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August 23, 2016

Find Young Adult Adventure in Dragonfly by Julia Golding

cover of Dragonfly

Princess Taoshira of the Blue Crescent Islands is appalled when she is ordered to marry Prince Ramil of Gerfal in order to unite their lands. And he’s not too pleased, either. They hate each other on sight. So, when Tashi and Ramil are kidnapped, they fear there’s no escape—from their kidnappers or from each other. Can they put aside their differences long enough to survive the ambush, unarmed combat, brainwashing, and imprisonment? And will the people they meet on their adventure help them or betray them to the enemy?

fast paced sweet read~ hollieanne
great fantasy with solid characters ~ CJ
less graphic Game of Thrones ~ Brittney

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Review: The Stone Necklace by Carla Damron

By Susan Roberts

cover of The Stone Necklace"She wore her sins like a stone necklace."

This is one of the first descriptions of Lena Hastings at the start of The Stone Necklace: A Novel by Carla Damron. Lena has just survived breast cancer and reconciled with her husband Mitch as the story opens. She has had bad luck in her life and she feels that now is the time for life to be good. Unfortunately that day her husband is in a horrific car crash that takes his life. This is the story of how Mitch's family, and other people in his life, cope without him there to hold things together. Mitch's family includes his widow Lena, sons Sims and Elliot, and daughter Becca.  Lena is an artist who is unable to paint since her cancer scare. Becca is trying to control her life by self-harming.

There are three other major characters affected by Mitch's death. Sandy, a nurse in ICU, who is on probation for using drugs. Joe the homeless man who lives in the cemetery who Mitch has helped over the years. Tonya, along with her small son, was also injured in the car crash with Mitch. It is quite a few characters but the way the book reads it is easy to keep them all straight. They are all part of the central theme of the novel.  No matter what happens in our past, there is hope for the future by showing compassion to others in our lives.

I enjoyed this book and getting to know these characters. I loved the way that Carla Damron managed to interweave their lives and make it all so believable. Damron's background is in social work. It is clear that she has a great understanding of life for homeless people by the way she describes Joe in the novel.

I usually don't pay a lot of attention to who publishes a book. I have read three books this year published by Story River Books and all have been excellent. I plan to look for the books that they publish in the future because they release ones that I enjoy and that need to be read!

I definitely enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to all my reader friends.

Buy The Stone Necklace at Amazon

Susan Roberts, reviewer. Susan grew up in the Detroit area but after deciding that city life wasn't for her she moved to North Carolina after college. She and her husband have several acres of land and they enjoy gardening and canning vegetables in the summer. They travel extensively. Susan reads almost anything (and the piles of books in her house prove that) but her favorite genres are Southern fiction, women's fiction, and thrillers. Susan is a top 1% Goodreads Reviewer. You can connect with Susan on Facebook or Twitter.

Book info:
Available formats: ebook, audiobook, and print (288 pages)
Published: February 2016 by University of South Carolina Press
ISBN13: 9781611176193
Genre: women's fiction

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August 22, 2016

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

cover of The Last Dragonslayer
In the good old days, magic was indispensable—it could both save a kingdom and clear a clogged drain. But now magic is fading: drain cleaner is cheaper than a spell, and magic carpets are used for pizza delivery.

Fifteen-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange runs Kazam, an employment agency for magicians—but it’s hard to stay in business when magic is drying up. And then the visions start, predicting the death of the world’s last dragon at the hands of an unnamed Dragonslayer. If the visions are true, everything will change for Kazam—and for Jennifer. Because something is coming. Something known as . . . Big Magic

humorous and entertaining ~ Duke
This is such a fun book ~ fatbroadrunning
A fun read for 8 to 12-year-olds! ~ Kalan

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Review: Criminal by K.B. Hoyle #MondayBlogs

by Donna Huber

The wait is almost over for fans of K.B. Hoyle's dystopian series Breeder Cycle. The second book in the series, Criminal, is due out this week. Now would be an excellent time to pick up the first book, Breeder, to read for the first time or re-read.

I didn't have a chance to re-read Breeder before starting Criminal, and I really wished I had taken the time. There were a couple of times I found myself trying to recall a detail, but it has been too long.

Even with the lapse in my memory, Criminal was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

For some reason, I thought this series was suppose to only be 2 books. And about halfway through, I was starting to worry about how Hoyle was going to wrap everything up. In case you are of the same mindset as I was, let me assure you this is not the last book in the series.

cover of CriminalI'm both happy and sad about this fact. I'm thrilled that there will be more to the series as I feel Hoyle has created a rich universe that we have just scratched the surface of.

I'm sad because now I have to wait to find out how everything turns out. And if you are a fan of Hoyle you know she takes her time to get the story right so we may be looking at a 2-year wait!

