3.31.2014

Blog Tour: The Grudge Keeper

The Grudge Keeper
Mara Rockliff & Eliza Wheeler (illustrator)
Peachtree, 2014

Yet another pretty picture book from Peachtree, with a fun story that has a hidden nugget of a lesson.

The town of Bonnyripple doesn't hold grudges. Not a single one of the townspeople has to - because Cornelius, the Grudge Keeper, keeps them all neatly tucked away and out of the people's hair. This system works nicely, until a huge windstorm that creates a ginormous pile of old grudges that buries Cornelius. As the people come together to rescue their grudge keeper, they realize that they can actually dispense of the grudges altogether and not even have Cornelius store them. This makes a much happier town, of course, and the new friendliness keeps Cornelius company after his grudge keeping duties go awry.

The illustrations are beautiful, fun to look at and full of quirky little details. And the vocabulary! My geeky heart loves the vocabulary, and I look forward to seeing a whole host of little people using big words after reading The Grudge Keeper. Definitely a "keeper" book.

Book provided by publisher for review.

For more blog tour fun, swing by the Peachtree blog, where a complete schedule will be posted!

3.26.2014

Princess in the Opal Mask

Princess in the Opal Mask
Jenny Lundquist
Running Press, 2013

Part fairy tale, part classic literature (blurb suggests Man in the Iron Mask, which I haven't read, but it makes me think of Prince and the Pauper), this is a story of intrigue and spunk. And, thankfully, just the first installment -- because I've got to know what happens next!

First we meet Elara, orphaned as a young child, and being raised in a not-so-wonderful environment. When she is given a mysterious old book by the local schoolmaster - who is promptly arrested by royal officials - she is determined to find the answers to her questions. And her identity. Thick in the mix of all the intrigue and mystery is the Princess in the Opal Mask (her real name is Wilha, but people rarely refer to her by name). Nobody ever sees the Princess's face, and rumor has it if she looks at you unmasked, you are cursed. When Elara and Wilha meet, startling things are revealed.

Faced with a difficult truth and an increasingly complicated reality, Elara and Wilha must come to terms with their new identities. What ensues is a dangerous adventure that tests the courage and loyalty of both girls, as well as helping them find their true selves. As they navigate the tricky waters of international relations, to say nothing of interpersonal relationships!, the girls find themselves stretching and growing into their new positions and roles. It's an interesting, engaging story and I enjoyed watching Elara and Wilha grow and interact. I'm very interested in seeing how things will play out in The Opal Crown later this year.

Book provided by publisher for review.

3.14.2014

Writing Process Blog Hop

In a lovely, roundabout fashion, I have been tagged in the Writing Process Blog Hop that's floating around the interwebz. You can read Jennifer Becton's post here, and get an inside peek at what she does to write the Southern Fraud thrillers (they're the only thrillers I read, and you can catch my reviews here and here). If you didn't know I write ... well, surprise! I do! Not only do I have a fiction project or two up my sleeve, but I also do a lot of writing for the Library.

What am I working on?
I have several things bouncing around in my brain, some in various stages of completion, others existing solely in my head, but the one I'm most actively working on (aka: what I've written the most of) is the WIP I've affectionately dubbed #EnchantedDarcy. It's an idea that came to me, answering the question "what if Jane Austen wrote fairy tales?" And, of course, I'm using Pride and Prejudice as my first experiment. Because how can you go wrong with Darcy???

How does my work differ from others in my genre?
There are a lot of Austenesque novels available, and there are a lot of fairy tale revisions out there too. But I haven't seen anything that combines the two. Which is fun, because I'm getting to play with all these ideas in my head and not worry about it being compared to something else.

