Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Review: Ambasadora by Heidi Ruby Miller

If everyone told you love wasn't real, would you still be willing to die for it?

Citizens of a six-moon system in our arm of the Milky Way don't remember Earth, only the History of a generational worldship culture. In their multi-partner society a caste system rules tradition, but the governing body of the Embassy rules everything else. Obsessed with celebrity, beauty, and power, relationships and conceptions are based more on DNA than emotional ties...or should be.

What the citizenry can't escape are the human feelings of love and jealousy that turn the sterile to honorable suicide, force a couple to make the ultimate sacrifice, and allow rebels to spin their world into a violent revolution.

Ambasadora Sara Mendoza becomes the unwilling face of this revolution. Captured, tortured, and given a second chance at freedom, she proves that sacrifice for the man she loves is more honorable than sacrifice to a society's antiquated mores.

The setting in Ambasadora is so unique and interesting. It grabbed my attention from the start of the book. I like when an author puts a new spin on a genre. There were alot of little details that added up to create a rich environment with characters that I loved.

There are a few different view points throughout the story, and they are all strong. There was never one I just wanted to 'get through' so I could read about someone else. (You know you've read books like that too. . . :-) Everyone in this book is looking for something. Whether it's love, power, change, a way to forget the past, or to find a better future. They cross paths at different points and impact each others lives. Sara is used and abused and finds her entire life philosophy questioned. When she meets the sensitive drug-using Sean, she finds the other side to her own battered coin. I love their storyline.

Rainer was someone I wanted to like, but he just couldn't actually be a nice guy. He let what people would think and how it would affect his position ruin his chance at something more real than the 'love' their society told them was right. Sara made him question the very foundations of his existence, and he faced the choice. Love or duty.

This isn't just a Sci-Fi book. It's a Sci-Fi love story. Well-written and engaging, it is one to check out.

Publication Date: May 3, 2011
Genre: Science Fiction, Romance
Source: Thanks so much to the author, Heidi Ruby Miller, for my review copy!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: Zombies Don't Cry by Rusty Fischer

In the sleepy small town of Barracuda Bay, Maddy Swift leads the life of a fairly typical teenager, but while attending a party one night, Maddy is struck by lightning and awakens to realize she has been reanimated and turned into a zombie. While becoming acquainted with her new "lifestyle," Maddy stumbles upon two unexpected undead chaperones, fellow students Dane and Chloe, who begin to teach her the ways of zombie life, including defending the populace from Zerkers—the bad zombies. Together, on prom night, the three teens must ultimately defend Barracuda Bay High from an all-out zombie Armageddon.

I love zombies. It verges on obssession. Strangely enough, I haven't read a whole lot of zombie novels. Finding out about a YA zombie novel made me very (very) happy. This is such a fresh take on the undead, and it is a really enjoyable read.

Maddy's voice throughout the book is humorous and easy to relate to. She is a typical high school girl with a quirky best friend and a crush on the hot football player. Just when things seem to be going her way, Bam . . . Hello, newest member of the undead. Don't you hate when that happens?

There are 'good' zombies and 'bad' zombies which is an idea that I love. The good zombies are just like us, aside from the whole eating brains thing. This also makes it possible to have some undead romance that is truly believable. A crush-worthy dead guy? This book has that.

If you're not sure how you feel about the whole zombie thing, I think this is a great book to pick up and get in touch with your inner zombie lover :-) A fun book, and I highly recommend trying it out.

Publication Date: May 1, 2011
Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal, Romance
Source: Thanks to author, Rusty Fischer, for my review copy!

Giveaway! The Last Three by Almon Chu

I am pleased to be hosting a Giveaway of The Last Three! I have FIVE digital copies of this little gem of a short novel up for grabs. Not into short novels? That probably means you haven't tried them! :-)

This Giveaway will run from November 27th through December 5th. The winners will be announced on December 6th, and the FIVE winners will also be contacted by e-mail.

