A Million Miles Away – Lara Avery.

Many thanks to Little, Brown Books for Young Readers via NetGalley for an opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review!

4/5 stars.

Loved this book.  Yes, it did (somewhat) necessitate that I suspend my disbelief for some aspects of the book, but it really was quite good.  The gist of the book is that Kelsey has a twin sister, Michelle (nickname: Mitch), and Michelle has a boyfriend named Peter who was just deployed to Afghanistan.  However, between Peter’s deployment (as in, the actual traveling to Afghanistan) and the time when he next gets to Skype with his girlfriend, Michelle dies in a tragic car accident — and Peter doesn’t get notified about that happening.

However, conveniently, Kelsey looks so much like her twin sister that she and Mitch have been mistaken for one another.  When Peter first Skypes “Mitch,” Kelsey answers it without really realizing what she was going to get into… and from then on it’s a huge “game” of Kelsey pretending to be Mitch, for Peter’s sake.  She justifies faking who she is so Peter will not be heartbroken AND at war at the same time, especially since Peter keeps saying stuff like “I can’t wait to see you” and “you’re one of the best/only things that I can think about here that remotely keeps me sane” (total paraphrasing on my part).

I guess for me, the hard part came in with Peter not realizing that it was Kelsey, not Mitch, that he was Skyping and emailing with.  It’s not because I don’t think two people can look so similar, but the identical twins I’ve known have had “tells” that let me know which one is which, after I’ve had time to get to know them.  Granted, Peter and Mitch were only dating for 3 months prior to his deployment, and I’m not exactly sure how much time they spent together, but it was a little hard for me to believe that Kelsey could either fake being Mitch that well, or that Peter wouldn’t pick up on some tells that it was actually Kelsey and not Mitch that he was talking with on Skype.

But overall, it was a good story.  Predictably, Kelsey ends up falling for Peter, but the actual ending was a surprise.  I’m glad it didn’t end the way I was expecting it to (although, spoiler — it’s a happy ending).  I did think it a little odd that a bigger deal wasn’t made out of Mitch’s death, and that no one really paid any attention to Kelsey in terms of how she was handling her grief.  Again, not a big problem, and I guess it would make sense in some families/communities, but for me it did require a little suspension of disbelief.

Definitely would recommend to anyone who likes contemporary YA.  This is a romance, I guess, but it’s also part of an overarching theme — in terms of “what would you do in this situation?”  And that is a very difficult question to answer, for me at least.  Well done, Ms Avery!  Another author for me to add to my radar! 🙂

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Grunge Gods & Graveyards – Kimberly Giarratano

Many thanks to Red Adept Publishing, via NetGalley, for a copy of this book to read in exchange for an honest review.

4.5

I didn’t really read any of the earlier reviews in-depth — sometimes I do, other times not. However, I did skim them and one of the reviewers said that she had no idea why this book isn’t better known/hasn’t gotten more attention than it has. And I agree with that question fully.

Grunge Gods and Graveyards was one of the best YA books I’ve read in a long time. I’m not entirely sure how it would be classed — in my mind, it’s a combination of paranormal romance plus murder mystery, but even those words don’t encompass the awesomeness that was this book.

I really liked the protagonist, Lainey. I liked how imperfect she was, and although by the end it was getting tiresome to hear all of the “it was my fault that Danny died” stuff, I’m glad that she found out the truth at the end. And I hated, absolutely hated, Wynter and her bullying — again, until the end, when a little more was clarified about why Wynter was the way she was.

There is also a fair bit in this book dealing with corrupt officials, which is an interesting topic for a YA novel. Obviously, not normally tackled in YA books since I guess in general teens don’t really bother themselves with politics, but in this book, since the corrupt official “stuff” had to do with Danny’s death, Lainey got in the thick of it, so to speak.

I liked the similarities between Lainey and her sister, Liz, and how they eventually semi-bonded over them. I am also a sucker for happy endings, and this book definitely did provide that as well.

Will definitely recommend for anyone who is a fan of YA, paranormal romance, and/or murder mysteries. I’m so glad I was accepted to read Grunge Gods and Graveyards and I think more people should read it. I am definitely going to be looking for other books by Ms. Giarratano! 🙂

Blog tour, part 3: My review of Downcast by Cait Reynolds.

Prior to reading this review, I urge you to read Downcast Blog Tour!!, the first post in this three-post installment, so you have a sense of what Downcast (and the blog tour!) is all about.

