Review: The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall

The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall
The Wolf Border Book Cover The Wolf Border
Sarah Hall
Literary Fiction
Harper Colins
June 9, 2015
Paperback
448
TLC Book Tours

Rating: DNF rating

Synopsis: The award-winning author of The Electric Michelangelo returns with her first novel in nearly six years, a literary masterpiece about the reintroduction of wild wolves into the United Kingdom.

She hears them howling along the buffer zone, a long harmonic.
One leading, then many.
At night there is no need to imagine, no need to dream.
They reign outside the mind.

Rachel Caine is a zoologist working in Nez Perce, Idaho, as part of a wolf recovery project. She spends her days, and often nights, tracking the every move of a wild wolf pack—their size, their behavior, their howl patterns. It is a fairly solitary existence, but Rachel is content.

When she receives a call from the wealthy and mysterious Earl of Annerdale, who is interested in reintroducing the grey wolf to Northern England, Rachel agrees to a meeting. She is certain she wants no part of this project, but the Earl’s estate is close to the village where Rachel grew up, and where her aging mother now lives in a care facility. It has been far too long since Rachel has gone home, and so she returns to face the ghosts of her past.

The Wolf Border is a breathtaking story about the frontier of the human spirit, from one of the most celebrated young writers working today.

My Review

I received a free copy of this book from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall is a contemporary literary fiction novel with vivid prose and a seemingly touching message. However, many aspects of the slowing plot caused me to lose interest in Rachel’s story and the book’s dialogue formatting confused me at times. Sadly, I could not finish the book because of these issues. This review is based solely on my interpretation of only reading the first half of The Wolf Border.

Please, don’t get me wrong. I love literary fiction and hate to give up reading a book. And I don’t mean to offend the author or anyone reading this review but I have to be honest. The Wolf’s Border just wasn’t my cup of tea. The story begins with Rachel Caine, a middle-aged zoologist who’s offered the chance to work on a prestigious new project. Thanks to the backing of the Earl of Annerdale, Thomas Pennington, Rachel is tasked with reintroducing the grey wolf back into the countryside of England.

This aspect of the plot is what caught my attention within the book’s first chapter or so. But then the focus shifts to Rachel facing opposition with protestors against the project, which seemed more like a nuisance than any real issue that needed handling. So, that problem is kind of pushed aside. In fact, much of what I thought this book would involve, the wolves, were set on the back burner. While Rachel’s personal and family problems take the spotlight.

Rachel seems to have problems with everyone in her life. She’s had a tough past with her promiscuous and snarky mother Binny. Rachel’s relationship with her brother has suffered over the years. And after one drunken night, Rachel becomes pregnant by her co-worker and friend Kyle. Of course much more is going on in her life, but that’s just the point of why this story didn’t settle well with me. From what I read of the book, the focus is mostly on Rachel’s relationship problems and has little to do with her fascinating job as a zoologist or her study of the wolves.

While I like Hall’s writing style, descriptions, and the peeks into Rachel’s past, I did not enjoy the way the dialogue is formatted in this book. The formatting makes it difficult to differentiate from the rest of the narrative. I can understand not using quotation marks for dialogue as an author’s preference, but many times I found myself confused about who was speaking because there were no quotations or enough dialogue tags.

I did like trying to understand Rachel’s problems with her mother Binny, and how Rachel drifted apart from a meaningful relationship with her brother Lawrence. I loved Binny. She seemed the most interesting of all the characters with her sarcasm and disagreeableness with her daughter. I was left wondering what really drove the two apart in previous years.

On the other hand, Rachel is a bit of an enigma. I can’t say for certain that I like or dislike her as a main character. Rachel’s problem with settling down and finding a mate, a relationship with someone she cares about, seems to be a prominent issue in the book. She, in many ways, mimics the pattern of a female wolf. Then there’s the issue with whether she will keep her baby or have an abortion. Meanwhile, she keeps that news hidden from Kyle.

There are a few sex scenes between Rachel and her partners, which I found slightly awkward since I was left wondering what Rachel’s ultimate goal was. It seemed that the wolf project would be the largest part of her life, yet the book only shares tidbits into her work with wolves. Instead, I was overwhelmed with Rachel’s flaws and mostly her dealings with her pregnancy. Perhaps if the book was presented with those aspects at the heart of the story then I would have had less trouble finishing the book.

Overall, my expectations of what The Wolf Border would involve and what it delivered left me disappointed and wanting more about Rachel’s work with the grey wolf and less baby drama. With that said, I cannot recommend this book since I did not finish it.

About Sarah Hall

Sarah Hall

Sarah Hall was born in 1974 in Cumbria, England. She received a master of letters in creative writing from Scotland’s St. Andrews University and has published four novels. Haweswater won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (overall winner, Best First Novel) and a Society of Authors Betty Trask Award.

The Electric Michelangelo was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Eurasia Region), and the Prix Femina Étranger, and was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Daughters of the North won the 2006/07 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and the James Tiptree Jr. Award, and was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction.

How to Paint a Dead Man was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Portico Prize for Fiction. In 2013 Hall was named one of Granta‘s Best Young British Novelists, a prize awarded every ten years, and she won the BBC National Short Story Award and the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

You can find out more about Sarah at her website and on Facebook.