Why do I write what I do?
Because the story is in my head, and it must come out. <-- a="" and="" can="" cool="" have="" i="" it="" like="" movie="" out="" p="" play="" s="" see="" share="" story="" such="" that="" the="" this="" to="" truth.="" whole="">
How does my writing process work?
I get an idea, from somewhere - a dream, a random thought, a phrase - and it starts growing and developing. I "write" everything in my head first, until I can see the story, follow it from beginning to end and see the nuances and detail, until I know the characters on a personal level. And then ... I write. I like to write from the beginning and go straight through, but with #EnchantedDarcy I hit a point where I just really wanted to skip ahead and write some of the more awesome scenes - so I opened a new document and have been. I'll piece them together with the necessary material to weave them into the rest of the story later.
I don't outline, but I have been known to jot down short narratives - like a super condensed summary/short story version of the larger idea in my head - just so I can keep the story straight. I tend to do this for things I'm going to come back to in the future, rather than projects I'm actively working on. I have written character sketches before, but found that my characters can't evolve if I've written them down - I like to let them grow and change as I learn their story. So I just ... visualize everything, I guess. It's really all in my head until I start writing it. And that's a little scary on some level, especially when I hear how others (many of whom write things I lurve) write and develop stories ...
Also, I should probably point out that while I am prolific when I actually sit down to write, I am a very slow writer - I think I get distracted. Or something. Point being, I don't often make myself sit down and just write the way I should. My goal for 2014 is to FINALLY finish my Darcy tale, and then explore whatever else I've got going.
I love to write to music, but I've also discovered I write well to a steady hum of voices. I clocked some of my best word counts on afternoons when I'd write the last bit of my workday, to the backdrop of a particular professor's very enthusiastic Western Civilization lectures. (This was at my old job, obviously). Since I don't have access to those entertaining lectures, music has to fill the gap.

And I was supposed to tag another writer or two, and I totally failed. We had a massive ice storm the end of last week that made us lose power for most of the weekend ((dude, it's the South, in March!)), and this has been an absolutely ridiculous week ... So. #EpicFail on my part. Oops. But definitely track down some of the other posts - there's a lot of interesting writing stuff to be discovered.

Now you know my secret: I'm a writer.
Do you write?

3.12.2014

Blog Tour: Lost for Words

Lost for Words
Natalie Russell
Peachtree, 2014

Another stellar picture book from Peachtree, with bright, whimsical illustrations and a cast of amusing animals. (I've decided I am a definite sucker for animals in kiddie books). So glad I got to be a part of this blog tour, because this book is a definite keeper!

All of Tapir's friends have a way with words. Giraffe writes beautiful poetry, Hippo writes thrilling stories with dashing heroes and damsels in distress, and Flamingo has the ability to write make-you-cry songs. But Tapir can't find his words, no matter how hard he tries - he has a brand new notebook and everything! Then one day, pondering deep thoughts, Tapir discovers how he can tell his stories. Not everyone can use words the same way, or even at all - and not everyone can draw.

A simple story, a fun story (especially since we get to see examples of everyone's writing!), a good reminder story. We all have different talents and giftings, and just like our endearing animal buddies discover, each way is special and beautiful - and when we combine all our gifts? Wow. What fun to be had, what stories to be told!

Book provided by publisher for review.

For more blog tour fun, visit:

3.10.2014

Geek's Guide to Dating

Geek's Guide to Dating
Eric Smith
Quirk Books, 2013

This book ... oh man, where do I even begin? It's a book you might pick up on a whim, because the cover is eye-catchingly fun, and if you flip through its pages, there are "classic videogame" illustrations. As you skim through it, you'll probably chuckle at some of the headings, references, and quotable passages within. Once you're hooked, you'll realize this is actually a very handy - and helpful - dating resource guide for the ... socially challenged, but endearing, geek crowd.

While this is targeted toward (male) geeks, as a geekette I was able to appreciate much of what Smith had to say. A lot of it is universal, and some you just have to tweak your perspective, look on the flipside. (Also, as a girl, it offered unique insight into the mind of the geek, which made several things make so much sense, re: the way various geeks in my life have behaved. Double bonus!) Smith presents very sound, practical advice to help geeks navigate (and understand) the dating game - and does so with an easy-to-read style that demonstrates some pretty geektastic (read: awesome) humor. It's the kind of "useful" book that you actually enjoy reading, because it's fun. And did I mention the super cute illustrations? In a nutshell, this is quite probably the best dating book I've ever read, and I can think of several people who will also appreciate it.

