An Interview with Author Shannon Schuren

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Huge thanks to Shannon Schuren for putting together this post for us today! Her novel, The Virtue of Sin (June 25th, 2019), is a fascinating story about two teenagers who have spent their entire lives in a cult and how they deal with their newfound clarity about their situation as they are thrown into adulthood in the community. It is a novel that portrays the importance of not always taking what people in power say at face value, fighting for equality, and learning to accept others—and oneself—for who they are. 
I read The Virtue of Sin a few months ago and it is one of my favorite books of 2019! Shannon has graciously agreed to join me for a Q&A about the novel and her career as a writer. Please make sure to check Shannon out on her websiteTwitter, and Goodreads. If you are interested in reading my full, spoiler-free review of The Virtue of Sin, you can find it here!

What inspired you to write The Virtue of Sin?

I’ve always been fascinated by cults and fringe groups, by this idea that someone might give up their freedom and autonomy in their search for meaning and belonging. But the initial spark for this story, specifically, came from a visit to Koreshan State Park in Estero, FL, which was the site of a ‘utopian community’ back in the late 1800’s. So, basically a cult. It was so interesting to wander around their old buildings and read about their belief system. It didn’t seem wise or safe to try and infiltrate a cult for research purposes, so this was the next best thing. I recommend a visit if you’re ever in the area!

You portrayed the psychological aspects of the cult mindset incredibly well and your characters were very realistic and well-crafted. How did you approach the task of creating their personalities and bringing them to life within the setting and narrative?

Thank you! Honestly, this was mostly trial and error. The very first version of the story began with a four-person narrative, but I realized very quickly that wasn’t going to work. For one thing, Aaron knows things about New Jerusalem that I didn’t necessarily want the reading learning right out of the gate. After I pared the POV down to just Miriam and Caleb, it took some work to develop their distinct voices and personalities. They both have very different experiences in the novel, much of that based on gender and their roles within the community. As for the secondary characters, a lot of their personalities developed organically as I was drafting. Especially in early drafts, I like to put different characters together and write random scenes to see what they say and how they interact.

What did you find to be the most challenging part of the writing process?

The ending! I rewrote it so many times, I’ve lost count. Without giving away any spoilers, I had a really difficult time figuring out whether or not Miriam and Caleb’s paths were going to meet up or diverge. And I really had to push myself to find the right ending for both of them—one that felt realistic, yet earned. Hopefully, I managed it. 

How does it feel to know your book is published and out in the world for people to read, and what has been your favorite part of the experience so far?

It is definitely a surreal experience to know that it’s out in the world! I am so grateful for everyone who has picked it up, and everyone who has reached out to tell me about it. I absolutely love hearing from readers. That is my favorite part, by far.

What books and/or authors have inspired you the most?

This is a tough question, because I have been touched by so many books and inspired by so many authors. I really love stories about strong, fierce young women who aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves and others. Or maybe they are afraid, but they do it anyway. Some of my favorites include “The Female of the Species” by Mindy McGinnis, “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson, “Sadie” by Courtney Summers, and “Blood Water Paint” by Joy McCullough.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

  1. Read—anything and everything. Genres you love and genres outside your comfort zone. For fun and for research and with avid curiosity.
  2. Write the book you want to read.
  3. Don’t give up. I was very close to throwing in the towel on THE VIRTUE OF SIN. I cringe whenever I think about how close I came. You’re going to hear a lot of ‘no’s’ but it only takes one yes, and it could be on that next manuscript you write, or the next query you send out. So keep going!

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Book Info:

thevirtueofsinThe Virtue of Sin by Shannon Schuren

Date Published: June 25th, 2019

Publisher: Philomel Books

Pages: 432 pages

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

A compelling novel about speaking out, standing up, and breaking free perfect for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale and Tara Westover’s Educated.

