Book Review: Slash and Burn by Valerie Bronwen

The Angels and Demons Literary Weekend brings former New Orleans resident Winter Lovelace back to town from her gig as writer-in-residence at a prestigious women’s college in upstate New York. Winter desperately needs a break from the book she is struggling to finish, and hopes that this weekend will inspire her and trigger her creativity.

 But while waiting for a friend in a hotel courtyard, a body lands at her feet, and Winter is dragged into a baffling mystery quite against her will. The victim is a notorious “m/m romance” author who is also a homophobe, and the list of people who wanted her dead is quite extensive. Winter herself is considered a suspect! 

 To make matters worse, Winter’s ex shows up to cover the story for a local news station…an ex Winter had hoped she’d never see again.

Move over Stephanie Plum! (Okay, I probably shouldn’t say that as I’ve never read a Janet Evanovich book, but whatever, still move over) There’s a new detective (sort of, accidentally) in town! In this first novel by Valerie Bronwen, Tracy Norris comes to life on the page as a teacher and mystery writer of a best-selling series about Laura Lassiter. She’s also a best-selling lesbian romance author on the side under the penname Winter Lovelace. When she goes to New Orleans for a writing convention, little does she know she’s about to have a body land at her feet. Literally.

I loved this story. I wish there was another one right now because I wouldn’t even be writing this review now, I’d just immediately dig into it. Tracy is an unforgettable narrator with a sharp sense of humor. I found myself quite frequently either laughing or biting my lip from being too loud. I may have even snorted a few times.

Anyone who has ever been deeply involved in a fandom needs to read this book. There’s always that ONE PERSON who thinks they are the god of that world, and in this book you have Antinous Renault. From the first page I wanted to punch her face, and reading more about her just made me think of all the people I’d encountered in my various fandoms over the years.

Who needs to read this book? Quite frankly, everyone. Like mystery? Read it. Like reading about authors and their struggles? Read it. Like lesbian authors? Read it. Like m/m romance? Read it. Have no idea how crazy some writers can be? Read it. Ever in a fandom with the BNF that everyone loathed? Read it.

I can’t wait for the next Valerie Bronwen book. You can bet it will be preordered the minute there is a release date!

This book can be ordered from Bold Stokes Books right here.

Book Review: The Plain of Bitter Honey by Alan Chin

From Bold Strokes Books website: Twins Aaron and Hayden Swann are fighting a corrupt government taken over by ultra right-wing Fundamentalist Christians in 2055 America. Each brother fights in his own way, Aaron with bullets, Hayden with words. Then one night their world is turned upside down when they are caught in a government sting and they must both flee north into the badlands between San Francisco and Canada, where the only safe haven is a place called The Plain of Bitter Honey, a refuge where heads of the Resistance operate. But the brothers don’t know that government agents are tracking them to the hiding place of the   Resistance. Can they find the inner strength to survive?

There are some books that are really easy to write reviews for. And there are others that are difficult. Not because they’re not great books, but BECAUSE they are great books. This is one of those. I cannot write my typical spazzing out sort of review for this book because it just wouldn’t do it justice. And this book deserves a lot of careful thought.

The Plain of Bitter Honey takes place in the not too distant future. The America that is painted for readers is very grim. At least for some. For some people, they might like the fact the Christianity has taken over and the States have become a Christian nation. However, it is hell on Earth for many people in the book. If you do not agree with the views of those in power, or if your life and loves are different from what they think it should be, you are placed in ghettos.

I’ll flash back to history here, because what the author has done is draw on the Holocaust. There are many allusions to what happened in Nazy Germany during World War II. It is done masterfully, because it shows just how horrific the world has become.

Aaron and Hayden Swann are identical twins that are part of the resistance. At least Aaron is. Hayden, it seems, is off in his own world of literature. As a gay man, he has to hide the fact that he loves his boyfriend Julian, for fear of either being placed in the ghetto or being treated. While Aaron is very hard and driven, Hayden seems so carefree.

Looks can be deceiving.

What follows is an incredible journey to save the twins, the reistance, and everything they hold dear. There were times when I thought for sure all hope was lost, but the beautiful thing about how is that it’s always within reach if you just keep believing.

The author also weaves in some beautiful moments of magical realism as well, such as when Aaron is training with Twig and he learns to blend into the trees and become a part of them.

