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"We read to know that we are not alone." — C.S. Lewis

“Source of Protection” preview

My second book in the Ashe Sentinel Connections series releases Aug. 29. In honor of the new release, I thought I’d offer a preview of “Source of Protection,” Rick and Will’s story. You can find the book on Smashwords, Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble,  and various other e-book retailer sites. 

 

SOURCE OF PROTECTION fnal coverWILL McCALL STARED AT THE BODY ON THE GROUND, so still, while the rest of the world spun like a Tilt-a-Whirl at the county carnival.

Not just a body. His boss. Michael Jameson.

Jameson, like the liquor. Which was fitting, because he was the owner of a liquor store that stocked plenty of Jameson whiskey. Also sad because his body was laid out flat in the alley right behind that store.

Will moaned. Just now, he felt as if he’d drunk one too many shots of whiskey. His stomach twisted, and he clenched his teeth against the urge to heave up his breakfast, thinking that it would add insult to injury to hurl all over Michael.

Even if he could be an asshole sometimes.

A dead asshole now.

Will’s limbs trembled, and he realized belatedly he was leaning over Michael’s body, a quiver from collapsing right on top of him. He didn’t hear the back exit of the store open, didn’t notice the footsteps behind him.

He didn’t register another presence at all until he heard the deep voice behind him.

“Put your hands where I can see them.”

Will looked over his shoulder, and his heart lurched. The barrel of a gun stared him in the face.

 

“Don’t kill me,” he pleaded.

A man loomed over him, his feet spread wide and arms extended in a stance that said he was ready to fire at will. His position only made his shoulders look broader under his leather jacket. He could break Will in half, and that was without bullets.

“I didn’t see anything!”

Will lifted his hands so quickly he lost his balance and sprawled back on his butt in the muddy alley. Liquid seeped through the denim of his jeans, but he hardly felt it. He couldn’t take his eyes off the gun. Not even to look into the eyes of the man who might very well kill him.

“No one else has to get hurt,” the gunman stated calmly. “Just tell me the truth. Do you have any weapons on you?”

Will shook his head mutely. He was confused. The world had stopped making any kind of sense when he found Michael.

Oh God, he’s dead? Why is he dead?

The gunman stepped closer, and Will’s panic amped up a notch. The man crouched down and tried to look him in the eye. Will’s gaze kept drifting back to the gun, convinced if he let it out of his sight it would suddenly fire a deadly bullet into him. He could feel his forehead burning, as if a target had been branded there.

“Did you kill this man?”

What an odd question for the killer to ask. Why would he ask that? Will blinked, trying to bring order to his world. Maybe this man was looking to make Will the scapegoat?

Will started to speak, but couldn’t find his voice. What was the right answer? Should he answer honestly? Or would that earn him a bullet between the eyes? Was this one of those trick questions where the killer let you go if you got it right? He’d heard of stories like that.

The more he thought about it, the more panicky he felt. He gasped for air, but couldn’t seem to catch his breath. A loud buzzing took up residence in his head, the staticky sound muffling the curse the gunman let out.

“Oh Christ!” he heard, just as the edges of his vision crumpled inward and his eyes rolled back in his head.

***

Sgt. Rick Wilson cursed, and grabbed for the perp one-armed, while keeping his service revolver well out of reach with the other.

Perp, yeah right.

He’d seen nothing but fear and confusion in the man’s green eyes. Sure, it could have been fear at getting caught. But Rick didn’t think so.

He stared down in concern. He’d caught a real beauty this time. Strawberry blond curls and creamy white skin, probably paler than usual today.

Rick had a knack for scaring the bejesus out of gorgeous men. It was part and parcel of working with the police department, he supposed. Especially when the only eligible men he met were at crime scenes. Ashe, Kansas, was a small town. There were no convenient gay bars or cruising strips to pick up guys.

The last man he’d felt drawn to had been pale and trembling too, after a close call with a bullet while reporting on a stand-off for The Ashe Sentinel.

