BOOK BLITZ: Shadow Games by Jim Lester

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Coming of Age
Date Published: June 2018
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Danny McCall loves basketball more than anything in the world. So why would he risk his basketball scholarship, the love of his life and his entire future to fix the point spread in a series of college basketball games?
Set in the early 1990s, Shadow Games is an exciting page-turner, filled with fast-paced hoops action. A topical novel for readers of all ages, the book is a powerful portrayal of the loss of youthful innocence.


About the Author

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Jim Lester is the author of three successful young adult novels: Fallout, The Great Pretender and Till the Rivers All Run Dry. He has a Ph.d in history and is the author of a non-fiction book entitled Hoop Crazy: College Basketball in the 1950s.
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My Lady Jane (Audiobook) Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows, Katherine Kellgren: This YA Romance/Alt-History/Fantasy is simply delightful

My Lady JaneMy Lady Jane

by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows, Katherine Kellgren (Narrator)
Series: The Lady Janies, #1

Unabridged Audiobook, 13 hrs., 47 min.
HarperAudio, 2016
Read: July 2 – 5, 2016

           You may think you know the story. It goes like this: once upon a time, there was a sixteen-year-old girl named Jane Grey, who was forced to marry a complete strange (Lord Guildford or Gilford or Gifford-something-or-other), and shortly thereafter found herself ruler of a country. She was queen for nine days. Then she quite literally lost her head.

Yes, it’s a tragedy, if you consider the disengagement of one’s head from one’s body tragic. (We are merely narrators, and would hate to make assumptions as to what the reader would find tragic.)

We have a different tale to tell.

Pay attention. We’ve tweaked minor details. We’ve completely rearranged major details. Some names have been changed to protect the innocent (or not-so-innocent, or simply because we thought a name was terrible and we liked another name better). And we’ve added a touch of magic to keep things interesting. So really anything could happen.

This is how we think Jane’s story should have gone.

So begins the Prologue to this wonderfully fun book. It’s that second paragraph — but specifically the parenthetical sentence — that locked in my appreciation for the book. Thankfully, it continued to be as good as that paragraph, but I was going to be a fan of anything that happened from that point on.

The advantage you have with historical figures that no one knows anything about, is historical novelists — particularly those who like to play with their history — can do pretty much what they want. Lady Jane Grey is probably the English monarch that people know the least about (if they know about her at all) making her perfect fodder for this story.

This is one of those books that I can’t figure out how to summarize, so I’m just going to steal the publisher’s blurb, as much as I hate doing that, but my attempts have a mess, and theirs worked:

           In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind YA fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane gets to be Queen of England.

Like that could go wrong.

The characters are wonderful — no one’s perfectly good, or perfectly evil (although there are a few that come close in both directions). The authors keep things moving well, never letting the story detract from the characters, or one part of the narrative take over (there’s plenty of action, romance, friendship, espionage for everyone). Yes there’s magic, yes there’s comedy, but there’s also a lot of heart — a lot of joyful storytelling. This has it all. I really can’t point to a favorite bit, or favorite theme or anything. This is just one of those books I enjoyed all of.

Inside this novel is a love letter to books — and Jane is the representative book lover par excellence (though she could like poetry and novels a bit more) — there’s a treasure trove of quotations about reading, books, and related topics in these pages. All of them delightful.

The novel is clearly clever, witty, with a lot of heart, etc., but what sealed the deal for me was Katherine Kelgren’s outstanding performance. I would’ve enjoyed the novel pretty much no matter who wrote it (I’m not sure Scott Brick or Dick Hill could’ve pulled if off, but you never know), but Kelgren absolutely sold it. Her accent work was outstanding, the life and verve she brought to the project just wowed me.

I’m blathering on, I realize — yet I’m not sure I’ve actually said anything. Bah — just grab the book or audiobook. I don’t care if you’re YA or just A, if you like romance or not, male or female — if you like a fun story that’s well told and never takes itself too seriously (but never makes a joke out of anything important), read it. You’ll have a blast.

