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

Friday, March 21, 2014

Series Review: Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi



UNDER THE NEVER SKY is one of my favorite recent series starts (see my review). I bought THROUGH THE EVER NIGHT when it came out, but I waited to read it until INTO THE STILL BLUE was in my hands. This turned out to be an excellent idea because I didn't forget half the details between books. I need to do more of this back-to-back series reading!

Whereas UTNS focused on the opposites-attract romance between Aria and Perry, the following books detail the problems they have trying to stay together. It's an understatement to say that Perry's tribe doesn't approve of Aria or trust her and this causes a lot of the tension. Of course there's still the aether to deal with and the fact that everyone will die if they don't get to the still blue.

In TTEN, Aria and Roar go on a journey to try to figure out the location of the still blue, and then in ITSB, the goal is to get all the pieces in place to move everyone there. While the plot is straightforward, Rossi excels at character twists, especially in regards to the secondary characters. They often start out seeming one note but gradually become more complex and have some surprises up their sleeves. It's an action-filled, character-driven ride to the end.

 Find out more about the series at the author's website.

See an index of all dystopian reviews on Presenting Lenore.

FTC disclosure: Bought TTEN and review copy from Edelweiss for ITSB.  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Spring Reads

I'm currently reading THE GLASS CASKET by McCormick Templeman (creepy fairytale time) and DON'T LOOK NOW by Michelle Gagnon (sequel to the impressive action thriller DON'T TURN AROUND).

This spring I hope to get to all the books on this Goodreads bookshelf: Next Up. Let's see how I do!


Monday, March 17, 2014

Book Review: Liv, Forever by Amy Talkington





Even though our main character Liv is murdered halfway in, LIV, FOREVER turns out to be quite a fun and moving novel.

Liv is a new “scolly” (scholarship) student at the prestigious Wickham Hall, admitted due to her promising art portfolio. Though most of the students ignore her, Liv becomes friends with Gabe, a fellow “scolly” who claims that ghosts are talking to him (and the reader knows he’s right thanks to the passages where the ghosts – all female “scollys” – tell us how they died in gruesome ways).

Liv also catches the eye of Malcolm, a legacy student who is a member of the creepy Wickham secret society. Though their relationship is an egregious  case of instalove, I can forgive it because it’s delightfully swoony. For example, Malcolm leads Liv on a campus tour complete with a playlist to go along with the various locations, beginning with Bright Eyes’ “First Day of My Life”. Also, they use each other’s bodies as art canvases. So what if Malcolm is unrealistically perfect? This is a paranormal ghost story, guys.

When Liv dies, Gabe has to convince Malcolm to help him solve the mystery of Liv’s murder, a murder they suspect is connected to his secret society and to all the other ghosts. Hijinks ensue.

Author Talkington uses Liv’s artistic training to great effect to shape her voice. Metaphors including art references abound, and while those readers with less knowledge of art might find their inclusion pretentious, it really helped me to connect to Liv.  For example, Liv describes Malcolm’s eyes as “Yves Klein blue” and that gave me an instant mental picture. Or this passage when Liv talks about her feelings for Malcolm:

I was dying inside. Brain exploding like a Pollock. Heart melting like one of DalĂ­’s clocks.

What an original way to describe an intense crush. I love it! And I loved this book. I might have even been misty-eyed by the end.

LIV, FOREVER is out in hardcover now. Find out more about it at the author’s website.

FTC disclosure: Amazon Vine

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Let Me Be Your Book Fairy

I'm in Benton, KS right now and I'm surrounded by packages.  One box included lots of these:



Isn't it exciting?

To celebrate, I want to make you an offer. How about I fill up a medium flat rate box -  including a copy of CHASING BEFORE as well as ARCs of some of 2014's hottest books* -  and send it to YOU? Or even better how about I do that for two of you?

This has gotta go down before I go back to Germany, so fill out this form by Tuesday night and I'll send the books out on Wednesday.

Good luck!!

*NOTE: This giveaway is US only, but I will be doing an international CHASING BEFORE giveaway later on. If you need a copy of THE MEMORY OF AFTER too, let me know that on the form. Medium flat rate boxes can fit approximately 10 books. Some ARCs may be from 2013. Most or all will be YA.

Friday, March 7, 2014

57 Lives of Alex Wayfare by MG Buehrlen Blog Tour: Use of Flashbacks




Once in awhile a book comes along that I just fall in love with from page one. The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare hits so many of my sweet spots: time travel, afterlife, a treasure hunt, twists, and a romance across time. It's a ridiculously good read and definitely a 2014 favorite.

So I'm especially excited to have MG on the blog today for a guest post. Enjoy!


Let’s Talk About Flashbacks, Baby

Today I’m hijacking Lenore’s fabulous blog to talk about flashbacks. Lenore wrote a great post last year about her top ten books featuring flashbacks, and two of those books, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, were direct influences on whether or not I would include flashbacks in my novel, The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare.

Some readers might lament finding a flashback in a novel, almost as if it’s a no-no or a sign of lackluster talent, but when flashbacks are done well, they can add immense depth to a story, not to mention the characters.

