Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Countdown to New Year's 2015: ...10...Catch Up On Reading

As a part of a new feature here on the blog, I'd like to take some time reflecting back on 2014, and all the great things that inspired, delighted, and challenged me as a reader and a writer. Therefore, it will likely come as no surprise that my book-themed "Countdown to 2015" is riddled with books, authors, and treats for the avid reader and author aficionado alike.

Without further ado, let's begin with our countdown at #10:

Catch Up Reading All the Books Written By Authors You Love. This is an easy, no-brainer. Begin by making a short list (this can occur in your brain if you like, no need to be literal here) of authors you love, whoever that is for you that springs readily to mind, and go find out if you've read EVERY book they've ever published. If you haven't, now's the perfect time to catch up on your reading, and enjoy treating yourself as a way to finish out 2014. Plus, if you're like me, you're trying to finish out that reading goal for 2014, and you might (ahem) be one or 3 books behind schedule. Here's an easy way to achieve that 2014 goal, check another item off on your 2014 To Do List, and begin fresh for 2015 ready to raise that reading goal by 5 or 10 more books than you read in 2014. Who's with me?

Just to make this fun, answer any and all of the below questions in the comments. Who knows, you might mention one or two I'd like to add to my To Be Read pile, and vice versa. Let's see what everyone's reading:

1. What book did you just finish reading?
2. What book are you determined to read before the end of 2014?
3. What book(s) did you specifically ask for on your Christmas list?
4. What book(s) will you buy immediately if you get a gift card for Christmas?
5. What are your top must read books of 2015?

Thanks for sharing and happy reading!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Blog Tour: BURN BABY, BURN BABY by Kevin Craig

12/18 Blog Tour Stop: Excerpt and Giveaways


We've got an important EXCERPT on today's Burn Baby Burn Baby Blog Tour Stop. This is the scene where Francis Fripp meets Rachel Higgins, all the while trying to avoid setting off his rival, Brandon Hayley from bullying him again.

I'll also be posting my review of Burn Baby Burn Baby on my blog. I hope you'll check out what I had to say about it, and I hope you'll enter to win via the links below, and snag yourself a copy of Kevin's latest book, too. Thanks for stopping by. Have a look around while you're here.


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 most recent plays were included in Driftwood Theatre’s Trafalgar24 Play Creation Festival and the InspiraTO Festival at the Alumnae Theatre in Toronto. Kevin’s 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.


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.



I’m on my own in the morning. Trig has all advanced classes. He’s perfect in every way. I’m a slacker on Day Two of our schedule. Easy math and art in the morning. We’re probably going to be building houses with pipe cleaners, or something just as lame, in art. And math? Whatever. One plus one equals I don’t give a crap.

In math, I feel something hitting my back and I turn around to see Brandon Hayley smiling at me with his oversized pearly whites. His cohorts are laughing, egging him on. He shrugs as if to say, What? What’d I do?

I turn back and try to look like I’m interested in the mathematical equation that Mr. McDonald is scribbling on the blackboard in hieroglyphs. I’m a really bad faker.

Soon it starts hitting me again. I know what it is without turning around. Spitballs. And they’re sticking to the back of my shirt, skeeving me out. If Trig was here, it wouldn’t be happening. But he can’t be everywhere.

I hear an argument break out behind me. By the time I turn around, everybody’s pretending to be interested in the blackboard. But I see Rachel Higgins, the new girl, in the corner, looking really pissed off. When she sees me, she smiles lamely.

Like a retard, Brandon waves at me. I blush and turn back toward the board, but not before realizing how intently Rachel is looking at me. Did she stop them?

“Okay, my little piggies,” Mr. McDonald says as he finishes scribbling his meaningless gobbledegook. “Who can tell me the answer to this one? Don’t go blowing your brains out over it. Take a few minutes. Look at it. I promise you, it’s an easy one. And everybody here should know it. This is review. It’s June next week. Come on, now.”

His voice begins small, but climbs to a near yell as he gets to the end of his little spiel. He’s looking at us. Thirty faces staring back at him, all seemingly clueless. Some, like me, really don’t have the foggiest idea what’s going on in his chalk mess. But others, I’m sure, just don’t want to be called upon.

“Mr. Hayley,” McDonald says. “Come on, my pretty little piggy. Give us a breakdown. What’s the answer? I think I heard a rumble from you while I was jotting that down. Why don’t you come on up to the board and give us a run through?”

