Book Recommendations for Your Holiday Shopping

Been a while since I’ve done book reviews, and since it’s early December, seems like a good time for some gift recommendations.

If you’re looking for gift suggestions for teens (or if you like YA yourself) check out these:

The Court of Five Series by Kate Elliott

This is a three-book fantasy YA series, the first book (Court of Fives) released in 2015. The other two books are Poisoned Blade and Buried Heart, the last one released this year.

Best way I can think of to describe them: The Hunger Games meets Game of Thrones set in an ancient Egyptian-inspired fantasy world. The Fives is a game with an ever-changing obstacle course that requires competitors with both athletic strength and cunning. Jessamy is a young girl who has a “Patron” father and “Commoner” mother, who are forbidden by law to marry. She loves the Fives but her father does not approve of her competing in them. The family is torn apart when the father’s sponsor dies, leaving huge debts. This death touches off not only personal struggle within the family, but a struggle for power within the ruling class.

THESE. BOOKS. ARE. FANTASTIC. They should be way, way more popular than they are. It takes a little while for the story to get rolling in the first book (lots of world building, as is usual with most fantasy books) but when it does, it really rolls! Jess is now one of my all-time favorite heroines. She is brave and smart and motivated by love for her family. I like that the books are not too dominated by the romantic plot. The familial relationships are just as important and very complex. I also like that the magical elements don’t dominate too much.

Get these books, you will not be sorry.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns: Rise of the Empress by Julie C. Dao

This is another fantasy book set in an East Asian-inspired fantasy world. A retelling of the Snow White fairy tale, it focuses on the stepmother/evil witch character. This first book of the planned series is subtitled “Rise of the Empress” and that’s exactly what it’s about: how a lowly peasant girl with magical abilities schemes to become Empress, which she has been told from childhood is her destiny.

The protagonist is something rather rare in both YA and adult fiction: an honest-to-gosh anti-heroine. It is easy to initially feel empathy for Xifeng, who lives with an abusive aunt who forbids her to see the man she loves. As she is consumed with ambition, her character becomes more and more ruthless.

We’re so used to the Disneyfied fairy tales nowadays that we forget the originals were actually very dark. This book taps into the darkness of the original and makes it something that feels fresh and original. Very excited to read the next book!

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

This YA historical fiction novel is both hilarious and an exciting adventure. A young bisexual 18th century English lord named Henry Montague is forced by his father to do on a Grand Tour of the continent. A rapscallion of the first order, he is secretly in love with his friend Percy. Also on the tour is Henry’s bluestocking sister, Felicity, who is no more comfortable with her rank in life than Henry. The three embark on an adventure that includes encounters with highwaymen, carnies, pirates, and alchemists.

This book is SO much fun! Henry is a lovable rogue you can’t help but root for even as he’s causing one disaster after another. The character’s voice is superbly rendered by Lee—I was continually cracking up at his caustic and witty observations. (If you listen to audio books, get this one on audio for sure—the narrator Christian Coulson is brilliant.) Underneath the fun are important observations about racism, ableism, and sexism.

Lee is currently working on a book with Felicity as the main character. I anticipate another clever adventure with some serious subtext.

Invictus by Ryan Graudin

I was sold on this book because it was described as a YA time-travelling version of the TV series Firefly. It mostly delivers on that description. The hero Farway Gaius McCarthy was literally born outside of time to a time-traveling mother and Roman gladiator father. Anxious to follow in his mother’s footsteps, he is crushed when he fails his final time-traveling exam and is forbidden to become a Recorder. Forced instead to work for an underworld figure who uses time travel to loot artifacts from the past, Far cobbles together a team from his friends and classmates so they can pull off heists.

This is another fun book with some serious undertones. If you like Firefly, Dr. Who, and/or Guardians of the Galaxy, you will probably enjoy the heck out of it. There are some pretty neat twists to the plot and genuine emotion to the relationships.

YES, I also read books for adults. Here are some good ones for your TBR or holiday gift list:

A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

This is the third book in Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge series of historical novels. You do not have to have read the first two books in the series; each one works just fine as a stand-alone book. (However, the other two books, Pillars of the Earth and World Without End are awesome, so you should read those, too.)

Like the previous books, it takes place mostly in the fictional English town of Kingsbridge, this time during the tumultuous period beginning with the reign of Mary Tudor (“Bloody Mary”) and ending with the close of her sister Elizabeth I’s reign. It focuses on the conflicts between the Roman Catholics and Protestants. Part of it also takes place in France, chronicling the oppression of the Protestant Huguenots.

Follett is a genius at weaving complex, compelling characters with suspense and historical fact, and this book is no exception. One thing I adore about his books is his women characters are just as important and interesting as the male characters. If you love historical fiction, I am certain you will love these books.

