Book Review: Haven River

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“Sixteen-year-old Luke Conway is in his last year of high school in the harbour side town of Haven River.

Writing is Luke’s life. All he wants to do is be a journalist and write stories about storm chasers.

But Ryan, Luke’s protective older brother and guardian, has other ideas.

When Luke meets newcomer to town, the mischievous Jamie Pascoe, his world is turned upside down.

Tragedy strikes and Luke is catapulted down a path of self-destruction.

Can Luke overcome the odds pitted against him? To make Jamie proud of him. To hold on tight to his family. To follow his dream on his own terms.”

 Haven River is a sweet, touching, tender story of a young boy named Luke and his four brothers all trying to live and cope with the loss of their parents. The five boys all have their own way of coping and their own unique passions.

Luke is a relatable sixteen-year-old boy. He is lovable, and sweet, and you will root for him throughout the entire story. Haven River is a quick read, but the young love, family bond, and tragic loss will touch your heart.

Remember the post, In Support Of Indie Authors, where I talk about reading more self-published books? Haven River by Casey Fae Hewsen is the first self-published novel that I have read. I am happy to announce that it crushed the doubt I had about quality and self-publishing. Hewsen produced literary merit, and proved that authors don’t always need a big publishing house.

You can learn more about Casey Fae Hewseon on her author website.

Happy Reading.

Rachel McKee

Three Reasons To Read Invincible Louisa

 

Invincible Louisa

 

Biography tracing the fascinating life of Louisa May Alcott from her happy childhood in Pennsylvania and Boston to her success as a writer of such classics as Little women.

Inspiration

I just finished reading Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs. It was waiting patiently on my bookshelf for over a decade. Do you ever feel like certain books fall into your hands when you need them most?  I have been struggling with writing my own YA novel, fighting through some serious writer’s block, and questioning my writing endeavor. Then one day, after the library was closed, I pulled Invincible Louisa off of the shelf and started to read. Louisa May Alcott was an incredible young woman who was bursting with life, love, courage, and imagination. Her story was a whisper of understanding that I didn’t realize I needed to hear. Her life was full of ups and downs. Small tastes of success and a vast amount of disappointment, but through it all she maintained her enthusiasm for art and life. I needed a reminder that every writer has their own struggle with the craft, I would never compare my amateur writing to Alcott’s, but we all have to start somewhere, and sometimes it’s nice to hear that even literary masters had to shape, mold, and master their work over time. Meigs wrote, “Long after, she [Louisa] once said of herself that disappointment must be good for her, she got much of it. She learned to meet it bravely, although often she felt at first a hot wave of revolt.” Many writers struggle to persevere after the rejection letters pour in, but I think Alcott’s story proves that you must write for yourself first, and publishers second. Write because you can’t control your fingers as thoughts overflow your mind, and you feel you might burst if you can’t document your ideas.

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History

Anyone who is a literary enthusiast would find the history of Alcott’s life incredibly fascinating. Bronson Alcott, Louisa’s father, was a figurehead of transcendentalism and public education. Meigs wrote of Bronson that, “Bronson had theories so far advanced of his time that even in our day we have not caught up with all of them [written in 1933, 70 years later].” His colleagues and friends were some of the greatest American writers of all time. Louisa’s small feet walked the halls of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s house and later he became a mentor to her. Through her father, Louisa met William Lloyd Garrison, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. There are yet more distinguished people of American history within Alcott’s life, but I will let you discover those hidden gems.

Eloquence

Meigs’ novel, Invincible Louisa, is as memorable as Little Women. Written in 1933, it has that yummy, rich, impeccable use of the English language that makes me swoon. For example, Meigs describes Alcott’s success as such, “Fame during a lifetime is something to win; but fame and affection which are to last a hundred years are seldom earned.” Isn’t that a lovely way of saying, she was famous and loved and will be for generations to come?

I think the task of writing about one of America’s most beloved female authors must have been extremely daunting, but Meigs wrote Invicible Louisa as if she were a member of the Alcott-May family and expereinced their joy and tragedy alongside them. Through Meigs research and attention to detail, we gain a glimpse into the life of one of the most influential writers for young adults that has ever lived. The history within Invincible Louisa is textbook-worthy, but written with the style and warmth of a favorite novel.