“No,” Brandon says. “I’m good, sir. Thanks, though.” There’s a little burst of laughter. Quiet, nervous laughter.

“Oh no, Mr. Hayley,” McDonald says, raising his voice again. “I don’t think you understood me there. That wasn’t a request. It was a demand. I’ll have you come up to the board now and walk us through this excruciatingly difficult equation. Come on, now. That’s a good little piggy.”
Now everyone is giggling under their breath. Everyone but me. I know not to rock the boat where Brandon Hayley is concerned. He could probably crack me open like a walnut.


Goodreads Giveaway: 12/11/14 to 1/11/15

Twitter Giveaway: Follow the link and Retweet (RT) to be entered to win

Book Review: BURN BABY, BURN BABY by Kevin Craig

Burn Baby, Burn BabyCheck out my other reviews for Kevin's books: Summer on Fire, Sebastian's Poet, and The Reasons.

Burn Baby, Burn Baby by Kevin Craig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Francis Fripp, the self-loathing MC of BURN BABY, BURN BABY by Kevin Craig will singe you. After all, he's dragging along the haunting memories of what his father did to him scarred across his face. Francis sees his life like a movie, panning in and out of scenes as if he's not even there, or maybe just an unimportant prop in the action of his own life. The voice of Francis is spot-on, sarcastic and cynical teen boy. As you keep reading, you'll understand why he's so calloused and hardened.

With each page, I felt the tendrils of smoke curling upward, which may have caused me to tear up a few times. Having read all of Kevin's books, I'd say BBBB captures the real-life quality of fully-realized characters as seen in Kevin's brilliant debut, SUMMER ON FIRE, and brings the emotional fortitude of THE REASONS, Kevin's strongest work thus far, with an ease only a seasoned writer could bring. This makes me incredibly excited for Kevin's upcoming book, HALF DEAD AND FULLY BROKEN. I love reading his male-centered YA books, since YA is primarily female-driven MCs, and Kevin is an author who landed on my auto-read list of authors. His contemporary is page-turning, richly-developed characters, and stories with twists and turns that leave the reader gasping for breath. I find myself reading most of his books in a single sitting. I can't wait to read every word, and BBBB is no exception.

I loved the relationship between Francis and Rachel. It reminded me of Eleanor and Park. They seem to be such opposites at first, but as you read, you'll understand their attraction is much deeper than their affinity for Shakespeare in the park (a section I absolutely loved!).

Trip was an interesting and complicated choice for Best Friend. He's Francis's protector when it comes to his nemesis, Brandon, the boy who named him Burn Baby. But that same fierceness comes with a price. He's often seen lashing out at those around him, with an aggression that goes largely unchecked, and which could turn on you in an instant. I found myself making comparisons with Francis's father (shudders) and Brandon. This makes Trip the kind of foil character that only an expert writer could pull off. The way the plot weaves together, I found Kevin's use of his characters such an enjoyable part of the experience.

Francis was right. It reads like a movie, and I hope Hollywood is paying attention. With so many other fine YA books going to the movies, I hope we get to see one or more of Kevin's works up on the big screen, big as life.

As Francis slowly comes out of his shell, with the patience and coaxing of Rachel, who sees past his scars to the boy inside and out, he must decide if he can finally let his past go, or grip it with both hands and light it up to burn for a world in need of a survivor as strong as Francis Fripp. The ending left me wanting more, and I hope we'll revisit Francis and Rachel and the others soon.

Highly recommended. A fast read that will make you feel for those who face bullies every day, and still manages to warm your heart despite these hardships.

*Thank you to Curiosity Quills Press for providing me with an eARC in exchange for a honest review.

View all my reviews

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Cover Reveal: Half Dead and Fully Broken by Kevin Craig

Once again, Eugene Teplitsky has done it! Eugene, from Kevin Craig's publisher, CURIOSITY QUILLS PRESS, has created a stunningly beautiful cover for Kevin's 5th novel, HALF DEAD &  FULLY BROKEN!
Half Dead releases JANUARY 19th, but you can pre-order it today on #Amazon! Simply click on the link below!


Now, without further ado, the cover!

