Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

We're back to YA fantasy this week. And yes, I'm jumping on the Hunger Games bandwagon. I figure I might as well, since so many people are talking about it now.

Scholastic Press

384 pages, hardcover
YA Fantasy

From the publisher:
Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games." The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When Kat's sister is chosen by lottery, Kat steps up to go in her place.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Scholastic Press

400 pages, hardcover
YA Fantasy

From the publisher:
Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Scholastic Press

384 pages, hardcover
YA Fantasy

From the publisher:
Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she’s made it out of the bloody arena alive, she’s still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what’s worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’s family, not her friends, not the people of District 12.

No Spoilers.

I really liked this series. Yes, it's brutal in places, disturbing. And I definitely would have had my children wait until they were mature enough to read it. I don't think anyone under the age of 14 has any business reading these books, and for most teens, I'd say sixteen (or older) to read it. Readers who are sensitive to violence might never want to read it (in fact, one of my adult children probably shouldn't read it).

Given that, here's why I liked it. First, Suzanne Collins has done a superb job with the mechanics of writing in this series. The writing is beautiful, eloquent, poignant—laugh out loud funny in places, tear-jerking in others.

The suspense keeps you going. There are a few predictable places, but other places where she totally surprised me. A few places were slightly unbelievable—would adults really trust so much in a teenager they couldn't control? But then on the other hand, it made sense when the teen is seen as little more than a pawn in a game.

The characters are so clear, so real—and not just the love triangle of Katniss, Peeta and Gale. (I was happy with Kat's choice). Secondary and minor characters were also so well drawn and real that I could picture them in my mind—Rue, Prim, Haymitch, Cinna and the prep team, Greasy Sae, and so many more. They're going to be floating around in my brain for a long time.

The biggest impact of this trilogy is how it made me feel and what it made me think. Even though I finished the series at 3:00 a.m. and was dog tired, it took me over an hour to fall asleep because I kept thinking about the messages in the books—and I think that's why the series is so popular, despite the level of violence. We can all relate to one or more of the messages in this book. For me, it came down to three very powerful messages.

Katniss and the other teens are trapped in an unfair "game" where they are forced to fight for their lives. Don't we all feel that way at some time or another? Teens are trapped in school, adults trapped in their jobs. Maybe we're trapped with health or financial issues—whether of our own making or completely out of our control. Life itself often seems like an unfair game—and we won't make it out alive. We form alliances the best we can, and it breaks our hearts when we're betrayed. Katniss is used and betrayed over and over again. The heartbreak sometimes sends her to her bed. But she gets up again. And again. Her strength in the face of adversity is inspiring.

Katniss and Peeta and their team play a game called "Real or Not Real." Not going to tell you why, but at a certain point memories become mixed up and it's difficult to tell which are real and which or not. So they ask each other—they verify with the people they trust. This is a HUGE thing with teens, and with adults. Does this boy like me? Does my friend really have my back? Am I a good writer or lame? (Okay, that one was a little personalized, but you get the idea.) This game is a good reminder that we can't always take things at face value. What we believe to be true may or may not be so.

There are things in this life that are worth dying for—our family, freedom, truth. This rings such a bell in our current political state right now. It's not just about what's immediate or easy. Where tyranny and injustice exist, it's important that those who are able to do so stand up and fight for freedom and truth. We protect the weak; we support the right.

Okay, so now that I've written my own novella on why I liked The Hunger Games series, did you like it? Why or why not? (If your comment contains a spoiler, say so at the beginning.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gravity vs. the Girl by Riley Noehren

Forty-Ninth Street Publishers

272 pages, softcover
General Fiction

From the publisher:

Samantha Green has just spent an entire year in her pajamas, and she is beginning to regret it.

What's more, she is haunted by four ghosts that are former versions of herself. First up is the overachieving and materialistic attorney, who is furious with Samantha for throwing away the career she worked so hard to build. Second is the lackadaisical college student who is high on life but low on responsibility. Next is the melodramatic teenager, who is consumed with her social standing, teal eyeliner and teased bangs. Finally, there is the scrappy six-year old, whose only objective is to overcome gravity so that she can fly.

Samantha's ghosts alternate between fighting with each other, rallying around Samantha's budding sanity and falling in love with a string of good-for-nothing drummers. Despite her reluctance to do so, Samantha must rely on these spirits from the past to repair the present and ensure her future.