Click on the above cover to see what Goodreads has to say about The Last Three. Also, check out my Review and Interview with the author.

Here's how to enter:

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Author Interview: Almon Chu - The Last Three

I'm happy to have author Almon Chu here today. I recently reviewed his short novel, The Last Three. He was willing to answer a few questions that I had for him about his novel and about writing in general. Here we go!


My Tower of Books: I was sad to see this book end. Why a short novel?

Almon: I never really planned on the length of the story. I generally just plan out a basic frame, fill the setting, and let the characters do the rest. The characters just happened to push things into a short novel length, as corny as that sounds.

MToB: The plot of The Last Three had a surreal kind of feeling to it, but felt very real at the same time. How much of the story is fiction versus non-fiction?

Almon: Overall it was a blend of non-fictional events and people laced together with fiction to produce a cohesive story. I could go on forever about what was based off of what. Though I must admit that it was a tad strange to write as the real-life events had occurred so long ago. It was kind of like a window into my past self.

MToB: In the story Jon kind of self-destructed, but I also felt like his friends let him down. Was there anything they could have done differently to reach out to him?

Almon: In the story I feel like it wasn't so much that Jon's friends let him down but that Jon refused to seek their help. Though I was actually tinkering with the idea of fleshing out the characters a little bit more, and letting Jon attempt to redeem himself through Rean. This would have created a longer story, probably closer to novel length. However I felt that it would dampen the story as a whole. I wanted Jon to be the sole reason for his self-destruction.

MToB: What kind of things inspire you to write? Do you see something special in the mundane?

Almon: I take inspiration from my day-to-day, just small things that spur random epiphany. I find the best stories to be grounded within the mundane, gives them a sort of relatable realism.

MToB: When you aren't creating stories, are there any other creative outlets that you enjoy?

Almon: Gaming and kick boxing are my main outlets, though I'm not entirely sure how creative you could deem them. Gaming is definitely the more dominant of the two. I dream of writing a story for a game one day.

MToB: What are you working on next?

Almon: I'm currently planning the spiritual sequel to The Last Three. I say spiritual because it won't feature (most) of the characters from The Last Three and the main character will be completely different. Overall I'm leaning more towards dark humour in this upcoming story, though that can all change when I actually start writing it.

Also in March I'm planning on working with a friend on a graphic novel with a zombie related story, though I assure you that the zombies will not be portrayed in any way that has already been done.


Thanks again to Almon for taking the time to answer some questions. I look forward to your future projects!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Short Novel Review: The Last Three by Almon Chu

"'Just three more stops,' I thought to myself. I gripped my knife, the handle digging into my flesh. I closed my eyes and tried to think of Eris." A descent down the path of self-destruction, does salvation lie around the corner or is it merely an illusion? The Last Three is a captivating story of a lost soul on the streets of a modern dystopia.

This story packs a big punch for being novella or short story length. The gritty cover is perfect for what is inside its pages.

I was completely immersed in this sliver of world. It was like I could feel the environment being described. It's a sad tale of betrayal and wasted life. The main character, Jon, is living his entire life based on a lie. A lie that ruins his life, crushes his psyche and destroys whatever else is left of him. It made me very sad for him mostly because he is so fervently loyal and committed to sacrificing for the person he loves. And those very traits are used against him.

I was so engrossed in this book while reading and was sad to see it end. I guess you could even say I was riveted :-) It does have some strong language, but if that doesn't bother you I would suggest checking this little gem out.

Publication Date: October 15, 2011
Genre: Modern Noir, Dystopian, Adult
Source: Thanks so much to the author, Almon Chu, for my review copy!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review: Expense by Jason Letts

Spencer Nye thought she had done something to change the world for the better, but she quickly finds out that eliminating one problem often leads to others. The only difference now is that any solution requires the cooperation of everyone on the planet, and no amount of fame will help them all overcome their fear of another looming disaster. Even though Spencer knew that she needed to change the world, in Expense she’ll find out exactly what it cost.

