Tuesday, February 26, 2019

EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Heidi Daniele, author of The House Children

Book Summary
In 1937, Mary Margaret Joyce is born in the Tuam Home for unwed mothers. After spending her early years in an uncaring foster home, she is sentenced by a judge to an industrial school, where she is given the name Peg, and assigned the number 27. Amid one hundred other unwanted girls, Peg quickly learns the rigid routine of prayer, work, and silence under the watchful eye of Sister Constance. Her only respite is an annual summer holiday with a kind family in Galway. 

At the tender age of thirteen, Peg accidentally learns the identity of her birthmother. Peg struggles with feelings of anger and abandonment, while her mother grapples with the shame of having borne a child out of wedlock. The tension between them mounts as Peg, now becoming a young adult, begins to make plans for her future beyond Ireland. 

Based on actual events, The House Children is a compelling story of familial love, shameful secrets, and life inside Ireland’s infamous industrial schools.

Interview with Heidi Daniele
Can you talk a little bit about the process of writing a story based on actual events? How did you decide what elements to use, discard, or add?                
I was fortunate to connect with former residents of an industrial school who shared their experiences with me. They told me about life in the school, and living under the care and supervision of The Sisters of Mercy. Their stories became the foundation for The House Children. In an effort to include everything shared with me, my first draft was double the size of the final publication. All of their experiences seemed meaningful, and I found it difficult to scale back on what I had written. I spent a year working with my editor as she guided me through the process, and helped me keep the focus on my main character.

What was the research process like for this story? Did you have to look into specific things about Ireland and the time era the story takes place?                           
The research was my favorite part of the writing process. I surfed the Internet to find old photos, maps, and weather reports. I also found an extensive government-funded report on industrial schools during the era I was focused on. Reading old newspapers provided me with a sense of the cultural, religious and political climate of that time. I also spent ten days in Ireland going to the sites referenced in my book and met with the Sisters of Mercy, who provided yet another perspective.

What is your favorite book?
That is like asking me what is my favorite ice cream! I do favor chocolate, but I also enjoy trying other flavors. I love to read and I’m not committed to one genre, but I do favor historical fiction. I don’t have a favorite book, but I recently enjoyed reading “Girl In The Blue Coat,” by Monica Hesse.

Are you currently working on another book?
I do have a sequel in mind, if The House Children is well received.

As a debut author, what advice do you have for other writers who are trying to break in?
My best piece of advice is “Love your story.” The road to publication can be extremely difficult, so I feel it is important to enjoy the journey of writing, whether or not you end up getting published. 

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Book review: The Secrets We Bury By Stacie Ramey

Book Summary
In an effort to escape his family, Dylan decides to hike the Appalachian trail—but he never expected to run into love.

Dylan Taggart is on the run. His family is trying to put him in a school for psychologically challenged students, and he gets it—he has anger issues. But Believers Charter School is a complete overreaction. So he decides a six-month hike on the Appalachian Trail is the perfect place to hide out until he can legally drop out of school.

Dylan wanted independence, but being alone on the trail is more than he bargained for. Then he meets a mysterious hiker named Sophie, and the two begin to develop a bond he never expected. But will love be enough to escape what they're both running from?

Flo's Review
Stacie Ramey is participating in a book festival I'm attending next weekend, so I wanted to read one of her books before I go. The Secrets We Bury was my top choice, because I grew up in Tennessee, right in the valley of the Appalachians. Plus, I was just here over the Christmas holiday break:

First, let's discuss this cover. No. Sorry. It looks like they just tried to find a stock image photo that maybe could work with the story and this one was close enough. Except, it's not close at all. It's way off for many different reasons, but I don't think it's essential to this review to get into them. Luckily, I did not judge the book by its cover in this instance.

I really enjoyed Dylan's arc in this story. It was very realistic and so well done. In my professional life, I've come to understand individuals who experience the world the way that Dylan does, and again -- Stacie Ramey did a fantastic job getting inside his head. And as the story progressed, we, the reader, got to see how he was growing -- it was hard, and he struggled with it and failed many times, but in the end he was stronger. It was just so heartwarming.