Many thanks to Booktrope, via NetGalley, for an opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review!

4.5/5 stars.

I really enjoyed Downcast.  The protagonist, Stephanie, was — to me — a very realistic portrayal of a daughter who is living a life that is almost 100% dictated by her mother.  At the start of the book, Stephanie didn’t really seem to realize just how peculiar her mother was, compared to her friends’ parents.  Nor did she realize that there was anything odd about her upbringing, lack of extended family, etc.  I really disliked her mom, though, because she seemed to be the absolute epitome of a “helicopter parent.”downcast cover large

However, as the book goes on, Stephanie begins to understand that her mother is not only peculiar, but she is — in short — “losing it.”  The very steady, very routine life that she and her mother lived for many years begins to change and become disrupted when Stephanie meets Haley at school — he and his brother Zack are newcomers to the area, and mysterious ones, at that.  Haley is very attracted to Stephanie and of course, vise versa (how could a living, breathing girl not be attracted to Haley’s mysterious nature, especially a girl who is accustomed to being an outcast?), but Stephanie’s mother doesn’t like the idea of her daughter spending time with boys, much less dating them.  Haley and Zack are polar opposites: literally as different from each other as light and dark.

The pace of the novel picks up when Stephanie decides to make some changes; in a normal teen’s life, they wouldn’t be considered large changes (wardrobe additions, new hairstyle, etc.), but in Stephanie’s life, they take on monumental proportions.  This is where the book becomes really intriguing, and from here I am not going to share any more about what happens — since if you really want to know, read the book.  It’s definitely worth the investment.

My only “problem” with Downcast — at least, at first — was the fact that although it’s a retelling of “one of mythology’s greatest love stories,” I didn’t figure out which myth it was retelling until near the end.  However, since having read it and thought about that a little bit, I take back what I said.  I think it’s a good thing that it wasn’t as plain as day, since if I had known which myth it was based on, I would’ve been able to foretell at least a little more of what happened in the book than I was able to.  And that, for me, would’ve made the ending less enjoyable (as well as less exciting).  So again, I am not going to share which myth it retells, although if you are more familiar with mythology than I am, you probably will pick up on it sooner than I did.

The ending was perfect in my eyes, as well.  Again, I’m not going to give it away, but I have a feeling that it will lead perfectly into the next book in the series, which I am definitely going to be snagging once it’s published. (After I read Downcast and realized that it was the beginning of the series, I got really excited.) Although Downcast is a relatively quick read, that doesn’t make it “less than” in my eyes.  It just means that Cait has the ability to hook readers with her words and pull them into the worlds that she so carefully creates.

I definitely recommend Downcast to anyone who is interested in novels that retell myths, as well as those who enjoy paranormal YA romance (although I’d say that this is very untypical from the average YA romance books, of course, since the paranormal element/mythology retelling was the main part of the story).

Well done, Cait.  I’m very excited to see what other books you will be publishing in the coming months and years!  Thank you for letting me be a part of the blog tour for Downcast — it was my privilege.

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Blog tour, part 2: Cait’s Top 10 list.

Without further ado, I present Cait’s response to my question for her.

Ten Ways I Motivate Myself to Write Regularly

This is a horrible post to write.

It’s horrible because it makes me look all my faults in the eye without blinking. One of my greatest faults is that I struggle to write regularly. It’s like motivating myself to go to the gym. I want to do it. I enjoy it. It’s good for me. But, somehow Candy Crush and laundry always get in the way.

This topic is also a challenge because I’m a relatively new full-time writer, and I’m still trying to figure out what my groove will be. Am I a binge writer that can pound out a novel in two months? Or am I a Steady Eddie that cranks a thousand words a day? I’ve been both before. I could be both again.

That said, there are things that help me keep moving forward. I will list them out, but I will also talk about exactly what foible they counteract. Maybe, just maybe, something I say might have meaning for someone other than myself.

  1. I am a small business.

When I decided to become a full-time writer, I went into it eyes wide open. I knew that marketing and business management were going to be a large part of my “job.” Just like any job, the business of being a writer is 20% what you love doing – the writing, and 80% the stuff that has to get done so you can have the 20% – the editing, marketing, finances, social media, etc.

I put together a five year business plan. I didn’t write down any numbers because I honestly didn’t know how enough about the what, when, and how of income from writing. But, I made a list of the books I would write each year, and I vowed to stick to that list. Year One was a total disaster. I kept getting distracted by the shiny new thing. Year Two is going better. I am exercising a painful amount of willpower to resist shiny new things, and it’s paying off.