The second book in The Spencer Nye Trilogy does not disappoint in any way. It stays true to the same gripping and non-stop action that was in the first one. I love futuristic books that show a glimpse of how our world might look if technology continues to evolve as quickly as it currently is. But I truly hope we never have any issues with aliens . . . aliens are bad news.

Expense picks up after the events at the end of Suspense. Spencer believes she has caused an intergalactic war between Humans and the alien Orra. Killing another planet's ambassador can have that effect apparently :-) Spencer is a take-action kind of girl, and she finds herself at a loss when it comes to being a leader and spurring others to action. Especially since most people are murderously angry about losing their sources of food, clothing, etc.

As if trying to get everyone to work together to rebuild their world isn't a hard enough job, the Orra are coming for Spencer. Plus her love life gets even more complicated . . . which I would have found hard to believe until reading Expense. Spencer makes a lot of mistakes and wrong choices, but she never becomes unlikeble. It really just made her more real to me.

A great follow-up novel, it left me really excited to find out how the story will be resolved in the final book.

Publication Date: October 26, 2011
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Dystopian
Source: Thanks to the author Jason Letts for my review copy!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Follow Friday 11/18

Feature & Follow Friday is hosted by Parajunkee's View and Alison Can Read. Head over to their blogs and see how you can join in!

This week:

Question: Letter to Santa: Tell Santa what books you want for Christmas!

A. Bookstore giftcards are always a safe bet with me, but if Santa were to bring me an actual book I would have to ask for Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson! I love everything he has written, and he just keeps getting better. I can't wait to read this one :-D

What book(s) do you want Santa to put under your tree?

Review: Unraveling Isobel by Eileen Cook

Isobel’s life is falling apart. Her mom just married some guy she met on the internet only three months before, and is moving them to his sprawling, gothic mansion off the coast of nowhere. Goodbye, best friend. Goodbye, social life. Hello, icky new stepfather, crunchy granola town, and unbelievably good-looking, officially off-limits stepbrother.

But on her first night in her new home, Isobel starts to fear that it isn’t only her life that’s unraveling—her sanity might be giving way too. Because either Isobel is losing her mind, just like her artist father did before her, or she’s seeing ghosts. Either way, Isobel’s fast on her way to being the talk of the town for all the wrong reasons.

I hadn't heard anything about this book going into it. I loved the cover and that is initially what drew me to it (yes, I sometimes judge books by their covers).

The story is told from Isobel's perspective, and her narration throughout the book is laugh-out-loud hilarious at some points. She is very easy to relate to as a character. Then there's Nathaniel. He's her new stepbrother, and they don't get along at first mainly because of misunderstanding each other and miscellaneous other teenage emotional issues :-) Eventually they call truce and try to solve the mystery of what's really going on in the enormous and oldly creepy house they now share.

The story is a little scary at some points, but not too much. It's like mystery and romance with a side of creep thrown in. The interactions between Isobel and Nate were fun to read. I also loved the way Isobel talks about her stepdad, Dick. Obviously, I don't condone being attitudinal to parental figures, but if you read the book you'll see why that's not an issue here.

A great read. My only complaint would be that it had a very tidy ending. I guess I should make up my mind whether I like that or not. I'm either complaining that a book ended how I wanted or that it didn't :-) That doesn't detract from the book as a whole. Definitely one to check out.

Publication Date: January 3, 2012
Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal, Mystery, Romance
Source: Thanks to publisher Simon & Schuster for my review copy.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Review: Etchings of Power by Terry C. Simpson

Death feeds life in the world of Denestia. The shade advances, bathing the land in blood as they massacre all before them. Magics and creatures long thought dead rise again.

To the east, in Ostania, an ancient clan re-emerges to begin their conquest anew, leaving carnage in their wake. To the west, the ruling Granadian Tribunal tries to maintain its stranglehold on its empire while expanding into Ostanian lands under the premise of converting the ‘uncivilized’ to the path of enlightenment.