The conclusion of the novel is ultimately heart-breaking and beautiful. It is full of hope and you want the characters to succeed. I stayed up past one in the morning to finish because I couldn’t stop, and when I finally came to the conclusion, I put the book down, curled up in the fetal position on my bed, and just cried.

Such a wonderful novel from Alan Chin. He has a way with words that will leave you thinking and praying that this is not the future that we are headed towards. Frighteningly enough, with the current state of our country, it at times feels that way.

I look forward to many more books from this author.

This book will be released in June, 2013, and will be available from Bold Strokes Books and Amazon.

 

Book Review: Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan

Blurb: The lives of three teens—Claire, Jasper, and Peter—are altered forever on September 11, 2001. Claire, a high school junior, has to get to her younger brother in his classroom. Jasper, a college sophomore from Brooklyn, wakes to his parents’ frantic calls from Korea, wondering if he’s okay. Peter, a classmate of Claire’s, has to make his way back to school as everything happens around him.

Here are three teens whose intertwining lives are reshaped by this catastrophic event. As each gets to know the other, their moments become wound around each other’s in a way that leads to new understandings, new friendships, and new levels of awareness for the world around them and the people close by.

For those who are too young to remember, or for those not yet born, September 11, 2001 might seem like some date in history. Maybe they know about it because their parents or older siblings talk about it sometimes. Or maybe they know about it because every year on that day their school does something to remember those who died. But for someone like me, who was just a year younger than the characters in the book, I remember all too vividly what happened on that terrible day. Reading this novel brought back every single emotion I felt on that day. Like Claire, I was mesmerized yet terrified by what happened. I may have been a state away in Connecticut, but it still shocked me to my core. In this book, author David Levithan has perfectly recreated those confusing days in the eyes of teenagers who experienced it.

The novel follows Claire, Peter, and Jasper. All three are loosely connected to each other. Claire and Peter go to school with each other, Peter and Jasper met at a party and were supposed to go on a date, and Jasper finds Claire on the street where she remembers him from that same party where he met Peter. Because of their shared experiences on 9/11, they form an unbreakable bond, and the book follows them in the days, weeks, months, and years after the events.
What I liked most about the book was how the characters always asked other people “where were you when it happened?” or “what were you doing?” For those that lived through this day, it’s a phrase that was heard often. I even tell my own students my story when they ask about it on September 11th every year: I was a junior in high school, gym class had just started, and we were getting ready to go outside to play tennis. We heard from someone who had heard from someone else who had heard it from a teacher, and of course we thought it was a joke. The teacher announced outside that a second plane had hit and we went back inside. I was in art class when the towers fell and I watched them on the television. I have never heard our school grow so quiet or felt more terror at one time in my entire life before or since.
Let Claire, Peter, and Jasper take you through that day, through their eyes, and from those around them. See how others grieved and started to move on. Like them, become a part of the history. Even if you weren’t there for it, even if you weren’t born yet, you can still get a taste of the horrors through this masterfully crafted novel from David Levithan.
You can purchase this book from Amazon.

Book Review: Tapestry by Hallie Burton

In Ollas, anything that stirs the emotions is forbidden by the governors—especially music. So when Tallie Tarmelin, a farm boy from a lower-tier guild, is offered a scholarship for his talent in design, he keeps his head down and follows the rules. He’s terrified of breaking one of his society’s many laws and ruining his future. But feeling lost and alone in an unfamiliar city takes its toll, and Tallie accepts sympathy from a guildless social outcast even though he knows it could destroy his reputation.


Despite the rules against casual touching and fraternizing in public, Jonis Sinter offers Tallie comfort instead of denouncing him for an excessive emotional display, and they fast become friends. Secret friends, though, because Worran, the respectable son of a governor, has asked Tallie to be his partner.


When Worran’s mother learns of Tallie’s association with an outcast, she dispatches the militia. Worran sends Tallie a warning, and Tallie flees the city and civilization with Jonis. Surviving the wilds will take every ounce of perseverance they can muster, and the rediscovery of music might be their only solace— unless they recognize the love that’s growing between them.

First of all, I adore the cover. But aside from that, here is my real review:

Wow. Where do I even begin with a book like this? I’m not even sure what genre it would be categorized under. It has some elements of fantasy, but not like in major fantasy novels, as the magic is not real, just assumed. It’s epic in scope, and features a utopian society. Parts of me feel like it takes place in our future where a section of our country is partitioned off by some method and then they seem to regress in some ways. So… historical at the same time? I even felt a bit of steampunk in there at times. Overall it’s a wonderfully disorienting experience when you read something so refreshingly new.

