Monday, April 14, 2014

Book Review: This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready



David's parents join a cult that claims to know the date of the rapture (which they call the rush) - the night of David's prom. When David sneaks out on rush night, and then comes home to find his parents gone and their clothes laid out on the bed, he and his sister begin a frantic search for them. Or did the rapture really happen?

There were so many aspects of this novel that I enjoyed. I loved the narrative tension that Smith-Ready creates with this premise. I needed to find out what happened to the parents and that kept me reading, even through the parts that dragged. Also, David's characterization is nicely handled. He's a Christian who has doubts and asks questions, but still keeps his faith, and I liked that. I thought his interactions with his sister Mara were great too. She's completely fed up with her parents and criticizes David frequently, and yet you can see that they genuinely love and support each other.

Oh and the father's dialogue? Hilariously clever. It amused me to no end that he only spoke in bible verses and it showed how single-mindedly dedicated he was to the cult.

I was less interested in David's romance with Bailey. Smith-Ready alternates between a "then" and "now" timeline and most of the "then" chapters deal with David falling in love with his math cave classmate. Bailey's family does make a fascinating contrast to David's, at least on paper. Whereas he is home schooled for conservative religious reasons, she is home schooled because her parents are liberal iconoclasts. This extreme difference carves out ripe possibilities for a forbidden romance, but I never felt the tension. I found myself becoming increasingly impatient during David and Bailey's scenes because I was so much more invested in the "now" timeline and the mystery surrounding David's parents and wanted to get back to it.

THIS SIDE OF SALVATION is available in hardcover now. Find out more about it at the author's website.

FTC disclosure: The publisher provided me with a free eGalley of this book via Edelweiss. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bookanista Review: Noggin by John Corey Whaley



When I first saw the concept of this book, that a 16 year old boy's head is cut off, cryogenically frozen and then reattached to another body five years later, I thought it was too absurd NOT to read. (I love absurdity in my fiction after all)

What I expected from the cover was an all out comedy, but while there were parts of this novel that were funny and I did laugh out loud quite a bit, it was actually quite an honest and heartbreaking look at facing death and getting a second chance at life.

Recently I watched the French TV series The Returned, and what fascinated me most about it was the look at how these people who came back from the dead years later no longer fit into their lives and how they and their loved ones came to terms with that (or not). Noggin explores this as well, and Travis's situation was similar to Simon's in the TV series, where he came back to find his girlfriend was engaged to another man.

Noggin has none of the creepiness of The Returned, though. Despite its' absurd sci-fi premise, it feels very contemporary. Travis's voice is yearning and sweet as he pines for his old life (without the body that let him down) and his soulmate Cate. The subplots and sub-themes support the main plot and theme well (with a surprising twist too) and everything just gelled for me story-wise. I definitely had some tears in my eyes at the end.

Noggin is out in hardcover now. Find out more about it at the author's website.

FTC disclosure: Won in a GoodReads Giveaway

What the other Bookanistas are reading this week:

Tracy Banghart swoons for STAR CURSED by Jessica Spotswood
Rebecca Behrens raves about PUSH GIRL by Bookanista Jessica Love
Christine Fonseca is riveted by SEKRET by Lindsay Smith
Jessica Love sings the praises of OPEN ROAD SUMMER by Emery Lord
Kimberly Sabatini loves BRAZEN by Katherine Longshore
Katy Upperman is crazy for THE SYMPTOMS OF MY INSANITY by Mindy Raf

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Return of Cat Tuesday (87) - VIDEO!

Yesterday Emmy objected to being brushed rather strongly:


Sunday, April 6, 2014

On Setting Goals: The April Challenge

After six relatively unproductive months of surgery and recuperation (I say relatively, because I wrote, revised and checked copyedits and first pass pages on THE BEST THINGS IN DEATH (12K), + checked copyedits and first pass pages on CHASING BEFORE, + revised a picture book for a resubmit), now that I am mostly healed, I decided I wanted to make April a very productive month.

How? I pledged per day to:
- write 1k a on Works in Progress
- participate in some form of exercise (no sit-ups allowed until May though)
- run at least one errand from my to-do list
- read a book for one hour

I've now been on this regimen for 6 days and so far I have:
- written a little over 6k on two different novels
- done hot yoga 3 times, hiked twice and the shred once
- managed to check off 6 items from my to-do list
- read one book (400 pages) + 60 pages on another

Writing-wise, my words are flowing well. I am trying to turn off my editing brain, and it's sort of working. This prose is definitely rougher than I'm used to.