Hope rests on the swords, intelligence, and power of four: Ryne, a living legend at the edge of madness, haunted by a murderous past, the voices of his power that whisper in his head, and hunted by the Tribunal, strives to defend a village he swore to protect. Ancel, a gifted student who has lost his way due to a love spurned, is stalked by the shade's minions and must learn to accept who he is or perish. Irmina, Ancel's former lover, also a Tribunal assassin sent to find Ryne, is mired in her quest for revenge on Ancel's parents, and must set aside her emotions or fail her final test. And Galiana Calestis, Ancel's Teacher, and an old Matus whose greatest wish is to help her people survive, must manipulate whoever she needs to if she's to see the Chronicles come to pass.

Between warring nations, vengeful leaders, magic and steel, myth and men, the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Who can unite the kingdoms against the encroaching darkness? Who shall bring the power that drives the world to heel? Who will walk the knife’s edge of harmony? If none can, then Denestia is doomed.

I have to say, I was really impressed by this book. Fantasy novels can be tricky and insanely hard to write. The world created by Terry Simpson is well thought out and nicely executed. This author is one to watch in the Fantasy writing community.

What would any Fantasy tale be without the Hero? Ryne Waldron is a warrior with great powers at his disposal, but he's not the typical good guy. He can't remember much of his past, but the things he does remember are very troubling to him. He must keep his bloodlust tightly controlled at all times. I find it very easy to root for the tortured warrior type :-) What's not to like? Then there's Ancel. He is a lost young man and is wasting his potential when the story begins. Circumstances force him to either stand firm in his training or allow his emotions to control his actions.

Etchings of Power has giant warriors, hidden pasts, girls that kick butt (with style), a mysterious companion, and most everyone has a secret they are guarding. It all comes together to create a rich setting and characters that don't fade into the background. If you like a good fantasy novel, you won't want to miss this one.

Publication Date: October 6, 2011
Genre: Fantasy, Adult
Source: Thanks to the author, Terry C. Simpson, for my review copy.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Feature and Follow Friday 11/11

Follow Friday is hosted by Parajunkee's View and Alison Can Read. Head over to one of their websites to find out how you can join in.

This week:

Question: In light of 11.11.11 and Veteran's Day tell us about your favorite soldier and how he or she is saving the world. Fictional or real life.

Answer: I don't have any soldiers in my immediate family, but I -of course- know of so many friends that have their loved ones overseas right now. They do a great, GREAT service for us, and I can't say how much I appreciate that.

As far as fictional soldiers, my first thought was of Steven Erickson's series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Holy crap, those are some awesome books!! The series is filled with some crazy soldier characters, and I would have a hard time thinking of all the ones I loved. I'll stick with my top three :-) 1. Fiddler 2. Whiskeyjack 3. Quick Ben and 4. Karsa.

Ok, that was four, but that series is filled with some of the most kick-A, cool characters I have ever read. I think if you've read those books then you probably agree with some of my choices. I'll leave my answer at that :-)

Who is your favorite soldier?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Review: The Summer of Hammers and Angels by Shannon Wiersbitzky

Delia's summer is getting off to a terrible start. First, an inspector shows up at the house and threatens to condemn it. Then lightning strikes, literally, and Mama ends up in the hospital. To make matters even worse, with no other family to speak of, Delia is forced to move in with her nemesis, Tommy "as-dense-as-a-stump" Parker.

Not one to sit around doing nothing, Delia huddles with her best friend, Mae, and reluctantly recruits Tommy, to help. The three of them resolve to tackle the long list of repairs, one by one. But Delia quickly discovers that it takes more than energy and willingness to handle some problems. When things go from bad to worse, Delia has to take another tack, one that starts with admitting she just can't do what needs to be done without a lot more help.

The Summer of Hammers and Angels is the story of an amazing summer in a girl's life, a summer of surprises and challenges, of shocks and recovery, of discoveries and friendship, and of loneliness and community.