Miriam lives in New Jerusalem, a haven in the desert far away from the sins and depravity of the outside world. Within the gates of New Jerusalem, and under the eye of its founder and leader, Daniel, Miriam knows she is safe. Cared for. Even if she’s forced, as a girl, to quiet her tongue when she has thoughts she wants to share, Miriam knows that New Jerusalem is a far better life than any alternative. So when God calls for a Matrimony, she’s thrilled; she knows that Caleb, the boy she loves, will choose her to be his wife and they can finally start their life together. 

But when the ceremony goes wrong and Miriam winds up with someone else, she can no longer keep quiet. For the first time, Miriam begins to question not only the rules that Daniel has set in place, but also what it is she believes in, and where she truly belongs.

Alongside unexpected allies, Miriam fights to learn–and challenge–the truth behind the only way of life she’s ever known, even if it means straying from the path of Righteousness.

A compelling debut novel about speaking out, standing up, and breaking free.

Author Bio:

5190994Shannon Schuren (shannon.schuren.org) works as a children’s librarian at a public library and writes from a cozy she-shed in her backyard. Her short stories have appeared in various journals such as Toasted Cheese Literary JournalBig Pulp, and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. Shannon lives in Sheboygan Falls, WI, with her husband and three children. Follow her on Twitter @shannonschuren.

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Guest Post: Author J.L. Mbewe

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Today’s post is a guest post written by the very lovely and talented author, J.L. Mbewe. J.L. is the writer of The Hidden Dagger trilogy, an exciting fantasy series set in a beautifully crafted and rich world. I am incredibly honored to have this chance to feature her on my blog and to work with her to promote her wonderful books! Please make sure to check out J.L. on her social medias which are listed down below. You can also find all the information about and links to the novels in this trilogy there as well. You can check out my spoiler-free review of the full trilogy here!

Thank you so much for having me!

Where to start, eh? I’ve been writing since I was eight years old. From little children’s stories to poetry to journaling. Writing has always been a way of processing things and expressing myself. I even attempted a few novels when I was a teenager, although, those will never see the light of day. I burnt them. Long story. But it wasn’t until 2003 that I decided to seriously sit down and write a novel. The Sorceress’s Curse. Printed out, the first draft could fit in a plastic folder with brads, which eventually grew into The Hidden Dagger Trilogy. Sixteen years later!

I had no clue what I was doing. Once I had finished that first draft, I started looking for the next step. I read magazines, books, and blogs on improving my writing and how to get published. I was told newbies should not begin with epic fantasy and a large host of characters. Oops. Too late! I broke every rule in the industry or what the experts would suggest. I learned a lot of stuff the hard way. It was like chasing unicorns. Actually, it still feels that way. Ha!

While I was rewriting and learning the ropes with my first book, I discovered National Novel Writing Month. *Cue angelic voices* Each year when NaNoWriMo rolled around, I would take a break and write something new. I’d figure out the basic plot aspects, the main characters, and sketch a map of the world ahead of time, and then I’d dive in. I was always a big proponent of write fast and fix it later. It helped get the basic idea of the story down for me, which led to several novels in various stages and drafts. But now I’m not so sure. My latest project has me world-building and outlining a whole lot more than my previous novels. Of course, this latest series is a different beast than The Hidden Dagger Trilogy and all my other unfinished novels. It’s a murder mystery fantasy, but we’ll see. I’m sure the fate of their world will hang in the balance eventually.

And that brings us up to current day, 2019. I’m not sure where I will go from here and I suspect that my writing process will continue to evolve and that no two book journeys are alike. My plan is to continue writing, learning, growing, and not just in writing, but in my other creative endeavors. I love creating, but I also want to encourage others. Writing can be such a lonely journey. The directions are muddled, the map is sketchy, and one’s journey is never quite the same as another. I have learned so much, yet I have so much more to learn. I hope to one day be able to help other writers through their own journey.

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Author Bio:

JL MbeweWriting as J. L. Mbewe, Jennette is an author, artist, mother, wife, but not always in that order. Born and raised in Minnesota, she now braves the heat of Texas, but pines for the Northern Lights and the lakes of home every autumn. She loves trying to capture the abstract and make it concrete. She is currently living her second childhood with her wonderful husband and two precious children who don’t seem to mind her eclectic collections of rocks, shells, and swords, among other things. Here, between reality and dreams, you will find her busily creating worlds inhabited by all sorts of fantasy creatures and characters, all questing about and discovering true love amid lots of peril.