Another 2009 Whitney winner, this debut novel, Gravity vs the Girl was a very compelling read. I thoroughly enjoyed it. At first, I wasn't sure if the ghosts were "real" ghosts or the product of an emotional breakdown. By the time I figured it out, it really didn't matter. Without giving it away, I'll just say that I would have loved the book no matter which way it went because we are all haunted by ghosts of our past in one way or another—sort of the point of the entire book.

The writing was incredibly good. The story was hilariously funny in some places, and in others brought up that lump in my throat, making me swallow back the tears. I loved Samantha and her goofy cousin. That relationship was wonderful, all by itself.

I'm looking forward to seeing more from this writer.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams

St. Martin's Griffin

224 pages, hardcover

From the publisher:
Thirteen-year-old Kyra has grown up in an isolated polygamous community without questioning her father’s three wives and her twenty brothers and sisters. Or at least without questioning them much—if you don’t count her secret visits to the Mobile Library on Wheels to read forbidden books, or her meetings with the boy she hopes to choose for herself instead of having a man chosen for her.

But when the Prophet decrees that Kyra must marry her 60-year-old uncle—who already has six wives—Kyra must make a desperate choice in the face of violence and her own fears of losing her family.

The Chosen One is a heart-rending account of Kyra's struggle. She loves her family very much—that's obvious in her story. But like all teens, she is trying to find her own way between what she was taught as a child and what she truly believes.

Written in first person, present tense, this story is intense. The voice is strong, the writing absolutely wonderful. The characterization is clear and brilliant and completely believable. While not suitable for younger readers, due to some brutal violence, I think mature sixteen year olds and above will be able to handle it and will draw from it strength and hope in facing their own life challenges.

This book was a well-deserved Whitney Award winner of 2009 Best Youth Fiction. In my opinion, it's Newbery material.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

This is what my finished cookies look like—but these aren't my cookies.

I stole this photo from HERE—where you can find a recipe using sugar.

I can't eat sugar, so my recipe is below (which I stole from my daughter).

Sugar Free Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup Splenda for baking*
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg

2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
2 1/4 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp milk

1 TB vanilla
2 cups Hershey's sugar-free chocolate chips

Combine pumpkin, Splenda, oil and egg.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon.

Dissolve soda in milk and add to the wet ingredients.

Mix dry ingredients into the wet.

Add vanilla and chocolate chips.

Stir all together.

Drop in TBS onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

If desired, you can also add 1/2 cup walnuts, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, and 1/2 tsp cloves. But I prefer them without nuts and I think the nutmeg and cloves make them too spicy.

*If you can't eat Splenda, you can substitute with about 1/2 cup of honey and add a little extra flour.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Amazing Jewelry!

I finally got some of the awesome flower earrings from Chanté at Freckled Flower Shop. I've been meaning to order some since she sponsored the Chasing Twilight contest. Megan won the earrings and when I saw them, I knew I had to have some.

So are you ready?
I'm modeling the large black rose earrings with matching rose ring.

Here's a close-up.

Aren't they awesome?

Chanté's prices are super absurdly low. Seriously. When I got my order and saw the quality of the earrings, I would fully expect to see them in Kohl's for around $20 or more. And the ring? At least that much, too.

If you want to fully understand what I mean by "absurdly low," check out Chanté's etsy shop. She has studs, small wires or large wires (mine are large) in a variety of flowers and colors.

Here's a sampling of the rings:

I like big and bulky jewelry, but if you prefer smaller, daintier creations, check out another friend of mine, Pamela, who makes unique, handcrafted jewelry.

I like these brown earrings a lot.

 While this necklace and bracelet is too dainty for my personal tastes, I think it's absolutely lovely—as are all her creations.

Pamela has a variety of gold and silver jewelry using several types of gem stones. Check her out at Unique Handcrafted Jewelry by Pamela.

*I purchased  jewelry with my own money. I receive no compensation for this review. 

Monday, August 16, 2010

I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells

There's a fairly new series out (just discovered it last year) that is so unusual and bizarre that I know some of you aren't going to feel the love like I do. But seriously? I loved these books.

I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells


Headline (UK)

272 pages,  softcover
YA Horror

From the publisher:
John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous, and he knows it. He’s spent his life doing his best not to live up to his potential.

He’s obsessed with serial killers, but really doesn’t want to become one. So for his own sake, and the safety of those around him, he lives by rigid rules he’s written for himself, practicing normal life as if it were a private religion that could save him from damnation.

