Book of the Month: May 2017

It’s the last day of May which means it’s time for me to choose my favourite book from the past four weeks. I have to admit that this month’s choice was pretty easy as I ended up reading a rather large number of less than average books. I blame it on Kindle Unlimited. It turns out a book habit like mine can get rather expensive so I opted to do a free trail of Kindle Unlimited where you pay a monthly subscription and then get access to hundreds of books. Unfortunately the young adult selection provided is rather shocking. I gave up before the end of the month and bought a book that I knew would not disappoint. And I mean, not to toot my own horn or anything, but boy was I right.

So, drum roll please… Dum, DUM, DUM!

May’s Book of the Month is… Bad Blood (The Naturals Book 4) by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (Yeah, I know, the cover photo kind of gave it away, shush)

Ever since I heard that Jennifer Lynn Barnes was writing a series about genius kids who hunted serial killers for the FBI I was hooked. Then I read the first book and I was a goner. Somehow it was even better than I imagined (and I have a pretty healthy imagination on me). Think Criminal Minds but with teenagers.

There are five teens on the team each with a natural ability they can use to help catch serial killers; Sloane is a straight up genius with a shit tonne of emotional baggage and a brain that doesn’t understand how to process it. Michael can read emotions, an ability he gained thanks to an abusive father. Lia is a pathological liar who no one can lie to, she can spot a lie from a mile away but no one can call out hers. Dean is a natural profiler, he can get into the head of the killer a trick which can come in pretty handy when you’re chasing them. Oh and he’s the son of a serial killer that their FBI mentors put away. Then there is Cassie, the latest addition to the team and the book’s narrator. Cassie is also a profiler although she tends to get into the mind of the victim, making her and Dean the perfect team, well, once she’s knocked down his walls that is.

Cassie is an awesome protagonist. There’s no two ways about it. She’s spunky and fun, reckless and protective, strong and so very vulnerable. Throughout the series she’s pulled through a web of emotional and physical torment and the final book Bad Blood brings this all to a wonderful and devastating end.

So here’s a little taster of Barnes gorgeous writing:

“I love you.” [He] lifted the words from my mind. “Today, tomorrow, covered in blood, haunted and waking up in the middle of the night screaming – I love you.” 

So what are you waiting for, stop reading this and start reading The Naturals!

 

Book of the Month: April 2017

The astute among you will have no doubt twigged what this post is about. Each month I am going to do a post about the book I enjoyed most from said month. Given that I go through about twenty books a month this isn’t going to be an easy task. In fact I’m going to break the rules from the off set as this April’s ‘Book of the Month’ is a series. I’m sorry, I just couldn’t choose.

Okay, ahem, drum roll please. (Exaggerated pause for dramatic effect to send you guys insane)

And… This month’s ‘Book of the Month’ is…

The Savant Series by Joss Stirling!

The series consists of six books in total which I read in ten days. That may seem like a short amount of time in which to read six books but I must admit I did little else. I have fallen in love with the Savant world. Each book, although they are all linked, is narrated by a different character. At first I wasn’t sure I’d like this as I grow so attached to the characters in my books that I just want to read more about them but Stirling does a wonderful job at linking back to the characters in previous books so you never feel like you’ve let someone behind. What you get, instead, is to meet six fiery and passionate girls. Each with their own personality so striking and imperfect that you can’t help but connect with them.

The stories all follow the same premise of seeking the main characters ‘soulfinder’ (a person who shares the other half of their savant gifts) and yet Stirling somehow makes sure it never feels repetitive. They have the perfect combination of romance and drama; kidnappings scattered with first kisses. One of the things I love about the series is that the relationships are never smooth sailing. Despite the ‘soulfinder’ connection it isn’t always love at first sight and although there are the same ups and downs across all the books the individuality of the characters and their issues break through to stop the stories being too predictable.

To top it all off Stirling’s writing is beautiful but don’t take my word for it, here’s a sentence from the first book in the series ‘Finding Sky’ :

“Mist drifted off the mountain slopes, cutting the sunlit summits off from the dark green base like an eraser rubbing out a picture.”

If you like what you’ve read then click here to find more about the Savant Series.

Enjoy your adventures with Sky, Phoenix, Crystal, Misty, Angel and Summer. (I couldn’t finish the post without sharing the characters’ names, I’m a little bit in awe of Stirling’s naming abilities.)