This storyline was also addictive. I just kept flipping the pages because I wanted to see if Dylan got to this person or that person in time. Another really cool thing about this was learning about hiking the Appalachian Trail. It was really cool to learn about trail names, trail magic, all of it. 

I loved that one of Dylan's struggles was interacting with people in a way that he thought was appropriate, and yet these people who normally didn't open themselves up to others did to him. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this trip on the Appalachian Trail with Dylan, and I'm looking forward to meeting Stacie next weekend and telling her so!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Book review: Last of Her Name by Jessica Khoury

Book Summary
Sixteen years ago, rebellion swept the galaxy known as the Belt of Jewels. Every member of the royal family was murdered--down to their youngest child, Princess Anya--and the Union government rose in its place. But Stacia doesn't think much about politics. She spends her days half-wild, rambling her father's vineyard with her closest friends, Clio and Pol.

That all changes the day a Union ship appears in town, carrying the leader of the Belt himself, the Direktor Eminent. The Direktor claims that Princess Anya is alive, and that Stacia's sleepy village is a den of empire loyalists, intent on hiding her. When Stacia is identified as the lost princess, her provincial home explodes into a nightmare.

Pol smuggles her away to a hidden escape ship in the chaos, leaving Clio in the hands of the Union. With everything she knows threading away into stars, Stacia sets her heart on a single mission. She will find and rescue Clio, even with the whole galaxy on her trail.

Flo's Review
I love the cartoon movie Anastasia and I was lucky enough to snag tickets to the see the play in a couple of months, so I am all about this story! The tote bag I carry to work every day is even Anastasia themed (I won it from the theater.) So as soon as I learned what this book was about, I was all in! 

Taking the Anastasia story into space was such a creative idea! I really enjoyed seeing the way the story played out in outer space. I loved reading about the variety of beings in the world, and especially liked that you got to see them alongside each other. Yes, different being lived on different planets, based on how they evolved to live on the particular planets, but at several points in the book they were living together, side-by-side. Like Pol. Three cheers for Apollo! *sighs*

In the beginning, I was so intrigued by learning about the world and everything that I was turning the pages eagerly. Toward the middle, it started to lag a little bit for me. However, once a certain BIG REVEAL was dropped, I was back on board and the ride was non-stop from there! 

In a world of duologues and trilogies and super long series, I am always happy to find a standalone book that I can read, finish, and feel like I left the characters in a good place. I definitely feel that about Last of Her Name. It publishes Tuesday, February 26th from Scholastic. Are you a sci fi fan? Give it a try! Are you an Anastasia fan? Give it a try! Are you a fan of hot male creatures who are kinda human but kinda not? (I know that sounds weird, but just trust me about POL, you guys!!) Give it a try! 🤗

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Audiobook review: Undying by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner

**Note: Proceed with caution if you haven't yet read Unearthed.**

Book Summary
Trapped aboard the Undying's ancient spaceship and reeling from what they've learned there, scavenger Mia and academic Jules are plunged into a desperate race to warn their home planet of the danger humanity's greed has unleashed. From the mountains of Spain to the streets of Prague, the sequel to Unearthed is a white-knuckle ride that will send readers hurtling back to earth, and leave them breathless until the last page.

Flo's Review
Undying was quite different from Unearthed, but every bit as enjoyable. I really enjoyed having Neal along for the journey. He brought so much to the team in so many ways. It was a fun journey seeing several places in Europe with this duo. Their romance continued to blossom and I loved being able to know both their thoughts on the situation. (This is truly an advantage of dual narration in books.) One of the final scenes was just so artfully and beautifully written. Kudos to Amie and Meagan for deciding to present it the way they did.

I listened to this one on audiobook and thoroughly enjoyed hearing from Alex McKenna and Steve West. Both of them did a great job bringing a unique, otherworldly sound to the Undying characters. I also thought this was a fun and captivating length -- I feel like it would have started to drag if it had tried to be a trilogy, so a duology was perfect. And -- as many other people have mentioned -- the recap of Unearthed at the beginning was phenomenal! I read that one right around the time it came out, so of course there were a lot of things I had forgotten about the story.