Yoga has been challenging but invigorating. The shred was a nightmare to come back to. It's a little sad to see how out of shape I am after 6 months of hibernation.

So far so good! I'll update you on my progress again next week.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Top Ten List of Date Ideas for Smudges: Elizabeth Fama on Plus One (+Giveaway)

I read PLUS ONE recently and adored it. I wrote this blurb for Bloggers Recommend:

Don't call it dystopian, but Fama's thrilling new novel tackles a society where people have permission to either be out during the day (rays) or the night (smudges), but not both. While trying to do a favor for her dying grandfather, Smudge Sol breaks her curfew and goes on the run with a day boy, setting up an epic star-crossed romance. Plus One is heartbreakingly perfect.

So obviously I jumped at the chance to be part of Elizabeth's blog tour.

I asked Elizabeth to share with us what kind of dates a smudge might go on. And here's what she had to say:

I'm so happy to be on Lenore's blog! Can I admit that it has been a secret dream of mine for years?! I may even have written a novel with a dystopia feel just to achieve it. :)

The Top Ten List of Date Ideas for Smudges:

10. Watch the sun rise over Lake Michigan from a boat.
In the world of PLUS ONE, the open seas (and Great Lakes) are the only places that are not subject to curfew. (The curfew bell sounds exactly when the upper edge of the sun breaks the horizon, at sunrise and sunset.) Thus, many Smudges and Rays in Chicago may never have seen a sunrise over the water, unless they live in a high-rise along the lakefront or own a boat.

9. Hide from Hour Guards in the steam tunnels under the University of Chicago. 
Granted, the tunnels are really hot and humid, but in a pinch you can spend daylight hours there, all alone together. ("Warning: Check with a doctor before use if pregnant, in poor health, or under medical care. Breathing heated air in conjunction with consumption of alcohol, drugs, or medication could result in unconsciousness.")

8. Meet the 'rents! 
You're taking your relationship to a new level. Time to figure out the complexity of his family dynamics, and endeavor not to say something stupid, all while feeling feverish!

7. Hunker down under Lake Shore Drive and whisper into the night. 
Your feet near his face, his feet near your face. Hey, it's a lot more romantic than it sounds.

6. Run out of gas in another state. 
Oh, darn! *snaps fingers in dramatic resignation* You're stuck with each other now!

5. Look at the stars while lying in a field.
Contemplate something bigger than yourself, savor the moment of being quietly together. The Milky Way was on your bucket list anyway.

4. Sleep side by side in a cave.
Ugh, it's damp and chilly and sandy and there are bats! But the guy you're with is awesome. You're feeling warm after all!

3. Get a (Noma) makeover.
Mullets were in fashion once. Maybe it could happen again? Besides, nothing signals togetherness more than getting pierced, dyed, and tattooed together!

2. Negotiate a hostage situation. 
Anyone can grab a pizza on their date, but only power couples can navigate the game theory of kidnappings and come out on top.

1. Steal a baby. 
The basis for many great relationships in history! (Hmm, come to think of it, maybe there's only one other: Hi and Ed McDunnough in Raising Arizona.)




More about the book:

Divided by day and night and on the run from authorities, star-crossed young lovers unearth a sinister conspiracy in this compelling romantic thriller.

Seventeen-year-old Soleil Le Coeur is a Smudge—a night dweller prohibited by law from going out during the day. When she fakes an injury in order to get access to and kidnap her newborn niece—a day dweller, or Ray—she sets in motion a fast-paced adventure that will bring her into conflict with the powerful lawmakers who order her world, and draw her together with the boy she was destined to fall in love with, but who is also a Ray.

Set in a vivid alternate reality and peopled with complex, deeply human characters on both sides of the day-night divide, Plus One is a brilliantly imagined drama of individual liberty and civil rights, and a fast-paced romantic adventure story

Add to Goodreads

Buy at:

Amazon / Barnes and Noble






Author Bio:

ELIZABETH FAMA is the YA author most recently of Plus One, an alternate-history thriller set in contemporary Chicago. Her other books include Monstrous Beauty, a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults selection and an Odyssey honor winner, and Overboard, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a society of Midland Authors honor book, and a nominee for five state awards. A graduate of the University of Chicago, where she earned a B.A. in biology and an M.B.A. and a Ph.D. in economics, she lives with (and cannot live without) her boisterous, creative family in Chicago.