 

 

YA for Adults: How to find the right books

I think I was seventeen-years-old when I lost my love of reading. Determined to study English Literature at University I put down my kid spy and vampire books and picked up the classics. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the classics are bad, there were a few that I did really enjoy – Huckleberry Finn being one of them. But I realised one day that I was having to tell myself to read at least ten pages a day. A few months later I was in hospital and I bought myself a YA book (YA stands for young adult btw (btw stands for by the way fyi (fyi stands for for your information umt) Okay you got me, that last one doesn’t stand for anything. Back to the point in hand, I read that YA book in under a day. I finished the last page and was filled with that warm fuzzy feeling you get when you’re reading a good book. I hadn’t lost my love of reading, I’d just been reading the wrong books.

So what if technically I’m an adult? So what if the books are ‘marketed’ at teenagers? When I was ten I was reading books way above my age range. Adults all around the world are obsessed with Harry Potter – a ‘children’s book’. Writing is writing, a story is a story. If you enjoy it, read it.

There is a slight problem with this though. YA bridges a wide range of topics and writing styles. There are those that, for me, aren’t as enjoyable, not because the story isn’t as good but because the writing is closer to that of Middle Grade. This can make finding the right books for you tricky.

It sounds simple but I’ve found that the best guide for finding young adult stories with adult level writing is looking at the main characters age. For me, if the main character is under fifteen then the book will be too young. This isn’t an absolute but it’s a good guide.

If you want to avoid any sexual elements then stick to characters seventeen and under. Amazon also does a good job at high lighting when I book might not be appropriate for younger readers.

If, on the other hand you want something with a bit more romance and the sexy stuff that comes with i, then look for characters aged nineteen and above. Also try looking for New Adult books. I haven’t entirely figured out what this genre includes but I know romance is often a key part of it.

If you’re struggling to find a book then Goodreads is a great website. You can search for a book you’ve read and it will recommend others like it or you can find your favourite authors and discover others that write in the same style or genre. Once you’ve built up a bit of a list through ordering, then Amazon also does a good job at recommending books for you. Oh and always remember, whichever site you’re using, to add books to your reading lists otherwise you’ll find yourself in the dreaded purgatory of searching through your browsing history to find that one book you know you wanted to read but can’t remember the name of… trust me, you don’t want to go there.

Beautiful Words

Hi all, sorry I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been rather busy as of late but I can’t for the life of me remember what I’ve been busy with…

I finished reading Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency so then I began (and promptly finished) watching the TV show. Oh yes, that might have been what I was busy doing… Well that and reading my new book of course.

I’m branching out at the moment, trying to find some adult fiction that I like and I finally managed to succeed with G.M Barlean’s Thorns of Rosewood. I enjoyed the story (a two-thorned – get it… thorned – mystery), I adored the characters (four kick-ass old ladies and a reporter desperate for answers) and I loved Barlean’s writing.

She made me laugh with Gloria’s (the protagonist) internal narration:

“Dear God, please don’t let him be a serial killer because I think I just fell in love.”

There’s a truth in that which is rather sad when you think about it but it was funny none-the-less. And don’t worry, he’s not a serial killer. Not yet at least… it is a series so who knows?

What else, ah yes, Barlean wrote a line so beautiful I oo’ed and ah’ed as I re-read it a half a dozen times.

Naomi is the book’s antagonist. She’s flat out mean and is the town of Rosewood’s resident villain. At a particularly tense part of the book Barlean describes Naomi with her hands on her hips,

“her long red nails like drops of blood against her silken white robe.”

Excuse me whilst I float off on my little cloud of happiness. I’m a little bit in awe of what Barlean’s done here. This sentence could have been cringe worthy cliché with the classic juxtaposition of red on white, evil and innocence and so forth. Yet somehow, instead of working against Barlean the cliché strengthens the words. The imagery of the ‘long’ nails against the soft ‘silken’ robe holds the threat of such violence that, when the thought of blood is added, becomes over-powering and beautiful. Feel free to come join me on my cloud…

I’m on to book two in the series now so I shall keep you updated on any more hidden gems I find but for now farewell. I’m off to read!