Jorge Ortiz had a beautiful caramel complexion and dark, intense eyes — quite a contrast to his perp today. Unfortunately, Jorge’s co-worker Mac had moved fast to snap him up. Mac was a looker himself, Rick’s first love in fact. He couldn’t begrudge his ex his good fortune with Jorge, not after Rick had walked away from Mac in his early days on the force when he was determined to stay in the closet for the sake of his career.

He’d since learned there were far worse things than being the gay officer in the department. Hell, being gay is half the reason he was selected as the police spokesman, of all the ironies. No one said so, but Rick knew the department heads thought promoting a gay man to a high-profile position would give them a better reputation for tolerance.

Rick holstered his weapon, and pulled out his cell to call in an update to the department. They’d need to process the scene as a homicide instead of the crime in progress he’d reported before stepping out into the alley.

That done, he set about doing a quick frisk of the man in his arms. He felt around his ankles, and slid hands quickly up each leg. So far so good, he thought, as he moved his hands to check pockets. Nothing but a pack of gum and a wallet. He flipped it open one-handed, but there was no driver’s license in the display window.

That was a little suspicious. Who didn’t have a license these days?

He shoved the wallet back in the man’s back pocket, and resumed his frisk. The man’s snug T-shirt couldn’t possibly hide a weapon, but some idiots thought it was a good idea to stash weapons in their waistband. It was a miracle more perps didn’t blow off their dicks. Or maybe it was a pity.

Rick smiled grimly at the thought, and slipped his fingertips under the man’s waistband, sliding his hand quickly around the front, then the back. He kept his touch brief and impersonal, though the softness of the skin beneath his fingers didn’t escape his notice.

Just another perp, Rick. No need to get pervy about it.

A siren bleated from down the alley, and to his relief sleeping beauty stirred. Dazed green eyes blinked up at him, and the body collapsed half in his lap tensed.

“Shhh, you’re okay,” he said as gently as if he were speaking to a skittish colt. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m Sgt. Wilson with the police department, and the officers pulling up now are going to have questions for you. Understand?”

The guy’s gaze jerked toward the police car rolling to a stop a few feet from where they half-reclined against the brick wall of the liquor store. He tried to pull away from Rick.

“Easy,” Rick said, tightening his hold on the suspect. “No sudden movements. Why don’t you tell me your name?”

Wide eyes still fogged with shock swung back to his face. A pink tongue darted out to moisten dry lips.

“Will McCall. I work here.”

Rick thought he’d recognized him as one of the store’s clerks.

“Will, that’s a good name. Suits you. Do you know the man on the ground?” Rick asked, letting Will pull away gradually now that he wasn’t likely to bolt and get himself shot.

“Michael Jameson. He owns the store.”

He glanced over at the two uniformed officers headed their way. “Owned the store,” Will corrected himself in a whisper.

Being off-duty, Rick was dressed casually­­­­­­­ in jeans and T-shirt, with a leather jacket thrown over top. No wo­­­nder Will hadn’t realized he was an officer and panicked. He should have announced himself as police immediately.

Rick dealt with the press more than criminals, or even scared witnesses, these days. He was good at his job as the spokesman for the department, but he’d never felt less like police than when he’d drawn on a civilian.

“I didn’t do anything,” Will added. “I just found him, I swear.”

“Don’t worry, Will. We’ll figure it all out. The officers will have to question you.”

“But—”

“You’re covered in blood, Will,” Rick said gently.

Will looked down, and there was no missing the horror in his expression.

“Oh God, I thought that was mud,” he moaned, his face starting to lose color again. “Oh Jesus.”

Rick pulled Will to his feet and propped him against the brick wall. “Deep breaths, Will. You’re alright.”

Officers Jones and Tibbitts strolled up.

“What have we got here, Sergeant?” Jones asked politely. His blue eyes fixed on Will speculatively.

Tibbitts headed straight to the body, crouching next to it and feeling for a pulse.

“Definitely dead. I’ll call it in,” he said over his shoulder, before depressing the button on his radio to report the DB.

“Already updated the station,” Rick told him. “Homicide should be on scene shortly.”

