• Book Review: DISSONANCE by Mariella Hunt

    Book Review: DISSONANCE by Mariella Hunt
    Mariella Hunt is one of my dearest online friends. She and I met some time ago, but it’s only recently that we’ve begun talking and collaborating more often. When Hunt rereleased her debut YA urban fantasy novel Dissonance, she was kind enough to send me a paperback copy.

    I was even more excited to dive into this book when she told me she’s been working on the sequel. I’m not big into series (I know, I know), but this is one I can definitely see myself reading more of.

    Before I get to the review, here’s the Goodreads summary:

    Fifteen-year-old Allie Grant lives crippled by her illness. Though kept in isolation, she’s never alone: A spirit named Song lurks in the silence of her bedroom.

    When Song reveals its dark nature on the night of her recital, the show ends in tragedy. Verging on death, Allie’s taken in by an uncle she’s never met.

    Julian claims to be a Muse with power over music and answers that’ll heal her. The cure she needs is rare, requiring of him a difficult sacrifice. Allie soon suspects her uncle has a secret that’ll turn her world around.

    But with days left to live, she might fade without learning the truth…like the finishing chord of a song.

    First off, Dissonance is urban fantasy, which isn’t a genre I’ve read much of–although my novel Reflections is urban fantasy, too, so maybe I should read more in that genre… Anyway, although the story is urban fantasy, it was fairly easy for me to navigate the events and setting of the novel. My only issue with regards to worldbuilding is that there were a few places I found it difficult to follow along with the mythology. Hunt has clearly invested a great deal of time, thought, and effort into developing a cohesive magical system and environment for this novel, and this degree of consideration definitely shows. However, at times, the terminology and social hierarchy confused me.

    Nevertheless, I found the characters, plot, and the writing compelling. Dissonance is a strong debut, and as the first book in a series, promises some more exciting things from the author. As a bonus, this book also features a protagonist dealing with chronic illness, which is refreshing. If you’re looking for a good YA urban fantasy novel with likable characters, an engaging setting, and a memorable plot, I wholeheartedly recommend picking up a copy of Dissonance.

    What did you think of Dissonance? What book should I read next?

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  • Book Review: ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes

    This is one of the best books I’ve read in recent years, and one of the most emotional. I bought this book at Goodwill ages ago and kind of forgot about it (oops) until a few weeks ago, when the trailer for the film adaptation came out. The film stars some of my favorite actors, and the trailer captured my attention, so I dove into the book. I devoured it in three days. Totally worth reading.

    All in all, I loved it. This book is extraordinary in a way I haven’t seen in quite some time. But before I get to my actual review, here’s the Goodreads summary:

    Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

    What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane.

    Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that.

    What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.

    Let me start off by saying that I don’t read a lot of romance. Heck, usually the only way I’ll read romance at all is if it’s masked as something else. With that being said, I am head-over-heels for this beautiful book. It’s a love story, yes, but it’s so much more than that, too. It’s a story of hope in the face of hopelessness,  perseverance against all odds, and discovering the meaning of a life fully lived.

    What got me most about this book is how unpretentious it is. As far as books go, it doesn’t seem extraordinary at face value. With some other books I’ve read and enjoyed, I found myself marveling at the author’s expertise and skill, the way they’ve crafted the world of the story. With Me Before You… that didn’t happen. I couldn’t put the book down, and I didn’t know why. It wasn’t until about halfway through that I realized I was being pulled in by the strength of the story, not by the author’s mastery of prose.

    Good writing makes you forget that what you’re reading was created by another human being. It doesn’t call attention to itself. And while it’s clear that Jojo Moyes knows what she’s doing as a writer, there were no moments of “wow, this is so well-written” with this book. To me, it didn’t feel written, didn’t feel like a work of fiction. It felt true to life and real in a way that some books haven’t. This authentic essence is what makes the book difficult to put down, if not almost impossible.

    All in all, I give Me Before You my highest praise. Although it’s a book in a genre I don’t normally enjoy, I loved every minute of it. And although (without spoiling), the ending left me shocked, it also felt entirely satisfying somehow. If you’re looking for an emotional, true-to-life read, I can’t recommend this book wholeheartedly enough.