Book provided by publisher for review.

3.07.2014

"A Captain America & Loki Fangirl"

One of the funnest quirky perks of my job is "getting paid to check out [insert fangirl crush de jour here]". The phrase was first uttered, re: Caspian, and made my [guy] friend's eyebrows raise dramatically. His response cracked me up even more than my own offhand comment had, and I've played with it ever since. When I'm checking out said items (and let's face it, they're almost always DVDs) to patrons I've got a good rapport with, sometimes I'll make comments about said movies or characters. For example:

One of the regulars came in and checked out Captain America, and I was like "Captain Americaaaa" (at the time of this writing, and the exchange, I'm under the influence of a hotdog-induced migraine. Life is interesting). She asked if I liked the Avengers, and my enthusiastic reply: "Oh yeah. I am a Captain America and Loki fangirl!"
She looked at me in disbelief, before asking "Loki?!"
I laughed, and confessed "yep, Loki."
"But he's horrible! So -- so -- mean!"
"I know, but ... he's Loki. I just love him. I have from the beginning when I read the myths -- but yeah. Loki."
We then talked about the viewing adventure of the whole Avengers cannon, and I've seen Thor: The Dark World, but she hasn't yet, so she asked if Loki managed to redeem himself, somehow, in that one.
"Mmhmm, yep. He does," I smiled.
She left still not quite certain about my choice of fangirl crushes, teehee.

Then I started thinking, because it's quiet this afternoon (Wednesday, if you're curious), and like I said, I've got hotdog hangover going on ... and it's a thought I had last week actually, when I was watching Thor: TDW, and that is this ... The whole Captain America/Superman fangirl thing I have going on? It's totally at odds with the Loki/Han Solo thing. They're like sun and shadow, chocolate and salt. And yet ... it also sort of works.

Think about it: Captain America and Superman? They're the Nice Guys. The really, really Nice Guys. Chivalrous. Honorable. Trustworthy. Straight-arrow types. The kind you're really happy to take home to meet the parents and grandparents. Often underrated and under-appreciated, these are the guys who make you feel safe and cherished and content. The older I get, the more I appreciate the Nice Guys - both on screen and page, and in real life.

Now please take a gander at Exhibit B: The Bad Boys. Loki, Han Solo, Flynn Rider ... We first meet these guys and they're scoundrels. Conflicted. Not necessarily dudes your parents are going to approve of. And yet, there's more to them than the "villainy" (that's a fun word). There's depth. Layers. Heart. They've got histories that have shaped them, and character development that takes them ... beyond. There are a lot more Loki, Han and Flynns in the world than Cap'n and Supermans. Sadly.

I'm not sure where this thought is taking me, actually ... Maybe I just like talking about my fangirl crushes. My cast of superheroes ... But it's interesting all the same. And that's what Friday ramble posts are all about.

Next week, I'll be sharing my answers for the Writing Process Blog Hop thing going on, I was tagged by Jennifer Becton!

3.05.2014

Blog Tour: Churchill's Tale of Tails

Churchill's Tale of Tails
Anca Sandu
Peachtree, 2014

This is one of those super cute animal books that kids love (and okay, so do adults), because it has awesome illustrations and a funny little main character. But it also has a sweet little lesson woven into the mix. You know it's there, but it's not overwhelming - it just works in and with the story. And that, my reading friends, is the perfect way for a picture book to be!

Churchill is a piggy with a very fine tail. He loves his tail, and he loves his life - books and tea parties and adventures. So when his tail goes missing one day, he is very, very sad. Until he starts trying on other tails for size, and gets carried away with all the different tails and how they make him feel. We're talking zebra, alligator, elephant, peacock (my personal favorite) - tails, my friends. Tail collecting is a fun thing, but it pretty much takes over Churchill's life until he has an encounter with a super scary shadowy monster ... which is a bird wearing his tail on its head. Yep, you read that right. So as the tale gets neatly wrapped up, and tails find proper homes, Churchill remembers all the fun he had before he started collecting tails. And, of course, it all ends happily ever after.