Her debut novel, Secrets Kept, was nominated for the 2014 Clive Staples Award. Her second novel, Darkened Hope was a semi-finalist for the 2017 Alliance Award.

Website  Facebook  Instagram  Twitter  Goodreads — Pinterest

Book Details:

secretskeptSecrets Kept by J.L. Mbewe

Series: Hidden Dagger #1

Date Published: May 14th, 2015

Publisher: BrokenSeed Books

Pages: 400 pages

Links: Goodreads | Amazon

Synopsis: With a curse, she will build an army. With the dagger, she will undo the last sacrifice. But first the sorceress must find the secret keeper. 

Torn from her homeland and thrust into a betrothal against her wishes, Ayianna learns her family has a deadly secret that now has her on the run. She joins forces with Kael, an embittered half-elf, and Saeed, an elderly High Guardian, to seek answers to her father’s death, the destruction of Dagmar, and the plains people’s bizarre behavior.

Ayianna discovers there is more at stake here than just her mother’s disappearance and her familial duty to her betrothed. The sorceress has cursed the plains people, and it is a race against time to release them before the sorceress resurrects an ancient evil.

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darkenedhopeDarkened Hope by J.L. Mbewe

Series: Hidden Dagger #2

Date Published: May 7th, 2016

Publisher: BrokenSeed Books

Pages: 392 pages

Links: Goodreads | Amazon

Synopsis: The Secret Keeper is on the run, but does she know the secret she keeps? 

Ayianna is a cursed half-elf betrothed to Desmond, but her heart belongs Kael. After discovering the cure for the Sorceress’s curse, she and her companions embark on a dangerous quest to retrieve the ingredients.

When dragons descend upon their party, Ayianna realizes the Sorceress is searching not just for the corrupted dagger, but a human sacrifice that will open a portal to the underworld. Battling deadly creatures and natural disasters, Ayianna is forced to confront her insecurities and conflicted heart. She must decide whether to be true to her family or true to herself.

As the nations rally for war, betrayal threatens to destroy them all, and it’s a race against time to return before the curse destroys the plains people.

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curseboundCurse Bound by J.L. Mbewe

Series: Hidden Dagger #3

Date Published: June 27th, 2019

Publisher: BrokenSeed Books

Pages: 326 pages

Links: Goodreads | Amazon

Synopsis: Kael’s worse fears have come true. Betrayal has shaken the Guardian Circle, the High Guardian is dead, and Ayianna and Prince Vian are in the hands of the Sorceress, but he and his companions must finish their quest, before they can attempt a rescue mission. Unfortunately, Desmond’s parting gift left them stranded on the western cliffs of Nälu.

Jathil, once heir to the throne of Arashel, believes her father will aid them, but first she must face the crimes of her past. When she does, she could never believe the outcome, nor the rippling effect it would have on the nations. Meanwhile the Alliance braces for war, but division threatens to undermine their efforts. When Nerissa returns from Ganya with the dragon regiment, she discovers a bigger problem. The curse bound are waking up.

As the quest nears completion, Kael is forced to choose between his heart and duty, and neither choice bodes well with him. Either way, he will face the Sorceress and her armies sooner or later. The battle for Nälu has begun and there can be only one victor. 

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Recent TBR Additions #2

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Hi Everyone!

Since I’ve been crazy busy doing the N.E.W.T.s Readathon and finishing the end of term at school, I’ve been running quite a bit behind on writing up my reviews. I’ll have plenty of new reviews as well as a couple author guest posts I think you guys will enjoy coming very soon! But for today, I hope you don’t mind a bit of a shorter post. I’ve discovered and added a bunch of really interesting books to my TBR lately and I thought I would share the ones I’m most excited to read!