—–

4 Stars2018 Library Love Challenge

The Assassin of Oz by Nicky Peacock: A Fast, Strange and Violent Sequel that Tops its Predecessor

The Assassin of OzThe Assassin of Oz

by Nicky Peacock
Series: The Twisted and The Brave, #1

PDF, 180 pg.
Evernight Teen, 2018
Read: May 14 – 15, 2018
I’m not sure what it says about me/the books I read/the world in general, that given the strangeness of the world depicted in this series — the serial killer, vigilante organization, imaginary friend that’s not that imaginary, Native American legendary creature that’s going around killing people — and the even stranger stuff on the horizon of this book, that the hardest thing for me to swallow came in these opening pages. The Prime Minister imposes mandatory capital punishment for murder? That’s just so hard to believe. All the outlandish supernatural stuff just around the corner of that moment seems routine and blasé in comparison.

It takes awhile for this novel to show how it’s related to Lost in Wonderland, although it shares a sensibility and style from the get-go. Because of a couple of references and a news story, you know that this happens in the same world, but the characters are all new for the first two-thirds or so of this book. So when some of the characters from Lost in show up, it almost feels like they’re guest stars.

A 17-year old orphan named Halo is living with her horrible step-father who uses her for a punching bag and a cover for him as he sells drugs, she’s just not sure how to get out of this life when someone calling himself the Wizard shows up to recruit her for his club — Oz. The members of this little club are all murderers, many are technically serial killers at least partially responsible for the re-imposition of capital punishment.

Gavin is a police detective from the States, working with the British police to stop some of these serial killers — apparently Britain is recruiting police officers from around the globe to help slow their slide into dystopia. Gavin and his partner are on the hunt for a killer they call Valentine — who takes the hearts of his victims. A reporter is also trying to get him on board his personal crusade to help exonerate a convicted murder before he’s the first execution in decades.

These actually have more in common than you’d expect — a whole lot more than they’d ever expect or guess. Both end up immersed in the activities of Oz. Which is really about all I can say without ruining everything.

The prose is sharp and sparse — there’s hardly a wasted word. I mean this as a description, not a criticism, but frequently this reads more like an extended outline than a completed draft. It’s a gamble to try it — but Peacock makes that kind of writing work for her.

Fast-paced, focused, imaginative, action-packed and strange. This is an entertaining read — The Assassin of Oz novel delivers what it promises, a genre-mashup full of excitement. This is a solid sequel and does a nice job of setting up the next installment which seems like it’ll be another fun one.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for my honest opinions.

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3.5 Stars

Pipeliner by Shawn Hartje

PipelinerPipeliner

by Shawn Hartje

Kindle Edition, 248 pg.
Helen Springs Press, 2016

Read: March 14 – 15, 2016

I just don’t know what to say about this one. It’s a coming-of-age story about a young man in the 1990’s growing up in (what I believe is) a fictionalized Idaho Falls, Idaho. It’s arguable how much Jason Krabb actually comes of age here — you could make a pretty decent case that he regresses throughout the book.

Jason’s main goal in life is to become a rock star in Portland, OR or Seattle, WA — along the way, he’d like to have a girlfriend and party a lot. He spends a lot of time and energy becoming pretty mediocre at guitar, and hangs out with a poser who’s new to town and a couple of older friends who are more interested in scholastic success and their futures (a concept Jason can’t really wrap his brain around). He’s got an older brother studying at Princeton and dating a nursing student, a very successful mother and a less-successful father who’s browbeat by the other constantly.

The writing is uninspired and dull, there’s no life to it at all — just a dry recitation of what’s going on. To be fair, there’s a bit of flair displayed when he writes little Lake Wobegone-inspired descriptions of things from Jason’s mother’s perspective, but I never saw the point of those, they didn’t seem to add anything. The sex scenes are perfunctory and clumsy (fitting for a seventeen year-old’s initial fumblings, I guess), at least those involving Jason. The one with Jason’s parents was just . . . odd and unnecessary. There were a couple of anachronisms that bugged me, but by and large, his history is good — he captures the feeling of the time, while maybe overplaying the pre-dawn of the Internet as we know it a little bit.

Were I an LDS youth of that era, I might be offended at the depiction of both the straight-laced LDS and the backsliders. If I were someone who spent time with a lot of LDS at the time depicted in the book, I might say it was pretty accurate. Either way, it’s going to be divisive.

There’s nothing new here — stylistically, narratively, or in terms of character. It’s all cliché, it’s not original, there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before — and likely better. It’s not bad, but it’s not worth your time and effort. While reading it, I spent a lot of time annoyed by the book — but there’s nothing to rant about here. At Hartje tried to do something, but like Jason, did the bare minimum and it shows (not unlike what I did here).