Check out her:

Website / Twitter / Tumblr


Follow the tour: (a chance to win the book at every stop!)

March 31st - Fiction Fare
April 1st - The Starry Eyed Revue
April 2nd - Ivy Book Bindings
April 3rd - Carina's Books
April 4th - Presenting Lenore
April 5th - Shae Has Left the Room
April 6th - The Best Books Ever
April 7th - Teen Librarian Toolbox
April 8th - Love is Not a Triangle (Release Day)
April 9th - The Bevy Bibliotheque

Win the book:

I have one hardcover copy of PLUS ONE up for grabs. Fill out this form by April 11, 2014 at 11:59 pm CST. Restricted to US and Canadian residents. Prize shipped by tour operator.

FTC disclosure: Netgalley

Monday, March 31, 2014

Book Review: Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano



Nearly has a rough life. Her mother is a stripper, they barely have enough money to eat, and her father is gone. She spends her days studying hard to have a chance at a scholarship which will allow her to improve her future. Once a week she buys a paper to read the personals section, hoping for a message from her dad. 

Her life is about to get rougher. Someone starts knocking off the kids that Nearly tutors and leaving cryptic messages for her in the personals. Nearly becomes the main suspect and she must solve the killer's clues and pair up with a CI who is undercover at her school in order to clear her name. Of course, she might be next on the chopping block ...

There is so much to unpack in this novel, so bear with me. This is going to be a long review.

The Mystery

Nearly's best subjects are math and science, and the puzzles that the killer leaves for her via the personals take advantage of her skills. The puzzles are clever (and I'm clever, too, because I figured out the mystery 70 pages before Nearly did) and a unique frame for the story. However, it requires a pretty big suspension of belief to swallow that the police would be so bumbling and make such a mess of the investigation. Also, I find it extraordinarily difficult to imagine that national media wouldn't be all over a school beset by so many homicides in such a short period of time. 

If you really think hard about it, the killer is pretty easy to narrow down. It has to be someone with a motive to frame Nearly, with the smarts to pull off complicated puzzles, and with close access to Nearly. That's a very short list. That said, I suspect most casual readers will be surprised by the killer's identity as there are numerous plausible red herrings embedded throughout. 

Nearly's Paranormal Power

Nearly is an empath who can "taste" others emotions when she touches them. Unexpectedly perhaps, her paranormal ability mostly serves to inform her character rather than the plot. (There is one showy scene during a rave where Nearly is knocked out due to touching drugged dancers that has a slight bearing on the plot, but that's about it) What I found so fascinating about Nearly is that despite being an empath, she is very cut off from her own emotions. She hates touching people, and goes out of her way to be a loner.  I also think this dissociation is what makes her so reckless. She doesn't have much of a reaction when acquaintances are killed because she doesn't allow herself to feel. She does however start to open up to Reece. And that brings us to: 

The Romance

Nearly and Reece don't get off to a great start. Rumor is that he's dangerous and she overhears a detective at the police station assigning Reece to get close to her in order to spy on her. 

And then there's a uncomfortable scene that I've seen some reviewers label as victim blaming, though I read it a different way. Nearly comes to school to confront Reece. She shouts that she knows what he is and is about to reveal that he's a CI (which would put Reece in mortal danger). Desperate to silence her, Reece pushes her up against a locker and kisses her.  Nearly freaks out (remember - she hates being touched) and ends up biting and slapping him, which attracts the attention of the school staff and results in Reece being expelled. Nearly feels bad  then, going to the principal and saying:

“It wasn’t his fault. I was the one responsible.” I couldn’t let Reece go back to jail for something that was my fault. He’d only reacted because I’d provoked him. My behavior hadn’t left him any choice.

Is Nearly the victim of a sexual assault? I agree that you could argue that she is and that Reece should definitely learn that there are better ways to shut someone up than to kiss them without their permission. BUT. The reason she felt guilty? Not because he kissed her and she reacted badly to it. It was because she was about to reveal information that could get Reece killed. 

In any case, Reece awakens feelings in Nearly that she pretty much thought were dead. Once she learns more about him as a person (that he's essentially a kind person pushed to extremes), she decides to confide in him in a heartbreaking scene. She confesses that she doesn’t want to touch him because then she’ll know for sure how much he hates her. Reese counters with: 

“You think you know how I feel about you? Then touch me.” He took my sleeve and drew my hand to his chest. Slowly, I slid my hand up his collar, and spread my fingers over his bare skin. His pulse thrummed hard. My heart raced with his fear and the rush of his desire.

