Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Shrapnel by Jessica Shook

Shrapnel is a dual perspective novel about an unlikely cyber-friendship that forms between a recently separated Administrative Assistant, Elle Holloway, and Jocelyn Turner, an"Army Wife" who is raising a toddler while her Sergeant husband is stationed overseas.  Although they seem to come from two completely different worlds, they instantly bond over the struggles of being alone in insomnia induced midnight correspondence.

At the beginning, Elle annoyed me almost to the point of insanity.  This woman was so conceited and self absorbed.  I cannot tell you how many times I rolled my eyes at her actions.  At one point, I said aloud, "No wonder your husband left you." Yes, I am probably a terrible person for saying that, but obviously you are cool with it since you are continuing to read this review anyway (so lol at you, friend).

After her soon-to-be ex-husband forced her out of their home, Elle has to move back in with her grandmother, Nora.  It is only then that the "prema donna" learns how to put other's needs before her own and become a better listener for her friends and family.  Nora played a big role in this character transformation.  Unlike most of the people in Elle's life, Nora was very real with Elle.  She did not try to sugar coat things or alter herself to please her granddaughter.  Nora stood up to Elle, and was not afraid to put her in her place.  It was this tough love act that ended up changing Elle's way of living, thus becoming one of the most impressive character developments I have ever read.

On the other side of the spectrum, there is Jocelyn; a kind, caring, thoughtful wife and mother.  She is the type of person we all strive to become.  Although Jocelyn is like an angel on Earth, even she has demons of her own.  The constant worry for her husband's safety as he fights for their country overseas and the doubt she feels as she struggles to raise a small child on her own seem to all but consume Jocelyn.  There is no wonder as to why she has so many sleepless nights.

My heart went out to Jocelyn from the start.  Her kind soul drew me in like a warm cup of hot chocolate on a snowy winter afternoon.  She is one of those characters a reader cannot help but love wholeheartedly.  When her husband, Scott is severely injured in an attack, the couple are challenged with the task of adjusting to their new normal.  It is a lot easier said than done.  Between the emotional stress of not being with his unit, the physical struggle of regaining his strength, and the mental anguish of living while others have died, Scott is unsure about everything, and Jocelyn does not know how to make him feel at ease.

Although it was awkward and difficult at times seeing Jocelyn and Scott reconnect, I can honestly say that we should all be a little jealous of the love the Turners share.  They complete each other in a way that words can barely describe.  Through all of the pain and suffering of Scott's rehabilitation, the couple never lost sight of one another.  Both knew that they needed the other in order to keep moving forward.  At one point Scott says to Jocelyn, "You are my home."  That is a powerful statement, and I think it reveals a lot about Scott's love for Jocelyn.

In the past, I have always kept my reviews spoiler free.  I feel that spoilers ruin the fun for prospective readers.  To me, its like learning the secrets behind a spectacular magic trick.  It takes away the mystery and the shock value.  However, there is a lot that I have to say about this ending.  With that being said, if you are one of those who enjoy reading spoilers and wish to read my thoughts on the conclusion of Shrapnel, click here.

Many Indie Authors sometimes struggle with fluidity in their novels.  This issue came up a couple of times in Shrapnel.  I am not saying that it was choppy or unpleasant, it is just that some scenes did not flow freely as that could have.  If some of the transitions could be altered, I believe that would eliminate most of the problems I came across.  Despite these minor flaws, this is a noteworthy novel that stands out among other in its category.

Shrapnel is one of those rare novels that you will never forget.  It deals with love, loss, and learning to be the best version of yourself.  Elle and Jocelyn taught me things about myself that I may never have realized without reading this novel.  Jessica Shook has a talent for reaching into the deepest parts of your soul with her descriptive writing, and I could not be more impressed.  Shook should definitely be kept on your radar.  I expect many more captivating novels from her in the future.  If you would like to purchase your copy of  Shrapnel today, click here.

Genre: Women's Fiction
Publication Date: February 28, 2017
Publisher: Silver Plum Publishing
ISBN: 0998070612

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Gold Shadow by L.C. Perry

Earlier this year, I received an eMail from L.C. Perry requesting a review of Gold Shadow.  In her synopsis, she introduced me to Ebony, a slave girl who is rescued by a group of rebels against the crown.  As an Anti-Human Trafficking Advocate, I was intrigued.  Many who are familiar with this blog may recall my passion for abolishing modern slavery.  People should not be bought and sold like animals, so to read a book about a young woman who escaped this horror was exhilarating to say the least.