Rick could feel Will shrinking back from the sight of the body, trembling as shock took hold. Rick would have liked to comfort him, but he didn’t. Guilty or not, Will was a suspect.

“This is Will McCall,” Rick said. “He was on scene when I arrived. He says the dead man is Michael Jameson, his boss. As you can see, he’s got blood evidence on his clothing and was in close proximity to the victim. I’m sure homicide will want to question him.”

***

Will listened to the sergeant  spell out exactly how guilty he looked, kneeling over his dead boss in an alley.

God, would he go to jail? It’s not like he could come up with an alibi. The man saw him leaning over a dead body! Wasn’t that the very definition of caught red-handed?

It was just his luck, too.

Will had barely escaped his abusive ex-boyfriend. He moved halfway across the country to start over, and enrolled at the local community college to finish an education he’d given up on years ago.

And now this.

“I’m not a killer,” he interrupted desperately. “I swear!”

“Sir, calm down,” Officer Jones said firmly. “No one’s under arrest. But I do need to ask, sir, do you have any weapons on you?”

Will shook his head. Jones glanced at the sergeant. “Did you frisk him?”

“Not completely. I checked for weapons as best I could when he fainted.”

Will grimaced at that. God, no wonder Michael always called him a pansy.

Used to call him … he wouldn’t be hurling any good-natured insults anymore.

Grief welled up, and Will had to force back the tears that burned behind his eyes. Michael might have been an asshole, but he’d also been Will’s only friend in this town. And he definitely didn’t deserve this.

“Didn’t find anything,” Rick continued as Will bit down on his lip hard to suppress the sob rising in his throat. “You should check, though.”

“Will, please turn around and place your hands on the wall,” Officer Jones ordered.

Will turned pleading eyes on the sergeant. His jaw was clenched, and he wouldn’t meet Will’s eyes. Shit. He thought Will was guilty, too.

He turned, slapping his palms against the brick exterior of the liquor store.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” he repeated. “I didn’t … I would never—”

His voice broke, and he couldn’t continue. His breathing sounded too loud again. Don’t faint, don’t faint, not again.

The officer’s hands roughly smoothed down his sides, and patted at his pockets. The man paused to pull out Will’s wallet, handing it to the other officer to inspect, then continued his task. Hands ran up the inside of his legs and down around his ankles. He barely felt the touch, too numbed by the shock of this new reality.

He heard the sergeant’s voice as if from a distance.

“Will, no one is accusing you of anything. You’ll have your chance to tell the homicide detective everything soon enough.”

“No weapons,” the younger officer confirmed. “You can turn around.”

Will turned, to see another police cruiser pulling up, along with an unmarked police car. A man in a badly wrinkled suit stepped out and scratched at stubble on his jaw. He looked as if he’d just woken up, or perhaps been up all night. What time was it anyway? He’d arrived at the store around 10:30 … so 11? 11:30?

Hell of a day, Will, when you can’t even make it until lunchtime without fucking up.

Will flinched as his ex-boyfriend’s voice ghosted through his mind.

The sergeant who’d found him strolled over to the rumpled man, probably the detective. He stared after him, feeling like his safety blanket had been taken away.

It didn’t make any sense; he’d been terrified the man was going to shoot him. Now, he wanted him to come back and protect him from the officers, from the inevitable questioning and arrest, from his own memories.

“Will, we’re going to need you to take a seat in the back of the police car,” Officer Tibbitts announced. He grabbed Will’s arm and started pushing him not-so-subtly toward the car.

“Oh, but—”

“Detective Nielsen will have questions for you. Most likely, we’ll need to take you downtown. Your clothes will need to be processed.”

“My clothes,” Will repeated blankly.

Officer Jones nodded. “Evidence,” he explained, as his partner put a hand on Will’s head and shoved him into the backseat.

They didn’t cuff him. Small favors and all that. The doors had no handles, though, so once he was in, he was stuck there.

Evidence. Will thought of all the crime shows he’d watched on TV. The cops were always searching for forensic evidence to place the killer at the scene. Blood on his clothes. A hair. A fingerprint.