So, when I feel like being lazy or want to go out with a girlfriend instead of writing, I remind myself that I am the CEO and Human Resources Director of my own small company. If I don’t do the work and take myself seriously, then no one else will, and there won’t be any money to finance the semi-fabulous lifestyle I want.

Lesson: Take yourself seriously. You are a business. This is a job. Treat it like one. Be your own mean HR person who is a stickler for sick time and vacation.

  1. It takes a village.

In other words, I need an entire squad of cheerleaders egging me on. I have built a small group of beta readers that I love and trust. Their job is to read what I’ve written, praise what’s good, tell me what’s weak, and nag me for more. I’ve been well-trained in the art of guilt, and so the positive guilt and expectations my cheerleaders give me is a tremendous boost to my confidence and my productivity.

Lesson: Find 3-5 people you love and trust. Share your work. Share your struggles. Be open to their feedback. Know it’s given in love. You and your work will be better for it.

  1. The one that gets you.

Out of my group of cheerleaders, there is Britt. She is the one who ‘gets’ my writing as much as she ‘gets’ me. She is a writer herself, and she knows the effort it takes to produce a book. She knows me as a person and will call me out when I am hiding or denying things that bother me and keep me from writing. She will see the very first, roughest pages and give me her honest opinion. She will spend hours doing what she has termed ‘Story Yoga’ with me to work out plot points. She demands I do better in the most loving way possible. She makes me a better person and a better writer.

Lesson: Find a friend who can be a partner. Treasure them.

  1. Accept the inevitable.

There will be days of writers block. There will be hours when you feel like you are slogging through the worst, most awful drivel you have ever written, and that no human being should be subjected to reading such tripe. You will think that you should give up and go back to accounting/marketing/retail/human resources/waitressing.

That’s okay. It happens. If you fight it when that happens, you will find yourself mired in days and days of gloomy introspection. But if you accept that this is part of the process and probably part of the writer’s temperament, then, you can allow it to rise to the surface and pop like a bubble…and then get back to work.

Lesson: You will hate yourself at times. It’s okay. It’s not forever. Just let it be.

 

  1. Procrastination will happen.

Laundry. Dishes. Dog. Bills. Gym. Doctor’s appointments. Mom. Friends. Cooking. Dishes. Squirrel!

Yes, you will procrastinate. I have made procrastination into a high art form. I mean, what I do to put off writing is up there with Warhol and Da Vinci. I can think of ten thousand things to do instead of writing and justify them all beautifully.

But just like accepting that I will have better and worse days with my writing, accepting that I will find ways to procrastinate seems to defuse the bomb of indefinite procrastination. I now recognize that procrastination is sometimes the time my brain needs to mull over plot points, and sometimes, it’s the break my brain needs in order to recharge.

The trick to accepting procrastination is that you have to set a time limit. Take control of your procrastination. Use the timer on your phone. Round up to the nearest half-hour. Play until then. Then guilt yourself back to work.

Lesson: Procrastination happens. Let it happen. Then get over it.

  1. The merits of a husband.

My husband supports me wholeheartedly. He is unflagging in his love for me and his encouragement of my ambition. He also is my anchor to reality. He is my partner in the truest sense of the word. He stokes the fire of my dreams while reminding me that kindling (pun fully intended) doesn’t come for free. I have to be serious. I have to be realistic. I have to have a goal and drive toward revenue. We are in this marriage together, and we both have to bring our best to the table. He helps me remember this and supports me as I grope my way toward success, knowing that I’m committed to our family and our future.

Lesson: Find a husband. Or a wife. Or a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend. Or a pet. Someone to love you but still hold you accountable.

  1. Go for a run. Or a walk.

Breaking a sweat is one of the best ways I get myself to sit down and write. Running and walking clears my mind in a way that yoga never will. Once my antsy physical energy has been spent, my brain has room to kick in. After exercising hard, I generally need less time and write more. A twist on this trick is that I will tell myself after I get back that I have to write for 45 minutes or an hour before I can shower. Believe me, that gets my butt in the seat and working hard. And the shower afterwards is one of the best feelings in the world.

Lesson: Break a sweat with your body before you break a sweat with your plot.

