapped him there. Aidan makes a valiant effort to lie to himself, the ultimate betrayal, and pretend that the horrible things happened to those other boys, and not him, and not at Most Precious Blood, where he was promised a future in exchange for his soul. It's just another lie, like the gospel of winter that settles in, white and pure as snow or water on the frozen surface, hiding the bleeding current of betrayal and lies and sin below the hardened crust.

This story will creep in and settle in like so many words whispered against your ear, but it will also stir up what's hidden below, what Aidan desperately wishes he could hide and pretend never happened, but he can't lie to himself forever, nor can he lie to those who know he's wearing a mask, and eventually, the truth breaks through the lies and finds its way out, leaving Aidan to decide if he should keep the lies to himself, or speak up and be set free by the truth he's afraid might spill out over lips he's forced into a smile for far too long.

This is a book that is soul-changing, and gut-wrenching, and as honest as a boy who survived the damning truth that he lives in a world where men take what they want, and leave a trail of boy-husks in their wake. It's a gospel told to the world, a world that would rather believe the lie, than face the fact that this truth is far too real, and too uncomfortably close to deny, although we'd like to pretend it's not there. I applaud Kiely for his brave stance to speak up and yank the carpet out from underneath us all, where we can't look away from the truth uncovered, a basement of horrors with a workbench and a glass of scotch to make it go down easier.

A stunning, must-read, and a brilliant debut.

View all my reviews

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Book Review: FORGIVE ME, LEONARD PEACOCK by Matthew Quick

Forgive Me, Leonard PeacockForgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once I started, I couldn't stop until it was finished and thrumming in my hands. Actually, I lied, since I listened to the audio, but I imagine myself holding the book and my hands are shaking because I'm thinking of the world covered in water, even Philadelphia, and I'm wrecked, because of the letters Leonard's future family write to him as he contemplates murder and suicide on his eighteenth birthday.

Leonard is a thinker. He's not a sheep or a follower. He's not like the "mindless morons" that fill his high school and classrooms with so many others who just go through the motions and don't challenge the system. Or, if they do, live a duality that hides their true nature. As the story progresses, it's unclear which side Leonard is on.

I am a reader who works in mental health, and Leonard Peacock clearly represents someone seriously contemplating murdering his ex-best friend, and then committing his own suicide. As he meets with his four friends, the four people who know him best, can they pick up on the clues he leaves them and stop him from completing his mission before it's too late?

I am amazed at the humanity of Leonard Peacock, a character who doesn't want to be a follower, but can't quite accept his own different-ness. He's wise beyond his years, because he has been cheated of his own childhood, and he lives in what might as well be a parentless world with very few friends. His mother is a fashion designer in New York, his father may or may not be alive, but has not been seen in years, and Leonard has less than a handful of friends to keep him going.

That world became harsher still, once his very best friend Asher became his enemy. As the novel unfolds, Leonard has cut off his long hair, wrapped up gifts and a gun and is on a mission. First, he will deliver the gifts to the few important people in his life, and then he will go through with his plan to kill Asher, and then off himself. The reasons why are slowly unraveled while Leonard visits each of his four friends, and cuts school to ride the train of life and see what it's like to be an adult.

This book transcends the many quotes and pathways it takes the reader on, a passenger on the train of life, doing "research" to figure out the meaning of so many things. Leonard Peacock is such a vivid character, it's easy to get pulled in and then you're hooked and you have to know how it all turns out. Will he do it, or won't he, and that ending. Boy did it wreck me. It sucker punched me in the feels.

A powerful, soul-changing book. A must read.

THANK YOU TO SYNC YA LITERATURE for providing the audiobook as a part of the 2014 Summer Reading Preview. I plan to return next year to see what titles are offered. I hope you will join me.

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

My Top 10 Soul-Changing Books of All Time

Books transport us to other worlds, different time periods, and experiences we will never face in our lifetime. As we read, we step inside the lives of our favorite characters, and travel with them, skinriding along with their best and worst experiences. However, some books stay with us long after the pages are turned and the cover is closed. These are our soul-changing books, and this list is a compilation of those books that were soul-changing for me.
1. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

This book. This book, was soul-shattering. Once I let Ari and Dante into my life, slipping page after page through this unputdownable novel, I can't go back to the way I was before. I'm not at all surprised this is an award-winning book. What surprises me is that so many have not yet discovered the American Book Award Winning author yet. You can check out my book review here.
2. Without: Poems by Donald Hall