Empath abilities FTW!

In Summary

NEARLY GONE is the rare mystery that is both character and plot driven. Definitely worth a look, especially if you like puzzles.

NEARLY GONE is available in hardcover now. Find out more about it at the author's website.

FTC disclosure: NetGalley

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Bookanista Review: The Glass Casket by McCormick Templeman



I love fairy tales, and this one is deliciously dark.

A great, hungry evil has awoken in the mountain forest near Rowan's home of Nag's End. But Rowan is not superstitious like those in her village, so at first, despite some horrific deaths, she goes about life pretty much as usual. For her that means working on her translations and hanging out with her best friend Tom. But then more strange things happen: her cousin shows up and her father forbids her to speak to her, a blue witch summons her for a talk, and a relative of the queen comes to stay at her house. Soon Rowan is not only going to have to believe in the supernatural, she's going to have to get involved to try and stop it from destroying everything she loves.

The resulting story is enticing, compelling fairy tale horror. I got goosebumps reading this, but I couldn't look away. I especially liked how smart and plucky Rowan was and the way the fantastical events of the story evolved her relationships with her family and friends. Oh and the love/hate relationship with Jude was a highlight as well. 

THE GLASS CASKET is available in hardcover now. Find out more about the book at the author's website.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Author Interview: Audrey Vernick discusses Screaming at the Ump



I don't read a ton of middle grade (or books about sports for that matter), but I was intrigued by the journalism angle in SCREAMING AT THE UMP and would definitely recommend this to budding reporters. Casey has grown up surrounded by baseball because his father runs a school for umpires. But he himself doesn't want to be an ump, or even a player. He wants to write about baseball, and now that he's starting middle school, he'll finally have the chance to be on a newspaper staff. 

Only when he gets there, he finds out that 6th graders never get to write -- they have to pay their dues by selling ad space. But what if the story of the century just happens to fall in his lap? What if a disgraced former major league player just happens to be at his father's ump school? In the course of pursuing his big break, Casey learns a lot about being objective and the importance of second chances.
 
I have the pleasure of having Author Audrey Vernick on the blog today to answer some questions about her book and baseball. My readers might know Audrey as the fabulous writer behind the Buffalo picture books that Daniel had the honor of illustrating. Welcome Audrey!



You tackle a lot of subjects in SCREAMING AT THE UMP: divorce, umpiring, journalism. Which aspects of the story came first and how did you manage to make all the threads come together in such a meaningful way?

Umpiring came first. I struggle with plot, so thought it would be wise to come up with a hooky something that set my book apart before I started writing it. I stumbled upon the idea of umpire school one night when watching baseball playoffs on TV. The umps were making lots of bad calls and I realized that I considered myself a big baseball fan but had no idea how one became a professional umpire. One google search later, I learned about the two umpire schools in Florida. I decided to create a third and put it in New Jersey, where I live. I started writing the book with that setting and characters other than the ones now in it. Before long, I realized those folks didn't belong anywhere near an umpire school and that's when Casey and Zeke emerged.

Journalism was a very minor part of earlier drafts of this book but as the parallels between it and umpiring kept showing up--impartiality being key among them--I had to take notice. Also, in early drafts, Casey didn't have any real drive and while I know many, many real-world children who do not have grand ambitions, I don't know of many book-world children who don't. It's not my favorite part of writing novels, the whole "what does the character want" part. In the books I love, the answer would often be "for things to stay exactly as they are." That was surely what it was for Marley, the main character in my first novel. But editors really like driven characters.

As for divorce...I've had lots of kids in the past month ask me why both of my novels feature divorced families and I hope that the next time I'm asked, I will do better than stammer. The answer, at least in part, is that interesting upper middle grade characters need a fair amount of independence to be able to do things interesting enough to be worthy of a book. I didn't want to orphan my characters, so I did the next best thing. My, that sounds awful.

Also, it's a reality so many kids deal with, nothing exotic. The sadness that comes with it isn't always given its due. My characters have both felt that sadness very deeply, in ways that I hope seem authentic to readers.

As for the threads coming together, all I have to say about that is: THEY DID?

Ha! Well, I thought so! I loved the whole idea of "You suck, Ump!" day. Does such a thing exist in real life? Is there any group other than umps that you wish there was a "You suck!" day for?