It sounds kind of cheesy to say this is a 'heart-warming story', but truthfully. . . that's exactly what it is. I realize that this book isn't geared towards my age group (pushing 30, if you must know), but I would recommend it to a person of any age.

The sweet girl in the story is Delia. She lives with her mother and they are struck (literally) with some bad luck which lands her mom in the hospital. As she recounts the ins and outs of their lives together, you start to get the feel that she craves love and most of all attention. Her mom is normally so caught up in her own problems that she forgets the most important thing in her life. I wanted to adopt this fictional girl and take her to eat donuts with me.

This book is great for Middle Grade (which is the target audience), but even for adults I think it is a compelling read. It serves as a reminder to adults that kids need our attention and how much they love the small moments. I will even divulge that there was a part at the end of the book that had me teary-eyed (in a good way).

Also, I don't want to forget to mention that the writing is wonderful! Shannon Wiersbitzky has a true talent for putting into words the very spirit of a young girl. I could go on and on about how much I loved it, but I think you get the point :-)

Publication Date: March 25, 2011
Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction
Source: Thanks so much to the author, Shannon Wiersbitzky, for my review copy!

Inane Interview with Chrystalla Thoma

About the Author:
Greek Cypriot with a penchant for dark myths and good food. She has proven her tendency to settle down anywhere but at home by having lived and studied in France, England, Germany and Costa Rica, before returning to Cyprus two years ago.

She likes to write about fantastical creatures, crazy adventures, and family bonds. She lives in Cyprus with her husband and her vast herds of books.

Rex Rising, the first book in her YA science fiction series, Elei's Chronicles, is already available. She is currently working on the next installment. (My review of Rex Rising can be found HERE)

My Tower of Books: What would I find in your refrigerator right now? (Please do not look in mine)

Chrystalla: *cautiously opens fridge, knife in hand* I have black olives from Kalamata, Greece, (the best olives in the world!), dark bread, white wine, lots of greens for salad and goat cheese. I also see a pen I must have dropped while rummaging inside while simultaneously taking notes about a story, and Saruman weaving evil spells. No, really! (remind me to stop taking those pills...)

MToB: Let's say you're on vacation. Where are you and what does your ideal day there look like?

Chrystalla: Okay, let me close my eyes and visualize this... I am definitely by the sea, which I adore, on a Greek island, with all those white houses and terraces stretching over the blue (not going to the edge, though, because I’m afraid of heights, so sue me). I am sitting at a table sipping my coffee and jotting notes in my notebook about a story. That also gives me a perfectly good excuse to stare at any hunk passing by, for “research purposes”. Yeah. :)

MToB: What is your favorite item of clothing? You know . . . the one that you wear the second it's clean.

Chrystalla: I have a black blouse with tassels on the hem and a logo in gray that says “Always on the Road”. I just love it.

MToB: If there was a movie about your life, who would you choose to play you?

Chrystalla: Eva Green. I mean, I look nothing like her, she’s gorgeous! But she is so mysterious, she looks like she stepped out of a fairytale. I loved her in Kingdom of Heaven and the Golden Compass. Definitely her.

MToB: Let's talk shoes. Flats or heels?

Chrystalla: Flat, definitely. Converse All Star are my favorite ones. I’m a sportive kinda gal.

MToB: It's obvious that your book, Rex Rising, is the product of a creative mind. Do you have any other creative outlets besides writing?

Chrystalla: Cooking! I love creating my own recipes and experimenting on my long-suffering, wonderful husband and hapless guests. When I find the time, I love to draw and paint and do pottery.

Thanks so much to Chrystalla for being such a good sport with all this! It was great working with you :-)

You can connect with Chrystalla via her Blog or Twitter.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Follow Friday 11/4

Feature and Follow Friday is a hosted by Parajunkee's View and Alison Can Read. It's a great way to connect with other bloggers. Check it out and join in!