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Believe Me by J.P. Delaney

Pretty as a Picture by Elizabeth Little

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

The Deep by Alma Katsu

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The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu

Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim

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Agency by William Gibson

Winterwood by Shea Ernshaw

A Place Called Perfect by Helena Duggan

All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace

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Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

The Sol Majestic by Ferrett Steinmetz

Witchmark by C.L. Polk

What have you guys been reading lately? Have you made any recent TBR additions that you are particularly excited for? Let me know in the comments!

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Ziggy, Stardust and Me Blog Tour: Guest Post by Author James Brandon

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Today’s post is a guest post by author James Brandon. His debut novel, Ziggy, Stardust and Me, released on August 8th. Since music is a central theme in the novel, I’ve asked him to tell us what theme songs he would pick for each of his characters. Ziggy, Stardust and Me is an absolutely beautiful novel about self-discovery, love, acceptance, and finding the strength to stand up for what you believe in. It is a beautiful story and I cannot recommend it highly enough, so please make sure to check it out! 🙂

What theme song would you choose for each character and why?

Such a great question! For me, music is the key to unlocking closed doors within our soul, doors we may be too scared to open ourselves or are afraid to face. This is why music is a huge part of Jonathan’s world; it’s his form of escape, his way of coping with the awfulness that continues to assault him in “the real world.” In fact, while writing the first drafts of Ziggy and discovering Jonathan’s character, I found a musicality to his voice that I think really speaks to the inner workings of his mind, and hopefully adds a more intimate connection to his personal journey.

Music of the early seventies was revolutionary: from glam rock to Soul Train, every faction of marginalized society was finding its voice in new modes of musical expression. And I wanted Ziggy, Stardust & Me to be a soundtrack of the time, a nostalgic look back at some of the greatest music ever created. So even before the initial drafts, I had a theme song in mind for each character because I knew it would allow me a deeper connection to their being…

For Jonathan, the obvious album is Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. (Ziggy Stardust is his Messiah after all.) But his theme song is “Rock N’ Roll Suicide.” I quote a lyric from this track at the beginning of Part Three because this is the song Jonathan plays on repeat as he faces some horrific battles in his life. Bowie screams, “You’re not alone,” over and over again at the end of the song, and those three words became Jonathan’s only lifeline to what was left of his spirit.

For Web, Jonathan’s love interest, his first obsession is Pink Floyd’s album Dark Side of the Moon. And for good reason: the album is frigging genius and, when listened to carefully, can take you on a roller coaster ride to the depths of your soul. It’s confident, fearless and unapologetic, just like Web. But I’d also attach “I Feel the Earth Move” by Carole King to his character; it balances his feminine side while also directly speaking to his inner journey.

For Starla, Jonathan’s best friend, the song she’s currently playing on repeat is “Killing Me Softly” by Roberta Flack. It’s soulful and powerful, spiritual and strong—all traits I think Starla possesses. I’d also add, “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar” as her theme song; Starla’s a budding activist, a true believer in making your voice heard to effectively create change. And as she steps more confidently into this part of her being, she begins to discover her own inner power.

For Jonathan’s dad, his personal soundtrack is Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” or “Dream On” by Aerosmith. (Both of which you’ll find him singing in the narrative.) For lack of a better description, there’s a nostalgic aggressiveness to these songs I love for him. Jonathan’s father longs for lost memories, clings desperately to them, and is so lost in the past he won’t allow himself to see the love that’s right in front of him.