    What did you think of Me Before You? How do you feel about emotional books?

    Find out why @brianawrites calls @jojomoyes’ novel ME BEFORE YOU “an emotional, true-to-life read.” (Click to tweet)

  • Book Review: Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder

    As a writer, I’ve heard a great deal about Blake Snyder’s screenwriting Bible, Save the CatI first learned about the book way back in my freshman year of college, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head ever since. Finally, I gave in to temptation and bought it for my Kindle. Here’s what I discovered.

    In Save the Cat, Snyder shares his popular screenwriting structuring method, involving the use of “beat sheets.” These beat sheets allow writers to break their stories down into basic thematic elements to make structuring a breeze. Some of these beats include the Opening Image, Break Into Two, Midpoint, and Bad Guys Close In. Even if you haven’t read Save the Cat, chances are you’re familiar with some of these phrases.

    When I first started writing, I had little idea how to structure a story. Although most of this book is geared towards screenwriters, the principles and techniques in it can easily able to novel writers as well. Snyder makes structure simple–there’s no need to overthink it. In this book, he shares the storytelling skeleton for you to fill in as you please. It may feel a bit formulaic, but there’s no arguing it works.

    I only have two points of contention with this book. For one thing, when I pick up a book on craft, I don’t want to hear much about the author’s personal experience. I only want to hear what’s relevant to the book. In Save the Cat, Snyder references his own work too many times for my liking–but, as I mentioned, that’s all down to personal preference.

    The other thing that bothers me about Save the Cat is that I fear writers who read it may adhere too strictly to the formula it proposes. Don’t get me wrong–Snyder’s storytelling beats are incredibly helpful. I just worry that newbies may try to shoehorn plots into strict beats and sacrifice originality in the process.

    It bears mentioning once again that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to writing. If you want to follow Snyder’s structure, then by all means, go ahead. But don’t spend so much time trying to get your story to fit neatly into beats that you stop having fun.

    After all, if you’re not having fun, what’s the point in doing it?

    In spite of some of its shortcomings, Save the Cat is one of the best, most straightforward books on story structure I have read. Whether you write plays, screenplays, novels, or short stories, I highly recommend you take a look at it.

    What do you think of Save the Cat?

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  • Book Review: AN EMBER IN THE ASHES by Sabaa Tahir

    It should come as no surprise to anyone that I love audiobooks.

    On long car rides, nothing helps me pass the time like listening to a good story. And Amazon’s fairly recent acquisition of Audible ensures that I can get audiobooks at reduced prices. If you purchase the digital edition of a novel, you can usually also get the audiobook version for cheaper than if you tried to purchase it separately.

    That’s what I did with Sabaa Tahir‘s An Ember in the Ashes. When the digital edition went on sale for $2.99, I snatched it up. Then, I got the audiobook for an excellent price, too. Another great thing about Amazon’s acquisition of Audible is Whispersync, which syncs your reading progress across multiple devices. For example, using Whispersync, you can go from reading on your tablet to listening to the novel in the car without losing your place.

    Anyway, I promise this isn’t an advertisement for Whispersync, so on with the review! Let’s take a look at the lovely Goodreads summary first:

    Laia is a slave.

    Elias is a soldier.

    Neither is free.

    Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

    It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

    But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

    There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

    Whenever someone asks me about this book, I just direct them to the summary because I’m not great at explaining the premise of the book. With that being said, not even the summary does a good job of depicting the novel’s contents. I didn’t know what to expect from the book, but I don’t necessarily think that was a bad thing.

    Tahir handles dual-POV well, and I found myself eagerly awaiting each narrator’s next chapter. Sometimes in multi-POV novels, I favor one POV more than the other, but that didn’t happen in this novel. Both characters were sympathetic, multi-faceted, and entertaining. (And I loved both of them!)

    The worldbuilding, too, was excellent. In little time, I found myself fully immersed in the world that Tahir creates. It was well-developed yet simple enough to grasp right off the bat. Having read some other fantasy-based novels with complex worlds, I was grateful that this one was easy enough for me to understand.

