A Book Review: “Masters And Beginners”

I’ve followed Daley Downing’s blog “The Invisible Moth” for a long time. So I anticipated the release of her new book, “Masters And Beginners”. I was thrilled when she asked me to be an early reader.

You may recall my post from last week, where I explained that I was having a rough day and was delightfully surprised to receive a (bookish) package. Inside Daley thoughtfully sent some treasures and the most precious of them all: her new novel.

Here is the synopsis of Daley’s first book “Masters And Beginners” in her series “The Order Of The Twelve Tribes”:

“When Sophie Driscoll’s grandmother dies, her parents take over running the Annex, a warehouse facility that stores magical artifacts and documents proving, and protecting, the existence of faeries. Sophie and her brothers, Flynn and Cal, happily adjust to a new house, new friends, and a new way of living, joining the ranks of generations who have kept the fey and mortal realms separate for centuries. Before the first month of their new life is over, they’ll encounter romance, elves, talking cats, ancient secrets, and potentially lethal danger. What could possibly go wrong…

You had me at magical artifacts, faeries, and talking cats.

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But, what I really admire about “Masters And Beginners” is the world that Daley has created. She makes you believe that your neighbor’s barn/shed/garage could house magical cats and fairy documentation. I love when stories combine our world with a magical twist.

I enjoyed reading a YA story where the protagonists came from a solid, loving family and get this, both parents were alive!

(What…the parents are still alive AND wonderful people?)

I know, it was shocking and thoroughly refreshing. As an adult and a mother, I felt a special pull towards the Driscoll parents. I’m glad Daley included them as much as she did in the series. Often in YA writing we never meet the parents or we are repulsed by their behavior.

The main protagonist (Sophie Driscoll) is an admirable, likeable  teen. I adore the close relationship she has with her two brothers, especially her older brother Flynn. There is a story-line of romance between a few of the teens in “The Order” (humans (mostly) who protect the fay’s existence and magical artifacts), but romance doesn’t run the story. Mostly these kids are smart, adjusting “Order” kids, who are trying to do their best.

The excitement and mystery moves quickly. Daley has really mastered the art of pacing her story. (I read the book in less than a week. I was hooked.)

I can’t wait to read the next book in the series. I want to learn more about the many intriguing side characters like: Sophie’s love interest, her mysterious neighbor, Alex. Her cousin Madison. Flynn’s love-interest Emma. Really I just want MORE. (I’m a greedy book dragon.)

I’m honestly just so impressed with the quality of this one-woman writing/editing/marketing team. I know Daley has worked incredibly hard to release her novel and I can’t tell you how inspired I am after reading “Masters And Beginners”.

If you would like to experience the magic yourself, you may purchase a copy of “Masters And Beginners” here.

Happy Reading,

Rachel

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Where Whispers Willow: A Book Review

I met Justin Blaney the author of  Where Whispers Willow, and he was kind enough to give me an early copy of his book when the title was still The Whispers Willow.

I admitted to him early on that I tend to shy away from poetry books. I prefer novels where the story feels epic and character development is crucial. I hadn’t given poetry a try in a long time, but I was excited to read Where Whisper Willows. Especially because I was experimenting with poetry myself.

Blaney was quick to explain from the beginning that he didn’t feel his writing was poetry, essay, or philosophical. He described his book as such:

“Verse, Prose, composition, expose ~ nothing quite fit. Until I stumbled on the word reverie. Reverie is a day dream. A musing. A single thought. This described, better than any other word, the scribbles I’d been jotting down.”

Where Whispers Willow was unlike any of the poetry books I remembered from school. It had character development, and a deep, thoughtful story. Each reverie was a single moment, but bound together, revealed the life of Blaney. So many emotions were portrayed in his writing. His eloquent musings were incredibly honest and true. Blaney’s knack for expressing universal thoughts through his own contemplation makes his writing relevant to everyone. His ability to reveal our own musings on life, death, love, and God makes Where Whispers Willow an emotional and deeply satisfying read.

I would like to leave you with one of my favorite reveries.

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what do souls look like?

how easy is it to tell the difference between the soul of a homeless man smelling of urine and shit, yelling at passers by

from the souls of those who pretend he doesn’t exist

what makes a soul’s stench?

what makes it beautiful?

are all souls born the same in their beauty or are some created with defect?

or do defects add something unique and precious?

can we artificially make our souls more beautiful with tattoos or plastic surgery?

are we all soft somewhere deep inside or can we make ourselves permanently and unchangeable hard?

what do souls sound like?

do they bounce about and twirl when happy?

do they puddle when sad?

are some more talented, gifted, luckier, richer, born with better genes?

or is it in our souls that we are truly equal?

You can download a free version of Where Whispers Willow here. Or if you prefer a paperback version, you can purchase one here.

Saturday Vibes

Today my husband gave me the precious gift of writing time. I can hear my boys playing outside and having a blast. I’m glad they are having fun, and I’m also ecstatic to get uninterrupted time with the computer.

I’m sipping on a tea called “Breakfast in Paris”. (A city I have never seen but long to visit.) Apparently “la Ville Lumière” tastes like Earl Grey and lavender. It’s quite pleasant. I’m stuffing my face nibbling lemon cream-filled cookies and editing my first draft.

I’ve been hovering around 35k thousand words on my YA manuscript. I’ve deleted thousands of words,  but I’ve also added quite a bit of dialogue. I love re-writing. I see things more clearly the second go around.

I’m excited to say that I finally have a working title for my manuscript. Up to this point, I’ve lovingly calling my second child “A Book Has No Name” or “The Book Who Shall Not Be Named”. I’ll share the title and why I chose it on Monday.

As I mentioned in a post earlier this week, I started a #bookstagram account on Instagram. The username is Illuminated_Literation. I took a few picture for that this morning. I haven’t posted them to the #bookstagram account yet. Here is a sneak peak. Contain yourself.

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Keke says, “Hi Illuminated Literation friends.”

Do you remember my review for the YA novel Black Ice by Becca Fitspatrick? If not, you can find it here. Seriously, it was such a page-turner.

Back to novel writing.

Have a wonderful weekend.

Cheers,

Rachel McKee

 

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

 

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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.

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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

 

 

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♥

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♥

Pic Pick Friyay: Seattle Flight

Miles and I lived in Seattle briefly (six months). During our short stay, Miles surprised me with a flight around Seattle. We had a total blast, and it still warms my heart that he included me on this adventure.

Miles up in the sky (eh, see what I did there?) Miles took some pretty fantastic pictures.

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Happy Friyay!

♥R♥

ALL PHOTOS ARE COURTESY OF ©MILES MCKEE PHOTOGRAPHY.

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

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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♥