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Review: The Burned Bridges Protocol by Abigail Borders

The Burned Bridges Protocol Book Cover The Burned Bridges Protocol
Abigail Borders
Young Adult, Science Fiction
Giant Squid Books
December 2014
Ebook
238
CBB Book Promotions

Seven hundred years ago, disaster forced humanity to abandon Earth. Life on the colony ship New Edinburgh is all sixteen-year-old Lilliane, the best programmer in her year at the Institute, has ever known.

A week ago, Lilliane woke up in a life-pod. Its destination? Earth itself. Because it’s time to rebuild. It’s up to Lilliane and the four other survivors of the New Edinburgh to reclaim humanity’s ancestral home.

Today, the life pod arrived at Lady Diana–the lunar holding station that was once the luxury holiday destination for Earth’s super-rich. It’s supposed to be a good place. A safe place.

Not anymore.

Today, Lady Di is a battlefield. Because while Lilliane and her friends thought they were the only humans left, somebody else got to Lady Di first.

And he will stop at nothing to keep Lilliane from ever getting to Earth.

You can also find the book on: Giant Squid Books & Indiebound

The Burned Bridges Protocol banner

CBB Book Tours is currently hosting a book tour for The Burned Bridges Protocol by Abigail Borders. During the tour, you can check out interviews with Abigail, an awesome giveaway, book excerpts, and book reviews. In fact, I’m reviewing the novella today. How did the book fare? Read on.

My Review

I received The Burned Bridges Protocol for free from CBB Book Promotions in exchange for an honest book review. I first read part of The Burned Bridges Protocol on CritiqueCircle.com where I’ve read a couple of Abigail other stories as well. So I am a little familiar with Abigail’s writing and it’s nice to see her book published and with such an amazing cover.

The Burned Bridges Protocol is a young adult science fiction novella set in a dystopian future. The story begins with Lilliane, a strong-willed sixteen-year-old programmer. She awakes in a life pod to find an AI named Lemon directing their ship through space towards the planet Gaea, formerly known as Earth.

Lemon is my favorite character. He’s the ship’s plucky AI with a sense of humor and he tries to get a better understanding of human emotion. Along with Lilliane’s twin brother Tomain and the three girls Balsaine, Hecuba, and little Cleo, the group ends up at the holding station of the Lady Di where all hell breaks loose.

Gaea is a disaster zone because of the destructive, degenerate nature of human beings. So, the five kids plan to finish the mission they were born and bred to do. Secure and set things right at the holding station and work on reestablishing a better civilization on Gaea. Although, the mission doesn’t go as planned.

This is a darker young adult story with bloodshed, big damn guns, and kickin’ characters. The story weaves in some Greek mythology regarding the three girls Balsaine, Hecuba, and Cleo as the Mother, Crone, and Maiden and their roles to protect humanity. While Lilliane is the tech and Tomain is the medic for the group.

The story is told from multiple perspectives, which follows the six main characters, including Lemon, through their trials and how they overcome their challenges. Lilliane comes to trust Lemon. Lemon learns the importance of kinship. Tomain learns to move past his loss. Hecuba defeats her monsters. And Cleo learns to handle problems on her own.

At times, the multiple perspectives can be a little difficult to follow but the scene breaks help to keep things flowing. The story moves at a fairly quick pace and did a great job of holding my attention all the way through. My only major criticism is that I did not feel a strong connection to the characters but that may have been because there were so many perspectives. However, I still enjoyed the read despite that.

In the end, the book surprised me. I did not expect the girls’ changed roles to be fulfilled in such a new way. Now that they defend holding station, I can only wonder what plans they have for Gaea next. Overall, the ending is pretty cool. I would recommend The Burned Bridges Protocol for its intriguing story and the hope for changing a dystopian world.

About Abigail Borders

Abigail Borders

Abigail is fluent in three languages, grew up in Asia, studied History in the UK, and now calls sunny Southern California her home. When not working with flowers (and daydreaming about what a ranunculus flower fairy looks like) she sings about Winnie the Pooh while baking treats like pineapple tarts and sand dollar cookies for her son, El Kiddo. She has an-going love/hate relationship with all things chocolate, although coffee will always remain her first love. She also holds graduate degrees in International Management and Special Education.

The Burned Bridges Protocol is Abigail’s first novella. Her first novel, Cyrion, is scheduled to be released by MuseItUp Publishing in spring 2015.

You can follow Abigail on her: Blog | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter

Be sure to check out the rest of the book tour running until March 13th.

Giveaway

Five lucky winners will receive a digital copy of The Burned Bridges Protocol (for international contestants) and a signed paperback copy (for US contestants). This contest ends on March 18th.

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This blog tour was organized by CBB Book Promotions.
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Review: The Camelot Kids by Ben Zackheim

Camelot Kids
The Camelot Kids Book Cover The Camelot Kids
Volume 1
Ben Zackheim
Young Adult, Fantasy
Crimson Myth Press
December 11, 2014
Ebook
482
TLC Book Tours

The Camelot Kids is a series that tells the story of Simon Sharp, a 14-year-old orphan. Simon isn’t a normal teenager. He’s a kid on a mission. He's determined to find a place to belong.

If you ask him how his parents died, he'll tell you King Arthur killed them. They died looking for proof that Camelot is real. An estranged uncle flies Simon to Scotland for room and board. The fourteen year old soon discovers someone wants him dead.

But who cares about some outcast teenager from America? When a grumpy, 3276 year old Merlin shows up to protect him, Simon finds that the answer is an epic adventure away.