I highly reccomend Invincible Louisa, especially if you are a writer yourself, are interested in the evolution of American writing, or both.

Happy Reading.

Rachel McKee

 

 

In Support of Indie Authors

Raise your hand if you have never read a self-published book. Yep, my hand is in the air.

When adding to my reading repertoire I typically go for whatever is free convenient. (My library card has a lot of miles on it.). But now that I am writing my own YA novel, I begin to understand how difficult it is to be noticed by a literary agent, let alone a publishing house. There is a very real chance that I will end up self-publishing and honestly, that situation seems pretty bleak. Self-publishing feels like sending my novel to the grave and the publishing fees I accumulate will be money spent at its wake. My goal is to shed some light or “illuminate” a few self-published books that may not be getting the attention they deserve.

I’ve always been a huge fan of supporting small businesses, and writing a book is an entrepreneurship. If I am buying my duds from a boutique second-hand shop down the street, I can probably spend a little money on Amazon to buy a self-published book. Sometimes indie authors will GIVE YOU their book just to gain some exposure.

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I am going to add a few indie authors to my book review rotation on Illuminated Literation. In the cruel, cold, world of publishing, authors need help. They pour blood, sweat, and beer into their manuscripts and damn it, their words deserve to be read. Also, I hope karma does me a good turn and people will read my book one day.

Okay, I sheathed my crusade sword.

Do you have a book that you self-published? Have you read a self-published book that you recommend? Please comment below and let me know the title, author, and where it’s available.

Fiercely yours,

Rachel McKee

Cover Image Found at Support Indie Authors Blog Spot.

A Book Review: Midwinterblood

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Seven stories of passion and love separated by centuries but mysteriously intertwined—this is a tale of horror and beauty, tenderness and sacrifice.
An archaeologist who unearths a mysterious artifact, an airman who finds himself far from home, a painter, a ghost, a vampire, and a Viking: the seven stories in this compelling novel all take place on the remote Scandinavian island of Blessed where a curiously powerful plant that resembles a dragon grows. What binds these stories together? What secrets lurk beneath the surface of this idyllic countryside? And what might be powerful enough to break the cycle of midwinterblood? From award-winning author Marcus Sedgwick comes a book about passion and preservation and ultimately an exploration of the bounds of love.

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick is a novel that will haunt your thoughts long after you finish it. I keep thinking of all of the different connections within the seven stories. Sedgwick did a superb job combining love, horror, mystery, and suspense.

Midwinterblood is reminiscent of The Giver in the sense that Sedgwick gives you these wonderful little clues to follow and feeds you information until you start to see the entire picture. I enjoy each separate story on it’s own (One still gives me the shivers when I think about it.) but as a whole this novel weaves an incredible pattern that you are anxious to understand.

I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS BOOK. (All caps so you know I’m serious.)

Again, how cool is it when authors respond to their fans?

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On a personal note, I’m completely in love with this passage (my son’s name is Leif). I think I may have to  frame it for his bedroom wall.

There was Leif, walking into the center of the longhouse, to stand by the firelight, to give us his words.

He was a beautiful man, tall and thin, not one for fighting though he fought with the others when in was needed so. But his tools were words; those mysterious gifts from the gods, and while most men merely learned how to use them, Leif was one of the wizards who had learned the secret of how to make magic with them.

Have you read Midwinterblood yet? If so, please respond in the comments, I would love to have a discussion about this novel.

Happy Reading.

♥R♥

A Book Review: Sketchy

Sketchy

 

Bea’s life has been a mess ever since she got kicked out of private school and sent to rehab. Now clean, Bea is starting over at Packard High School, in a city shaken from two assaults on young women. The latest victim, Willa Pressman-the one who survived-doesn’t remember a thing. But Bea has a disturbing new “skill”: she can see-and then draw-images from other people’s minds. And when she looks at Willa, Bea is shocked by what she sketches. Bea might be the only one who knows Willa’s secrets-and who can take down the killer before he strikes again.