I don't think such a thing does exist. And yes, there are many, many, many groups other than umps that I wish there was a "you suck" day for. If forced to choose one, I would choose the people I call the my son Jordan people. I promise you: You know these people. Let's say you're at back-to-school night and the speaker has given a general introduction and asks if there any questions, stressing that all questions should be of a general nature, not questions specific to any family. The my son Jordan people are always called upon and begin with, "My son Jordan is gifted in math has been reading four grades above his level since preschool. My older son, too. What can you offer to challenge someone as supremely gifted as my son Jordan?"

Sadly, the realm of the my son Jordan people extends far beyond parental bragging at local schools to self-aggrandizement as audience member. I attend a fabulous event every October--The New Yorker Festival in NYC--and the my son Jordan people, also warned (most hilariously by Andy Borowitz when he's the moderator) that questions should not be opportunities to share the wonders of oneself with the audience but opportunities to ask actual questions of the speakers. But the my son Jordan people cannot help themselves. They give a three-paragraph introduction about their own unique wonderfulness, and then tack on a semi-question at the end.

So please, townsfolk. Gather with me and let's let them hear it loud and clear:

YOU SUCK, MY SON JORDAN PEOPLE!

Oh gosh, yes. Those people do need a you suck day. You're well known for your love of baseball. What are your go-to books about the sport?

There are so many fantastic baseball picture books! I love Phil Bildner's The Unforgettable Season. and every baseball book by Matt Tavares and Jonah Winter. Though I reserve the right to not love Matt's forthcoming book about Pedro Martinez. (You do not grab an old man's head and shove him to the ground: words to live by, Pedro.) And Teammates by Peter Golenbock is the book that my son needed to hear every night for a long period of time, so that has a place in my heart. As for adult reading, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach was a great read.

Thanks Audrey!

Find out more about Audrey and her books at her website. Add SCREAMING AT THE UMP to Goodreads.

FTC disclosure: Bought

Monday, March 24, 2014

Cover Reveal: The Best Things in Death by Lenore Appelhans

Exciting news! On May 27, 2014, Simon and Schuster will publish the Memory Chronicles ebook original short story collection THE BEST THINGS IN DEATH.  Here's the cover!



Preorder on amazon, barnes & noble, other platforms (note: last time I checked, the description of the book was outdated, so please disregard if that's still the case)

Add to Goodreads

THE BEST THINGS IN DEATH is best read after THE MEMORY OF AFTER (aka LEVEL 2), though the stories can also stand alone outside the series. It can be read before or after CHASING BEFORE (no spoilers for the sequel). A reminder: CHASING BEFORE comes out on August 26, 2014. More info.

The stories are from the points of view of the following characters:

Neil -- A week before his car crash with Felicia, Neil spends a perfect day at the swimming hole. He and Felicia have never been happier. But can he work up the courage to tell her that he loves her?

Julian -- Months before the events of THE MEMORY OF AFTER, Julian and Mira spy on Felicia and Autumn during a trip to Iceland.

Libby -- Character first introduced in CHASING BEFORE. Libby and her boyfriend Jeremy head off on a road trip to Las Vegas and stumble upon truths potentially deadly to their relationship.

Brady -- Character first introduced in CHASING BEFORE. An unexpected encounter with the charming Oliver brings cancer-patient Brady out of his shell.

Hope you enjoy it! (My agent did)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Book Review: Cured by Bethany Wiggins

Last year, STUNG was a favorite dystopian read of mine (see my review) so I couldn't wait to devour the sequel CURED.



CURED switches narrators, so we're no longer following Fiona but another girl named Jacqui instead. Considering how much I enjoyed Fiona's narration in STUNG, this switch put me off at first, but I soon grew to appreciate what Jacqui brought to the table as well.

Ever since the bee flu broke out, Jacqui has had to masquerade as a boy because being a woman is not safe in this dangerous new world. She goes by Jack, runs on the treadmill for hours every day and never, ever leaves the safety of her home. That is until she sets off to find her brother, rumored to be in a safe zone in Wyoming, enlisting the help of Fiona, Bowen and Jonah.

Of course, they run into trouble pretty quickly and are saved by Kevin, a guy who (just like Jacqui) isn't all he seems to be on the surface. Who can one trust in this brave new world?

CURED brings a second helping of inventive worldbuilding, romance, intrigue and exciting action scenes.

CURED is out in hardcover now. Find out more about it at the author's website.

FTC disclosure: NetGalley

See index of all dystopian reviews on Presenting Lenore