In The Book Thief, Death narrates his story by recalling each time he came in contact with Liesel (the book thief) over the years. Death’s narrative is straightforward from the beginning. At times, the author even goes so far as to tell us exactly what we’re in for at the beginning of each section:
 Screen shot 2014-03-03 at 7.12.15 PM.pngbook_thief.jpg



I adored Zusak’s use of flashbacks as well as flash forwards in the novel. I don’t want to spoil anything, but his flash forwards concerning Rudy’s fate didn’t ruin the suspense for me. On the contrary, knowing Rudy’s fate beforehand made me keep turning the page, wanting to find out exactly how Rudy’s destiny manifests. I didn’t lose interest. My interest skyrocketed.

Same for the flashbacks. Death’s memories of Liesel are poignant and poetic. Zusak puts the reader into those memories and gives them intense and exciting life. You never feel bogged down by them -- they push the story forward in the most heartbreaking ways.


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In Code Name Verity, the narrator of the first half of the book has been captured by the Nazis. As they interrogate and torture her, she recounts all the memories that got her to that point by documenting them on paper as though she’s writing a story. Some of the memories aren’t even her own, they belong to her friend Maddie, but she does her best to embellish and make each flashback just as exciting as if it were happening in real time. I devoured each one.

Those are the kinds of flashbacks I love to read, and those were the types of flashbacks I wanted to include in The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare.

While there are only a handful of flashbacks at the beginning of the book, they were necessary in establishing my main character’s core dilemma. Alex had been suffering from crazy visions of the past that were affecting her school work and her family life. She wanted to get to the bottom of them (or just get rid of them by popping some pills). The book opens with Alex relaying these visions to a psychiatrist. This was the first time Alex ever divulged her secret of the “visions” to anyone. 


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Soon after, the reader discovers that Alex’s “visions” were actually moments when she traveled back in time to her reincarnated past lives. From then on out, there are no more flashbacks in the novel. Even when Alex learns to travel back in time and does so willingly, she lives those scenes out in real time instead of simply remembering them like she would in a flashback. Her modern day self actually slips into her past life’s body, and she is able to walk around in the past, perhaps changing history bit by bit in the process... Eeep!

So, as you can see, I certainly love a good flashback novel (so much so that I wrote one). I also enjoy flashbacks in television and film. In my experience, most people don’t seem to mind flashbacks in TV and film as much as they do in literature. It could be that flashbacks lend themselves more naturally to the visual format than the written. With the use of different camera angles or filter colors, it’s easier to know when we’re watching a scene from the past, and therefore we’re less confused.

I love the use of flashbacks in the TV version of The Vampire Diaries, especially those with The Originals and how they became vampires all those centuries ago. I also loved seeing flashbacks of Steffan when he was The Ripper. Those flashbacks helped solidify the characters for me, giving them more depth. I could understand their present-day choices much better knowing where they came from.

The-Originals.jpg

Another great example is the BBC’s Sherlock. That series uses so many flashbacks that it’s become an integral part of the show’s storytelling. If you’ve seen the wedding episode from Season 3, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

Screen shot 2014-03-04 at 9.43.28 AM.png

The entire episode was a montage of flashbacks based on Sherlock’s and John’s cases -- cases we didn’t get to see play out in full episode format. Judging from the episode’s success, viewers certainly didn’t mind the use of flashbacks. Just like in The Book Thief and Code Name Verity, the flashbacks were entertaining and helped push the story forward.

What are some of your favorite novels, TV shows, or films that use flashbacks? Let us know in the comments!

Thanks so much for having me on the blog today, Lenore!

***********************************


Official book summary:
One girl. Fifty-seven lives. Endless ways to die.
For as long as 17-year-old Alex Wayfare can remember, she has had visions of the past. Visions that make her feel like she’s really on a ship bound for America, living in Jamestown during the Starving Time, or riding the original Ferris wheel at the World’s Fair.

But these brushes with history pull her from her daily life without warning, sometimes leaving her with strange lasting effects and wounds she can’t explain. Trying to excuse away the aftereffects has booked her more time in the principal’s office than in any of her classes and a permanent place at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Alex is desperate to find out what her visions mean and get rid of them.

It isn’t until she meets Porter, a stranger who knows more than should be possible about her, that she learns the truth: Her visions aren’t really visions. Alex is a Descender – capable of traveling back in time by accessing Limbo, the space between Life and Afterlife. Alex is one soul with fifty-six past lives, fifty-six histories.

Fifty-six lifetimes to explore: the prospect is irresistible to Alex, especially when the same mysterious boy with soulful blue eyes keeps showing up in each of them. But the more she descends, the more it becomes apparent that someone doesn’t want Alex to travel again. Ever.

And will stop at nothing to make this life her last.


Author bio:

When she’s not writing, M.G. moonlights as a web designer and social media/creative director.
She’s the current web ninja lurking behind the hugely popular website YABooksCentral.com,
a social network for YA (and kids!) book lovers. The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare is her debut novel. M.G. lives nestled away in Michigan pines, surrounded by good coffee and good books, with her husband and son and three furbabies. Say hello on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.


Order links:
Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Indiebound | The Book Depository | Waterstones