Olivia Samms stokes the flames of suspense in her book Sketchy. I really like the main character Bea, I would hang out with her in real-life. She is strong, smart, feisty, and isn’t afraid to be her unique-self. She’s unapologetic, and keeps it real. (She actually reminds me of my YA book’s heroine Rebecca.) Samms captures high school and college life through her accurate and detailed descriptions, setting the stage for this murder mystery. Samm’s attention to detail is what pulls you into Sketchy and forces you to walk beside Bea while she hunts for the killer.

I’m so excited to read the next book, “Snitch” in The Bea Catcher Chronicles.

Also, how cool is it when authors take the time to interact with their readers?

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Happy Reading,

♥R♥

A Book Review: The Caged Graves

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The year is 1867, and seventeen-year-old Verity Boone is excited to return from Worcester, Massachusetts, to Catawissa, Pennsylvania, the hometown she left when she was just a baby. Now she will finally meet the fiancé she knows only through letters! Soon, however, she discovers two strangely caged graves . . . and learns that one of them is her own mother’s. Verity swears she’ll get to the bottom of why her mother was buried in “unhallowed ground” in this suspenseful teen mystery that swirls with rumors of witchcraft, buried gold from the days of the War of Independence, and even more shocking family secrets.

The Caged Graves by Dianne Salerni is a FUN read. There is mystery, romance, and suspense that will make you gobble up the pages and keep you on your toes. The love triangle between, Verity, Mathew, and Hadley will keep you guessing until the very end. The Caged Graves is “historical fiction”. Salerni was inspired to write her novel based on two mysterious caged graves that are located in Catawissa, Pennsylvania.

Book Review: Illegal

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A promise.
Quinceañera.
A promise that we would be together on my fifteenth birthday . . .

Instead, Nora is on a desperate journey far away from home. When her father leaves their beloved Mexico in search of work, Nora stays behind. She fights to make sense of her loss while living in poverty—waiting for her father’s return and a better day. When the letters and money stop coming, Nora decides that she and her mother must look for him in Texas. After a frightening experience crossing the border, the two are all alone in a strange place. Now, Nora must find the strength to survive while aching for small comforts: friends, a new school, and her precious quinceañera.

Bettina Restrepo’s gripping, deeply hopeful debut novel captures the challenges of one girl’s unique yet universal immigrant experience.

Restrepo’s book “Illegal” tells the story of Nora, a young woman from Mexico who goes in search of her beloved father in the US when he goes missing. Nora is a female protagonist that you root for from beginning to end. She is strong, sweet, caring, tough, and loyal. You want to see her succeed and you want to reach into the story to lend a helping hand.

“Illegal” is authentic and genuine. Nora’s dangerous and tough journey of crossing the border and establishing a life in the US provokes compassion and understanding. I highly recommend this story to people of all ages.

Happy Reading.

♥R♥

A Book Review: ‘SO Shelly’ & What is YA?

SoShelly

Until now, high school junior, John Keats, has only tiptoed near the edges of the vortex that is schoolmate and literary prodigy, Gordon Byron. That is, until their mutual friend, Shelly, drowns in a sailing accident.

After stealing Shelly’s ashes from her wake at Trinity Catholic High School, the boys set a course for the small Lake Erie island where Shelly’s body had washed ashore and to where she wished to be returned. It would be one last “so Shelly” romantic quest. At least that’s what they think. As they navigate around the obstacles and resist temptations during their odyssey, Keats and Gordon glue together the shattered pieces of Shelly’s and their own pasts while attempting to make sense of her tragic and premature end.

Warning: Contains mild spoilers.

Are you on the fence about reading young adult (YA)? ‘So Shelly’ by Ty Roth may be the perfect introduction to the YA genre for you. On Good Reads this YA novel has a mixed bag of reviews. Some readers thought that taking three poets from the early 1800’sGeorge Byron, John Keats, Percy and Mary Shelly and throwing them into a modernday setting was an epic failure. I thought it was a creative concept. I appreciate Roth’s clever turn-of-phrase and the literary devices and detail that Roth incorporated into ‘So Shelly’.