My Review

I received this book for free from the author and TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. Now I have to tell you upfront that I’m not a major fan of young adult (YA) novels. It’s not that I don’t like YA. It’s just not a genre I read a whole lot of. So I when I was asked if I would review The Camelot Kids series by Ben Zackheim, I took one look at the book and said sure, why not. The artwork looked cool. And, boy, was I surprised. I really liked this YA fantasy for its wild and whimsical world and its wacky characters. I had some slight issues with the storyline but it was still a fun read all around.

The Camelot Kids by Ben Zackheim begins in New York with the main character Simon Sharp as he’s dealing with foster parents that care nothing for him, bullies at the orphanage that only want to use him as a punching bag, and a generally hard life for a fourteen year old who has lost his parents because of King Arthur. Now, I have to admit when I came across the mention of King Arthur, I stared at the page with a raised eyebrow. Apart from Simon’s time at the orphanage, which starts the story off a bit slow, things do pick up as Simon finds out he’s not alone in the world after all.

After his parents died in a plane crash while in search from archaeological evidence for King Arthur’s existence, Simon is later rescued from the orphanage by his only living relative. A rich uncle living in Scotland that has a massive, cold castle and even colder personality. So Simon arrives in Scotland, gets picked up by his chauffeur named Hector and goes to meet the uncle he barely knows. And what does his grumpy old uncle do? He sends Simon off to a new school in Scotland where faces more bullies, a pretty girl who ignores him, and a cowardly kid named Red that befriends Simon.

Although, everything is not as it seems and Simon discovers his uncle’s castle holds secrets, magic, and clues to his parents’ death. While in Scotland, Simon meets an odd girl named Maille who carries a magical bat. When Maille is introduced early on, I wasn’t too fond of her since a lot of what she does and says didn’t make a whole lot of sense at first. But as the story progresses, she seems less unpredictable and things, like her bat which is a wand, makes more sense.

Between figuring out Maille and issues at school, Simon gets into more trouble when his teacher is murdered and everyone in the school believes Simon did it. But with the help of Red, Simon escapes the school grounds and ends up trying to find Maille for help. Only, Simon and Red run into a pair of monsters along the way. One of these monsters is my favorite character in the book. A troll named Caradoc. Caradoc is a big ugly lug but his loyalty and willingness to help do the right thing was endearing.

It’s at this point in the story that Simon meets the old wizard Merlin. And the old legends about King Arthur and his knights of the round table really come into play. Merlin takes Simon to the land of New Camelot and reveals that Simon is a descendant of the famed Sir Lancelot. Maille is Merlin’s apprentice in training, and there are many other descendants waiting to serve when King Arthur returns.

Surprisingly, the kids from Simon’s school also appear to be descendants from legendary people and everyone seems to know about their heritage except for Simon. His parents never told him because they supposedly never knew. But as time goes on and New Camelot runs its town fair, more trouble blooms.

Merlin reveals that King Arthur does have a descendant and it’s none other than the biggest bully from Simon’s school in Scotland. Chester the bully is not the brightest bulb and doesn’t make the most desirable king even though he desperately wants the position. Of course, he and Simon don’t get along and to make matters worse, the pretty girl from school that Simon has a crush on is Chester’s sister, Gwen. And she has a role to play in the legend too. Gwen turns out to be Guinevere.

Not only are Simon’s schoolmates involved in the legend but Hector, the chauffeur, turns out to be Hextor a lead knight, Red turns out to be Lancelot’s worse enemy, and Merlin has some mischief up his sleeve too. Eventually, Simon learns from his uncle that his parents are not dead but are being held as prisoners by some evil forces. New Camelot comes under fire from multiple enemies, including an army of dragons, Red’s Shadow army of Mordred, and Merlin’s evil ex-apprentice.

With all that is happening towards the end of the book, things become a bit confusing. There seemed to be a bit too much info dumped in at the end to try to tie off loose ends. Mind you that I was happy that a good deal of my questions were answered but it seemed like those answers were a little rushed.

One issue I had was when Simon’s meets his father. Sure, it’s good his father is alive and all but I would have thought Simon would have been more shocked about the revelation. Then when his father tells Simon that he is not a descendent of Lancelot but he is actually Lancelot reincarnated, I was left scratching my head.

The theme of reincarnation was an issue for me. I had no problem with the idea of Simon being a descendent of Lancelot but the next step, that he somehow was reincarnated or holds the same knowledge as Lancelot and had the same skill set seemed a bit too convenient. Simon doesn’t have to work to be a hero since he already is one. He already knows how to fight, wield a sword, and strategize in combat, etc. because these skills come naturally to him since he’s simply remembering what he already knows from the past. I just found that concept too easy for Simon. I mean, why work hard to gain knowledge if you’re already born with it?

Then again certain occurrences that happen to Simon don’t make sense or add up to me. Like, Simon accepts a lot of things without questioning them because they can be attributed to magic, so they need no explanation. And I have to say that the number of times that characters are winking or smiling at Simon really started annoying me.

However, I did like how the book incorporates artwork into some of the chapters. It adds a nice visual touch. And overall, I liked Simon as a character. His desire to have his own family and help his new friends was admirable. Many of the descriptions of New Camelot were cool, such as the fighting toy knights and the description of The Spell shop. I even liked the evil, mutant faerie that brought Simon good and bad luck.