This is a story that is set in duel perspective - Ebony, a newly rescued slave who is learning what it means to be free and Irene, a naive princess who's only concern is her 17th birthday celebration.  When Ebony hatches a plan to kidnap Irene, war breaks out.  It is up to these two girls to salvage what is left of their dying country.

"Keep in mind that it isn't always the fault of the ignorant.  There's also fault in the ones who try to hide it from them."

I LOVED this book.  The story captured my heart from the first chapter and would not release its hold on me until the very last sentence.  I am still reeling from the events that unfolded.  While, Ebony and Irene are both admirable in their own way, one of the minor characters,  Scarlet, was the one who caught my attention and quickly became my favorite.  She was forced into some situations that even Ebony never had to endure in her time as a slave.  She is shy and soft spoken for the most part, but can be set off like a firecracker if you provoke her or threaten her friends.  I admire her spirit and strength.  She is someone to keep an eye on when reading this book.

Now, I want to talk about Ebony and Asher.  After Ebony is rescued, she is taken to a base camp of rebel operations.  Each of the escapees are assigned a mentor to help them adjust to their new life, and Asher was assigned as Ebony's mentor.  Both of them are snarky and sarcastic to a fault, so they obviously did not hit it off in the beginning of their working relationship.  Although I cannot go into too much detail due to spoilers, I can say that I am a total 'Ashny' shipper.  Every time Ebony would insult Asher, I would think to myself, "You know you are crushing hard, Eb.  Stop playing." And every time Asher would taunt Ebony, I would think, "Ughhhh...just kiss her already!" Alas, I digress.  You read it for yourself and decide if I am wrong for shipping these two.

As for the author's writing style, I have to say that it was enjoyable for the most part.  There were a few times that were rocky and did not flow as easily from scene to scene as it could have.  That is the only reason this book is not a perfect five star rating.  Although, I desperately wanted to rate this as perfect, I knew I would be lying to myself and readers if I did this.  However, I wholeheartedly love this book and recommend it to anyone who enjoys good dystopian novels like The Maze Runner, The Giver, and The Fifth Wave.

"So, what will it be?...Will you cower for the rest of your life and let the world run you over?...Or will you fight for what you want and take this world by storm?"

My eBook was given to my by the author, LC Perry.  I have provided an honest review based on opinions that are entirely my own.  I am not entitled to any compensation for this review.  If you would like to order a copy of Gold Shadow, click here.

Genre: Young Adult Dystopia
Publication Date: December 5, 2017
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing
ISBN: 1545410976

Friday, July 06, 2018

Escaping from Houdini by Kerri Maniscalco

Ask any of my friends and followers and they can attest that I absolutely LOVE young adult books that involve a circus or carnival.  Books such as The Night Circus, Caraval, Carnival of Souls, etc. have always had a place in my heart, so I had incredibly high hopes for Escaping from Houdini when I read its synopsis.

Short Version - Audrey Rose and Thomas are on the RMS Etruria traveling from London to New York.  Everything is going great until a string of young women are murdered.  Their bodies are staged to reflect the Moonlight Carnival, a traveling circus.  And just when readers think Cressworth is an unbreakable duo, the mysterious Mephistopheles strolls in, threatening to steal Audrey Rose's heart.  Then begs the question, will the Cressworth bond survive this voyage or it suffer the same fate as the women slain?

"Normal is boring...Extraordinary is memorable."

So a couple of months ago, I received a copy of Stalking Jack the Ripper from the incredible Kerri Maniscalco, and immediately fell in love with the series.  So, like any other blogger, I contacted Jimmy Patterson Books asking for an Advanced Readers Copy of Escaping from Houdini.  In return, I was under the impression that I had a simple ARC in the mail.  Never, did I expect to receive a literary gem!  Not just an ordinary gem.  Oh no.  I am talking about  a beautiful, glowing sapphire or the size of a mango.