    I don’t want to say too much about this novel because I don’t know how to discuss it without spoiling much. All I will say is that this book is phenomenal and definitely worth the read. Tahir’s prose is lovely, and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

    What did you think of An Ember in the Ashes? What book should I read next?

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  • Book Review: THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

    This novel was recommended to me ages ago by an article I can’t remember. “For fans of GONE GIRL,” it said. I scoffed, thinking that there was no way some book I’d never heard of could compare to Gillian Flynn’s whirlwind thriller. Still, I’d heard a few good things about it. I decided to give it a shot.
    Book Review: THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

    I know I’m way behind on reviewing this book, but it was so much more than I thought it would be, and I want to get the word out so that more people will read it. I’d also like to add that I listened to the audiobook version of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. That won’t affect my review, but I will say this: the narration is most definitely worth it.

    Without further ado, let’s get to the book!

    Plot Summary

    Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

    And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

    My Thoughts

    For so long, I’ve tried to fight my love of thrillers. I’ve always been afraid to write a solid thriller because the market is sometimes so saturated, and I thought it was easier not to write them if I didn’t spend too much time reading them, either.

    Now, I’m coming out of the literary closet to proclaim my love of thrillers—starting with this novel. THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN is a modern masterpiece, a lyrical thrill ride that keeps you guessing—up until the very end. At first glance, this book seems like a run-of-the-mill murder mystery. The truth is, it’s so much more than that. When you dive into this book, you’re in for a pleasant surprise.

    There are three narrators in this novel, and I grew to love all of them. Sometimes it’s hard for me to get into multiple POV books, but not at all for this one. Every POV shift adds more depth to the overall story, and I didn’t feel like any of them could have been cut.

    I realize this review may seem a little vague, but that’s because I really don’t want to give anything about this book away. If you’re looking for a thrilling, suspenseful read with likeable characters and a well-crafted setting, check out Paula Hawkins’ THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. Now, I just have to figure out what to read next…

    How do you feel about thrillers? What did you think of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN?

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  • Book Review: DO YOUR LAUNDRY OR YOU’LL DIE ALONE by Becky Blades

    woman standing on pile of laundry
    I read a lot of advice books. Trust me when I say this: DO YOUR LAUNDRY OR YOU’LL DIE ALONE by Becky Blades stands out from the rest of the graduation-gift-book pack. It’s not only informative, but also insightful, entertaining, funny, and a breath of fresh air.

    Book Summary

    When Becky Blades sent her firstborn daughter off to Harvard, she knew the world’s top-ranked college would not be covering the most important material: how to be kind, happy, and appropriate in public; how to protect oneself from sock monsters, boring conversations, and scary dates; and why you should keep your clothes clean. So the day before classes started, Blades emailed a good-bye letter with motherly advice she had kept to herself for a year. Just in time for her youngest daughter’s graduation from high school, Blades illustrated the prose with her signature mixed-media artwork, creating a thought-provoking, conversation-starting book. With warmth, wit, and a hint of motherly sass, Do Your Laundry, or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give If She Thought You Were Listening blends bite-sized morsels of coming-of-age common sense with tiny essays on more substantial topics.

    My Thoughts

    The book is a collection of “warm, witty, and wise coming-of-age common sense.” The entries range from lighthearted (“Keep at least one stuffed animal”) to lenghty (essays on topics like phone etiquette and forgiveness). Unlike many other “gift” books, this one takes advantage of humor, witticism, and colorful graphics scattered throughout. I liked looking at the myriad designs almost as much as I enjoyed reading the book.

    This is the book I wish I’d gotten as a graduation present. Blades offers a unique blend of advice and comedy in a style that is entirely new. Here are some of my favorite bits of wisdom from the book:

    If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. You’re smart enough to think of something nice.

    Make something every day.

    Don’t press ‘send’ in the heat of emotion.

    The best way to glow is to shine the spotlight on someone else.

    Reading is sexy.

    Do something nice or good every day and tell no one.

    Have a list of things you like to do that don’t cost money.

    Of course, there are hundreds of other tips in this book for you to take advantage of. It’s difficult for me to choose my favorites. If you want to read Becky Blades’ wisdom for yourself, you can purchase this book in various formats through Amazon, Indie Bound, Barnes & Noble, and Rainy Day Books. Go get your copy today!