There’s a theme song for every character in the story, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what they are. 🙂 And if you want to enjoy any of the songs mentioned in the novel to fully immerse yourself in Jonathan’s world, I created a Spotify playlist to take you deeper on the journey: 

https://open.spotify.com/user/1261155990/playlist/477lx4RRdyv3Qse0laMLte?si=8_H0w_4HTRGaZBXlqBLEfQ&nd=1

Book Info:

ziggystardustandmeZiggy, Stardust and Me by James Brandon

Date Published: August 6th, 2019

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

Pages: 368 pages

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Penguin Random House

The year is 1973. The Watergate hearings are in full swing. The Vietnam War is still raging. And homosexuality is still officially considered a mental illness. In the midst of these trying times is sixteen-year-old Jonathan Collins, a bullied, anxious, asthmatic kid, who aside from an alcoholic father and his sympathetic neighbor and friend Starla, is completely alone. To cope, Jonathan escapes to the safe haven of his imagination, where his hero David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and dead relatives, including his mother, guide him through the rough terrain of his life. In his alternate reality, Jonathan can be anything: a superhero, an astronaut, Ziggy Stardust, himself, or completely “normal” and not a boy who likes other boys. When he completes his treatments, he will be normal—at least he hopes. But before that can happen, Web stumbles into his life. Web is everything Jonathan wishes he could be: fearless, fearsome and, most importantly, not ashamed of being gay.

Jonathan doesn’t want to like brooding Web, who has secrets all his own. Jonathan wants nothing more than to be “fixed” once and for all. But he’s drawn to Web anyway. Web is the first person in the real world to see Jonathan completely and think he’s perfect. Web is a kind of escape Jonathan has never known. For the first time in his life, he may finally feel free enough to love and accept himself as he is.

A poignant coming-of-age tale, Ziggy, Stardust and Me heralds the arrival of a stunning and important new voice in YA.

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Author Bio:

18089438James Brandon produced and played the central role of Joshua in the international tour of Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi for a decade, and is codirector of the documentary film based on their journey, Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption. He’s the cofounder of the I AM Love Campaign, an arts-based initiative bridging the faith-based and LGBTQ2+ communities, and serves on the Powwow Steering Committee for Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits (BAAITS) in San Francisco. Brandon is a contributing writer for Huffington PostBelieve Out Loud, and Spirituality and Health MagazineZiggy, Stardust and Me is his first novel. You can visit James Brandon at justbejb.com

Blogger Campaign Schedule:

Week One: Ziggy, Stardust and Me

August 5 – The Book Bratz – Covers inspired by favorite singers

August 6 – Goblet of Fiction – Creative Instagram Picture

August 7 – The Quirky Book Nerd – Author Guest Post: What theme song would you choose for each character and why?

August 8 – Confessions of a YA Reader – Playlist

August 9 – Velarisreads – Inspired by the Book: Makeup

Week Two

August 12 – Liv The Book Nerd – Review + Playlist

August 13 – The Nerdy Girl Express – Review

August 14 – Rants and Raves of a Bibliophile – Raves and Craves

August 15 – LGBT YA Catalog – Author Guest Post

August 16 – @booksandbrandy – Creative Instagram Picture

 

Week One: As Many Nows As I Can Get

August 19 – Just Add a Word – Review + Playlist

August 20 – Evil Queen Books – Moodboard + Review

August 21 – NovelKnight Book Reviews – Author Guest Post: What are the benefits and struggles of creating a character-reader connection with a non-linear timeline? In other words, what is the process of writing characters that readers can become invested in while also alternating through the past and present?

August 22 – So She Tries – Creative Instagram Picture

August 23 – Thrifty Bibliophile – Playlist

Week Two

August 26 – The Geeky Yogi – Creative Instagram Picture + Review

August 27 – Two Points of Interest – Review

August 28 – Wishful Endings – Moodboard + Instagram Picture

August 29 – Swoony Boys Podcast – Author Interview

August 30 – High Lit Books – Review

 

Week One: We Speak in Storms

September 2 – Book Princess Reviews – Books that Blend Magic and Real Life

September 3 – A Court of Coffee and Books – Moodboard + Review

September 4 – Emma Reads – Review + Inspired by the Book

September 5 – Fiction No Chaser – Review

September 6 – The Bookish Chick – Playlist + Review

Week Two

September 9 – BW Reviews – Review

September 10 – Books and Wildflowers – Listicle: 10 Things to Keep You Occupied During a Storm

September 11 – Musings of a (Book) Girl – Listicle: Items you should pack for a Tornado