In the end, the book left me with a lot questions, but in a good way, and I hope the answers will be revealed in the next volume, since it’s quite clear that this story is not over yet. Some of New Camelot’s enemies have been defeated but there are still other foes out there that I’m sure Simon and his friends will be facing next time. With that said, this book is not perfect but I would definitely read the next volume to see what happens next. Of course, this book is intended for a younger audience, kids and teens, but I still enjoyed the read.

About Ben Zackheim

Ben Zackheim

Ben Zackheim spent over a decade producing online games that have been played by millions of people. His dream of writing for a living became a reality when he released the Shirley Link mystery series (for kids 9-12 years old).

Ben’s work on the Shirley Link books has been praised for its focus on the power of intellect and the limitless potential of every girl’s hard work and dreams.

His series The Camelot Kids has been called by readers, “The best re-invention of Camelot I’ve ever encountered” and “A thoroughly modern and thoroughly fun new take on the legend!”

Ben has taken up a writerly life in the Forbidden Forest at 42.5098° N, 72.6995° W.

He’s scheduled to begin teaching classes in digital marketing at New York’s School of Visual Arts MFA Visual Narrative program in 2015.

Sign up for Ben Zackheim’s newsletter and enjoy peeks at his upcoming releases at BenZackheim.com. He is also on Facebook and Twitter.

TLC Book Tours

Review: Animal Farm by George Orwell

Animal Farm by George Orwell
Animal Farm Book Cover Animal Farm
George Orwell
Satire, Classics
Plume Books
2003 Edition
Paperback
97
Purchased

A satire on totalitarianism in which farm animals overthrow their human owner and set up their own government.

My Review

Animal Farm is a short 95 page story full of satire and genius from the mind of George Orwell. The book was first written in 1943 and published in 1945 about the dictatorships of Stalin, Communism, and what has become one of the darker spots in world history. The book mirrors some of the horrors of war, politics, and deception in what Orwell called “A Fairy Story” about dominating pigs, ignorant horses, and dumb sheep.

The Plot

The story begins with Mr. Jones, the human owner of the Manor Farm. Jones’ rule on the farm is harsh, and when an old boar named Major gathers the rest of the farm animals together to incite them to rebel, they eventually do. After Major dies, the animals run Jones off the farm, claiming the land as their own, and they adopt a system of thought known as Animalism. Animalism, of course, is none other than Communism and Mr. Jones represents the ruling Tsar and capitalism.

Once the farm is under the animals’ rule, the pigs assume a dominant role of leadership because, as the book says, the pigs seem to be the smartest of the animals. All of the animals then sing their own anthem called the Beasts of England, which is in celebration for their victory from Jones’ tyrannical rule to their own freedom. However, these animals unknowingly move from one tyrannical rule to another.

Animalism & Communism

They rename the farm “Animal Farm” and the pigs, the dogs, horses, sheep, and chickens set up their seven commandments of Animalism dictating how the farm will be run. Out of all the pigs, two become prominent figures on the farm: Snowball, who is the mirror image of Trotsky, and Napoleon, who is none other than Stalin.

Napoleon and Snowball feud about how the farm should be run now that all animals are declared comrades and all animals are equal. Only man and his vices are the enemy. Yet Napoleon has other ideas and nearly has Snowball killed as he runs the pig off the farm. The other animals then fall under Napoleon’s rule.

Characters

The strongest of the animals is a cart horse named Boxer, who adapts his own mantra of “Napoleon is always right” and “I must work harder” whenever he is faced with an obstacle or opposition. The old donkey, Benjamin, has the worst temper of the animals and is generally a sourpuss, but he seems to have the steadiest head on his shoulders compared to the other beasts. Even though he avoids giving his opinions on many matters, he, unlike the majority of other animals, learns how to read and comprehend.

The other cart-horse, Clover, is a motherly mare always willing to help. Mollie is a vain young mare with an affinity for sugar cubes and ribbons for her mane. The sheep always dumbly parrot what they are told by the pigs. While the dogs work as the pigs’ bodyguards and kill any of the animals that step out of line or whom the pigs deem worthy of death.

Conflict

As the book progresses, the animals successfully build a windmill which brings power to the farm for a time. But none of the animals seem to benefit from this new power except for the pigs. In fact, the pigs are the only ones truly benefiting from the resources of the farm while the other animals live in poverty.

The pigs move into the main farmhouse and begin sleeping in Jones’s beds, wearing human clothes, and walking about on two feet. By the story’s end, the animals of the farm find it hard to tell the difference between the pigs and humans, their enemies.

Conclusion

Overall, Animal Farm by George Orwell paints a tragic picture of war and how men became not better than beasts. The terrors experienced during WWII in Communist Russia and the rest of the world will forever haunt history, and I think Orwell’s book captures that fearful scene quite well. There is not much about this book that I dislike.

I would certainly recommend Animal Farm not only because it is a classic but also for its historical significance as a great satirical piece. The story is humorous at times and so is some of the animals’ dialogue, especially the pig Squealer. And many times I found myself wondering, why couldn’t the animals see what’s going on?

But that is one of the points of the book. The lesser animals on the farm represent the types of people in the world and, sadly, their ignorance and misplaced hopes. What’s most interesting about the book is its appeal to both young and mature readers after all these years.

Review: Lust by Diana Raab

Lust by Diana Raab
Lust Book Cover Lust
Diana Raab
Poetry, Erotica, Romance
WordTech Communications
February 1, 2014
Audiobook
TLC Book Tours

A passionate journey through private emotional moments, Diana Raab's Lust voices the pain of loneliness and the heart's yearning for love while transcending the depths of human desire.