 

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

So Sasha is going to be very proud of me when she discovers that I am reading Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. She’s a big fan of Douglas Adams. This is a new genre for me, I don’t tend to read much fantasy and when I do it’s YA. So I wasn’t sure how far I’d get with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency but I guess there is a reason for Adams’ success. The jury was still out on the book until I read one of those wonderful lines that made me laugh out loud. For those of you that know the book, it was the quirky professor Reg who stated, whilst at a candle lit collegiate dinner,

“It seems odd, don’t you think, that the quality of the food should vary inversely with the brightness of the lighting. Makes you wonder what culinary heights the kitchen staff could rise to if you confined them to perpetual darkness. Could be worth a try, I think.”

I have to admit that despite the fact he is two hundred years old I am falling a little bit in love with Reg. His absurdity reminds me somewhat of Sasha, a comparison I am sure she will be thrilled by. So it was Adams’ delicious combination of observant humour and exaggeration that drew me into the book. I am now about half way through and it’s really quite satisfying watching the different threads, that seemed utterly disconnected to begin with, weave together. When you’re a writer there’s a fine line between leaving your reader confused but intrigued and leaving them like a bamboozled baboon who doesn’t have the patience to read on. I’m glad to report that as of yet I am still very much a literate human and not a frustrated ape. Congratulations Mr Adams.

Violet Flames, a short story

Dear Readers,

Last month I entered a short story competition but, alas, my story was not shortlisted. This is often the way it goes for writers and you learn not to become too disheartened by it. Writing is subjective, think about all the books there are, some of them you like, some you’ll hate and it will be the complete opposite for the person sitting next to you. You will never get a room full of people to all agree on loving one book (unless said room is holding a gathering for fans of a particular book and that’s just cheating). Don’t ignore the fact that you didn’t win, take it on board, revisit the story, by all means hear any advice you are given but don’t take it to mean your writing isn’t good. And look on the bright side, for me, not getting shortlisted means I can share my story will all of you. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

 

***

Violet Flames

The mirror was two-way. I was sure of it, because I could see through it. I stood in the centre of the box room, mimicking the stance of the woman on the other side of the glass. Caramel coloured hair fell down to her shoulders. Black suit trousers clung to her legs whilst a loose polka dot blouse flowed over her torso. Official but sexy. I doubted she knew I could see her yet she was determined not to break the stare. Her eyes were nothing special, a common grey-blue, but the intensity of her gaze scared me more than I cared to admit. I cursed. Her eyebrows shot up. I broke eye contact and let the mirror come back into view. And there I was, staring back at myself with the same intensity the woman had. She was older than me by about ten years. My hair was darker, more like burnt caramel, and I was shorter. But if it wasn’t for the scar we could have been mistaken for each other. My hand fluttered to my chest. Not now Violet. Keep it together.

I flinched as a key rattled in the lock of the door. The sound of scraping metal pierced through my ears. I grimaced and drew into myself. I focused on my breathing, letting the sound of my breath run through my head, muting the scream of metal on metal.

“Miss Sprite.” The words were dull, as if caught in a thick fog.

“Miss Sprite.” The voice was too deep to be the woman’s.

“Violet!” The shout shattered my protections.

“What!” I spun around, angry that my control had been broken.

The man was dressed in a black suit, only he’d left his jacket behind and rolled up the sleeves of his white shirt. I smelled washing power, it mixed with the smoke that lingered on my clothes. He held a dark green paper folder in one hand, with the other he pointed at a collapsable plastic chair that now sat in the centre of the room. Huh, when did that get there?

“Take a seat.”

I walked around from behind the chair and sat down. The man towered above me but right then I didn’t care. I’d been on my feet for ten hours and I had to hold back a groan as the tension ran out of my legs. I shoved my fingers in the pockets of my jeans and stretched out my legs, I was still wearing my work shirt over the top of a black tank top. It was short sleeved, designed to keep you cool in the climbing centre. It turned summer three weeks ago and the temperature skyrocketed. Except in here, with the air conditioning on full blast, my skin was chilled and my hairs stood on end. I resisted the urge to hug myself.

The man leant against the mirror. He opened the file in his hand then spoke.

“My name is Agent Scarborough, are you ready to talk yet?”

“I was ready to talk four hours ago. Now I just want to sleep.”

Agent Scarborough raised an eyebrow, “Your entire family just died and you want to sleep?”

I ground my teeth together, “Gee, thanks for reminding me.”

Agent Scarborough turned back to his file, “What were you doing this morning?”

“Working.”

He didn’t ask if anyone could verify that. He knew I was telling the truth, they’d had four hours to check my whereabouts.

