Thursday, October 30, 2014

Book Review: THE NATURALS by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

First, I’m going to tell you a secret.

Come closer. 



Especially things that could really happen. No. Thank. You.

I started reading The Naturals full of tension that I was never going to sleep again. And, there were a few nights that were touch and go. Once I was reading on my break at work (we have a “quiet room” and the lights are motion activated) and as I sat there reading a VERY creepy scene all the lights shut OFF and all I could do was scream. I’m sure security thought I was dying. But! Guess what? I. LOVED. THIS. BOOK!!! (Even the creepiest of the creepiest parts.)

Here’s what Goodreads has to say about it:

Seventeen-year-old Cassie is a natural at reading people. Piecing together the tiniest details, she can tell you who you are and what you want. But it’s not a skill that she’s ever taken seriously. That is, until the FBI come knocking: they’ve begun a classified program that uses exceptional teenagers to crack infamous cold cases, and they need Cassie.

What Cassie doesn’t realize is that there’s more at risk than a few unsolved homicides—especially when she’s sent to live with a group of teens whose gifts are as unusual as her own. Sarcastic, privileged Michael has a knack for reading emotions, which he uses to get inside Cassie’s head—and under her skin. Brooding Dean shares Cassie’s gift for profiling, but keeps her at arm’s length.

Soon, it becomes clear that no one in the Naturals program is what they seem. And when a new killer strikes, danger looms closer than Cassie could ever have imagined. Caught in a lethal game of cat and mouse with a killer, the Naturals are going to have to use all of their gifts just to survive.

It just gives me the chills thinking about it again. 

This book stuck with me for days…in fact I recommended it to a co-worker (who works nights) and she finished it in one shift at work, loved it soooo much she immediately put the next book on pre-order!

I highly recommend cracking open this cross between Criminal Minds and Pretty Little Liars!

Just make sure you have a night light!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Walk on the Spooky Side

HALLOWEEN WEEK! So it’s time for a little walk on the spooky side…

I have no idea why I decided to start reading Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour just before my husband had three business trips over the course of three weeks. When I’m home alone this big old house does a lot of settling and creaking, and things tend to go bump in the night. Reading a scary book at night when you’re alone in the house is not a good idea. Reading a book that puts frightening ideas in a mind that tends to have a fairly fertile imagination? Also not a great choice. Put the two together and you have a recipe for a haunting.

Let us recall, for a moment, how I’ve mentioned in this space that Stephen King terrifies me, and we can put the amazingly talented Anne Rice in that category too. However, when I read that one of YA author Tessa Gratton’s all time favorite books is The Witching Hour I knew I had to read it. My timing was just a little off…

A little background on The Witching Hour: There is an evil entity that does nasty things to people. It might also be able to manipulate objects and truly make things go bump in the night. As I tried to go to sleep on the night in question, after a good two hours of reading in bed, I was sure that there was some kind of entity in my house and it was going to do something during the night. Maybe just your basic minor destruction—I was fairly confident that it didn’t want to hurt me. (Yes, I was one of those kids who couldn’t go upstairs in the dark after watching something scary on the TV.)

But when I got up in the morning I saw that everything looked just as I had left it the night before.

Phew! Dodged that bullet. I didn’t, however, have any reason to go into the family room until later in the day. {cue scary Bach fugue type music}

What I found was my high school graduation picture lying on the floor, the glass shattered into a zillion pieces. It had sat on that shelf for years without deciding to fly off the shelf and flinging itself to the floor. Why now?

My reaction to this was exactly what you would expect of someone who was brought up to be a superstitious Irish Catholic girl. Seeing the picture and the broken glass freaked me just a little. Okay, there may have been a search for some holy water, and what kind of Catholic am I that I have none? A cross may have been placed on the shelf where the picture had sat. Just rational precautionary measures, you know.