You can also find the book on: Audible & Books-A-Million

My Review

I received a free audiobook version of Lust by Diana Raab from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Lust by Diana Raab is a collection of erotic and romantic poetry. Through these poems, Raab tells of how love, sex, and heartbreak affects a person’s most inner being. This moving collection contains short, thought-provoking poems that delve into sensuality and love loss.

While listening to the audiobook narrated by Kate Udall, I discovered that many of the poems are tastefully passionate and not overly graphic. As Raab introduces us to her first poem, Painting, we learn about a husband and wife that through age and life grow distant while their love fades.

Raab’s poetry speaks of tenderness and the delight of escape through flights of love, and yet there is a sadness that lurks beneath the surface of these erotic fantasies. It’s like a loneliness that lingers after giving readers a glimpse into love and the disappointment of a relationship.

One of my favorites from this collection is The First Time, a poem about a woman who bears a scar from breast cancer on her chest. She is tempted and falls for the wrong man and learns never to travel down that road again. Through ecstasy and moments of closeness, these poems move readers along on a journey. And some of those paths end with sorrow, such as from the unfaithfulness of a lover.

Throughout the collection there seems to be a thread uniting these poems in the lessons love teaches us about bitterness and joy. From Painting to Where Else, the thread remains and makes this collection so touching that it gently plucks at my heartstrings, playing a fine tune that is so true to everyday life. That in the end, with love comes heartache.

The poem What Women Want is a prime example of how love is simple like a gift tied with a blue bow but a gift so complex that it can take a lifetime to learn its intricacies. Coping is another strong and moving piece of how love can sour and turn to betrayal. What I find most interesting about Raab’s poems towards the end of her book is how she relates the ways a woman copes with a cheating lover by pouring forth her emotions and fantasies through creative writing. Coping is a short poem but it’s my favorite due to its snappy wit.

Overall, this sweet collection of erotic poetry runs about 1 hour and 13 minutes as an audiobook with a powerful narration from Kate Udall. I can easily say all of these poems have left an impression on me and I would avidly recommend this collection.

About Diana Raab

Diana Raab is an award-winning poet, memoirist, and believer in the healing power of the written word. She began crafting poems at the age of ten when her mother gave her her first Khalil Gibran journal to help her cope with her grandmother and caretaker’s suicide. A few years later she discovered the journals of diarist Anaïs Nin and learned that, like Raab, Nin began journaling as a result of loss (the loss of her father). Much of Raab’s poetry has been inspired by Anaïs Nin’s life and works.

She is the author of four poetry collections, My Muse Undresses Me (2007); Dear Anaïs: My Life in Poems for You (2008); The Guilt Gene (2009); and Listening to Africa (2011).

Her poetry and prose have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including Rattle, Boiler Room Journal, Rosebud, Litchfield Review, Tonopah Review, South Florida Arts Journal, Prairie Wolf Press, The Citron Review, Writers’ Journal, Common Ground Review, A Café in Space, The Toronto Quarterly, Snail Mail Review, New Mirage Journal, and Jet Fuel Review.

She is editor of two anthologies, Writers and Their Notebooks (2010) and Writers on the Edge (2012), co-edited with James Brown. Both these collections have submissions from poets and prose writers.

Diana has two memoirs, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal (winner of the 2009 Mom’s Choice Award for Adult Nonfiction and the National Indie Excellence Award for Memoir), and Healing With Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey (winner of the 2011 Mom’s Choice Award for Adult Nonfiction).

She is a regular blogger for The Huffington Post and writes a monthly column for the Santa Barbara Sentinel, “The Mindful Word.” She lives in Southern California with her husband, and has three grown children. She is currently working on her doctorate in psychology and is researching the healing power of writing and creativity.

Review: The Girl and the Clockwork Cat by Nikki McCormack

The Girl and the Clockwork Cat by Nikki McCormack
The Girl and the Clockwork Cat Book Cover The Girl and the Clockwork Cat
Nikki McCormack
Young Adult, Steampunk, Mystery
Entangled Teen
September 2, 2014
Ebook
224
YA Bound Book Tours

Rating: 3.5 Stars
Feisty teenage thief Maeko and her maybe-more-than-friend Chaff have scraped out an existence in Victorian London’s gritty streets, but after a near-disastrous heist leads her to a mysterious clockwork cat and two dead bodies, she’s thrust into a murder mystery that may cost her everything she holds dear.

Her only allies are Chaff, the cat, and Ash, the son of the only murder suspect, who offers her enough money to finally get off the streets if she’ll help him find the real killer.

What starts as a simple search ultimately reveals a conspiracy stretching across the entire city. And as Maeko and Chaff discover feelings for each other neither was prepared to admit, she’s forced to choose whether she’ll stay with him or finally escape the life of a street rat. But with danger closing in around them, the only way any of them will get out of this alive is if all of them work together.

My Review

I obtained a copy of The Girl and the Clockwork Cat from YA Bound Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. Not to mention that I’m a huge fan of steampunk novels and the premise of this book looked intriguing, so I figured I’ve give it a go.

The Girl and the Clockwork Cat by Nikki McCormack is a young adult steampunk mystery novel about a feisty teenage theif named Maeko. She’s not your average girl living on the streets of London, nicking from toffs and pickpocketing whenever she can. She steals to survive along side her mentor and partner in crime, Chaff.