Tallie and Jonis are wonderful characters that I loved throughout the novel. At many parts they tugged at my heart and I needed a few moments to compose myself before reading on. I wanted to rush through the story to get at the end, and yet at the same time I forced myself to slow down and enjoy it. I didn’t want it to end. I want more from Tallie and Jonis, yet it feels like their adventure is over at the end of the book, especially given the last line. Another story in that world would be great, and yet I don’t think it would be as enjoyable without Tallie and Jonis present.

What a wonderful experience this book was, and that’s just what it is. An experience. Hallie Burton fully immerses readers in the world she created where loving someone of the same gender is so completely normal that it’s not questioned in the slightest. No one objects to it. The things that are objected to, the things that are forbidden, are elements we take for granted, such as music and dancing. And affection. Can you imagine living in a world without those things? I can’t.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! (almost)

Christmas has come and gone, but New Year’s still looms before us. Do I have plans? Just sleep. And I’ll be hitting up the Book Barn on New Year’s Day. What better way to spend the start of the New Year than with thousands of used books? I can think of nothing more I’d rather do.

This week I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work at a consignment shop. To be honest at first I thought I was losing my vacation, but it has been so fun! Not only do I get to poke through the store, but I get to help people find what they’re looking for and sell them wonderful, unique pieces. It’s an easy job, but, I must admit it’s hard not wanting to buy everything I see! Today I sold three pieces I wanted to buy for myself. ): Oh well… I did buy some gorgeous pins and a locket. Pictures later!

For Christmas I had a wonderful time with family. For the first time in my life I will NOT be lost on my first trip somewhere. My parents very thoughtfully bought me a GPS. I love it! I even use it when I don’t need it. And tonight my wonderful Bumblebee came home from the shop! He’s fixed! I get to drive him again, and that makes me VERY happy. Of course it cost a fortune to fix the damage from the tree, but I learned a valuable lesson: never park under a tree when it snows.

I’ve read a lot of books recently – most from the public library – and I will try to write some coherent reviews at some point in the near future. I need to better plan what I want to say. Everything on GoodReads just comes out like I rushed through, and that’s not what I want for my site.

So until next time! I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas or other holiday, and Happy New Year! Let’s all hope 2012 is a great year!

Review: Dark Life by Kat Falls

I love dystopian, post-apocalyptic fiction for teens, and Dark Life by Kat Falls falls into that category. I have it for my students to read in my classroom, but I hadn’t read it until this weekend. It was one of this “oh, it’s there, I’ll get to it eventually” books. Like so many books, I really wish I hadn’t waited.

The book is told from the perspective of Ty, a boy living undersea with his parents after the Rising, a catastrophic event that destroyed a lot of land, resulting in people being crammed into whatever land is left. The only place where people can live with their own land is, well, on the bottom of the ocean floor.

Ty loves living there, and after finding an abandoned sub, he runs into Gemma, and the two are off on a dangerous adventure that will change not only their lives, but also the lives of everyone around them.

I loved the characters and the plot in this book. There were so many twists and turns that I was thrown for a loop every time it changed! That rarely happens for me, so kudos to the author! The cover of the book is appealing visually as well, because the title looks like Mother of Pearl at a certain angle, possibly mimicking the “shine” the characters have from eating bioluminescent fish.

But back to the characters. Ty loves living undersea and will do just about anything to stay there, including hiding who he is. He fears going Topside, and readers do find out why later on. When the Seablite Gang appears, there are so many questions unanswered. Quite a few of them are by the end of the book, but before those are solved, even more questions popped up. Are people who they really say they are? Who is the mysterious Akai that scientists supposedly studied? Who is the doctor who wrote the report? How much land around the world is left, and are there really no other undersea territories?

While I was reading this book, I was reminded very much of Ganymede by Robert Heinlein. The idea of homesteading in an area that was once deemed unfit for human life fascinates me, and in that regard the books are similar. It is also about coming of age in such a landscape, though in Dark Life the homestead is underwater, and in Ganymede, the homestead is on a moon of Jupiter.

The books is published by Scholastic and has a sequel, Rip Tide, out now. I cannot wait to get my hands on it!