They had all that on Will already, didn’t they? How would he possibly prove he didn’t kill Michael Jameson, especially when he’d yelled at Michael just two days ago, threatened to kill him if he betrayed Will’s trust again?

Motive, opportunity, presence at the crime scene. He was as good as convicted already.

Jordan L Hawk has the recipe for delicious storytelling

Whyborne and Griffin novels by Jordan L Hawk

Book 1

Who wouldn’t like a series of books that are intellectual, mysterious, paranormal and romantic?

Sometimes, it feels a little as if Jordan L Hawk has thrown a melting pot of genres into the Whyborne and Griffin novels, but instead of a goupy mess she has concocted delicious storytelling. Hawk’s author bio reads that she grew up on tales of haints and mountain magic, and those influences certainly come through in her books.

Perhaps this is part of the reason why the Whyborne & Griffin series — going strong after 6 full-length novels and a couple of shorter novellas — has such staying power.

First, there’s the intellectual: We’ll give this esteemed designation to Percival Endicott Whyborne, a scholar at the Ladysmith Museum who reads dead languages (and eventually learns the arts of sorcery). It could be argued there are plenty of other intellectuals in the book, such as Whyborne’s colleague, Christine, a noted archaeologist.

Then, there’s the mysterious: With Griffin Flaherty, an ex-Pinkerton detective, at his side, is it any wonder there’s plenty of mystery to these books? But unlike those old “whodunnit” mysteries, you can bet Whyborne’s skills will be just as necessary as Griffin’s to unravel the truth.

Hoarfost

Book 6

The Paranormal is Paramount, too: From monsters that can melt the skull of a man to a sorceress risen from the dead, Whyborne and Griffin find plenty of otherworldly forces to fight book after book. Each tale is painstakingly developed, with a scholarly dedication that befits the creator of Whyborne.

Last, but not least, is the Romance: Whyborne’s character begins as a repressed gay man determined to suppress his desires after the death of a friend he secretly loved. Griffin bears his own scars after a traumatic experience with the Pinkertons and a forced stay at an insane asylum. Throughout the series, their relationship evolves from attraction to love to commitment, weathering all the rocky points in between. As the series’ broader story themes develop, so does Whyborne and Griffin’s relationship.

I love gay fiction — from sweet romance to paranormal/fantasy — but even if you don’t particularly seek out gay themes in your reading choices, I urge you to explore this series. If you love books that are smart, mysterious, otherworldly and romantic, then this is the series for you.

Explore the Whyborne & Griffine series of books here. 

‘Life is Awesome’ when you read this series

Gay fantasy booksPrepare yourself: This book review contains glowing praise that may only be suitable for avid readers.

If Jordan Castillo Price wasn’t already one of my favorite gay fantasy/paranormal authors, she would have cemented her place in the list with her Mnevermind trilogy. I spent the weekend reading the third book, “Life is Awesome,” and it was, well, awesome.

While I enjoyed the “Psycop” series for which Jordan Castillo Price is best known, the Mnevermind series has a depth that you won’t find in her other books. Part of that is probably her main character’s emotional baggage.  Protagonist Daniel Schroeder is carrying a boatload of guilt and responsibility on his shoulders, and he’s continually inches from his breaking point.

The series in built on the fascinating premise that people can pay a price to experience memories while in a dreamlike state. Daniel trained as a memorysmith — someone who can create  memory programs — and he and his father were on the fast track to success with their own memory palace when something went drastically wrong. A mnem Daniel smithed, “Life is Awesome,” created a persistent false memory that has wreaked havoc in his father’s life.

Daniel struggles day by day, as he works overtime to keep his struggling memory palace open and drowns in guilt over what happened to his father. Only with the introduction of Elijah Crowe, a mnem tech enthusiast, can Daniel begin confronting all the emotional baggage he’s carried and find some happiness for himself.

Learning to understand and love Elijah is tricky, because as someone on the autism spectrum he doesn’t quite see the world like other people do. Elijah is an intriguing character, and his autism just adds another level of depth to the story. But while autistic characters are beginning to show up  in more novels, this just may be the first one I found to be entirely believable. As the mother of an autistic child, I was fascinated with Elijah and impressed with how real he seemed.