The story begins with Maeko and Chaff breaking into a clockshop in an effort for Maeko to gain some money to pay off her mother’s debts. Of course, things go awry and Maeko and Chaff end up running from the local Literati police.

It’s while hiding from the Lits in an alley dustbin that Maeko comes across a peculiar cat named Macak. The feline has an unusual clockwork prosthetic leg, and so the girl finds her clockwork cat. This is where the story gets interesting and, unfortunately, starts to head downhill for me.

Maeko runs into more trouble when a local Barman takes her and Macak in, getting the girl and the clockwork cat into a world of trouble with a pirate band and their leader, Captain Garrett.

Actually, at the mention of pirates my interest in the book perked a little, except that Captain Garrett doesn’t do much pirating and is mostly interested in Macak’s strange leg. The Captain also has a son named Ash, a snooty pretentious type, who looks down his nose at Maeko.

After meeting the Captain, Maeko gets arrested by the Lits and thrown into jail with a scary-looking fellow she aptly nicknames Hatchet Face. She and Hatchet Face escape prison only to find out that he’s a deadly scary man, murder’s been afoot, and the only person who can really help Maeko at this point is Chaff. Here’s when I started getting hints that the plot and pacing of the story were not as lively as I anticipated.

Things seem to proceed slowly as Maeko traces back and forth and back again over the same locations, including the prison, the warehouse, and her mother’s house, as Maeko tries to solve the mystery involving Macak’s owner, Lucian. Not only has Lucian gone missing but his family has been murdered. The suspects aren’t adding up, and so Maeko sets out to make things right in order to protect the people she loves.

The book reminds us continually of Maeko’s loneliness, her rough upbringing, and the hard time’s she’s had surviving on the streets. The downside is these facts are mentioned so frequently that it began to irritate me. Instead of increasing my sympathy for Maeko, I was annoyed at her constant dwelling on the fact that she “wasn’t a rat.” Yet at other times she’d admit to being just “a street rat.” I just wanted her to make up her mind.

Out of all the characters Maeko comes across, her friend Chaff was my favorite. And I was rooting for Maeko to end up with Chaff, since there was a sort of love triangle between him, her, and Ash. Although, the trio are only teenagers and at some points, I felt like the romantic aspect of the book was a bit unnatural or forced, especially with Ash.

Once the murder mystery is solved and Maeko ends up saving the day, I wasn’t really gratified. I didn’t like the ending of this book one bit. With the story’s buildup and my expectation of Maeko either getting with Chaff or Ash, only to find that the story ends without a hint as to her choice, left me so darn disappointed.

The story simply cuts off without tying up many of the important plot points, like would Maeko get the money to pay off her mother’s debts? What would become of her relationship with Ash and Chaff? What about Captain Garrett and his other son, Sam? Would Maeko continue on her path as a thief or join the right side of the law?

A little part of me honestly hopes there will be a second book that answers all these questions, and maybe depicts Maeko as a more mature young woman and the possibility of her becoming a police detective.

With that said, I liked this book and yet didn’t like it. If not for the ending, the limited locations and backtracking, and constantly being reminded of Maeko’s character flaws – her being a lonely, neglected street rat over and over – then I probably would have really liked this book.

Because I loved some of the steampunk elements, mentions of airships and steamcycles, and the like. I enjoyed the character descriptions, like that of Hatchet Face and Chaff and detective Em. And there were moments where I felt a little tug on my heartstrings for certain characters. I even liked the dialogue that seemed to mostly fit the period.

In the end, I just wished this story was so much more. A stronger plot, a more detailed world, certain characters that were fleshed out a little more, and, more importantly, an ending that tied up all the loose threads.

About Nikki McCormack

Nikki McCormack

Nikki started writing her first novel at the age of 12, which she still has tucked in a briefcase in her home office, waiting for the right moment. Despite a successful short story publication with Cricket Magazine in 2007, she continued to treat her writing addiction as a hobby until a drop in the economy presented her with an abundance of free time that she used to focus on making it her career.

Nikki lives in the magnificent Pacific Northwest tending to her husband and three cats suffering varying stages of neurosis. She feeds her imagination by sitting on the ocean in her kayak gazing out across the never-ending water or hanging from a rope in a cave, embraced by darkness and the sound of dripping water. She finds peace through practicing iaido or shooting her longbow.

You can follow Nikki on her: Website | Goodreads | Twitter | Facebook.

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Review: East India by Colin Falconer

East India by Colin Falconer
East India Book Cover East India
Colin Falconer
Historical Fiction, Romance
Cool Gus Publishing
July 8th 2014
Ebook
328
Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

In any other circumstance but shipwreck, rape and murder, a man like Michiel van Texel would never have met a fine lady such as Cornelia Noorstrandt.

He was just a soldier, a sergeant in the Dutch East India company’s army, on his way from Amsterdam to the Indies to fight the Mataram. Such a woman was far above the likes of him.

But both their destinies intertwine far away from Holland, on some god-forsaken islands near the Great Southland. When their great ship, the Utrecht, founders far from home, surviving the Houtman Rocks is the least of their worries.

As they battle to survive and the bravest and the best reveal themselves for what they are, Cornelia’s only hope is a mercenary in a torn coat who shows her that a man is more than just manners and money.

He makes her one promise: ‘Even if God forsakes you, I will find you.’

But can he keep it?

My Review

I received a free copy of East India by Colin Falconer from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for an honest review. When I accepted this book, I was not familiar with the author. And while I hoped the book would be good, I did not expect the story to be so fascinating. From page one, this historical fiction romance novel begins at an excavation in the present day with the mystery of one man’s bones.