September 12 – ELA Everyday – Creative Instagram Picture + Review

September 13 – Book Fidelity – Review

 

Week One: The Stars and The Blackness Between Them

September 16 – Forever and Everly – Moodboard + Review

September 17 – The Paige-Turner – Creative Instagram Picture

September 18 – The Library Voice – Author Guest Post

September 19 – Books and Blends – Review + Creative Instagram Picture

Week Two

September 23 – GladiatorGlory – Inspired by the Book: Makeup

September 24 – The Heart of a Book Blogger – Moodboard

September 25 – The Baroness of Books – Favorite Quote Graphics + Review

September 26 – Fictionally Sam – Review

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N.E.W.T.s Magical Readathon 2019 TBR

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I’ve been seeing these readathons going around a lot lately and I figured I should give one a try! I missed the O.W.L.s Magical Readathon, but I thought I would just jump in with this one anyway. These readathons were created by the incredible G over at Book Roast. For this readathon, you need to choose a profession, then complete the N.E.W.T.s prompts to receive the grades required for your chosen career. It was insanely difficult to choose a career as there are so many amazing ones! But I decided—since I’m a psychology major—to choose the Mind Medic profession.

Mind Medic

O in Charms

A: Read a book that you think has a gorgeous cover

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House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig

E: Read a comic/graphic novel/manga (or book under 150 pages)

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Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker

O: Spongeify (softening charm) – Read a paperback book

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Your Heart Is The Sea by Nikita Gill

O in Defense Against the Dark Arts

A: Book that’s black under the dust jacket

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Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

E: Gilderoy’s memory charm – first book that you remembered just now from your TBR

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His Hideous Heart by Various

O: Cornish Pixie! Swat it away with a book written by an English author or set in England

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The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal

E in Muggle Studies

A: Cover that includes an actual photo element (person, item, place, etc.)

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The Perfect Wife by J.P. Delaney

E: Book set in our real world

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The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

O: Book written by a person of color

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The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

E in Potions

A: Polyjuice Potion – Read your friend’s favorite book

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Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

E: House ingredient – book with a cover in your Hogwarts house color (Ravenclaw)

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Doctor Who: Myths and Legends by Richard Dinnick

O: Book that starts with a prologue

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The Lady Rogue by Jenn Bennett

E in Transfiguration

A: Read a book with LGBTQA+ representation

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Ziggy, Stardust and Me by James Brandon

E: Read a book that’s not a first in the series

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Cress by Marissa Meyer

O: McGonagall does not mess around! Read a book over 500 pages

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Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb

Restricted Section: Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell

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Let me know if you are participating in the readathon too!

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Review: One Little Secret by Cate Holahan

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onelittlesecretOne Little Secret by Cate Holahan

My Rating: 2.5/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: July 9th, 2019

Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Pages: 320 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Everyone has a secret. For some, it’s worth dying to protect. For others, it’s worth killing.

The glass beach house was supposed to be the getaway that Susan needed. Eager to help her transplanted family set down roots in their new town – and desperate for some kid-free conversation – she invites her new neighbors to join in on a week-long sublet with her and her workaholic husband.

Over the course of the first evening, liquor loosens inhibitions and lips. The three couples begin picking up on the others’ marital tensions and work frustrations, as well as revealing their own. But someone says too much. And the next morning one of the women is discovered dead on the private beach.

Town detective Gabby Watkins must figure out who permanently silenced the deceased. As she investigates, she learns that everyone in the glass house was hiding something that could tie them to the murder, and that the biggest secrets of all are often in plain sight for anyone willing to look.

A taut, locked room mystery with an unforgettable cast of characters, One Little Secret promises to keep readers eyes glued to the pages and debating the blinders that we all put on in the service of politeness.

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

Going in, this book seemed like it would be right up my alley in terms of the types of mystery/thriller novels I enjoy. So I am disappointed to say that I came out with rather mixed feelings about it—it was just a bit underwhelming for me. On the one hand, this story is packed with a few too many clichés and there are a number of elements of the plot that could have been executed better. On the other hand, it is a fast and fairly entertaining read that still completely held my attention all the way through. All this being said, I have come to the conclusion that the majority of my issues with the narrative are simply connected to my personal taste.