Half Dead & Fully Broken Synopsis:

Carter Colby is the most unpopular teen at Jefferson High. This would be easier to deal with if his identical twin brother, Marcus, weren’t the hottest, most popular boy in school.
When Marcus is killed in a motorcycle accident, Carter discovers the one thing more painful than trying to compete with Mr. Wonderful: wearing his dead brother’s face.
He felt invisible before the accident, but with Marcus dead everybody turns away from him in mourning. How can he blame them? He can’t bear to look in the mirror.
When Carter begins to see Marcus’s ghost, Mr. Wonderful’s quest to save the world and spread happiness may not be over after all, even in death. Marcus knows that Justin Dewar, the boy who drove the truck that crashed into his motorbike, is struggling with the guilt of taking a life. Melanie, Marcus’s mourning girlfriend, was also hard hit by the tragedy. Marcus wants to make things right before it’s too late.
With Marcus’s help, Carter experiences love and friendship for the first time in his life. But is Mr. Wonderful’s helping hand enough for Carter, Melanie, and Justin – three kids fully broken by the tragedy – to save one another?


Kevin Craig is the author of four previous novels; Summer on Fire, Sebastian’s Poet, Burn Baby Burn Baby, and The Reasons. He is a 4-time winner of the Muskoka Novel Marathon’s Best Novel Award. HALF DEAD & FULLY BROKEN won their 2010 Best Young Adult Novel Award. Kevin is currently finishing Book #2 of The Carter Colby Series.

Kevin is also a playwright and has had eight 10-minute plays produced. His most recent plays were included in Driftwood Theatre’s Trafalgar24 Play Creation Festival and the InspiraTO Festival at the Alumnae Theatre in Toronto. Kevin’s poetry, short stories, memoir and articles have been published internationally. Kevin was a founding member of the Ontario Writers’ Conference and he is a long-time member of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR). He is represented by literary agent Stacey Donaghy of Donaghy Literary Group.

My Amazon Page - Check out Kevin Craig's novels!


Find Kevin Craig OnlineWebsite | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

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.

View all my reviews

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.

add to goodreads
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.

View all my reviews

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, Something Like Normal, by Trish Doller, The Gospel of Winter, by Brendan Kiely, Faking Normal, by Courtney C. Stevens, 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.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Book Review: CRESS (Lunar Chronicles #3) by Marissa Meyer

Cress (The Lunar Chronicles, #3)
Also see my review of CINDER and SCARLET

Cress by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So many feels with this ending. Such a fantastic read. Marissa Meyers knows how to weave a tale and she's fantastic breathing cyborg life into these fairy tales and giving them a futuristic, sci-fi twist. I loved how each element of Cress's "tower" imprisonment led her to learn skills that gave the group of ladies the skills they needed to pull off that ending. What a great way to bring us to the revolution that will be in WINTER, and what an introduction. Every character shined, and I loved every minute of it. I cannot wait to read the conclusion to this amazing series. This is a huge must read for feels and kisses and falling in love amidst the chaos life brings. Wow. So well done. I will definitely be rereading this series once it's all done. I don't want to miss a single moment.

Marissa Meyer did a fantastic job writing a story that braids three distinct characters into a climax that left my stomach in knots and my fingers fleeting over each page until the very last page. One of the themes I noticed was that each heroine is forced out of her comfort zone and into an unknown place she has to navigate to work out her own goal. Cress is rescued from her tower and faces surprises on Earth. Scarlet ends up on Luna and must fight her way toward freedom. Cinder must face Levana and find a way to stop the wedding to Emperor Kai. In fact, since Levana plans to use her wedding as the first step in her conquest of Earth, the three heroines become entangled in a plan to save the world.

With memorable characters, and twists aplenty, CRESS is incredibly satisfying as a third book, and left me desperately wanting WINTER. Captain Thorne and Iko are two of my absolute favorite characters, and I thoroughly enjoyed where their story arcs took them as characters. I loved where Iko ended up in SCARLET, and in CRESS, she's even more delightful. Captain Thorne continues his jaunt as a pirate-y space captain, tossed onto the beach that is Earth, and mucking up things with shenanigans galore.

I also enjoyed how Cress's knowledge of computer systems and skills as a hacker were featured throughout the story, further illuminating how each heroine's special skills come into play in the plan to save the Earth from Levana.

I highly recommend this book series to anyone who likes a great read, brilliantly conceived characters, and fast-paced storytelling. You won't even notice you're reading a book that's 550 pages. It definitely left me wanting more.