"Let's play murder, Wadsworth." -Thomas Cresswell

Audrey Rose is maddeningly frustrating in this book.  She and Thomas were in such a good place when the book began.  Their secret love affair was exhilarating as they would steal kisses in dark hallways and struggle to keep their physical contact to a minimum in public.  Then this magician shows up and throws everything off track.  I cannot recall how many times I had to silently curse Audrey Rose for her actions, all the while uttering phrases like, "What are you thinking, Audrey Rose?" or "How can you do this to my Thomas?"  (And yes, I would say MY Thomas.  Do not dare judge me).  However, I have to admit that Mephistopheles grew on me as the novel progressed.  I know, its a total 'falling for the mysterious, bad boy' cliche but its the truth.  This does not mean that I think Audrey Rose needs to be romantically involved with him, I am simply saying that I understand the attraction.

"...I took a step toward Mephistopheles.  A look of hurt flashed in Thomas's eyes..."

Kerri Maniscalco and I in Nashville, TN (June 11, 2018)
Now...on to the murder portion of the novel.  The killer in this book was more complex than the others.  This is one of the main reasons why this is my favorite book in the series.  The killer stages the bodies in a theatrical way that reflects tarot and playing cards.  This fact alone made for an interesting read, but I love where the author went with this concept.  The spree killer she brought to life puts the writers of the hit television show, Criminal Minds to shame.  With each murder, my own anxiety grew along with the passengers' on the Etruria.  With each passing page, anticipation and dread filled my core and I loved every minute of it.

"Prepare to be swept into the space between dreams and nightmares." -Mephistopheles

This novel is nothing short of a fantastic read, and quite possibly my new favorite book.  Mephistopheles warned me at the start, "Beware of midnight bargains...Are you brave enough to survive?  Perhaps you'll be another who loses their heart and their head to the midnight minstrel show."  All I can say is that I should have listened.  Although I did not lose my head, I most certainly lost my heart to the Midnight Carnival in Escaping from Houdini.

"I will love you now and always... No matter what. You have my heart wholly. The only way that will be taken is in death. And even then I will fight with every piece of me to hold your love near. Now and forevermore."

My ARC was given to my by Jimmy Patterson Books.  I have provided an honest review based on opinions that are entirely my own.  I am not entitled to any compensation for this review.  If you would like to preorder a copy of Escaping from Houdini, click here.

Genre: Young Adult Historical Fiction - Mystery
Publication Date: September 18, 2018
Publisher: Jimmy Patterson Books
ISBN: 0316551708

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Stephanie and Kerri take Nashville

Last Monday, Stephanie Garber and Kerri Maniscalco made an appearance at Parnassus Books in Nashville, Tennessee as part of Stephanie's Legendary tour.  After over seven hours of travel, a friend and I were able to be among the 100 or so attendees.  There is so much that could be said for the fun I had on this adventure, but I will keep this post limited to my encounter with two of my favorite authors.  At this event, Stephanie graciously shared several, never before revealed, secrets about the Caraval series and her creative process, including:

  • Caraval did not go as initially planned.  Julian was supposed to be killed off around page 50, but the character "persisted to keep his part of the story alive" as Stephanie put it.
  • Legend's identity changed often as Stephanie continued to write.  She had originally planned on Legend being *BEEP* but was altered as the story evolved.
  • When asked if she prefers writing heroes or villains, Stephanie and Kerri both decided on villains.  Kerri goes on to say that the morally gray characters are the ones who are the most enticing, because they are so unpredictable.  "You never really know what they are going to do next," she explains.
  • If Legend were to have pets, he would probably have a pair of fierce Great Danes with him at all times.
  • While the entire first draft of Legendary was discarded, most of Caraval remained intact.  Some details and scenes were altered, but nothing was plainly cut from Stephanie's debut novel.
  • In addition to all intense editing that came with Legendary, Stephanie admitted that there were seven different endings written for her latest novel.
  • Tella is considered fearless by many readers, but Stephanie disagrees.  "Its not that she's fearless.  She just doesn't let her fears hold her back," she explains.  After her adventures in Caraval, it was not surprising when Stephanie revealed that Tella's greatest fear is death.
  • Both authors agreed that their favorite tropes are when the main character falls in love with the villain and the enemies to lovers style.
  • Stephanie originally sent in her query for Caraval labeled as "The Night Circus meets Clue" referring to the board game that she adored as a child.  She was then told that she could not submit a query involving a board game.
  • Stephanie's fascination with Disneyland is what helped inspire Caraval.
  • Tella was one of Stephanie's favorite characters throughout the writing process, because she admired her courageous spirit.
  • Favorite advice from their characters:
    • Stephanie: The power of a sister's love that makes you go to great lengths in order to keep one another safe (speaking about the Dragna sisters' relationship in general).
    • Kerri: "The dead speak to those who listen."  Spoken by Dr. Wadsworth to Audrey Rose in Stalking Jack the Ripper.
  • Both authors began to take their writing seriously around 2009.  This is when they decided that they wanted to pursue writing as a career choice.
  • Scarlett's fiancé was the hardest character for Stephanie to write.  It was difficult for her to show that he played an important role in the story.
  • Thomas Cresswell was (and still is) the hardest character for Kerri to write.  Thomas is a complex character who does not fit inside a little box like he should.  He is a character who writes his own story, and Kerri has to work hard to keep him in line.  (Let's be honest.  This is one of the biggest reasons why all of the Maniscalco-Maniacs out there love Thomas so much; myself included.)
  • Stephanie contributes a lot of her success to the support of her family and friends who constantly encouraged her to keep going and never give up.