And I was FINE a few days later when the St. Brigid’s cross I was wearing came unclasped and was lost in my shirt. I obviously didn’t clasp it properly. The fact that I’m rather OCD about making sure necklaces are clasped is irrelevant. Later in the day, home alone in the house, when I felt someone tug on the back of my sweatshirt, I was as calm as can be, as I knew it was just settling into place. For some reason, unknown to me. But, ghost? No. Certainly not.

My husband finally returned from that business trip! Yay! No more ghosty stuff, not with another person in the house. Shortly after he arrived home he asked me if I’d pushed aside a bunch of stuff on his desk. Huh? Of course not. Why would I do that?

And I know a ghost wouldn’t. Right.

My current theory is that my reading of The Witching Hour  opened some kind of ghosty portal, allowing my ghost entry to my home. Or that I have a mouse in the house. So, so, so prefer the idea of a ghost over vermin.

This I know for certain however: no more reading scary books when alone in the house. Oh, and I need to stock up on holy water. Duh.

 All images courtesy of

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Book Review: I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson

I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson. This book, you guys! One of the (many) reasons I love to read so much is because stories can be absolutely pure magic. I never understand it when someone says “I don’t really read,” because who doesn’t need magic in their lives? If you ask me, we could all use a little magic and this book has got it. I wish I could string together all the right words in all the right ways to properly express how much I loved it. I identified not only as a sister, but as a daughter and as a mother. Not an easy thing to do.

Here’s the description from Goodreads:

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

This radiant novel from the acclaimed, award-winning author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once. 

I have to agree with that last sentence. I was teary-eyed almost the entire time. And not just because things were sad. Sometimes because they were so unbelievably happy! If you know me, you might be like, “Sure Sarah, but let’s be real, you cry at everything.” Ok, I’ll give you that. BUT THIS WAS SO MUCH MORE. There was so much beauty and heartbreak and truth.

Noah and Jude are twins and the story is told from both perspectives. Noah at thirteen with his quiet vulnerability and self-captioned commentary on life. Who views the world through a lens of such vivid, brilliant colors that you can’t help but see it the way he does. And then Jude at sixteen, with her quirky superstitions, her conversations with her dead grandmother and her determination to make things right. From one time to the next, Noah and Jude seem to have completely flip-flopped their entire personalities. Obviously some major events went down to cause such dramatic shifts and Nelson does an incredible job of weaving the two timeframes in order to unravel the mystery.

Both Noah and Jude are talented artists and at thirteen are preparing to apply for a competitive high school for the arts. Maybe the most amazing part of Nelson’s story-telling is her use of art. Her words are written as beautifully as if they themselves were being painted across the page. You can see her images so clearly. Both Noah and Jude use their artwork to express themselves, to confess, to hurt, to heal. If I could wish for anything, it would be to steal a fraction of Nelson’s talent for descriptions.

The supporting characters are equally colorful and complex. Everyone is a little imperfect, a little broken and very human. The boy across the street, Brian who just seems to “get” Noah. The older, bad boy, Oscar who tries to draw Jude out of her self-imposed shell. The eccentric, master sculptor, Guillermo who reluctantly agrees to mentor Jude. Everyone has their own demons to battle and their scars to prove it.

I think you get the idea. If there was a book that I would slip under my pillow at night so that I could dream about it, (like my 5-year old does) I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN is it.

I hope you read it. And I hope it’s magical.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Coping With Writer's Block

OK I was going to call this post: how I “manage” writers block, but I don’t. Manage it, that is. I cope as best as I can, until I can move on. 

We’ve all been there: staring at a blank screen willing our fingers to move or our brains to barf something anything out! But, all that happens is a cramp in your creativity muscle. The paper stays blank, the screen white or whatever medium you use doesn’t get used. 

You tell yourself it’s time to walk away. Time to crack open that favorite book that always inspires you, turn on the TV for a while as a distraction or jump in the shower – that’s where the magic happens. But, sometimes nothing works and you find yourself STILL sitting. STILL staring. With nothing more than a half-eaten bag of chips and a half-empty glass of wine to show for it. 

What to do?