But

(That’s a big but)

After reading ‘So Shelly’ I had to wonder how this novel could classify as YA. There are some deeply disturbing scenarios that the three teens encounter in their lives: Rape, incest, pregnancy, abortion, death, child molestation, just to name a few. I decided to look up the definition of YA literature and this is the best description I found on The Guardian:

Writers across the board at YALC agreed that the sine qua non of YA is an adolescent protagonist, who will probably face significant difficulties and crises, and grow and develop to some degree – Patrick Ness described it as “finding boundaries and crossing them and figuring out when you end, who you are and what shape you are.” According to Matt Haig, YA is also remarkable for “blurring the boundaries” of genre and refusing to adhere to the rules of more rigidly defined literary fiction. There are YA “books that end on a hopeful note, books that end on a happy note and books that don’t”, Malorie Blackman has said, arguing for the necessity of both. And in a time when slut-shaming and body dysmorphia are endemic, and it’s especially difficult to navigate adolescence for girls, YA, according to Sarra Manning, is particularly rich in heroines, resonating with readers who feel isolated, freakish and”not good enough”.

So Shelly has:

  • significant difficulties.
  • blurred boundaries
  • a sad ending  and (kind of happy?)

So Shelly does not have:

  • character growth.
  • a strong female protagonist.
  • admirable characters.

‘SO Shelly’ was not inspiring for young women. Shelly (the female protagonist) was a victim and was hopelessly weak because of her infatuation with the womanizer Gordon Byron. Shelly didn’t even tell her own story, ‘SO Shelly’ was narrated by her friend John Keats. The two boys, literally carried her body around throughout the entire story and only in flashbacks did Shelly retain her body and voice. Shelly had zero autonomy, she was sexualized and powerless. The only time Shelly made her voice heard was when she had an abortion and committed suicide. But her voice was drowned (no pun intended) by the two egocentric boys that dominated her life. Even in her most decisive moments  she whispered rather than roared.

I appreciated Roth’s creative story plot and writing style, but I didn’t find any of the character admirable. I sympathized for them and their individual struggles, but I wouldn’t want my son to emulate any of their decisions or behaviors.

I am not a prude when it comes to reading material, but I don’t see how this book encourages teens to handle their problems in a healthy way. John Keats obsessed over death due to his family’s early demise. George Byron was molested and abused as a child and he becomes a cold-hearted  misogynist. Shelly was also molested, had an abortion, and decided to kill herself. Teens that have endured these tragedies need and DESERVE better role models.’So Shelly’ demonstrated the absolute worst-case outcomes.

After reading ‘So Shelly’ I have to wonder why we even have the category YA? What makes this controversial novel any different from an “adult” novel? Is it simply because of the age of the characters?

If you have read or decide to read “So Shelly” please comment on this post. I’m very interested to hear your opinions. Even if you haven’t read the novel ‘So Shelly’ what does YA mean to you?

Happy Reading.

♥R♥

Book Review: Just Like Fate

One decision changes everything in this Sliding Doors meets Anna and the French Kiss novel that explores split realities of romance and family loyalties, “recommended for fans of Sara Zarr, Elizabeth Scott, and Maureen Johnson (School Library Journal).”

Caroline is at a crossroads.

Her grandmother is sick and, like the rest of her family, Caroline’s been at Gram’s bedside since her stroke. With the pressure building, all Caroline wants to do is escape—both her family and the reality of Gram’s failing health. So when Caroline’s best friend offers to take her to a party one fateful Friday night, she must choose: stay by Gram’s side, or go to the party for a few hours?

The consequences of this one decision will split Caroline’s fate into two separate paths—and she is about to live them both.

Friendships are tested and family drama hits an all-new high as Caroline attempts to rebuild old relationships and even make a few new ones. If she stays, her longtime crush, Joel, might finally notice her, but if she goes, Chris, the charming college boy, might prove to be everything she’s ever wanted.

Though there are two distinct ways for her fate to unfold, there is only one happy ending…

I just finished reading “Just Like Fate” written by Suzanna Young and Cat Patrick, it was very interesting and a good read. I enjoyed the way the book was written, (two authors, two versions of fate). I really admire books that tell a story in a unique way. Just Like Fate is creative and quite riveting.