After the Q&A, Stephanie and Kerri decided to play a game with us.  I, along with three other lovely ladies, were chosen to go up onstage.  We were given ten quotes from either Legendary or Escaping from Houdini.  As a group, we had to decide which book each quote came from.  Unfortunately, we only got 5/10 correct (Sad. I know haha).  However, we each received a handmade bookmark, sewn by Stephanie herself with embellished buttons from her grandmother (if that is not special, I do not know what is).


The event then concluded with Stephanie and Kerri signing hundreds of books for the dedicated fans that made an appearance at Parnassus Books.  Since I arrived later than everyone else, I was toward the back of the line.  As I was waiting, I had the opportunity to meet an incredible group of young women.  We shared our love for the authors we were about to meet and talked about our bookstagram accounts (You can give them a follow by clicking the links in the picture's caption).

My old and new bookish friends.
(R-L) Drea, Wren, Katie, Grace, Dayrin, & Me
As the line crept forward, my anticipation grew and my heart began to race.  Have you ever been within seconds of meeting a couple of your heroes?  If not, its a little like this.  My mind was spinning with thoughts of compliments, witty remarks, and conversation starters.  I had no idea what I was going to say without sounding lame.  I was holding my stack of 10 books and the girls beside me were carrying equally large stacks.  

The six of us had finally made it to the front of the line, when Stephanie jumped up from her seat quicker than lightning.  "Oh my gosh! Look at those stacks," she squealed.  This is not even close to all the copies of your book that I own, I quietly thought to myself, but pushed it aside.  Stephanie insisted that she take a picture of us for a Flatiron Books post on Instagram, so we happily obliged.

That is when the most remarkable thing happened.  Stephanie looked up from her phone and asked me, "Are you @BlondewithBooks?"  I am literally no kidding when I say that I thought I was going to go into shock.  "We thought we recognized you earlier during our game," Stephanie continued, motioning to Kerri.

"Yes.  Thank you so much for all of your support and the giveaways and everything else that you do for us," Kerri chimed in.  And that did it.  That is what solidified the fact that June 11, 2018 was one of the best days of my life.  Not just the fact that two of my favorite authors remembered the 'Blonde with Books' brand, but that it made an impression.  This is something that I needed.  I had been contemplating closing my blog for some time now,  because I did not think it made a difference.  Hearing those kind words showed me that I am making a difference and that makes my heart smile.  I hope that this blog continues to grow and expand with time.  I hope that it makes other readers want to read more books.  I hope it continues to help authors grow in popularity.  And I hope that I continue to find happiness in each post that I write.

Thank you Stephanie Garber and Kerri Maniscalco for an amazing night of fun and fantasy at the Legendary Caraval - Moonlight Carnival inside Parnassus Books in Nashville.  I do not regret driving seven hours to meet you both, because it was one of the best experiences of my life.

You can help support these #1 New York Times Bestselling Authors by buying their books, today.  If you would like to purchase Legendary by Stephanie Garber, please click here.  And if you would like to preorder a copy of Escaping from Houdini by Kerri Maniscalco, please click here.

Please remember that buying books from Parnassus Books in Nashville, TN helps them be able to bring authors like Stephanie Garber and Kerri Maniscalco to town.  You can purchase books in the store or online at parnassusbooks.net.  Thank you in advance for your support!

UPDATE: Blonde with Books was Featured

Flatiron Books on Instagram

Stephanie Garber on Instagram

Kerri Maniscalco on Instagram

Stephanie Garber and Kerri Maniscalco on Twitter