With complex characters and impressive world-building, you can’t go wrong with the Mnevermind trilogy. If you haven’t read any of these books and you enjoy fantasy, then I definitely recommend you check them out.

You can find books by Jordan Castillo Price here.

 

 

“Secret” loses a little magic by trying to cover too much ground

“Secret,” the latest installment of the Elemental book series by Brigid ya book reviewsKemmerer, is an ambitious effort to tackle serious issues while continuing a fantasy story. All of the Elemental books have taken on themes of that nature — confronting a range of topics from domestic dysfunction to sexual assault, violence, bullying and questions of self-esteem.

In “Secret,” Nick — one half of the good-looking Merrick twins — must come to terms with his sexuality after becoming attracted to a dancer named Adam. As he begins a tentative and secret relationship with Adam, he struggles with the typical fears that come with coming out to his family. Meanwhile, Quinn — his former girlfriend — is aware of his feelings for Adam, but has made a deal with Nick to pretend to date him.

This book, unlike Kammer’s earlier installments in the series, tries to cover multiple relationship storylines. In “Secret,” you watch Nick’s story play out with Adam, while Quinn meets the Merricks’ enemy, Tyler, and discovers a more humane side to him.

I’m a fan of the series, so of course I enjoyed reading about the continuation of the storyline. But I think stretching “Secret” across two separate love stories did some of the characters a disservice. And it allowed for less development of those crucial issues Kemmerer tried to raise. Though Quinn’s home life — which includes violence and substance abuse — is quite serious, you get only a vague sense of what that’s like.

Her first two books — “Storm” and “Spark” — created love interests for the Merrick boys that were just as developed as the Merricks themselves. The last two books, in an attempt to drive the plot forward and cover more characters, lose a little of that magic.

After reading the novella focused on Nick and Adam — which came just before this new book — I was really looking forward to the story that would evolve from these two. It fell a little short of my expectations.

The series has one more book to go, which will focus on Michael, the oldest Merrick brother. I suspect it, too, will be more plot driven. But at this stage, I’ll read it because I have to know how everything works out.

And even though the later Elemental books don’t touch me quite as deeply as the author’s first two, watching previous characters make appearances and interact in the new stories always bring a smile to my face — much like spotting an old friend after a long absence.

‘Witchfinder’ a grim YA fantasy

Witchfinder, ya book reviewI don’t see “Witchfinder” by Ruth Warburton becoming the next YA blockbuster, but I enjoyed the book for the differences that will potentially make it slightly less popular on the mass market. For one thing, it’s set in London in 1880, giving it an old-fashioned vibe. Secondly, it’s a tad more grim than many of the YA books — even the dystopians — that I’ve read.

The book’s descriptor suggests it would appeal to fans of Cassandra Clare’s “Infernal Devices” series, and I suppose that’s true at some level. It’s the same time period, and it involves an element of fantasy, but that’s where the similarities stop.

Luke is a boy who’s grown up with the burning desire for revenge on the black witch that killed his parents before his eyes. To join a secret brotherhood of men devoted to hunting witches he must pass their tests, the last of which is to pick out a name at random, then hunt down and kill that witch within a month — or face death himself.

Luke, who has thus far worked as a blacksmith’s apprentice, chooses the name of Rosa Greenwood, a 16-year-old witch living in fading grandeur on the west side of town. Luke goes undercover as a stableboy to get close to the family, where it becomes apparent that Rosa is the last bargaining chip in her family’s effort to avoid bankruptcy. She’s about to be married off to a cruel and powerful witch, but Luke intends that she’ll never see her wedding day.

Outside of the fact that the book contains witchcraft themes, it’s almost more of a domestic drama that an adventurous fantasy. The story focuses on Rosa’s difficult position in the family and her ugly relationship with her mother and brother. She misses her father and longs for the way things used to be. Meanwhile, Luke is stressed by the responsibility he’s accepted and working not to give himself away as he pursues options that will bring him close enough to Rosa to kill — if he can make himself do it at all.