I like the moral of the story and I think this line sums it up best, “‘I’m saying we have freedom to make mistakes’, Rivers says shaking his head. “‘I’m saying that our mistakes -one mistake or many of them-don’t define us. They don’t derail us. We end up where we need to be in the end.’ He pauses. ‘But hopefully having learned something from our stumbles… having grown into better people because of them.'”

Learning from mistakes and understanding that one lousy mistake doesn’t have to ruin your life is a valuable lesson. I can’t tell you how much I dwelled on my mistakes when I was a teenager. Now that I am older, I don’t agonize over many of my previous choices anymore. For once in my life I feel like I’m where I need to be. If only I could go back and tell my teenage-self that my mistakes won’t break me and fate will play out the way it was intended.

I recommend this book, it’s a quick read and the characters are entertaining. If you are interested in story structure this book unravels in a unique way.

Happy Reading,

♥R♥

The Nightingale: A Book Review & All Of The Feels

 

 

 

In love we find out who we want to be.

In war we find out who we are.

FRANCE, 1939

In the quiet village of Carriveau, Vianne Mauriac says goodbye to her husband, Antoine, as he heads for the Front. She doesn’t believe that the Nazis will invade France … but invade they do, in droves of marching soldiers, in caravans of trucks and tanks, in planes that fill the skies and drop bombs upon the innocent. When a German captain requisitions Vianne’s home, she and her daughter must live with the enemy or lose everything. Without food or money or hope, as danger escalates all around them, she is forced to make one impossible choice after another to keep her family alive.

Vianne’s sister, Isabelle, is a rebellious eighteen-year-old girl, searching for purpose with all the reckless passion of youth. While thousands of Parisians march into the unknown terrors of war, she meets Gäetan, a partisan who believes the French can fight the Nazis from within France, and she falls in love as only the young can … completely. But when he betrays her, Isabelle joins the Resistance and never looks back, risking her life time and again to save others.

With courage, grace and powerful insight, bestselling author Kristin Hannah captures the epic panorama of WWII and illuminates an intimate part of history seldom seen: the women’s war. The Nightingale tells the stories of two sisters, separated by years and experience, by ideals, passion and circumstance, each embarking on her own dangerous path toward survival, love, and freedom in German-occupied, war-torn France–a heartbreakingly beautiful novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit and the durability of women. It is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime.

 

 

I finished reading Kristin Hannah’s novel, “The Nightingale” two days ago. I stayed awake until midnight, knowing that I would be up with my son at 6:30am just to finish The Nightingale. I normally don’t pick up war novels or writing that I know will inevitably break my heart, and to tell you the truth, I didn’t even read the synopses before I checked it out at the library. I walked to the library after a couple glasses of wine and was feeling carefree and picking books because of the titles and their covers. I’m glad I was slightly buzzed when picking books that day, otherwise I may have put this one back on the shelf due to the tragic time period.

That’s not to say I don’t appreciate emotional reads, it’s just that I have to prepare myself for the investment. I do this to protect myself because my anxiety can be triggered by high-intensity, emotionally intense topics.

I started reading and from the first chapter I was engrossed in the story. Hannah is a very gifted writer her, I dare you to read the first chapter of Nightingale, because if you do, there is no turning back.

 

I don’t want to give any of the plot away and there is nothing I can tell you that the synopsis above can’t. Mostly I would like to describe the way this novel made me feel. And to put it lightly it reached into my chest, gripped my heart with such intensity that I shook during various scenes. It literally left me rattled (in a good way?). I think part of the reason I was such an emotional wreck while reading this book is because I’m a mother now, and imagining some of the decisions that the women in this novel had to make or the “choiceless choices” just slayed me.

This is a book  that will linger around the edges of my memory forever. Someone will mention World War 2 and I will instantly think of Hannah’s characters in Nightingale. Through her story we get a very real, raw glimpse of Nazi occupied France from 1939-1944.

After reading Nightingale I’m reminded that even though it was a “tough” read about the stark ugliness of human history, it is our responsibility to momentarily take off our blinders and confront the past. It is our job to remember.

I normally sign my book reviews with “Happy reading”, but with Nightingale you will not be “happy” while reading, so I leave you with:

Never forget,

R

COVER IMAGE FOUND HERE.