I've read dozens of books of poetry, many of which touched me deeply, leaving their word-fingerprints all over me. None of them have gripped me the way this book has. It is the story of the Poet Laureate, Donald Hall, and the story of how he faced the death of his beloved wife and fellow poet, Jane Kenyon, who died of cancer. The feelings are palpable, lifting off the page, and rending my soul with each word.
3. I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga

I first listened to this book as an audiobook on a long car ride at night. In fact, it was the very first audiobook I've ever listened to. Words cannot express how this book crawled inside my mind and wrapped its mysterious fingers around me, but I will tell you that these characters and this story have forever changed me. I relate so strongly to the main character, Jasper "Jazz" Dent, and the seemingly inescapable path he takes as he attempts to avoid following in his dad's footsteps. You see, his father is a serial killer. Jasper was groomed by his father, prior to his father's arrest, to become the next great serial killer, a future Jasper hopes to avoid at all costs. You can read my book review here.
4. Scars by Cheryl Rainfield

This book introduced me to the amazing talent of YA author, Cheryl Rainfield, who is one of the most delightful and kind human beings I know. I am fortunate to call her my friend, and I appreciate every time she has responded and replied to me over the years. Her debut novel, Scars, is so powerful and life-changing, I find myself thinking about Kendra, the main character and her incredible journey from victim to survivor, from self-harming to self-accepting and self-loving. This is such a powerful read, and so close to home, too. I'm grateful that Cheryl was able to write this despite it being difficult and triggering for her as a writer. You can read my review here.
5. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

This book got me excited about teaching and sharing with teens. As a state certified English Teacher, I have had the joy of watching students open this book and over the course of weeks have their lives forever changed. I have taught many books, but few as impacting as this one. The power of this book is in the way it changes the reader, over the course of a school year in the life of freshman Melinda Sordino. The language, poetry, and depth evoked by this book has stuck with me for years. I often find myself circling back to this book, or comparing a book I'm reading with this one as a kind of litmus test for worthiness.
6. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

"Do I dare disturb the universe?" is the question that perfectly sums up the story of Jerry Renault, and his crusade to stand up to the force of his peers, his school, and the adults who hold their authority over him like a tightened fist. Powerful, powerful read. A coming of age story that is so much more.
7. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I read this book as a requirement in college but do not regret it in the slightest. I'm glad I read this book, which proves the timeless quality of the story. It's a tale of murder and what comes next. This is a book that is not afraid to "go there," look the criminal in the face, and ask him why he did it. This is the unequivocal cold, hard look in the face humanity, and what would drive a man to such a heartless crime.
8. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

This is not your everyday book read. It's a journey across country in a way few have traveled. A father and son must explore the road on the back of a motorcycle, examining the way their relationship mirrors the maintenance and upkeep of the very motorcycle they are riding on. I was surprised by this book, and how it changed me.
9. The Ogre Downstairs/The Chrestomanci Chronicles by Diana Wynne Jones

I can't decide which is better, the book that first introduced me to the incomparable Diana Wynne Jones (THE OGRE DOWNSTAIRS) or her Chrestomanci Chronicles, the series that was, to me, the original Harry Potter, before Harry Potter even existed. If you love HP, and wished you had more, I HIGHLY recommend you pick up this series. It has gained new momentum since HP, and I am grateful to HP for this. Likewise, The Ogre Downstairs is a "Brady Bunch" combining of an American mother and her three children, with a British widower and his two boys, with a bit of magic and chemistry sets mixed in. The Ogre is by far one of the most endearing and misjudged fathers I've ever read, and I needed this book as a boy growing up in a fatherless family.
10. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The most perfect book I've ever read has got to be the Pulitzer prize-winning TKaM. This book is a must read for everyone. I'm glad most high schools continue to teach it, and I believe the message and values are timeless.

While I couldn't fit every book in my repertoire in a list of 10, listed below are many more that could have easily made my list. So how about you? What books would you consider soul-changing? Do any of your books match mine? Or, have any of my books sparked the names of others for you? Please share them in the comments below.

Honorable Mentions:

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu, The Reasons by Kevin Craig, Fault Line by Christa Desir, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, The Giver by Lois Lowry, The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub, and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King.

I hope you'll join me and post your own soul-changing books. You can either blog about them and post the link in the comments below, or list your soul-changing books in the comments. Feel free to link back to this post if you do blog about this, and let's keep sharing what books touched us and stay with us, changing our lives forever.