The story made me smile, but I loved the illustrations. So, so much. They're just plain fun! In short, this is a cute book with an important little life lesson tucked in all the fun, and kids and adults alike will appreciate Churchill and his tails.

Book provided by publisher for review.

For more blog tour fun, visit:
Monday: www.sallysbookshelf.blogspot.com & http://itsabouttimemamaw.blogspot.com/
Tuesday: www.readingtoknow.com 
Thursday: www.ToliversToTexas.com & www.kid-lit-reviews.com
Friday: http://geolibrarian.blogspot.com/

2.27.2014

Views from the Depths

Views from the Depths
Jessica Grey
Tall House Books, 2013

I'm a bit of a Jessica Grey fangirl. Aside from the fact we're self-appointed, long-lost sisters, she has a knack for storytelling that keeps me spellbound. As with her previous collection of fairy tale shorts, Grey has taken familiar, beloved fairy tales and turned them inside out. Unlike Views from the Tower however, Views from the Depths has a dark edge to its tales.

Grey has delved deep into the psyche of pivotal characters in four classic tales (The Little Mermaid; Snow White; Twelve Dancing Princesses; and Beauty and the Beast), finding answers to the questions you didn't know you needed to ask. These deeply personal glimpses reveal the truth behind the sparkling glass dome of "happily ever after" ... They're darker, at times almost unnerving, but never overwhelming. Never too dark. There's always a whisper of hope -- a shimmer of light peeking around the corner, reminding you that the story isn't over yet.

Also, her "Beauty and the Beast"? Ah-mazing.

eARC provided by author for review.

2.24.2014

Blog Tour: Love at First Slight

http://www.leatherboundreviews.blogspot.com/2014/02/love-at-first-slight-by-j-marie-croft.html
I am super excited to be a stop on the blog tour Jakki put together for J Marie Croft's new book Love at First Slight! Click on the banner above to see the full schedule, and check out my review below.

Love at First Slight
J Marie Croft
Meryton Press, 2013

This is one of those books that is just plain fun. Croft took the familiar and beloved tale of Pride and Prejudice, and gave it a fresh new update that is sure to make you laugh out loud. (I did, the cats were frightened). She keeps the original context, it's a historical, Regency novel - and the key scenes definitely do happen. You know, important stuff like the ill-fated first encounter at the Assembly, and a visit to Rosings Park - not to mention the surprise encounter on Pemberley's grounds. But everything plays out with an entertaining flair and a whole new flavor. You see, all the gender roles have been reversed in Croft's rendition.

Admittedly, it's a little unusual at first glance: No Mr Darcy! But once you start reading, and the five Bennett brothers take over, it works. Our Darcy is now Elizabeth - a much sought-after heiress with a fortune beyond belief. Her starcrossed lover is the middle Bennett brother, William. (He. Is. Awesome. Also a reverend). Mr Bennett is prone to nervous complaints and has an urgent need to marry off his five sons to rich wives. It is Casper Bingley who is after Miss Elizabeth Darcy, and his sister Jane - a wealthy widow - catches the attention of Charles Bennett. Mr Collins is himself, however he has a sister who is ... a force to be reckoned with. And then there is Sir de Bourgh and his sickly son Andrew. Seriously, this gender-switching works so much better than I'd have expected - and the added hilarity of knowing these characters as other characters amplifies the fun.

The story itself follows the pattern of the familiar original -there are misunderstandings, bad decisions, rash words, fierce encounters. With the different gender roles, the way things play out at the end is a little different, but I found it refreshing and not un-Jane. I love Lizzy, and really, really love Will Bennett. At times irreverent, always carefully fun and light, this is definitely a worthy addition to the Austenesque collection.

Book provided by publisher for review.