    What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

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  • Book Review: IRKADURA by Ksenia Anske

    little mouse in the palm of someone's hand
    Why did I wait so long to dive into this book? I held onto it for month before cracking it open to reveal the decadent darkness inside. All that time wasted. I could’ve loved this book sooner.

    Let’s get one thing straight: Ksenia Anske is brilliant. Really, she is. I read her novel ROSEHEAD in one sitting over the summer, and I read IRKADURA without stopping, too. I couldn’t put it down. Anske’s prose is dark and dreamy. She evokes a mood that is haunting yet real; scary yet sublime.

    And I loved every minute of it.

    This review is going to be short and sweet in an effort to avoid gushing.

    Plot Summary

    Irina Myshko is a sixteen-year-old Soviet girl who doesn’t speak. Why? She’s suffered decades of abuse at the hands (and other parts) of her mother’s boyfriends, and she’s been coping by escaping to an alternate reality. In this world, people’s true natures are revealed and they manifest themselves as animals.

    When Irina becomes pregnant, homeless, and penniless, she must figure out a way to survive in the world long enough to keep the impending madness at bay.

    The chapters are composed of short scenes that jump from one event to the next without wasting time. The pacing is fast, but not too fast. Also, there are no digressions. There weren’t any sections I wanted to skip. That’s the mark of an excellent story right there.

    My Thoughts

    This book unnerved me in the best way possible. I’ve heard a lot of good things about IRKADURA. All of them are true. The story is told from Irina’s POV, in first-person present tense. This style makes the plot much more immediate – as a reader, it felt like everything were actually happening to me.

    The events of the novel stick in your mind, as does the imagery Anske evokes. After finishing IRKADURA, I dreamed I was pregnant with a boar. Weird stuff, people. Weird, but good.

    It’s darker than my usual reading fare, believe it or not, but it’s an incredible novel. If you want to read something that will stay with you long after you’ve put it away, you might want to go out and buy IRKADURA.

    What did you think of IRKADURA? If you haven’t read it yet, how do you think it sounds?

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  • Book Review: WHAT ALICE FORGOT By Liane Moriarty

    Woman Walking on Beach
    Photo Credit: ArTeTerA on Flickr

    One of my personal goals for this year is to read more books written by women. Recently, I realized that most of the books I count as favorites were written by men: THE GREAT GATSBY, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, and NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR. While there’s nothing wrong with reading books written by men, I think female-authored books are too often overlooked.

    Last year, I powered through all three of Gillian Flynn’s novels: DARK PLACES (my favorite!), SHARP OBJECTS, and the famous GONE GIRL. I love every page of those books. Again, the fact that they’re written by a woman has little to do with their literary merit, but it means a lot to me on a personal level. Reading those books made me feel like I had a real shot at being published, woman or not. Also, it doesn’t hurt that Gillian Flynn is amazing.
    After hearing about BIG LITTLE LIES (which I still need to read), I decided to check out Liane Moriarty. I was looking for something on Audibleto occupy my mind while I drove home for Christmas. Somehow, I stumbled upon WHAT ALICE FORGOT.

    Plot Overview

    In this novel, Alice Love faints during spinning class and hits her head hard enough to rattle her memory. Ten years’ worth of thoughts, feelings, and personal growth go out the window with the injury. Alice thinks she’s back in 1998, pregnant with her first child and happily married to the love of her life. She must sort through the fragments of her shattered mind while carrying out her “normal” life–one in which she’s a Type A, sophisticated and separated mum to three beautiful children. Along the way, she learns how much can change in ten years, and how relationships can wax and wane with the passage of time. Above all, she learns more about herself than she ever imagined.