The more time they spend together, the more Luke senses the goodness in Rosa and the more he falls for her. In the end, he must decide whether he can kill the girl he’s falling in love with, and Rosa must decide if she can marry a man she detests.

 

Great YA freebies on Kindle

I love free reads. My pocketbook loves free reads. But the library in my small hometown can’t handle my appetite. That’s where I break out my Kindle and go schlepping through free offers like a virtual Dumpster diver. (No offense meant by the simile, but there are some real pieces of trash next to the treasure, if you know what I mean …)

So, this blog is for you. Bypass the sketchy reads and go straight for the freebie gems. (I hold no liability if their pricing status has changed by the time you read this!) And bear in mind that I am recommending these as good free reads, not for Pulitzer prizes for fiction. There will be fluff … but who can say no to free fluff?

ya book freebiesBrightest Kind of Darkness, by P.T. Michelle
I loved this paranormal romance, the first of a series that is followed up by Lucid, also a good read. In this story, Nara is a teenager with the odd ability/disability of dreaming the next day’s events — exactly. But she avoids using her gift to change fate after an ugly incident in her past, but one day she dreams a future she can’t ignore. A mysterious loner named Ethan is the only person who seems on the same wave length, but as their connection gets stronger, the questions about his past become more pressing. After reading the follow-up Lucid, I can tell you that this series only gets more deep and mysterious as it goes on.

Ya book freebiesAurora Sky: Vampire Hunter, by Nikki Jefford

Nikki Jefford is shaping up to be an author I can count on for an entertaining read. Aurora Sky is the second series I’ve found by Nikki — she lures me in with a free first book, and before you know it, I’m buying sequels. Luckily, those prices are generally in the $3 neighborhood. If you like vampire stories, you’ll enjoy the twists and turns of the Aurora Sky books (two so far). Nikki’s not afraid to transform her characters through pain, break hearts or shatter dreams. I’m not sure how long this freebie will last. Aurora Sky: Vampire Hunter is free via other venues as well through Nov. 22. Check out the author’s website to see how to get your copy.

YA Book freebiesEntangled, by Nikki Jefford

I’m jumping right into the other free offering from Jefford. “Entangled” is the first of the Spellbound trilogy about witches. The story is light, and keeps you intrigued as Gray dies, then suddenly finds herself sharing her (evil) twin’s body. Enlisting the help of a love interest, Gray must find a way to return to Earth permanently before her sister decides to purge her for good.

YA book freebiesDelirium, by Susan Kaye Quinn
Delirium is the first in the Debt Collector serial. Although it’s less definable as YA, it’s close enough, and I cannot say enough good about this one! I love Susan Kaye Quinn. The writing is polished and well-paced, and the story is fascinating. Debt Colletor is a gritty, future noir about a society that balances a person’s potential against their debt. It takes you into the world of sex workers, the mob and corrupt officials who snatch life from terminally ill children. It’s deliciously dark! Plus, I got a chance to interview Susan. Check out the interview/review here.

I don’t have time to write about all my finds. But here are a few more you should consider:

YA Book Freebies

Open Minds, Susan Kaye Quinn

YA Book freebies

Glimpse, by Stacey Wallace Benefiel

YA book freebies

The Mind Readers, by Lori Brighton

YA book freebie

Skid, by Doug Solter

YA book freebies

Everblue, by Brenda Pandos

 

Now go forth and multiply … your book downloads!

Dystopian malaise

I have the dystopian malaise.

I’m generally the ideal fan for the dystopian novel. I loved The Hunger Games, and the Legend and Divergent series. I enjoyed the first two books in the Matched series by Ally Condie — I’m sure I’ll get around to book three — as well as The Debt Collector serial on Kindle.

But the market has become so flooded that it’s difficult to find the quality gems mixed in with the wreckage of an over-saturated genre. And right along with the dystopian influx, is the overabundance of books told in the first-person perspective. If done right, both of these methods can still be a big win for authors. Unfortunately, the clutter in bookstores may turn off some readers. I, for one, could use a break.