Departure by A.G. Riddle

This one was on sale on Audible and sold me because its premise is very similar to the TV show Lost: a plane crashes in the middle of England and the surviving passengers find nothing is as it seems.

I can’t endorse this book as strongly as the others on this list, because in spite of the great premise, the characters (several of whom get point of view chapters) are a little on the generic side.

Other than that, though, this is a mostly enjoyable tale. If you’re looking for a quick, light read you can’t go wrong here.

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but when someone on Twitter started live-tweeting about this book as she read it, I had to get it.

First, a warning: if you are a devoted fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books, prepare to be a bit disillusioned.

This book strips away the myths about the Ingalls and Wilder families. The triumphant portrait of self-reliant pioneers, personified by the Ingalls family in the Little House books, is mostly false.

The first part of the book traces the Ingalls and Wilder families since their first known appearance on the North American continent. What emerges is a dark portrait of Manifest Destiny, as the Homestead Act strips land from Native Americans, with pioneers blithely moving into their existing homes while they are away hunting (yes, the Ingalls did this at one point). Farmers suffer environmental disaster after disaster, in a never-ending pattern of failure to make their farms pay. Moving from place to place, still hoping to succeed after each failure, the Ingalls and others like them never achieve their dream of self-sufficiency, having to send their young children out to work so they can survive. On top of this, misuse of the land across the American prairie touches off world-wide environmental catastrophes.

The second part of the book chronicles Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane as they collaborate (Lane was her mother’s editor) to make the dark and sometimes tragic story into something acceptable for the juvenile audience. It was Lane, one of the founders of the Libertarian movement, who helped her mother shape her childhood memories into an idealized portrait of pioneer self-reliance.

Fraser drew on manuscripts, letters, diaries, census and financial records to give a much more accurate portrayal of both the pioneers of the 19th century and Wilder herself.

One of the best biographies I have ever read. If you want to put Wilder’s books into their proper context, it’s a must-read.


Mini Book Reviews – September 2016

Time for some mini book reviews! All the following reviews are for the audiobook versions.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

I’m very, very picky about the kind of fantasy novels I choose to read. I don’t like too much magic or tons of fantastical creatures. World building has to be complex but not so complicated it becomes confusing and frustrating. All this on top of great characters and storytelling.

Continue reading “Mini Book Reviews – September 2016”

Book Review: Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray


In a recent blog post about The Terminator, I cited Ripley from Alien as the first modern film action heroine—and she is the first who was the protagonist. But it’s Star Wars’ Princess Leia, in a supporting role, who’s the true seminal character in modern film.

Continue reading “Book Review: Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray”

Mini-Reviews of Books I’ve Recently Read

It’s been a while since I’ve done some book reviews, so here are some books I’ve read recently that I have particularly enjoyed. Since I have little time to read, I mainly listen to audiobooks while at work, so these are all reviews of the audiobooks. Continue reading “Mini-Reviews of Books I’ve Recently Read”

Julie & Julia And The Lives Of Writers

Very busy getting the house ready to go on the market this weekend–no time to write a new post! Hope you enjoy this one from the archive.


I recently watched (again) the charming movie Julie & Julia. It stars Meryl Streep as television chef and cookbook author Julia Child and Amy Adams as Julie Powell, who wrote a blog about making every recipe in Child’s book Mastering The Art Of French Cooking over the course of a year.

The movie alternates between telling the stories of both women. Child and her husband are living in France during the 1950s when she decides to learn French cooking. This eventually leads to a partnership with two French women to write a cookbook specifically for Americans, and, of course, her cooking show and status as America’s first celebrity chef. Julie Powell, frustrated with a job she doesn’t like and feeling directionless in life, decides to start a blog about cooking, which eventually leads to a book and movie deal.

As Julie cooks the recipes and writes about them…

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Book Review: Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

I am a huge fan of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, his epic tale of the first 100 colonists on Mars.

(Still waiting anxiously as of this writing for the TV adaptation. Hello, hello–any news on casting yet?)

I’ve read some of his other books, but none of them have captivated me in quite the same way as the Mars books.

Until now.

Continue reading “Book Review: Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson”

10 Things I Love About This Character: Ellie Linton, The Tomorrow Series

Last year I wrote an article about the “strong female character” which was very well received. (It was even featured by WordPress in their “Freshly Pressed” section.) Since then, I’ve been thinking about doing a series devoted to individual characters that I consider “strong.”

This series will not be limited to female characters–I will include male characters–and may even decide to write about a few that aren’t human.

As I said, I’ve been toying with the idea for a while, but really got excited about starting it a few weeks ago. Because I encountered a character that I believe is perfect to kick off this series.

I had heard many good things about Australian writer John Marsden’s young adult Tomorrow series. The first book, Tomorrow, When the War Began, first came out over 20 years ago, in 1993. There are seven books in the series, and a sequel series called “The Ellie Chronicles.” I finally downloaded the first book from Audible and was immediately blown away by the characters and the story.