The story then plummets into the past aboard the Utrecht in 1628. Here we meet Cornelia Noorstrandt, an unhappily wedded woman traveling on a ship that’s mostly full of men watching her in every way that’s improper. Commandeur Ambroise Secor, a sergeant of the VOC, comes to her rescue in keeping the others at bay only to find himself attracted to Cornelia, a woman he can never have. And Michiel Van Texel is in the same boat as he is just happy to catch a glimpse of the lovely lady.

Many men aboard the packed ship take an interest in Cornelia but find her status too lofty for their liking. One such man is the skipper who thinks she is too high and mighty, and even Cornelia’s maid, Sara, plays treacherously behind her back. While the undermerchant, Christiaan van Sant, watches everything unfold with a smirk on his lips and a twisted bit of information for anyone who listens as the ship travels from Holland to the Indies.

Deception, treachery, jealousy, and hate erupts and then tragedy unfolds as the great ship the Utrecht crashes on the rocks, leaving those who survive to fight to stay alive amid rape and murder. Unfortunately, many suffer and lose their lives as Christiaan becomes a madman twisted with power. I love the way the story progresses and reveals the growth and even misfortune of such characters. Especially Cornelia and Michiel who were two people that otherwise would never cross paths socially or romantically yet have a chance to in the face of extraordinary circumstances.

This story moves along at a good pace, and the writing style is impressive as the text flows smoothly in describing such a vivid tale. Even though the book is told from multiple points of view, several characters even within some chapters, the story is never garbled or lost in translation. Each speaker has their own distinctive voice and it’s easy to recognize each character’s thoughts, words, and know the reasons for their actions, no matter how kindhearted or devilish they might be.

Most of all, I enjoyed the conversations between characters. All of their speech feels so life-like and real for the time period that I forgot I was reading a novel instead of being right in the midst of a rocky ship or stranded with the survivors. Overall, the story’s ending is a bit sad, but I am still as satisfied from this read. I will definitely look forward to future books from Falconer.

Review: Half the Day Is Night by Maureen F. McHugh

Half the Day Is Night by Maureen F. McHugh
Half the Day Is Night Book Cover Half the Day Is Night
Maureen F. McHugh
Science Fiction
Tor
January 30, 1996
Paperback
375
Purchased

War veteran David Dai has come to ocean-bottom Caribe to work as bodyguard to Mayla Ling, banker and scion to the undersea city's old-money set. But as Mayla negotiates the biggest deal of her life, she draws the attention of terrorists who threaten to plunge her, and David, back into the nightmare of his violent past.

My Review

I had high hopes for Half the Day Is Night by Maureen F. McHugh. Sadly, while the book has the most amazing world-building and realistic characters, it fails to provide the tension and suspense this story desperately needs.

Half the Day Is Night is a science fiction novel that’s also presented as a thriller (as the book jacket describes). Supposedly, it’s a thrilling ride through the lives of David Dai and Mayla Ling, the story’s protagonists. However, David and Mayla’s lives appear so realistic that the pace and story end up becoming quite dull.

The story takes place in Caribe and its city of Julia that resides underwater in a protective dome. David is hired as Mayla’s new bodyguard. David has a history in the military and decides to take the position as a bodyguard with the hope of leaving his violent past behind. But he faces a slight opposition when he finds that Tim, Mayla’s old bodyguard, is still hanging around.

Mayla is an influential banker and her work and connections in Caribe make her the target of a terrorist organization. The in-depth details about Mayla’s work at the bank are lengthy and aren’t particularly interesting. Mayla’s banking deals head south and David decides to quit being a bodyguard. About midway through the story, the terrorists seem to disappear, and Mayla and David are simply on the run from the police. This is where I started losing interest in the book.

At this point, the novel simply follows Mayla and David through their daily lives, stresses, and the way they try to cope with change. However, the pacing is so slow and the description of David’s new job as a fish jockey didn’t interest me. The only parts of David’s life that I did like were his trips to the virtual reality arcade and the trouble he had with his kitten. But even these events weren’t enough to keep the book moving along at a good pace. I found myself wondering where the story was going and was there any point.

David is simply caught up in Mayla’s mess. As Mayla decides she’s had enough of living in Caribe and Julia, she sets out to escape and uses David to help. Their endeavors to leave the city in such a haste didn’t seem justified since there wasn’t a threat actively pursuing them.

This novel just didn’t cut it for me. There were a few typos in my copy of the book and the dialogue was a little difficult to follow at times. Even though I loved the futuristic Caribe, the setting alone wasn’t enough to keep me interested. The narration of David and Mayla’s lives just meanders on without a fulfilling end.

The story’s necessary tension is missing along with the element of suspense. Without which the story has no real drive and falls flat. In the end, the book’s resolution seemed so contrived that I felt cheated for having read the entire novel. I wish Half the Day Is Night was so much better with intriguing characters, an engaging plot, and a fulfilling ending. However, this book falls flat, left me disappointed, and upset that I had invested so much time in reading this.

Review: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 Book Cover Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury
Science Fiction, Classics
Del Rey Books
August 12, 1987
Paperback
208
Borrowed

Internationally acclaimed with more than 5 million copies in print, Fahrenheit 451 is Ray Bradbury's classic novel of censorship and defiance, as resonant today as it was when it was first published nearly 50 years ago.