“Where did you go after that?”

“I walked home.” My voice cracked on the word home. Agent Scarborough lowered the file.

“What time did you get home?”

“One thirty”

“Why did it take you ten minutes longer than usual to walk home?”

I sighed, I’d known they would ask this. “I stopped to feed the ducks, I gave them the leftovers from my sandwich.”

“Why? Why only today, why not every day?”

I couldn’t help myself – I snorted. So much for my plan to tell the truth. I’d stopped to feed the ducks because I wanted a few more minutes of peace before my entire family died. I felt the tears gather in my eyes. I stared up at Scarborough.

“They looked hungry.” I stated.

Agent Scarborough sighed. “What did you do when you got home?”

I swallowed, “I called 999.”

“Why?” Agent Scarborough’s voice was cold and I hated him for it. I felt my palms heating up.

“Because my house was on fire.” I squirmed as the images flooded my mind. The fire climbing the walls of the brick house. Everything I had, everyone I loved, engulfed in flames. The amber light burned my eyes. I forced them open and stared at Agent Scarborough. Something flickered in his eye. There was a knock on the door.

“Come on in.” Scarborough’s voice was loud. The words slammed against my head. The door opened and the woman from behind the glass walked in. She had gathered her hair up in a clip at the back of her head.

“Violet,” Scarborough addressed me, “This is Agent Venetti.”

Venetti didn’t bother with niceties. She strode over to me and rested her hands on the arms of the chair. She leaned forward till her face was inches from mine. I felt her breath, thick against my skin. I flexed my hands trying to disperse the heat.

“How did you start the fire Violet?” She asked, her eyes boring into me.

“I didn’t.” I glared back.

Venetti pushed against the chair, the plastic creaked under her weight.

“We know you did it Violet, the fire was started in the basement, you were the only one who had access.”

My breath caught in my chest. The basement. My heart beat faster. The basement had been turned into a play room for me and my sisters years ago. The only one who used it anymore was Sophie. She was six. She loved the den we had built under the stairs. She never left. I tried to focus on my breathing again but I felt my body heating up. Whoever had done this had started the fire in the same room as a six-year-old child. A scream boiled at the base of my throat. I breathed in through my nose. Not now Violet, you can’t lose control, not here.

“I couldn’t have caused the fire,” I stated, “I was walking home from work when it started.” Venetti let go of the chair and straightened up. She walked across the room.

“See, now that’s what I don’t understand. You should have been home. We have witnesses that swear you arrive home at twenty past one every day. So why not today?”

I stayed silent. Venetti continued.

“How did you know Violet? If you didn’t start the fire then how did you know to stay away?”

I sighed. I was tired, every bone in my body ached and the angrier I got the harder it was getting to control myself. I felt my skin tingling. I closed my eyes and instantly regretted it. I watched them scream. My mother’s body racked with coughs as she stumbled through the smoke, trying to reach my sisters. My dad was passed out on the floor, an empty bottle next to him. My mother tripped over his body as she staggered for the door. She fell hard then reached up to grab the door handle. Her skin sizzled as it touched the metal. She screamed. The smell of burnt flesh filled my nostrils. I remembered my eyes snapping open. I remembered running to the bathroom. I remembered throwing up over and over again until there was nothing left to get rid of and still that smell lingered in the back of my throat. Even here. Even now.

I gazed into my lap. “I didn’t know. If I had I would have gone back sooner. I would have called for help sooner.”

Agent Scarborough pushed himself away from the wall.

“Violet,” his voice was gentle, “we have enough evidence to charge you. Talking to us will only make things better.” He stepped towards me. “How did you start the fire Violet?”

I shook my head and blew my fringe out of my face, “Don’t you have people who can figure that out?”

I looked up in time to catch the look Scarborough and Venetti shared. Neither of them said a word.

“Look this isn’t going to end well for you,” Venetti turned on me, “you have no alibi, easy access and” – she pointed at my chest – “a pretty damning motive.”

I felt the scar that ran from the top left of my neck down to my right collar bone and under my shirt. I scowled at her, feeling the cool of the glass mix with the burning heat of pain as it slashed my skin all over again. I gritted my teeth as my whole body burned from anger. The metal joints in the chair started to heat up in my hands. I yanked my arms away, pressing my hands under my armpits.

“Why can’t they find what started the fire?” I asked.