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Saturday, May 3, 2014

Pitch Slam Rebel Group: Pitch Slam Writers


I recently participated in a Twitter Author Pitch Event called Pitch Slam. Created by L. L. McKinney, or @Tangynt, as she is known on Twitter, this event allowed writers to pitch their completed, polished manuscripts as a polished 35 word pitch, followed by the first 250 words of the manuscript, culminating in the final round of submissions with both components. I loved every minute of it, even though I was not selected to move forward to the final round.

The reason these components were spaced out over days was to allow the Managers and Talent Scouts time to provide feedback to the writer, and for the writer to REVISE and RESUBMIT in the final round. This feedback proved to be a great opportunity to learn from the process of submission, by being given a "second chance" to receive feedback specific to our writing, and choose whether to apply those suggestions before the final submission round.

Next, the Managers vetted these submissions into 10 12 final selections, and posted the best of the best for the agent round, where agents combed through the vetted submissions and requested  partials and fulls as if they were record labels. The theme was "Battle of the Bands," and had an American Idol feel to the competition.

Pitch Slam was an amazing experience and I'm so glad I decided to participate.

Each day of the contest had new hashtags where writers could share first lines, last lines, cool parts, playlists, favorite songs, songs the MC or other characters listened to, and even songs the writer likes. The camaraderie and connectedness many writers felt throughout this competition, led many of us to follow each other, form new friendships, and seek ways to stay connected.

Hence, the birth of the REBEL group, Pitch Slam Writers. This post is designed to announce the purpose of Pitch Slam Writers, and to provide first details of what will happen among members of Pitch Slam Writers, for those who choose to join this rebel group and participate in new and upcoming writer challenges.

The purpose of Pitch Slam Writers is:

1. To provide a way for writers to stay connected and utilize the bonds of friendship to critique, beta read, follow each other on social media platforms, and provide feedback on fellow writers' materials (MSS, Queries, Prompts, etc.).

2. To strive to improve oneself as a writer, by engaging with other writers in a positive, yet constructive feedback environment. We all know writing can feel like an island at times, but it doesn't have to isolate you from other writers.

This will include components on Twitter, using the hashtag #PitchSlamWriters, as well as blog components on this blog and fellow member's blogs, and other online places which will have workshop components, provided free of charge.

3. To improve as a writer in time for the next Pitch Slam event.

To that end, I have approached L. L. McKinney and requested permission to form this group (even though, technically, rebel groups don't usually ask permission), and have created a new logo for our group to represent our efforts:


Now that I've given the background to how this group came into being, I will explain who can join.

But first, an important clarification: Joining this group will not move you forward with your pitch or 250 to the agent round, nor will it give you preferential treatment in future Pitch Slam contests. However, I hope your participation will help you to improve yourself as a writer, and therefore, improve your chances in future contests, including Pitch Slam.

This group is primarily intended to be for those who submitted to Pitch Slam. Whether members went all the way to the final agent round and earned requests, or dropped out anywhere along the way, this group is for you.

How to Join Pitch Slam Writers (Step 1): Comment on this post and give me your Twitter name, for example, mine is @gdcribbs. Simply request via tweet or comment below that you'd like to join and you're in. I will add you to the group, and you can go to the link to subscribe. Once you've subscribed, you can go to the hashtag and tweet the link to your blog for others to see and follow.

Step 2: go to the hashtag: #PitchSlamWriters, scroll to the bottom and read going up. Catch up on all tweets and comment/reply as you wish. Let's get this hashtag moving, people! I don't want to see just my tired comments filling the thread. *shudders* *taps mic* *Am I just talking to myself?*

Step 3: Come back to the thread whenever is most convenient for you. Catch up to posts/tweets you missed, and/or blog posts for what we're doing to learn/improve our craft. If you have suggestions, please tweet or message me g.donaldcribbs(at)yahoo(dot)com. Please include PitchSlamWriters in the subject.

I have daily (during the week only, weekends are free) prompts/tweet themes to keep us moving:

Monday: Most Helpful Monday. Tweet links to your favorite writer/writing goodies. This could be a blog, a video, a free online resource for writers, etc.

Tuesday: Tips/Take Away Tuesday. Writing Tips, advice, or things to take away from the experience of Pitch Slam. My first suggestion is to read all 60 submissions that caught the eye of the Managers/Talent Scouts, and see what they did that worked. Comment on these in the thread. It's like a free, online writer's conference and you can learn from it, if you approach it that way.

Wednesday: Writing Prompts Wednesday. A short writing prompt posted in the hashtag for you to sharpen your skills, and get something written for the day. If you have suggestions for upcoming Wednesdays, please share them with me.