Finally, and most importantly in my opinion, I think that Jules Addison is officially my newest Book Boyfriend. Get all starry eyed and ramble to me about academics in your British accent, Oxford. I am so here for it!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Book review: Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan

Book Summary
A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.

A prince in danger must decide who to trust.

A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings. 

Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.

In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light. Wicked Saints is the thrilling start to Emily A. Duncan’s devastatingly Gothic Something Dark and Holy trilogy.

Flo's Review
Is it just me, or is it always a little nerve-wracking when you finally get the opportunity to read a book that's been super hyped? It's like, you're holding your breath as you turn the pages, hoping to get caught up in the same tidal wave that everyone else is riding.

I'm happy to say that I did catch the wave...though it took a little bit. With any new fantasy story there's the curve of learning, understanding, and then feeling at home in the new world. This always takes awhile for me. Wicked Saints did start off with a bang, and I appreciated that. The tension between Nadya and Malachiasz was delicious, though I think I would have enjoyed it more if I was one of those girls who likes the villain, the bad boy. (I'm not. Mal vs. the Darkling? Mal, all the way.) 

But Wicked Saints had so many deep questions running through it. Nadya struggled with issues of faith and belief, not only in the divine, but also in other people and in herself. By the last third of the book, I was all in. I'd read it all day long, and I opted to go to the gym at the end of the day just so I could hop on a machine and keep on reading! I was surprised by the reveals, and not just surprised -- so many emotions came along with them. 

A lot of things happened at the end that left me with questions and eagerness for how the series will continue. But most importantly, it left me with hope. I think some good things can come for the characters and their homes, though it will be anything but an easy journey.

Wicked Saints publishes April 2m 2019 from Wednesday Books.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Audiobook review: Slayer by Kiersten White

Book Summary
Into every generation a Slayer is born…

Nina and her twin sister, Artemis, are far from normal. It’s hard to be when you grow up at the Watcher’s Academy, which is a bit different from your average boarding school. Here teens are trained as guides for Slayers—girls gifted with supernatural strength to fight the forces of darkness. But while Nina’s mother is a prominent member of the Watcher’s Council, Nina has never embraced the violent Watcher lifestyle. Instead she follows her instincts to heal, carving out a place for herself as the school medic.

Until the day Nina’s life changes forever.

Thanks to Buffy, the famous (and infamous) Slayer that Nina’s father died protecting, Nina is not only the newest Chosen One—she’s the last Slayer, ever. Period.

As Nina hones her skills with her Watcher-in-training, Leo, there’s plenty to keep her occupied: a monster fighting ring, a demon who eats happiness, a shadowy figure that keeps popping up in Nina’s dreams…

But it’s not until bodies start turning up that Nina’s new powers will truly be tested—because someone she loves might be next.

One thing is clear: Being Chosen is easy. Making choices is hard.

Flo's Review
As soon as I heard about this book, I said to my friend, "We need Slayer." For the next few weeks or so, whenever we saw each other (basically) one of us was all, "We need Slayer." So, this was an anticipated read for sure.

Luckily, I had this on hand to help me catch up with all things Buffy ;-)
I have to admit that I had to go back and refresh myself on what all happened with Buffy throughout the run of the show. This helped me as events and people were mentioned and then connected to Nina's story. Nina was an interesting character. She actually reminded me a lot of Evie in Paranormalcy. Sort of like the Becky Bloomwood (of Shopaholic fame) of things not quite living -- lol. 

One thing I simply adored about the story was the sister relationship. I'm really close with my sister, and I really enjoyed reading about the resiliency of Artemis and Nina's bond. Also, Leo was enjoyably swoon worthy. I listened to this one on audiobook, and I couldn't help but laugh at the reader's attempt of an Irish accent for some of the characters. A for Effort.

With author Kiersten White at Miami Book Fair 2018..
Fun fact: I have the exact same shirt she's wearing. I wore it the next day.
Finally, several themes, characters, and elements of the story did complete 180s by the end of the book. I can't really get into it without spoilers, but it was just really need to see things that started at Point A on the left ending up at Point B on the right.

Oh, and naturally there was a big reveal at the end of this, so I'm looking forward to book 2!