 

  1. Get competitive. With yourself.

Writing is like going to the gym. It’s a habit you have to develop. Everyday I write, I get better at my craft, but I also develop more creative stamina. When I started writing seriously, I was lucky to get up to 500 words a day. I wasn’t impressed with myself. I knew I needed to do more if I was going to really crank out a book.

So, I set stretch goals for myself. Every week, I tried to raise my daily writing bar by 100 words. Today, I’m at the point where I can easily crank out 2,500 words a day, but I’m still working on increasing that. Eventually, I would like to get to the point of being able to write 5,000 words a day. Once I reach that goal, I will add in editing so that those 5,000 words a day are the best words I can put out there.

Lesson: Be firm in your word count goals every day. Don’t be afraid to push yourself to increase your creative endurance.

  1. Structure and routine are my friends.

I am a plotter, not a pantser. I have to have organization in almost every aspect of my writing, from setting up the routine of my days to how many words per chapter I write.

Believe me, I’ve tried to be the romantic, Bohemian pantser, writing when the spirit takes me and diving into a book without an idea beyond the basics. The only thing I have to show for those efforts are a folder on my computer full of half-baked, 10,000-word attempts at books.

Therefore, I have learned to embrace my OCD organizational needs and use them as strengths. I have developed a way of plotting that uses my entire double closet doors as a giant bulletin board where I tape up pieces of paper, index cards, and notes. I have perfected the 2,500-word chapter. I will either write two scenes of 1,250 words or one long scene of 2,500 words. I know how long it takes me to write 500 words, and based on that, I organize and schedule my writing time.

Lesson: Know how you plot. Know how you write. Know how much you write. Plan accordingly.

 

  1. Sprint like the wind.

This is probably the most important thing I do to get myself writing.

I am usually on Twitter every afternoon and evening, participating in numerous writing sprints. You can check out The Sprint Shack, Get Wordies, JuNoWriMo, Friday Night Writes, Write All Year, and others. I’ve met awesome people in these sprints, and they have become my friends and writing buddies.

There’s also something about being given a set time to produce then having to report back your word count that inspires me to be competitive and productive. I admit that I struggled a lot to drive myself to write when it was just me and a blank page. But, with the Twitter sprinting community, I get support, inspiration, a chance to vent, and a the direction and management that I need to get my butt in gear.

Lesson: If you have trouble writing by yourself, check out the sprinting communities on Twitter. It makes writing fun and companionable.

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Thanks, Cait, for being willing to answer such a horrible question. 🙂 It really is a difficult question to answer (spoken from my experiences while doing NaNoWriMo), but your answers are fantastic.

Stay tuned!!~ up next is my review of Downcast.

Downcast blog tour!!

A brief intro before I get into the “meat” of this post: Downcast — by Cait Reynolds — is a book that I had the pleasure of reading, courtesy of Booktrope via NetGalley.  Shortly after I had read (well, honestly, “devoured” is a better term) Downcast, I was contacted by Cait’s publicist to see if I wanted to participate in a blog tour promoting her book.  Since I loved the book and have time on my hands, I said sure!  So here is some information about the book, about Cait.  The next post will be a Top Ten list that she very kindly provided to me (based on my question* “What are the top 10 ways you motivate yourself to write regularly?”), and the final post will be my review of Downcast, which I have saved to post until today. (I didn’t want to overwhelm with a hugely long post, so hopefully this formatting will be okay!)

* When I was trying to come up with a “good” question for Cait, my friend E — a fellow book-blogger from from To Tell Your Story — helped me come up with the question I ended up asking. 🙂

First up — the blurb for Downcast and information about Cait Reynolds, the awesome author of Downcast!

About the book
What would you do when faced with an impossible truth? Written with heart and passion, Downcast by Cait Reynolds is ripe with twists you never saw coming and love that defies the odds in this intense new Paranormal Romance retelling one of mythology’s greatest love stories.
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It’s the start of Stephanie Starr’s senior year of high school, but sadly, this is no life of the prom queen. Stuck at the bottom of the high school social totem pole, Stephanie is forced by her domineering mother to wear lumpy linen dresses and eat organic tofu for lunch in a world of mini-skirts and pizza.

What Stephanie doesn’t anticipate is gorgeous and cocky Haley Smith who breaks social convention and pursues her with a determination that is both terrifying and flattering. Afraid that Haley is simply trying to set her up for massive humiliation, Stephanie does her best to push him away. But the more attention he pays to her, the more she runs, and the more everyone else begins to notice.

