A Book Review: Rulers & Mages

Author Daley Downing was kind enough to send me an EARC (early advanced reader copy) of the second installment of her series, The Order of the Twelve Tribes, Rulers and Mages.

I was a major fan of Downing’s first book, Masters and Beginners and was won over again with Rulers and Mages. Mystery, magic, drama, and love abounds!

I greatly enjoyed that Downing wrote a series with teenagers who only rebel when they must, and show respect for themselves and their family. Downing proved it is entirely possible to hold a reader’s attention without sex, drugs, profanity, etc. This quality alone makes her stand apart from other YA authors of her time. For this reason, I hold her writing in high esteem, but that’s not the only reason I will keep reaching for more books from this series.

Downing’s characters are distinct and well created. I especially appreciate the fact that she included diversity in her characters, including two with autism. Through her characters, Downing taught me a lot about autism. We need more “own voices” in our literature to promote inclusion and understanding in our society. Downing did a fantastic job at that.

With all of the above-mentioned, wonderful qualities, Rulers and Mages was also a very well-written and thoroughly enjoyable progression of The Twelve Tribes story. I’m excited to pass this series to my own children when they are old enough to read.

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Please take a moment to check out Downing’s website, The Invisible Moth.  Her posts are very informative about the publishing and author world. I’m always so impressed by Downing’s thoroughness in her writing, whether it’s her blog or her book series.

-Rachel McKee

Mini Beer Review: Stiegl

This one is for you, Lynn, over at The Inked Autist.

We have a four-pack of Stiegl beer. There are two flavors: “Radler” and “Gold”.

Lets start with the Radler. (Grapefruit flavor.)

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In short, I hate it. (But terrible memories make me biased.)

One sip and I’m punched with the flavor of Smirnoff Ice. Memories of high school and puking out of the passenger-side of a Geo Metro, come rushing back at me.

To be fair, anything that slightly touches on “malt-beverage” makes me heave.

My husband really likes it though.

Now, the Gold.

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It is pretty darn good. Light and refreshing. It has a clean taste and isn’t bitter. I will definitely drink it again.

The Stiegl story is pretty darn cool. It’s been privately owned since 1492. According to their website, Stiegl is Austria’s largest and most successful private brewery.  They use local, raw materials to craft their beers.

Yes, I will buy more Stiegl, but I will avoid anything with “malt”.

-Rachel

Stranger Things Season One

A friend suggested I give the Netflix series, “Stranger Things” a try. I binge-watched season one in two days.

The 1980’s set tugged at my nostalgic heartstrings. Stranger Things had the unsettling ability to bring me back to childhood and give me the comforting feeling of friends, family, and games, while simultaneously creeping me out. There is something immensely satisfying about watching childhood friends fight “the bad guy”like watching a scenario you imagined in childhood coming to life.

Cover Image Found Here.

-Rachel

 

 

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.

Don’t Trash That Novel

If you are struggling with your manuscript and you need someone to ask you questions that challenge and stretch your novel to the max, then you should read “The Breakout Novelist: How To Craft Novels That Stand Out And Sell” by Donald Maass.

Here is my experience:

A lot was missing in my novel when I wrote the first draft. I expected the first, second, and third drafts to be rough, but I was getting frustrated because I didn’t know how to shape my story. I needed help, but I didn’t want to hand off a first draft for review. I felt like a protective mama bear guarding her little newborn cub.

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I also felt helpless and that I failed as a writer. I was ready to trash my novel.

Another writer suggested that I read “The Breakout Novelist” (TBN). He said, “Maass’ book is THE writing book to read if you are writing a novel.”

I took his advice and read TBN. It really is the best tool I have used to develop my story.

The Breakout Novelist

The problem with my first draft was that it was shallow. TBN asked probing questions about premise, stakes, characters, plot, theme, and so much more. I’ve been able to add depth to every aspect of my novel. My second draft has substance and a clear understanding as to what my novel is about. Every character has substance and aren’t just “filler” characters.