While Hoyle writes with young adults in mind, her books are well enjoyed by adults. Usually, they are sophisticatedly written with complex plots and characters. I think that is why one point bugged me so much. Please note I read an advance copy and perhaps this 'flaw' was fixed before final publication. There is a particular 'clue' that I'm sure Hoyle wanted readers to wonder about, but typically she is much more cryptic with her clues that the reader often glosses over them. With this clue, though, there are so many references to it that I figured out what it meant way before the discovery by the characters.

I'm reluctant to go into much detail about the plot for fear of giving too much away and I would hate to ruin the story for anyone. But we do get to meet more people from the resistance. We also get a look into the everyday life of those part of the UWO as they must infiltrate the Denver compound. Will everything get wrapped up in the next book? Like I said, there is definitely much more about the resistance and UWO that could be explored, but I could see Pria's story being completed.

For those wanting a bit more romance, you will be happy. Though it is still slow as Pria has no experience with concepts like love, relationships, sex, and marriage.

Go ahead and clear your calendar for the weekend, because once you start Criminal you won't want to put the book down.

Buy Criminal at Amazon

Donna Huber, founder & publisher. Donna is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

Book info:
available formats: ebook and print (419 pages)
published: August 2016 by The Writer's Coffee Shop
ISBN13: 978-1612133881
target audience: young adult
genre: dystopian
source: publisher

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August 21, 2016

Dancing with Fireflies by Denise Hunter

cover of Dancing with Fireflies
Jade returns home to Chapel Springs after years of protecting her fragile heart. Then along comes Daniel, making her long to dance again.

Creative and complicated, Jade McKinley felt like a weed in a rose garden growing up in Chapel Springs. When she left, she thought she’d never look back. But now, pregnant, alone, and broke, she has no other choice but to return.

The mayor of Chapel Springs, Daniel Dawson, has been an honorary member of the McKinley family for years. While his own home life was almost non-existent, Daniel fit right into the boisterous McKinley family. He’s loved Jade for years, but she always saw him as a big brother. Now that she’s back, his feelings are stronger than ever.

As Jade attempts to settle in, nothing feels right. God seems far away, she’s hiding secrets from her family, and she’s strangely attracted to the man who’s always called her “squirt." Finding her way home may prove more difficult than she imagined.

Great book in an interesting series ~ marmalee

I didn't want to stop reading ~ Melanie

Fun, touching, quite enjoyable! ~ Joleen

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August 20, 2016

Review: Knowing Yourself by Lisa Shea

by MK French

cover of Knowing Yourself
In the first book of the Sword of Glastonbury series, Kay has to marry in order to have a husband help her protect her home. Because she isn't thrilled with the idea, her father allows her to choose one from a selection of men. Her sister is already married and lives elsewhere, but agrees to pretend to be Kay in order to interview five potential suitors that stay at the castle. Kay then pretends to be her maidservant in order to get to know the five potential suitors, and choose the one she wants to marry.

She loves her home, a keep near the sea, and wants to choose a husband that will help her take care of it if neighboring clans attack, and appreciate the beauty in its isolated location. Her sister Em is a wonderful confidante and diplomat and manages to send away the men that Kay refuses in such a way that they think it's their idea. Once down to the final suitors, a traitor is revealed, and Kay is able to outwit the villain and save her people without sacrificing the ones she loves.

The book is written in a more contemporary language, making it a very easy and quick read. History purists might not like that, but they would also be able to tell if the swordsmanship (or swordswomanship?) displayed by the sisters is accurate to the medieval period. I did enjoy that part of Kay's characterization, and that it also was a way to showcase her determination, ability to persevere through difficult situations and that she cared more for others' safety.

The romance was very believable and chastely done, so those who don't like explicit reads will enjoy this. The villainous characters are a bit cliche in their motivations, and that when offered mercy refuse to take it. The epilogue feels a bit rushed compared to how the rest of the book progressed but neatly ties up the story for all of our main characters.

The sword of the series title doesn't figure prominently in the story itself but is a linking mechanism between the books of the series. The sword is presented to a young woman in a time of trouble, and once she is safe and meets a woman in need of it, she should pass it along to the next woman. I haven't read the other books in the series yet (Amazon says there are thirteen books) but I suspect they will be just as much fun and enjoyable to read as this book had been for me.

Buy Knowing Yourself at Amazon

MK French, reviewer. Born and raised in New York City, M.K. started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and golden retriever.

Book info:
available formats: ebook and print (240 pages)
published: December 2011 by Minerva Webworks
ISBN13: 9780979837760
genres: romance, historical, medieval

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August 19, 2016

Don’t Lose the Plot!

by Byddi Lee

Starting is the hardest part. A blank new page may hold a world of possibilities, but all those choices can be terrifying. Imagine having a framework, a checklist of what to write and when to write it. That is your plot outline. Spend time at the beginning planning the pathway through your story, and you will get that time back further into the process.