Guy Montag was a fireman whose job it was to start fires... The system was simple. Everyone understood it. Books were for burning ... along with the houses in which they were hidden. Guy Montag enjoyed his job.

He had been a fireman for ten years, and he had never questioned the pleasure of the midnight runs nor the joy of watching pages consumed by flames... never questioned anything until he met a seventeen-year-old girl who told him of a past when people were not afraid.

Then he met a professor who told him of a future in which people could think... and Guy Montag suddenly realized what he had to do!

My Review

I enjoyed reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. This science fiction classic offers a thought-provoking study of human character. Its vivid detail, strong and almost poetic prose, and futuristic yet all too relevant theme tells a story of society’s ignorance and one man’s willingness to learn.

The story begins with Guy Montag. He’s a fireman living in a time when firemen no longer fight fires. They start them. Society and the government have ruled books to be obsolete and even dangerous, and the few book owners left in the world are being imprisoned or burned with their books.

And why are books dangerous? Because reading educates, enlightens, and lets people take in the lifetimes and perspectives from so many authors. As an excerpt from the book states:

“Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are. That’s my definition anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies. So now you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life.”

But Guy takes pleasure in burning books, living his life in a world of ignorance. Or he does until he meets a seventeen-year-old girl named Clarisse McClellan. She moves in next door, and soon Guy finds himself wondering if he’s really happy with life. Clarisse is an unusual girl. She likes to walk in the rain, or sit in her front lawn knitting, or talk to Guy when most people avoid firemen. In one conversation, Guy asks Clarisse:

“Why is it,” he said, one time, at the subway entrance, “I feel I’ve known you so many years?”

“Because I like you,” she said, “and I don’t want anything from you.”

Through their conversations over passing weeks, the two strike up a friendship. However, Guy is bothered by his lack of answers to Clarisse’s questions. Then one day, Clarisse goes missing and Guy is only left with his miserable job and his wife, Mildred. Although, Mildred has problems of her own and is addicted to sleeping pills and the television room that she calls her relatives.

Guy continues to do his job until one day while readying to burn a woman’s home, he steals one of the woman’s books. Curiosity just gets the better of him and then the unthinkable happens. Guy and the other firemen are ordered to burn down the home with the woman inside, since she won’t leave.

So they drench the house in kerosene, but the woman lights her own match, killing herself and burning her books. This act shakes Guy to his core. He simply can’t understand why anyone would die for such a cause. Guy says:

“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”

Afterward, Guy refuses to go back to work. At home, he confesses to Mildred about the book he stole, and how he’s also stolen and stashed other books in the air duct of his house. While his wife wants nothing to do with books, he begins to read for himself. He doesn’t understand the literature at first, so he has to team up with someone like himself. A little old man named Faber comes on the scene, and Guy and the old man concoct a scheme to change the world.

To be honest, I loved this book. I would definitely recommend it. Even if you’ll only read the book once, I wholeheartedly recommend it. The story’s overall theme is artfully executed. The writing is very stylized and maybe a bit over the top for some, but I liked the vivid descriptions and the emotion poured into the narrative.

Fahrenheit 451 is a warning for people to take a greatest interest in literature and education. For society not to be so pleasure driven and governed by the media that it disregards or even demonizes the pursuit of knowledge. Knowledge, of course, is power and perhaps that’s the theme of this classic.

Review: The Girl on the Mountain by Carol Ervin

The Girl on the Mountain by Carol Ervin
The Girl on the Mountain Book Cover The Girl on the Mountain
Carol Ervin
Historical Fiction
August 29, 2012
Audiobook
The author

Untrue things are rumored of May Rose, but it's true she's too pretty for her own good. Her husband has disappeared, and now she's on her own in a rough town ruled by one of the lumber companies logging the last of West Virginia's virgin forest. The year is 1899, and a woman alone has few options.

With no resources but a litter of pigs and the attachment of an untamed girl, May Rose must find a way to survive with respect. She must also save the girl who sleeps with a doll clutched tight and a knife under her pillow.

You can also find the audiobook on: Audible.

My Review

I received this audiobook from the author for free in exchange for an honest review on Audible.com.

The Girl on the Mountain by Carol Ervin is a historical fiction with a wholesome story and a strong female lead. As a girl living on a mountain in a harsh town in 19th century West Virginia, May Rose is left to fend for herself and a young girl named Wanda. After May Rose’s husband, Jamie, disappears, she moves into a boardinghouse where she works to keep her dignity among the patronage and in town while she cares for Wanda.

Wanda is a wild child with a strong spirit who’s not afraid to speak her mind. Over the course of May Rose and Wanda’s stay at the boardinghouse, new characters and their motives come to light and the truth about Jamie’s lies and deception are discovered. The deceit of others are all too prevalent in the town as well, and, in the end, May Rose and Wanda agree enough is enough.

In all, I loved the audiobook. I enjoyed the story from the moment we’re introduced to May Rose until the very end. The Girl on the Mountain somewhat reminds me of True Grit by Charles Portis as both tales involve strong female characters facing a tough world in a time when women weren’t considered to have much say without the help of a man. But in the case of May Rose, she makes a way for herself and Wanda even though the odds are against her.

Concerning the audiobook’s narration, the voices of May Rose and Wanda were my favorite performances from Becca Ballenger. I liked Wanda’s performance the most because Ballenger wonderfully captured the personality and tone of Wanda. The Girl on the Mountain is a great story all around, and I thoroughly enjoyed the narration.