The characters that make up the intriguing cast of this story are definitely not particularly likable people. The tension in the house is incredibly palpable with the constant stilted interactions, nasty thoughts, and full-blown arguments. And they will immediately have you questioning why in the world they would ever agree to go on vacation together for a week in the first place. Despite this, there are still redeemable qualities in some of them and not everyone is quite as bad as they seem in the beginning.

Though my mixed feelings really apply to every aspect of this novel, I thought the characterization was decent. I found most of the characters to be realistic and thought they had a good amount of dimension. The majority of them evolved—along with my opinion of them—as the story progressed and as more of their backgrounds were revealed. Many of them are dislikable, but in a very purposeful way—you are meant to be suspicious of them for a while, and almost all of them do end up acting poorly at some point. I did feel like this only added to their believability. There are a couple characters—only one main one—who are quite one dimensional and somewhat unrealistic, but this is avoided for the most part.

Quite honestly, this novel is absolutely full of adult mystery novel clichés. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Commonly used elements can still make for a great story and I do not think that this is an entirely negative thing when it comes to this one. I do think it is a bit overdone. The topics used to create drama between the couples and in the plot of the novel overall are well written for what they are. There are scenes of domestic abuse that are so realistically portrayed they are quite intense and hard to read. The themes of betrayal are very vivid and the moments of insecurity are extremely relatable. All in all, Holahan truly brings every theme dealt with in this novel to life in a multi-dimensional way.

The issue here—and it is certainly more related to personal preference than an actual problem with the story—is that these commonly used plot points became too overwhelming. Trying to crowd all of them in caused the originality of the narrative to take a significant hit. Every unique moment is overshadowed by tropes like infidelity, abuse, alcoholism, and petty arguments. Though these topics are common in many novels and add a good deal of tension and drama, there needs to be more substance. In this novel, it felt like one was being piled onto the next just for the sake of raising more issues for the couples rather than actually building or progressing the plot.

The most major element of the novel that I feel could have been executed better is the creation of suspicion in the reader’s mind. A mystery novel should allow the reader to form their own thoughts about and distrust in the possible culprits by subtly directing their attention to potential motives. While Holahan does do that in some ways, it lacks a lot of that subtlety and ends up coming across as a bit forced. Though every person in the house is clearly going to be a suspect, there are constant and far too obvious reminders of why they could be guilty. It becomes very over-the-top and detracts from the suspense of the plot.

I definitely think Holahan could have left a little room for the reader to come to their own conclusions about each of the characters’ potential for being the killer. Developing them more naturally and relying solely on laying out personalities and backstories with the progression of the plot would have allowed for this. It is easy to get a clear picture of each character and form one’s own opinion based on the way she does these things over the course of the novel. However, too often the narrative strays toward a less delicate way of weaving in distrust of the characters, instead, pointing the finger quite plainly from one person to the next.

Another element of the novel I feel could have been executed better is the narrowing down of suspects over the course of the story. As the narrative progresses, each of the potential killers is cleared one by one until there are only two left in the end. This approach, for me, sort of killed the suspense. It would have kept me more on the edge of my seat if Holahan had left a few more options in there. This, though, is undeniably something that did not work for me personally and could easily be perfectly fine for a different reader. As it stands, I found the ending to be extremely predictable and it fell rather flat. I have to say, the choice of the killer upset me a bit for a number of reasons as well.

The writing itself is a strong point in this book. I really like Holahan’s writing style—it flows very naturally and is easy to get into. Her descriptions are very vivid and help to pull the reader into the story. She sets the scene for all the mystery and deception well, forming an environment that reflects the tone and emotion of each scene. The narrative never lacks realism, helping to immerse the reader and connect them with the setting and characters.