Dead bodies are normal to John. He likes them, actually. They don’t demand or expect the empathy he’s unable to offer. Perhaps that’s what gives him the objectivity to recognize that there’s something different about the body the police have just found behind the Wash-n-Dry Laundromat—and to appreciate what that difference means.

Now, for the first time, John has to confront a danger outside himself, a threat he can’t control, a menace to everything and everyone he would love, if only he could.

Mr. Monster by Dan Wells


Headline (UK) 

288 pages,  softcover
YA Horror

*U.S. Release date September 28, 2010
Available for pre-order.

From the publisher:

I killed a demon. I don’t know if it was really, technically a demon, but I do know that he was some kind of monster, with fangs and claws and the whole bit, and he killed a lot of people. So I killed him. I think it was the right thing to do. At least the killing stopped.

Well, it stopped for a while.

In I Am Not a Serial Killer, John Wayne Cleaver saved his town from a murderer even more appalling than the serial killers he obsessively studies.

But it turns out even demons have friends, and the disappearance of one has brought another to Clayton County. Soon there are new victims for John to work on at the mortuary and a new mystery to solve.

John Wayne Cleaver has always known he has a dark side but he’s fought hard to oppress it and live a normal life—separating John from Mr Monster to survive. But after confronting and destroying the vicious killer that was terrorizing his town, his inner monster is getting stronger and harder to contain.

John has tasted death, and the dark nature he used as a weapon—the terrifying persona he calls “Mr. Monster”—might now be using him.

With the police failing to catch Clayton County’s second serial killer John is going to have to use his secret knowledge of the first demon-killer to trap the second...but will he be able to avoid suspicion falling on him, and, in the face of extreme horrors, will he be able to restrain Mr Monster?

No one in Clayton is safe unless John can vanquish two nightmarish adversaries: the unknown demon he must hunt and the inner demon he can never escape.

First, a couple of notes. This series was released in the UK by Headline Publishing Group (UK imprint of Hachette) before it came to the U.S. I have the UK versions because I picked them up at a writers conference that Dan Wells attended. I think the UK books have much better covers than the US versions so I've posted those covers here. (You can see the U.S. covers at Amazon.)

Second, I need to put a disclaimer here. These books are very well-written and descriptive. There are some gross and violent scenes; there is a very detailed description of an embalming in the first book. There is also some "light" swearing. That said, I think these books are very appealing to teens, especially boys, and I think the subtle positive messages more than balance out some of the harsher scenes.

Unlikely hero, John Wayne Cleaver (what a name!) IS a sociopath, by classic psychological definitions. However, unlike most sociopaths, but like most teens, he works very, very hard to overcome his darker side and his negative impulses. John realizes he has choices and that it's not his impulses or thoughts, but his behaviors define him as a person. I think this is an important message to teens these days; it's subtle, but it's there.

The story lines and plot points are fast-paced and keep you turning the pages. It was imaginative and unique. I was slightly less impressed with the plot in Mr. Monster, but still thought it was very good. The writing is wonderful. The characters are realistic, especially John, their thoughts and actions believable, the family dynamics fascinating.

Intense and riveting, I totally recommend this book to teens (14 and older) and anyone who enjoys a light horror story, frightening enough to get your adrenaline moving, but not so hopeless and dark that it leaves you sleeping with the lights on.

The last book of this trilogy, I Don't Want to Kill You, will be released March 29, 2011. I can't wait!

*I purchased both these books with my own money. I receive no compensation for this review.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Busy couple of weeks...

I've been working hard the past few weeks to get LibrisPro launched and the website and blog designed. It's officially ready to go.

I did some promotion at a writers conference back in April and then at a publishers convention (LDSBA) last week. The work is starting to come in. Yay!

Take a look at the LibrisPro blog—which acts as an online portfolio for me. I've got a good sampling of past projects posted now. I will add items as I do new projects in the future.

I'm still fine-tuning the LibrisPro website, but it should be current and accurate with all pages and links working by the end of next week.

Feedback appreciated.

And feel free to put my button on your blog.  :)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Forbidden Sea by Sheila A. Nielson

Scholastic Press
304 pages, hardcover
YA Fantasy

From the publisher:
A mermaid haunts Adrianne's dreams . . . is she coming to warn her, save her, or drag her down into the depths of the briny sea forever?

When Adrianne comes face-to-face with the mermaid of Windwaithe Island, of whom she has heard terrible stories all her life, she is convinced the mermaid means to keep her younger sister. Adrianne, fierce-willed and courageous, is determined to protect her sister from the mermaid, and her family from starvation. However, the mermaid continues to haunt Adrianne in her dreams and with her song.