2.12.2014

Blog Tour: Porcelain Keys (Excerpt)

Today I am pleased to present another excerpt to whet your reading appetite! If you can't tell from the banner, the cover of Porcelain Keys is simply beautiful. You can feast your eyes on a bigger image in just a minute, but first, a synopsis for you:
Aria's life is full of secrets--secrets about her mother's death, her father's cruelty, and her dream to go to Juilliard. When Aria meets Thomas, he draws out her secrets, captures her heart, and gives her the courage to defy her father. But when tragedy strikes and Thomas disappears, Aria is left alone to transform her broken heart's melody into something beautiful. Porcelain Keys is a captivating love story that will resonate long after the last page is turned.
Intriguing, no?

Pair that synopsis with this cover, and then I'm pretty sure you'll be racing down the page to devour the excerpt ...


Excerpt from Porcelain Keys
            Aria has just spent the night in her neighbor’s tree house—a secret and secluded place where she goes to hide when she needs to get away from her dad’s volatility. No one has lived in her neighbor’s house for a couple years, so she thinks she can stay in the tree house without being discovered.

            I awoke to a creaking sound, like wood bending under the weight of a heavy foot. But when I opened my eyes, there was no one there. Only a blue jay perched on the threshold of the doorway, his plumage vibrant in the early morning light. He tilted his crested head and stared at me curiously with one eye, then ruffled his feathers before going still again. He appeared to be listening, waiting expectantly for something.
            Wanting to sleep longer, I shut my eyes. Every joint in my body ached as if I’d hiked a mountain the day before. The blue jay called again, a musical whistle that sounded like a rusty old swing. I picked out the notes and the melodic interval. B-flat to G, I thought, a minor third. He repeated the call again and again, but soon another creak silenced him.
            I sat up in my sleeping bag, my ears suddenly attuned to the sounds outside the tree house. Weak wood whining against the strain of pressure. The tread of a shoe gripping the edge of a step. Labored breathing.
            Someone was climbing to the tree house.
            The blue jay’s crest bristled outward in warning, and in one movement I shed the sleeping bag and shot to my feet. The bird beat its wings and let out a hawk-like scream before flying up into the rafters, trapping itself along with me.
            My first thought was that Dad had finally found my hidden sanctuary. If he saw me here, I could never come back. As stealthily as I could manage, I scooped up my sleeping bag and receded into a shallow space behind a tall cabinet. My sleeping bag bulged around the corner, and I hooked my leg around it and drew it as close to my body as possible. The sounds of the blue jay’s escape attempts only added to my anxiety. A thump against a window, a clatter against the roof, an ear-piercing warning call. Every now and then I saw a flash of blue feathers in the rafters. My heart beat as wildly in my chest as the trapped bird’s wings.
            A shadow stretched from the doorway across the floor, and I held my breath and stiffened my body, hoping Dad would take a quick glance, then go on his way. But instead I heard the creak of steps. They were slow and tentative, and were coming closer. My lungs burned for want of new air, and I eased the stale air out and silently drew in more.
            Another step closer. Too close. I guessed he was right around the corner of the cabinet. If I moved a fraction of an inch, he would hear me. My muscles cramped up from being tense for so long, but I couldn’t release them without being discovered. I heard one more step, then my stomach contracted as someone stepped into my line of vision.
            It wasn’t Dad.
            It was a boy, tall with dark, tousled hair. His back was to me, but a moment later he turned to face me and his eyes locked with mine. The look of surprise I expected to see was strangely absent. Instead, his expression seemed to say, Oh, there you are.


Meet the Author:
SARAH BEARD is the author of Porcelain Keys, a YA contemporary romance. She has a degree in communications from the University of Utah and splits her time between writing and raising three energetic boys. She is a cancer survivor and a hopeless romantic. She enjoys reading and composing music, and lives with her husband and children in Salt Lake City, Utah. You can follow Sarah on twitter at @authorsarahb, or on facebook. Her website is www.sarahbeard.com.

Buy Links: Amazon and Barnes & Noble