Venetti looked back at Scarborough. Scarborough looked at me. “They can’t find the cause of the fire because there is nothing to find. There was no accelerant, no spark, nothing.”

Venetti butted in, “So how the hell did you do it?”

I didn’t look at her. I was stuck in my own head. I knew then how the fire was started but it wasn’t possible. I wasn’t there.

“What were you arguing about before the fire?”

I don’t know who asked the question, my mind was too busy to register the voice, only the words.

“What?” I asked.

“Neighbours heard shouting from the basement.”

The basement, there it was again. I never went in the basement. It was Sophie’s space. It was hers… No. It wasn’t possible. I would have known.

“You would have know what?” Scarborough’s voice was curious. Shit, did I say that out loud? I looked Scarborough in the eyes, hoping I was wrong. “How many bodies did they find?”

He hesitated. It sent shivers through my body. No, no, no, no, no.

“It’s not important” Scarborough muttered, “what’s important is that there were bodies. Bodies Violet! Whether you meant to or not you killed four people.”

My heart picked up. My blood pumped faster. My skin got hotter. No, no, no.

“Four, are you sure? They found four bodies?”

“Maybe not yet but they will, there’s no way she could have survived that.”

Except there was. Maybe. I would have known. But maybe…

“Who’s body haven’t they found Agent?”

Nobody spoke. I stood up, pushing the chair away behind me. It slammed against the wall.

“Who’s body?” I shouted.

It was Venetti who answered. She looked right at me, “Sophie’s”

“Shit.” I started pacing, trying to cool my body. “I need to go, I need to go now.”

“You’re not going anywhere. Now sit back down.” Scarborough’s voice was hard. It hurt my head and I couldn’t stop it right now. I couldn’t block the pain. So I used it.

“I did it okay,” I turned on Scarborough, “I started the fire.”

Venetti stepped towards me, “how?” she asked.

I took a step back. “Like this,” I said. Then I let go. I dropped all of my protections, every single one of them and I was on fire. Flames licked my skin. I felt the heat but more than that I felt relief. All of my pain, all of my anger fuelled the flames. Oh Sophie. She was hurting, she was mad and I wasn’t there. How did I not know? I kicked back my head and screamed. The flames roared. The window shattered. I heard curses and forced myself to pull the flames back. No one else was going to get hurt. I climbed onto the window frame, extinguished the flames and jumped.

I’m coming Sophie. I’m coming.

 

Now that’s an ending

If you’ve ever tried your hand at writing then you’ll know that endings are notoriously hard. You have to walk the fine line between giving the reader enough but not too much, giving them what they want but not being predictable and you have to do this all whilst avoiding the dreaded anti-climax. But this post isn’t about the big endings which means of course it’s about the small ones. For me, the most satisfying last lines come at the end of the first chapter. It’s the line that can make or break a book, it’s the line that has the power to leave you grinning at yourself because you’ve just realised you’ve won the book lottery. It’s the line that can send excitement bubbling through your veins and it’s the line that can make it impossible to put a book down, no matter how sleep deprived you are.

Last night my self-appointed bed time was sucked into the new book I started at half eleven (never a good idea), chewed up and spat back out. It sat discarded on the floor knowing full well that I wouldn’t be getting to sleep any time soon. I still cannot help but smile when I remember the last line of the first chapter of Michelle Hodkin’s The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer. Which, if you think about it, is rather disturbing given that the last line reveals the death of two teenage girls.

I’m going to give you some context because the build up is often what makes the ending. Not to mention that I’m a generous person and when I win the book lottery I feel bound to share my winnings. You’ll have to give me a second whilst I back track my Kindle to the beginning of the book (I wasn’t kidding when I said my bedtime went out the window, I’m already over half way through.)

Right, here you go, the final lines to chapter one of The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer:

‘Rachel relaxed, but I didn’t. For her sake, though, I tried to swallow my anger and unease as we settled in to watch the movie. Rachel popped in the DVD and blew out the candles.

Six months later, they were both dead.’

Well shit. If that doesn’t make you want to read more then I haven’t done the book justice. The only times I’ve put that book down today have been to talk to you lovely people and to make breakfast (reading is important, but so are pancakes).

Talking of last lines, I now need to think of one for this post. I’m afraid it won’t be as dramatic as Hodkin’s as I’m hoping that in six months, Sasha and I will both be very much alive.