There are times when I have to recognize that forcing something isn’t going to make it what I want. It’s going to sound forced or awkward and I’ll just end up having to rewrite it later. 

It is hard to walk away. Believe me, I know! Maybe (like me) this is your only chance to write for the whole day or week! The kids are at school/taking a nap/at grandmas/sequestered in their rooms, it’s now or never. Maybe you set a goal to write 2,500 words this week and you have 1,900 and you want to just push out the last 600. 

I will sometimes shut my eyes as I turn my computer (the green box with buttons) off and bolt out of my office. I’ll go fold clothes/clean bathrooms/do dishes…you know all the other stuff that needs to get done. 

And you know what!? Not long after I’ve let go of my writing frustration my characters start talking again telling me where they want to go and not the other way around. With my mind clear (usually doing mindless things helps) MAGIC happens! Inspiration strikes! And soon enough, I’m back at the green box letting my story pour out of my fingertips!

It’s hard to let go, but I find that sometimes the best thing to do is to forget for a while. 

If that doesn’t work…try standing on your head.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Book Review: UNMADE by Sarah Rees Brennan

If you’ll humor me for a moment, before I get to today’s book review.

A little backstory on Reader Monica: I don’t read Stephen King. It isn’t because he isn’t fabulous at what he does. Duh. He’s STEPHEN KING! But the two King books I have read scared the living bee jeezus out of me, and I don’t so much like having the bee jeezus scared out of me. So I leave him for the readers who appreciate and enjoy his work. I was thinking about my relationship with Mr. King, as I was reading the book I’m reviewing today.

Now, having said that, I can review this week’s book: Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan. Unmade is the third/last book in the Lynburn Legacy trilogy. Here’s a little about the series, FROM GOODREADS: On the surface, Sorry-in-the-Vale is a sleepy English town. But Kami Glass knows the truth. Sorry-in-the-Vale is full of magic. In the old days, the Lynburn family ruled with fear, terrifying the people into submission in order to kill for blood and power. Now the Lynburns are back…A darkly humorous take on Gothic romance, Sarah Rees Brennan's Lynburn Legacy weaves together the tale of a heroine desperate to protect those she loves, two boys hoping to be saved, and the magical forces that will shape their destiny.

 I loved the first book, Unspoken, its very original premise, its setting, and the budding love story, and couldn’t wait to read the next one. {Premise: Kami has had a voice in her head her whole life—a boy she’s talked to through their thoughts, and whom she has fallen in love with. Then one day she finds out he’s real—when she meets him! So cool!} While I still enjoyed the second book, Untold, some of the reasons I loved the first book were missing in the second, but I was so attached to the characters I read it with glee. However, a dark edge was creeping into the second book that was starting to make me squirm a bit. Still a great story, and still some of the best character development out there, but with that dark edge to the story. That creeping darkness blooms into a full on shadow in Unmade, and my increased squirming caused me some troubles. But that being said, it’s a great book, a fantastic conclusion to an imaginative series, and readers who enjoy the darker side of paranormal will love it. While the Reader Me may have struggled with the evil that plays a large role in the book, the Writer Me appreciated that this is a wonderful book with excellent writing.

Even though I had my Creeped Out moments, there were some things I loved about this conclusion to the trilogy. First, throughout the three books there are wonderful moments of clever comedic relief. The protagonist Kami, her father, and one of her best friends are funny in all of the books, but perhaps as a balance to the uglier stuff in this last book, the comedy reaches a new level of Laugh Out Loud Funny in Unmade. Those lines of funny dialogue are like little moments of respite from some of the other things going on in the book—a little like the last two Harry Potter books. Second, Sarah Rees Brennan keeps the reader guessing and turning those pages as she keeps on tricking you and going places you weren’t expecting. Third and most important, the ending is gratifying and happy and just what you may have been hoping for when you read the first book. I know it’s what I was hoping for. In fact I would have been mighty upset had it ended any other way.

Paranormal readers, you should really check out The Lynburn Legacy trilogy if you’ve somehow missed it!!