It took me six years to write my first book, March to November. I started at what I thought was the beginning. By the time I was half way through, I needed to go back and rewrite huge chunks of the story because I’d not properly planned the structure of the book. All the way through, I struggled with word count in order to keep the length to an acceptable publishing standard for that genre. The original first chapter became the fourth chapter, other chapters had to be ditched altogether and characters needed massaging - in a literary sense, not literally!

Rather than plot my story, I’d focused solely on the characters. They took over, driving the direction of the story in a number of places. That in itself is not a bad thing. The characters come across as real, but as a writer, you want control of your story. I didn’t want to hand it over to a bunch of unruly, self-serving characters! In the end, I needed to work extra hard to produce a good quality product.

I learned my lesson. For my second book, I spent time discovering who my characters were but didn’t commit them to action until I’d plotted the course of that story. I was in charge. At each stage of the story, I knew what needed to be achieved and how many words I should use to do that. I directed the characters from the beginning rather than having to go back and coerce them. That book took three years to write. It’s the first in a trilogy. Even before I publish book one, I want to have the plots for books two and three nailed down. Your plot is your writing road map; without it, you run the risk of getting lost or worse, derailed.

That said there will be times when scenes, dialogue or critical moments in your story hammer at the inside of your skull begging to be written. That’s okay - write when the muse strikes. Worst case scenario, you may never use these muse-nuggets, but they may give you an insight into the world you have created. They may even make it into the final draft. So go ahead - you will never waste time by writing.

So what does a plot look like? 

Your story needs a beginning, a middle and an end.

  1. The beginning should set the scene, show the incident that sets the rest of the events in motion, and outlines your protagonist’s goals.
  2. The middle, the main body of your story, should keep us riveted with escalating tension, action, or drama as the hero tries and fails to accomplish those goals. This is where you are really mean to your characters - go on, be nasty! The midpoint of the story is a point of no return. The main characters and their world, either internally or externally, are irreversibly changed and they can never go back to the way things were at the start. Towards the end of the middle, the hero sees the darkest hour, life or death, and sets up the climax. 
  3. The end should start with a rip-roaring, nail-biting, edge-of-seat climax where your hero either triumphs or fails to achieve both their external goals and internal goals. Interestingly, failure is an option and makes for great stories too. There are many graphs that all boil down to describing one thing - rising action peaking at a climax and then falling action (search online for images of “plot diagram for writing.”) The denouement comes after the climax and ties up all the loose ends before leaving the reader with a satisfying finishing scene. 

Approaches to Plotting

There are many ways to approach plotting. The important part is finding an approach that suits your needs. I have my favorites, the things that work for me. I’m a list person. I like to have my road map laid out step by step. I’ll have my little muse-nuggets waiting in the wings to be inserted in the appropriate spot when I get to it. So I tend to work in a linear fashion. Here are three of the most helpful outlining tools I’ve come across. You can use one or even a combination all of them

  • Randy Ingermanson’s Snow Flake Method - a recursive method that begins with a one-line statement on what your book is about. Through a ten-step process, you build your outline. This is less linear, but great of you are beginning with a concept or fairly simple “what if.” I use it to get me started, but I’ll switch to the next tactic at a certain point.
  • Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey - a more linear approach with prompts to help with each stage of the story. It is great for helping with your character development and character arch.
  • Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat Beat Sheet - This is my favorite. This is actually developed for screenwriting, but I found it incredibly easy and flexible for use in writing books too. Handy downloadable spreadsheets are available online with the beat sheet points and a calculator that allows you to enter the word count of your book showing you the recommended word count for each beat in your story. 

With all of these methods, it is important to give yourself wiggle room. Your story may not fit nicely into all the boxes, but it’s still better that being halfway through and wondering, “What’s next?”

So whether you use a spreadsheet, graphs, notepad and pen, posters and sharpies, or even crayons, to draw up your story outline, the important thing is that you produce something that allows you to stick to the plan, and remember - don’t lose the plot!

Byddi Lee, features writer. Byddi grew up in Armagh, Ireland, and moved to Belfast to study Biology at Queen’s University when she was 18. She made Belfast her home for twenty-one years, teaching science and writing for pleasure. In 2002 she took a sabbatical from teaching and traveled around the world for two years, writing blogs about her adventures as she went. She returned to Ireland in 2004 and resumed teaching. In 2008 she and her husband moved to San Jose, California where she made writing a full-time career. After the publication of her short story, Death of a Seannachai, she decided it was time to write, March to November. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

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