Instead of a loving family to support her as the mean girls make their play, Stephanie’s mother begins to unravel mentally, her possessiveness of Stephanie spiraling to new and frightening extremes. Stephanie is forced to grow up, find herself, and learn the truth about her past in order to save her mother, her friends, and her town. When the truth is revealed, nothing can prepare her for the outrageous reality of her existence…and nothing can save her from her fate.

Except Haley.

About Cait Reynoldscait reynolds

Cait Reynolds lives in Boston area with her husband and 4-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking delicious meals, running around the city, rock climbing like a boss, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes. Reynolds is able to pull from real life experiences such as her kidney transplant, and her writing reflects her passion for life from having to face the darkest  places and find the will to laugh.

Find Cait Online – http://caitreynolds.com/
On Twitter – https://twitter.com/caitreynolds
On Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8441258.Cait_Reynolds

Purchase Links
Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/Downcast-Olympus-Falling-Cait-Reynolds/dp/1620159546/
Barnes & Noble – http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/downcast-cait-reynolds/1121909253?ean=9781620159545

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Stay tuned!!~ Up next: Cait’s response to the question: “What are the Top 10 ways you motivate yourself to write regularly?”

The Heartbreakers – Ali Novak.

Many thanks to Sourcebooks Fire, via NetGalley, for an opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review!

4/5 stars.

This book really wasn’t what I was expecting. Then again, I don’t really remember what I was expecting, exactly, so that’s not a statement that means very much. 🙂 However, it’s definitely not a typical book about rock stars and how they live their lives. Nor is it a stereotypical book about a girl falling in love with a rock star.

What made me really enjoy The Heartbreakers more than I would have otherwise is the fact that Stella hated their music. It sounds like the type of music that I would hate as well (I’m not very much into pop boy band stuff and never have been).

I also liked how real the boys in the band are, throughout the book. They act like… well, typical teenage guys. They treat each other like brothers — complete with the practical jokes and the arguing that generally settles into calm after awhile — and I really liked seeing how they related to each other.

The one problem I had with it is that Stella is just starting with photography and hasn’t even really taken lessons or studied it in any type of class or anything along those lines. I have a friend who is a professional photographer, and she’s been working on perfecting her style for literally years. Stella is 18 and just picked up photography as a hobby what, a year or two ago? — when Cara was first diagnosed with cancer. And the Heartbreakers are a world-renowned band. So why did they ask Stella, who has had no professional training and who hasn’t even been working full-time on developing her photography skills, to be in charge of their blog and tour photos? I’m not saying that someone who is naturally talented at photography couldn’t create good pictures without professional training, but it just seems unlikely that a world-renowned band would want to hire someone with no professional experience or expertise. Granted, Stella does question this very same thing at various points in the book, and I suppose this could happen in the real world… but it would be done more by someone who either had strings to pull or had them pulled for her (or him).

But that was really my only problem with the book. I liked the characters, I liked the portrayal of their daily lives, and I really liked seeing Stella interact with her brother and sister.

Would recommend to anyone who enjoys a (relatively) light, quick-to-read YA novel.

Killing Secrets – Dianne Emley.

Many thanks to Random House Publishing Group – Alibi via NetGalley for an opportunity to read and review this book!

4/5 stars.

Unlike a lot of thrillers, Killing Secrets had a very personal aspect to it, and although this may not be some people’s cup of tea, I really liked it. It made the protagonist, Nan, seem much more human and vulnerable, than books where there is very little personal detail included.

I enjoyed reading this book very much; it was a very active book, in that something wasalways happening and there was very little time spent reading dialogue. Yes, there were some sections that were heavy on dialogue, but in my opinion, those were necessary. (For example, the second to last chapter was fairly heavy on dialogue but that was because the loose ends were being tied up.)

I do wish that I had read some of the previous Nan Vining mysteries, since there were a few slight references to other cases that she solved (or helped solve). However, there was not reliance on the reader having read all (or any) of the previous novels in the series;Killing Secrets stood on its own fairly well.

Definitely would recommend to anyone who is interested in mysteries/thrillers with personal twists. The only problem with it was that — for me, at least — it was difficult keeping all of the names straight, since there were a lot of different last names used when discussing the Pasadena PD as well as victims — but sometimes the first names would be used. I’d be scrambling, trying to remember who “Jack” was, and would end up having to flip back a few pages to remind myself. But aside from that, it was a very enjoyable read!

Will most likely check out other books in this series. Yay for a new thriller author to keep my eye on!