Continue reading “10 Things I Love About This Character: Ellie Linton, The Tomorrow Series”

5 Things That Bug Me About Post-Apocalyptic/Dystopian Fiction

Dealing with some family issues so I have no time to write something new this week. I am reaching into the archives and reblogging this post. Hope you enjoy and that I’m able to post something brand new next week!


First, let’s define post-apocalyptic and dystopian:

Post-apocalyptic refers to a work of fiction that deals with a global disaster so profound there are few survivors. It may include a period of time leading up to the disaster, or it can take place years afterwards, but mostly it’s about the immediate after-effects of a disaster–war, environmental disaster, plague. The disaster can have a fantastical element, like zombies or vampires, or a sci-fi one, like an alien invasion.

Dystopian usually takes place far into the future. It may be post-apocalyptic or not. Society has in some way changed profoundly, most noticeably the system of government.

There is some disagreement over the definition of dystopian. Some believe it should only be defined as societies where people believe they are living in an ideal society, when in truth it has some oppressive or horrific element to it.

I think it’s O.K. to…

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Movie Review: The Divergent Series: Insurgent


I enjoyed the first movie in this series, Divergent. Based on the first novel in Veronica Roth’s dystopian YA series, it boasted good casting, energetic direction by Neil Burger, creative envisioning of Chicago after an apocalypse, and a tight screenplay. All these elements helped make it a decent, entertaining effort.

The second book in the series, Insurgent, is not as strong a novel as Divergent. In fact, it’s a bit of a mess, with a very convoluted plot and a lot of new and unmemorable characters introduced, some killed off before you got a chance to care about them (or even remember their names).

The third book is a complete miss. I wrote about why I disliked Allegiant in a detailed and spoiler-filled review here.

Still, I had hopes that when it came to the subsequent films, the filmmakers would expand on what worked in the other two books and fix what didn’t. A not-good book doesn’t automatically mean a not-good film. (Ever read the novel The Godfather? Jaws? The movie versions are much, much better.)

Unfortunately, now in the hands of director Robert Schwentke (R.I.P.D.) the movie not only doesn’t fix the problems of the book, it actually highlights them–and adds even more.

Continue reading “Movie Review: The Divergent Series: Insurgent”

Book Release Day: Fairly Twisted Tales for a Horribly Ever After


Happy Halloween and Happy Book Release Day for Fairly Twisted Tales for a Horribly Ever After!

Blurb: When it comes to fairy tales, there are plenty of things that go bump in the night. Things so morbid and grotesque, so sinister and diabolical, they haunt your imagination; warnings from generations past that still manage to terrify. Continue reading “Book Release Day: Fairly Twisted Tales for a Horribly Ever After”

Cover Reveal: Fairly Twisted Tales for a Horribly Ever After

Last year I took part in Project REUTSway, a writing competition that had writers twist classic fairy tales with horror elements. Two of my stories–“Earlobe” and “Deadman’s Ball”–were chosen for an anthology entitled Fairly Twisted Tales for a Horribly Ever After. Today is the cover reveal!


Blurb: When it comes to fairy tales, there are plenty of things that go bump in the night. Things so morbid and grotesque, so sinister and diabolical, they haunt your imagination; warnings from generations past that still manage to terrify.

Release Date: October 31, 2014 Continue reading “Cover Reveal: Fairly Twisted Tales for a Horribly Ever After”

A TV Adaptation of Your Favorite Book is in the Works! Time to Panic!


This past week, two TV projects based on books were announced:

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars), is in development at basic cable channel Spike.

Stephen King’s time-travel novel, 11/22/63, is in development at the streaming service Hulu TV.

May I take a moment to express how much I love these books? Continue reading “A TV Adaptation of Your Favorite Book is in the Works! Time to Panic!”

Pop Culture Roundup April 2014


1. Stephen Colbert will replace Dave Letterman as host of the Late Show.

Dave Letterman announced he would retire in 2015 and people barely got time to speculate about who would replace him. It was quickly announced that comedian Stephen Colbert, host of The Comedy Channel’s Colbert Report, would be the new host. Continue reading “Pop Culture Roundup April 2014”

Pop Culture Roundup March 2014


1. The Oscar telecast didn’t totally suck!

I was not crazy about host Ellen DeGeneres’ opening monologue (look, Liza Minnelli is fair game, but don’t insult her to her face on live TV where close to 1 billion people can see her reaction) but otherwise she did a good job. I thought the “selfie” segment was cute, and so was calling up for pizza. Both moments had genuine elements, such as nominee Lupita Nyong’o’s brother Junior jumping in with some of the biggest stars on the planet for the photo and a real pizza guy distributing the pizza.

Continue reading “Pop Culture Roundup March 2014”