TBN has taken me a very long time to read, but purely by choice. I applied every point Maass made to my story. I didn’t ignore a single suggestion because I could clearly see how each one stretched and shaped my novel into something better. Maass also provided exercises to help the writer apply these concepts to their manuscript.

I’m glad I wrote the first draft blindly. There was something very holistic in writing from my heart with no other voice chiming in, but then I was stuck. My mental wall was growing taller every day and I’m so grateful that I found TBN when I did. It truly saved my sanity and my novel. I had to share this helpful tool in case someone else needed guidance.

Happy writing,

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: 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♥

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♥

Even When You Lie to Me: A Book Review

We did a lot of reading this weekend. Our Pacific Northwest weather  was very persistent with rain, wind, and just damp. Luckily there is an endless supply of great books at out local library and it’s only a 5 min drive away!

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Even my son Leif spent his time with a book. Eh hem, upside down Baby Bear.

 

I decided to read Even When You Lie to Me by Jessica Alcott. Even When You Lie to Me is Alcott’s break through YA novel and I was very impressed with her prose and description about an improper love story between a student and her high school English teacher. Here is the synopsis:

Charlie, a senior, isn’t looking forward to her last year of high school. Another year of living in the shadow of her best friend, Lila. Another year of hiding behind the covers of her favorite novels. Another year of navigating her tense relationship with her perfectionist mom.
 
But everything changes when she meets her new English teacher. Mr. Drummond is smart. Irreverent. Funny. Hot. Everyone loves him. And Charlie thinks he’s the only one who gets her.
 
She also thinks she might not be the only one with a crush.
 
In this stunning debut, Jessica Alcott explores relationships—and their boundaries—in a way that is both searingly honest and sympathetic.

Charlie is a sympathetic character, if you have ever felt like an outsider (and who hasn’t?) you will relate to her socially awkward struggles. Alcott has fun incorporating classic love stories into Mr. Drummond’s lesson plans: Pride & Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights. Using these tragic love stories for Mr. Drummond’s lesson plans, Alcott sets the stage and tone of her novel. Charlie’s English teacher Mr. Drummond has all of the makings of a modern Heathcliff, he has a tragic past, he is mysterious, and he seems so close and yet out of reach for 17 year old Charlie. Alcott does a wonderful job of vilifying him to the point of being disgusted with him and then pulls him back into a some-what sympathetic character through Charlie’s eyes. Alcott played with the idea of age through Charlie and Mr. Drummond by making Charlie seem much older than 17 and making Mr. Drummond  as emotionally immature as a teenager.

 

I have heard of too many women who had teachers that were vulgar in their actions or speech. So as an adult reading this story, I wanted to protect Charlie from beginning to end. While reading Alcott’s novel I saw some of my high school teachers in Mr.Drummond. I had the cool young teacher that everyone loved and adored. There were also times when he crossed the line and became too involved with student’s personal lives (never romantically though). I also had a teacher that was a flat out perv. There were rumors that every year this corrupt teacher would pick out senior girls who he planned to sleep with after graduation. I saw first-hand accounts of him touching students inappropriately and saying obscene insults to his female students. So, which teacher was Mr.Drummond? The caring teacher who got too personal or the total perv? I think he was a little bit of both.

  As an adult reader I applaud Charlie’s feminist friend Asha who is wise beyond her years. She disapproves of the inappropriate behavior of Mr. Drummond, but still doesn’t totally hate the guy. She can’t help but smile at his jokes and succumb to his charm like the rest of her peers, but she is also wary of him. I think Alcott wants her readers to see Mr. Drummond through Asha’s eyes. She wants the reader to know that romancing his student is completely wrong, but she doesn’t let you forget that charm and charisma can easily sway high school students (and adults).

At one point Charlie asks “What is the sublime?” and Mr. Drummond responds, “The idea of something being simultaneously beautiful and terrifying.” Alcott took an ugly subject and with her thorough and thought provoking prose she turns it into a work of art. Alcott examined the subjects of body image, feminism, power, and sexuality through the intricate charters she created.

This novel was a quick read, but try to savor the text. Examine the way the book makes you feel and give it the thought it deserves.

I would love to hear your thoughts on Even When You Lie to Me.

♥R♥