Thursday: Things to Improve Thursday. What do you struggle with as a writer? Are you great at outlining/plotting, but terrible at motivation? Are you great and words, but terrible at revising? How's your query/synopsis, tagline, prompt, etc.? This is where we get down and dirty and hone our skills. Make sure you've got your big boy/girl underpants on.

Friday: Follow Friday. This is where we can show the love and follow fellow members, connect with each other on other sites and forms of social media, and share the love of writing. You might be tempted to mosh or karaoke, but we're watching, so...

You are free to join or end your membership at any time, but you will get a greater benefit out of participating and continuing to participate in future tasks and assignments. The more you put in, the more you'll get out. There will be no cost for participation. This includes components which will feel very much like a writer's workshop, but will be provided to members free of charge.

Who will be providing these services to you? Myself and my critique partner, Lydia Sharp. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog, The Sharp Angle. This could include others if I can find others who wish to join me in this endeavor. My next blog will be to introduce myself and Lydia Sharp, and a bit about our writing credentials and experience. Other members will be invited to write your own introductions and post those on your blog. Feel free to use the logo above to help other members find PSW posts in your blogs, and stay connected. It is my hope that we will blog hop and comment on all members' blog posts, particularly when we are sharing our own writing.

Now for some exciting teasers of what's to come: Lydia and I have agreed to collaborate our efforts and share our love of writing and the craft of writing by workshopping with you to help us improve as writers (teaching is the highest level of learning, so YOU are making US better writers), and hopefully we are helping you improve by sharing/studying what we've learned along the way. You will have opportunity to share what you've learned, too, so we can all share the love.

Coming up, we will be assigning you the task to post your writing so we can blog hop and critique one another, and you can follow up by posting your revisions. This will include loglines, pitches, queries, and excerpts from your writing. Lydia has graciously offered to share from her Push, Pull, Lock Online Writing Seminar (I attended and it was fabulous!), and her online Story Structure Series on turning points to help you make sure your manuscript follows a clear path from start to finish.

I've got a few bonus things to add to that, and hopefully we all will enjoy these tasks as we move forward. If you're looking for a group like this, I hope you'll consider joining. Not all of us have the benefit of a local writer's group, so consider this an online group you can attend in your pajamas, without embarrassment.

If I've failed to answer any burning questions, please comment below and I'll clarify. Otherwise, I hope you like what you've read, and let's get writing!

P.S. If you've followed my blog, please note that while I will have blog posts about Pitch Slam Writers, I will continue to blog about books, book reviews, giveaways, author interviews, and the writing process. Of course, if I have news about my books, I'll share that here as well. I'm excited about this new opportunity to grow as a writer myself, and I hope to see you all in the #PitchSlamWriters thread.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Book Review: THE IMPOSSIBLE KNIFE OF MEMORY by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Impossible Knife of MemoryThe Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book fissured my heart into a million tiny shards of frozen mirrors and spoke to me in the language of pain and memory and the human struggle to figure out how to clamber through all the muck and find a way to face it and face each other in the characters of Hayley and her father Andy and their story of what PTSD did to them and their loved ones.

Laurie has done it again, with a book so powerful, I was reeling from lines off every page, although perhaps nearly every page is most accurate. I adored the relationship between Hayley and Finn and the depth to which both characters were developed. They took on life and flesh and climbed out of zombied pages and rattled my soul a few dozen times as I read this amazing book.

I still haven't worked out how I feel about Trish, or Benedetti, but both had nuanced touches in story arcs that made them hard to hate entirely, on principal, for instance.

This is the kind of book I wanted to savor, but then thought the better of that idea and decided to devour it and lick my fingers in all the gravy of it, tear off another hunk, and reread it when the taste of juices ebb and I need to scoop gobs of it when it's jellied and cold in the fridge. Probably better to store that on the bookshelf, no?

This book reads with the reality and harshness of a memoir, yet handles the tough issue of PTSD with aplomb and honesty. It's no small feat to write about the war going on in the mind. As someone who works full time in the mental health field, I know this all to well, see the aftermath in my clients and their families, and I can assure you, Laurie has nailed it in this book.

I am also a huge fan of Hayley being highly intelligent and articulate and standing up to the zombified education so prevalent in today's world.

What a powerful, profound read. What a statement. Many statements. Highly recommended.

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