Here’s a look at a few dystopian novels I picked up in the past few months:

Ya book reviewsContributor, by Nicole Ciacchella
This was one of the better dystopian novels I read — based mainly on the fact that I actually finished it. Not exactly high praise. This first book in a new series introduces the idea of a society that is highly motivated to succeed on a career path. If they do, they are greatly rewarded. If they do not, they are ostracized. And if they cannot contribute due to injury or illness, they are disposable. This type of society encourages brilliance — and also ruthlessness — as young people compete for coveted training spots that will position them for leadership in their fields. There was nothing exactly “wrong” with this book, but there was also no great drama or love interests to keep me really hooked. It felt a little ho-hum. The similarity it bears to a highly competitive workplace in America is an intriguing commentary on our society, though. 

Ya book reviewsAberrant, by Ruth Silver
It’s possible I didn’t give this one a fair shot, but its similarities almost immediately to the premise of the well-known “Matched” series — in which society matches up spouses — bugged me. Also, the writing wasn’t at all on the same level. Almost immediately, our protagonist is being hauled away, for some unknown offense, and I really didn’t care. That’s when I decided to give it up.

ya book reviewsThe Elite (Selection series), by Kiera Cass
The first book of the Selection series drew me in a bit more than the others mentioned here. In this society, families are divided into scores — 3s, 4s, 5s etc. Girls can marry up, but men who marry someone higher than their rank bring their wives down a notch. Each level determines your profession in life — from servants to artists to the very wealthy. When a contest is held, similar to The Bachelor, to select the prince’s wife, America Singer finds herself in the running — despite being in love with a 6 who is below her station. Though the plot, at least in this first book, seems a little thin, it kept me interested — which is more than a lot of books in the genre do these days.

YA book reviewsDelirium, by Lauren Oliver
I’m still working my way through this one. Initially, I was intrigued by the concept: Love as a disease. In this world, the people have a procedure at age 18 that “cures” them of the ailment and ensures a peaceful life. As in other books I’ve read, they are then “matched” with a suitable spouse. There are “invalids” living in the wilds, however, who have never been cured and threaten the stability of their society. As interesting as the premise is, it took me a long time to connect with the main character, and this is one example where the first-person POV grates on me.

Lunar Chronicles a creative series worth exploring

YA book blogA series including cyborgs, androids, wolves, royalty, people of the moon … what more could you ask for?

In February, Marissa Meyer released the second of her series, The Lunar Chronicles. If you’re like me, you’re always in the market for a good series, and you can’t go wrong with this one.

I was hesitant to read it, at first, despite the good reviews the first book, “Cinder,” had received. The series has some decided fairy tale themes I wasn’t sure I would enjoy. For one thing, I’ve come across many other stories using this approach. “Wicked” and “The Ugly Stepsister” are highly successful examples of the fairy tale spin-off, and too many tween movies are the examples of how wrong it can go.

You can guess from the names what fairy tales “Cinder” and “Scarlet” draw from. Yet, I have to say, Meyer surprised me. Who in their right mind thinks, “I want to do a Cinderella spin-off. Hey, I know! I’ll write about a cyborg who meets a prince while there is a massive plague outbreak and enemies from the moon are trying to manipulate their way into a self-serving marriage alliance!” Meyer pulls it off with flying colors.

“Cinder” gripped me from the first line. There was something very real about Cinder, a cyborg who is treated like a second-class citizen by other townspeople, including her own adopted family. She works as a mechanic, fixing androids, to support the family. Prince Kai, having heard that Cinder was the best mechanic in the area, brings an android containing sensitive information to her for repair, and thus begins the saga of Cinder and Kai. They meet again after she is at the palace, having been drawn into a program working to find a cure for the plague.