Isn't that the most amazing cover?! I think it's absolutely breathtaking.

The story inside is wonderful too. When her father dies, Adrianne's mother suffers from what we'd call severe depression. They lose their income, their status and their home. Adrienne is forced to work on the farm and care for her younger sister, while her mother does mending and her Auntie Minna daily blames her for their situation. Adrienne also must contend with her own version of "Nellie Oleson" in the form of Cora Lynn, and other town bullies. Denn, her lifetime friend and now the boy she secretly loves, has a crush on Cora Lynn. On top of all that, there's a mermaid trying to lure her into the sea.

This is a great mermaid story with a twist. The writing is clear and descriptive. You feel like you're  there experiencing life right along with Adrianne. Your heart breaks for her, but you can't help but be inspired by her strength and courage.

I recommend this book to girls, ages 12+ and to anyone who enjoys YA fantasy or a good mermaid story.
*purchased with my own money.

Monday, August 09, 2010

The Fourth Nephite by Jeffrey S. Savage

Deseret Book978-783027416572
304 pages, paperback
YA Fantasy

From the publisher:
Kaleo Steele is starting to cut seminary and hang out with some new “friends”; in fact, he’s not even sure what he believes anymore. When his seminary teacher finds him at the wrong place at the wrong time, Kaleo is in jeopardy of missing his high school team’s regional football game—a game where college scouts will be coming to see him play. But his seminary teacher realizes that much more than a game is at stake, and sends him on a soul-searching quest.

Guided by Ladan, a mysterious old blind man, Kaleo pushes through a battered wooden door only to find himself in Palmyra, New York, in the fall of 1827. Soon he is caught up in a battle between treasure seekers—led by Allaster Blackburn, a necromancer hired to steal the gold plates—and the young prophet Joseph Smith, who is sworn to keep them safe. In his quest to find a key that will send him back to his own time, Kaleo will have to decide what to believe. Before it’s too late.

Another hit! This fantasy is geared toward LDS boys, but girls will love it as well. The action and suspense was wonderful, the characterization was great. I felt Kaleo, especially, was very believable. When he's caught breaking the rules, he accepts his punishment and although he makes some bad decisions along the way, in the end, he's learned the lessons he needed to learn.

I loved the peek into history and the life of Joseph Smith. The writing was captivating and I was caught up in the story from page one. LDS theology and gospel concepts were blended into the story line in a way that did not overpower the action and forward movement. It was a good mix and done well without being preachy or heavy-handed.

One caution: Some readers will not care for the blending of fantasy with LDS Church history. As a general rule, I do not like that. However, if any book could change my mind about mixing fantasy and religion, it would be this one. I was not at all offended by the way it was handled.

I recommend this book to LDS youth, ages 12+ and to adults who enjoy YA fantasy.
*received a free ARC; plan to purchase final publication with my own money.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

LDS Booksellers

Went up to the LDSBA Trade Show today. I love going up there and seeing all the new stuff. Sandra went with me. We had a great time. She took most of the photos because my camera battery died after just a few shots.

I'll post more pictures over the weekend, but here are just a few to get you started...

Here I am holding the book I spent most of June working on (editing, typesetting), From Heartache to Healing: Finding Power in Christ to Deal with a Loved One's Sexual Addiction by Colleen & Phil Harrison, published by Windhaven. It uses the Twelve Steps of recovery, LDS gospel principles and scriptures to help with healing. The book is really good and will help a lot of people. It will start showing up in stores in just a few weeks but it's available for pre-order now. You can read a few chapters here.

Here, I'm holding Stephanie Black's new book, Cold As Ice, which hits bookstores any second now. I can't wait to get it. I'm listed in the Acknowledgments because I let her pick my brain about running a bookstore. I think I'm going to buy a bunch of copies, highlight my name in the Acknowledgments, and then give them away as Christmas gifts. That way, my friends will know how cool I am.

I was so excited to see my friend, Darla Isackson. It's been several years since we've had a chance to visit—and we didn't get to talk long. But it was so good to see her. I had no idea she had a new book out: After My Son's Suicide. She deals with a very difficult topic with grace and faith. You can read the Introduction here.

This is me in networking mode. I took LibrisPro information and talked to several publishers about helping them create ebooks. I think I made a decent impression. Here, I'm chatting with Alan Mitchell of Greenjacket Books.

More photos soon...