Today's Question is something new, an activity. We want to see what you look like! Take a pic with you and your current read! Too shy? Boo! Just post a fun pic you want to share.

That's me with my current read: The Summer of Hammers & Angels by Shannon Wiersbitzky.

So that's what I look like . . . and although I felt like a weirdo taking a self-portrait with a book, I am excited to see everyone's pictures this week :-)

Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Orphan Hugo Cabret lives in a wall. His secret home is etched out in the crevices of a busy Paris train station. Part-time clock keeper, part-time thief, he leads a life of quiet routine until he gets involved with an eccentric, bookish young girl and an angry old man who runs a toy booth in the station. The Invention of Hugo Cabret unfolds its cryptic, magical story in a format that blends elements of picture book, novel, graphic novel, and film. Caldecott Honor-winning author-illustrator Brian Selznick has fashioned an intricate puzzle story that binds the reader like a mesmerist's spell.

I felt very emotional reading it for some reason. Probably picturing if Hugo were my boy, how hard that would be. A boy with so much imagination and potential who is all alone in the world.

This book expertly (perfectly, wonderfully) blends drawings and text to create such a beautiful and touching story. This book was recommended by my sister for us to read with our four year old. He is getting to the age where he likes to be read to, yet his attention wavers easily. It sounded like it was worth a try.

My husband has been reading it to our four year old every night and our three year old daughter joins them (she loves it too). They talk about what's going on in the pictures and then listen intently to my husband as he reads the other parts. I love that they are using different creative parts of their brains and interacting with the book.

The story is so wonderful that I read ahead of everyone because I wanted (needed) to know what happened to Hugo Cabret. I think older kids could relate to this story. Not every child has a loving family or an easy life. It's a great book to read as a family.

Also, a few nights ago we saw that they are making a movie called Hugo, based on this book. The excitement on the kids' faces was a sight to behold. How great is it to be a part of their first book to movie experience? I can't wait to see it with them as a family and talk about how it was the same and how it differed from the novel.

Publication Date: March 1, 2007
Genre: Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Graphic Novels
Source: Public Library

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Novella Review: Love by Secrets by Debra Elizabeth

Eighteen-year-old Emily Richardson is excited to attend this seasons society balls and begin her search for a husband. She is thrilled when the dashing and handsome Connor Preston begins to show her more attention. After each ball, Emily finds a love note in her drawstring reticule, and she expects a marriage proposal from Connor any day.

When her father objects and forces Emily to accept the proposal from Lady Tisbury's shy nephew, Ethan Richardson instead, her heart is broken. How can she love her new husband when her heart belongs to the man who wrote her such beautiful love letters?

I have to say that there is something great about reading a novella. It's like fast food. It's a quick read, but still really good. Love by Secrets is a sweet, bite-size love story.

Emily is being wooed by the handsome Mr. Preston. He makes her feel so in love and on fire. She has only to wait for his marriage proposal . . . or so she thinks. When her future takes a sharp turn, she is devastated by the thought of being in a loveless marriage. The title 'Love by Secrets' is very appropriate for this tale.

I really liked the time period the book was set in. It reminded me of Pride & Prejudice in that regard. I think one of the appealing things about that era is the way love and marriage were viewed. Love and propriety create nice conflict for me in a story. And in this story there is alot of misunderstanding and naivete involved which makes it even better.

Publication Date: October 20, 2011
Genre: Romance, Love
Source: Thanks to the author Debra L. Martin for my review copy!

NaNoWriMo, Baby!

I am very excited to be taking part in National Novel Writing Month! I've had a book in the works for awhile, but with reading, mothering, wife-ing (?) and all the other daily things, I just haven't made as much progress as I would like.

This is the perfect opportunity to unite with other aspiring novelists and either write your entire novel, or at least put a significant dent in it. I will still be reading and blogging, but writing even if I have to lose sleep I will be writing every day.

My goal is to write 2,000 to 2100 words per night. If you want to connect with me there, my username is JackieRenee.

Happy Writing!!