As you might expect, there is a ball, though it will not go as you might expect. Cinder and Kai’s happily ever after won’t be as neatly foretold as in the classic, and you have to read on in the second novel to find out how their saga plays out as Scarlet and Wolf and introduced into the story line.
YA book blog Scarlet, a young woman desperate to find her grandmother after she goes missing, accepts the help of a stranger in town who goes by the name of Wolf. She knows she shouldn’t trust him, but he seems her only hope in tracking down the gang that stole her grandmother. There’s a larger plot at work, which includes secret lunar agents who have undergone genetic mutation. Meanwhile, the Lunar leader continues to make trouble for Cinder and Kai, unleashing violence on the kingdom in an effort to get Kai to marry her.

Even with the fairy tale parallels, the series never comes close to being anything but original. If you’re looking for a new series to read, I highly recommend it, even though you’ll be left waiting anxiously for the third book’s release.

‘Skin’ delves deep in emotional transformation story

YA book reviews“Skin,” by Donna Jo Napoli, is one of those special reads: One so full of truth and pain a book review simply cannot do it justice.

The book surprised me in its intensity as it pulled me into the heart and mind of a teenage girl on the brink of the biggest, most terrifying change of her life.  Sixteen-year-old Sep wakes up one morning with white lips, as in, completely absent of color. Naturally, she freaks out just a bit. But a bit of lipstick, and she can hide the oddity …until it spreads. Until she’s diagnosed with vitiligo, a rare skin condition for which there is no cure.

Sep is horrified by the news, which has turned her expectations for the world upside down. But ironically, Sep’s new use of lipstick to hide her secret also draws out long-ago close friend Josh, who is suddenly offering her something good to hold onto as she confronts her changing reality. She engages in a whirlwind romance, eager to experience as much as she can before the vitiligo spreads and she has to let him go. Sep prolongs the inevitable as long as she can with concealers, scarves, lipstick and hand-drawn tattoos on her hand, but she knows she’s running out of time before she becomes the subject of ridicule.

Napoli holds no punches as she takes the reader on this journey into a very difficult chapter in Sep’s life. She makes you feel every moment of fear, of grief, of bittersweet love and happiness as biology catapults Sep toward a reality she cannot change. There’s something so real about “Skin,” you’ll be convinced that the searing heartache is your own.

Ultimately, Sep must find the inner strength not only to face her friends with this new condition, but to face herself. Her own hate and disgust is just as virulent, if not more so, than anything her loved ones or peers could ever throw at her. What she doesn’t expect, however, is that she may have underestimated the depths of the people around her, and in her fear of getting hurt, she may end up hurting the ones she loves.

The book is available for $3.99 on Kindle.

‘Notable’ takes YA series on adventurous detour from high school

Notable by Marni Bates“Notable,” a companion novel to “Awkward” and “Invisible” gets off to a slow start, but takes readers of Marni Bates’ Smith High novels on a new, exotic journey with plenty of adventure before they reach the final page. Though “Notable’ is a continuation of a series, it can also stand on its own.

Chelsea Halloway, queen of the Notables and top of the high school social ladder, is misunderstood by many people, including her own parents. When they attempt to give her a wake-up call, while conveniently packing her off to a trip abroad to Cambodia while they deal with their divorce, everyone gets more than they bargained on.

Chelsea is thrust into a totally foreign atmosphere that takes her out of her comfort zone. Rather than adoring high school peers, she’s traveling with college students who don’t take her seriously — and one who seems to hold her in particularly low esteem after hearing about her past indiscretions from her father.

Invisible by Marni BatesWhen their professor ends up on the wrong side of a drug lord, Chelsea discovers what she’s made of — plenty of spunk and a heavy dose of reckless good intention. She’s determined to save her professor from prison — and almost certain death at the hands of angry drug dealers. But it will require all the negotiating power she’s gathered on her climb up the social strata and then some.

“Notable” has a different vibe than “Invisible.” Chelsea is in a pretty dark place when the book starts, and her anger and discontent is a constant companion. Her complaining makes it a little more difficult to enjoy the story. But like “Invisible,” this book is also a story of self-discovery, and as Chelsea learns who she really is — outside of her classmates’ perception and her parents’ projection — she becomes an immensely more likable character. Throw in a little romantic tension with a judgmental college boy, and you’ve got the makings of a good YA read if you have the patience to get there.

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