    My Thoughts

    I didn’t know what to expect from this book going in. It’s the first thing I’ve read of Moriarty’s, and I couldn’t stop listening (since I got it on Audible). I found that this novel made me look forward to my daily commute, which is no easy task. I’m not sure who to recommend this book to because I think almost everyone would enjoy it. My only complaint is that it felt a little deus ex machina toward the end. Still, the narrative itself more than makes up for that. If you’re looking for a gripping,  somewhat suspenseful read, get this book as soon as possible.
    What other female authors do you think I should read? How do you feel about WHAT ALICE FORGOT?
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  • Book Review: Morning Glory by Allison Blanchard


    Having read Allison Blanchard’s debut novel Forget Me Not, I was thrilled to have the chance to read and review the sequel. Morning Glory continues the story of Adeline, a high school girl whose ordinary life is turned upside down when she encounters a boy named Cole and his native traditions. Blanchard’s new novel is the perfect blend of depth, drama, and romance. Her stellar cast of characters, dedication to narrative, and attention to detail make Morning Glory an even greater success than Forget Me Not. This book is fantastic.

    Fans of the first novel’s protagonist Adeline will not be disappointed by her portrayal in this sequel. Blanchard stays true to Adeline’s character throughout this novel, and I had a difficult time finding anything that did not feel true to character. My other two favorites, Cole and Emma, are given an equally respectful treatment. The relationships established in the first novel are deepened and explored further in this sequel. Because fiction is about people, I loved Blanchard’s depth of characters and exploration of family, friendly, and romantic relationships throughout her new book.

    Another quality that makes this sequel worth reading is Blanchard’s dedication to the established narrative. Blanchard reminds the reader of the legend established in Forget Me Not while adding details that enhance the realism of the mythology. She also does an excellent job of keeping up with her characters’ histories and backstories (I’d like to know how she does it because I could use a few pointers).

    With a whole mythology to look after, it’s impressive that Blanchard does not slack off when it comes to her attention to detail. As with the backstories, Blanchard makes certain that every part of the legend exists for a reason–that is, every seemingly-insignificant detail coincides with something that happens in the story. Nothing happens unless it needs to. This level of attention is something that I have the utmost respect for.

    My only complaint about the novel? At times, it seemed that there was too much convenience. Certain events felt contrived rather than inevitable. Without giving too much away, I had a hard time believing the identity of the man who pulled Adeline from the river. Even then, Blanchard did her very best to convince me, which is why I am reluctant to list this single grievance.

    This sequel is as good as, if not better than, its predecessor. I enjoyed every second of the book and found it difficult to put down. If you loved Forget Me Not, or if you’re in the market for a new kind of paranormal romance, you need to check out Blanchard’s work.

    You can purchase Blanchard’s debut novel on Amazon. She also has a blog that you can view here.

    Want me to review your book? Comment or send me an email! I’d love to get in touch with you.


  • Book Review: Oleanders in Alaska by Matt Thompson


    I’ve read and reviewed plenty of books in my time. Some of these books have been written by individuals that I have not known personally (the vast majority. in fact). However, some of these books have been written by friends or colleagues with whom I am well-acquainted. When reviewing these books, I have to be careful to stay objective. I usually pretend that the book I’m reviewing was written by someone else entirely, someone that I don’t know, in order to give the review the emotional distance it deserves.

    And if the book is bad (oh, God forbid it), then I lie. When my friend or neighbor or loved one asks me what I thought about the book, I spit half-truths through gritted teeth. This approach takes a great deal of energy and usually results in me feeling exhausted and unfulfilled by the conversation.

    When it comes to Oleanders in Alaska by Matt Thompson, though, I’m happy to say that I do not have to lie. This book is fantastic. Let’s talk about it.

    Here’s the book description from Amazon.com: “Not all lives seem connected, but when a storm hits in St. Laurent’s, Alaska, the lives of many are thrown together. They find that their lives weren’t really so far apart to begin with, but quite the opposite.”

    Throughout the novel, the people of St. Laurent’s, Alaska interact and develop relationships with one another. Thompson handles their backstories with a masterful touch, revealing details only when they are relevant to the present action. Although the novel is short, it contains a great deal of emotional and psychological depth and character growth. The prose in and of itself is an absolute delight.

    Thompson’s latest novel is a treat. Oleanders in Alaska presents the struggles, triumphs, and journeys of the citizens of a small Alaskan town. It is a pleasure to read and even more so to review. If you love literary fiction, you should consider this novel your next must-read.

    Want me to review your book? Email me or leave a comment!