Now, after all that I have said, it may seem like this reading experience was a primarily negative one, but that is not entirely true. There were a lot of issues I personally had with it but, as I said before, I doubt they would apply to everyone. Personal taste was a big factor here. Also, I was very engaged in the story. I did not absolutely love it but it held my attention from beginning to end and I was truly interested in finding out how everything would resolve. Despite the predictability of many plot points, there were still enough surprises to keep me guessing. Overall, this is a novel that I would recommend giving a try. I know it is something that plenty of readers will find enjoyment in.

2.5 TARDISes

Author Bio:

13482092Cate Holahan is the USA Today Bestselling author of The Widower’s Wife, Lies She Told, and Dark Turns, all published by Crooked Lane Books. The Widower’s Wife was named to Kirkus’ best books of 2016. An award-winning journalist and former television producer, she has written for BusinessWeek, The Boston Globe, and The Record newspaper. Her short fiction won first place in the 19th annual Calliope competition, a magazine published by the writer’s group of American Mensa. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, two daughters, ages 7 and 5, and dog Westley. She graduated from Princeton University in 2002.

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Reviews: Some Girls Bind by Rory James and The Videomaniac by Wil Mara

somegirlsbindSome Girls Bind by Rory James

My Rating: 3/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: February 1st, 2019

Publisher: West 44 Books

Pages: 200 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: Jamie knows that she isn’t like other girls. She has a secret. She binds her chest every day to feel more like herself. Jamie questions why she is drawn to this practice and why she is afraid of telling her friends, who have their own secrets. Could she really be genderqueer?

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

This is what is considered “hi-lo” fiction—short books that are designed to encourage young, reluctant readers to read more. This one seems like it is aimed for an early middle school to early high school audience, so basically mid-middle grade and early young adult. I did like this story quite a bit and I thought the diversity shown here was fantastic. I love seeing more LGBT+ novels entering the world and it is particularly good to target younger audiences. Novels like these encourage open-mindedness and may help readers become more accepting of others as well as themselves.

I will admit, I felt once again that this was a topic that would have been better suited to a slightly longer format. I think expanding the story just a little bit would help readers connect with the characters and better understand the subjects being addressed. However, James does present and explain the process of discovering ones’ identity in a clear and concise way. This is a positive story that I could definitely see inspiring readers to better understand who they are and helping them view the world in a new light. The main characters were likable and easy to connect with, which makes this a fairly engaging reading experience. Overall, I think this is a solid addition to both hi-lo and LGBT+ literature.

3.0 TARDISes

thevideomaniacThe Videomaniac by Wil Mara

My Rating: 1/5 TARDISes

Series: Standalone

Date Published: January 15th, 2019

Publisher: West 44 Books

Pages: 120 pages

Source: Netgalley

Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository

Synopsis: At a local flea market, thirteen-year-old Brian Hart meets a creepy old man who gives him computer software that can predict future football NFL games. But is the power to see the future really as beneficial as Brian believes?

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*I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

This is a spoiler-free review.

I feel terrible saying this, but I honestly don’t know what I just read. This is a weird story and, unfortunately, not in a particularly good way. Though it sounded promising when I first found it, I personally did not like the content of this story. The interactions between Brian and the future-predicting software system are quite eerie, which could have been a good thing, but I struggled to make sense of what was happening for the majority of the narrative.

All of the characters are really unlikeable, though the main character, Brian, is supposed to be to some extent. Their interactions with each other feel stilted and unrealistic. And what they let him get away with in terms of the bets they made also felt very unrealistic. The writing is very jumbled and confusing—it feels all over the place and there is no discernible direction many times.

Here is where I come to an opinion that is going to sound completely ridiculous given the type of story this is supposed to be. This is what is considered “hi-lo” fiction—short books that are designed to encourage young, reluctant readers to read more. This one seems like it is aimed for a late elementary school to early middle school audience. It is intended to be short, but this story just needed more. It would be better if it was more fleshed out—if there were more details about the program or his friendships. It really just isn’t the right type of story for this short format. I have to admit I do not feel that this would be the best thing for a reluctant reader to read.

1.0 TARDIS

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