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for this post — sorry Mr. Hartje.

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2 1/2 Stars

Chameleon by Zoe Kalo

ChameleonChameleon

by Zoe Kalo

Kindle Edition
Zoe Kalo, 2017

Read: January 27 – 28, 2016


Paloma is a few months shy of turning 18, graduating high school, and moving on with her life when people at her old school have had enough — she’s expelled from school and home. Her mother and step-father deposit her in a convent school with a mix of the privileged and orphans. Isolated, rejected, and defiant, Paloma determines that she’ll endure the experience no matter what it takes.

At that time however, she hadn’t considered the types of nuns she’ll meet, the kind of peers she has — and the very real possibility that she’ll meet a ghost (and maybe more than one). The nuns are a mix of judgmental and prejudiced against her; and welcoming and encouraging Her peers are largely a different assortment — some seem to be conscientious and studious, spiritual and compassionate, or spiteful and catty; most turn out to be everything they seem not to be. Paloma quickly (and despite herself becomes part of a group and finds that to be both a comfort and a source of distress. The ghost seems to be . . . well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it?

Paloma’s life up to this point hasn’t been that easy — there are some dark things in her past, and your idea of what some of those are is constantly evolving and you understand her better and she reveals more about herself. As you learn about her, she learns about her friends and “friends.” There’s more going on at the convent than many would guess, and many of those things will be exposed in one way or another before the reader finishes Chameleon.

My wife and kids have been watching a lot of Chopped lately, so you’ll have to forgive me for this metaphor: but Chameleon does a good job of using all the ingredients in the basket — paranormal elements (or are they?); complex female characters; even more complex relationships between them; a handful of mysteries; complicated family dynamics; and so on — combines them in some interesting ways, but the end result is a little undercooked. Yeah, it’s a stretch, but as I’ve thought about this book the last few days, that’s what kept coming to mind — if Kalo had given this another revision or two to smooth out some of the rough spots, better develop a few scenes, characters and relationships, this could’ve been much better. It’s a good, enjoyable book — but it’s not as good as it could have been.

I’m not sure what the point of setting the story in 1973 was — other than it being safely on the other side of PCs, the Internet, etc., I guess. It doesn’t hurt or help the story — I just think that for a setting as specific as that, there should be a clear advantage.

It’s a touch melodramatic for me with characters that need a little more time in the oven — but it did what it set out to do. Chameleon tells the story of this group of girls in a way that keeps you guessing, on your toes and turning pages. I anticipate the target audience will respond to things I didn’t here, but even for those of us a couple of decades past that target, this is an enjoyable read.

Disclaimer: I received this novel from the author in exchange for this post — thanks Ms. Kalo.

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3 Stars

Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn Book Tour

I’ve been a fan of Carrie Vaughn for over a decade now — if she’s published a novel, I’ve read it (which doesn’t mean I’ve loved them all. Naturally, I jumped at the invitation to be a part of this Book Tour. My take on the book will be posted in a few, but for now, read a little bit about this book, and then keep scrolling so you can learn how to score yourself a free copy. Or go buy a copy and let someone else get it for free. 🙂

MARTIANS ABROAD
Carrie Vaughn

“It is Polly’s teen snarkiness and strong sense of self that will have readers rooting for her to get to the bottom of the mystery. … this easygoing adventure has an affable appeal.”
—Kirkus Reviews

“This is a classic ‘fish-out-of-water’ boarding-school story, focused on an adventurous, good-hearted heroine, with retro SF twists that nod to Heinlein’s oeuvre.”
—Booklist

Inverse’s 11 Science Fiction Books That Will Define 2017 List


From the author of the New York Times bestselling Kitty Norville series and the highly praised After the Golden Age and Discord’s Apple, MARTIANS ABROAD (A Tor Hardcover; $24.99; On-Sale: January 17, 2017) is a modern feminist update of the classic juvenile science fiction novel by Robert Heinlein, Podkayne of Mars. Classic science fiction authors such as Vernor Vinge, Gregory Benford, and Jack McDevitt have already lauded this new take from Carrie Vaughn, which will appeal to both YA and adult audiences looking for an optimistic view of the future.

Teenage Polly Newton has one single-minded dream: to be a starship pilot and travel the galaxy. But her mother, the director of the Mars Colony, derails Polly’s plans when she sends Polly and her genius twin brother, Charles, to Galileo Academy on Earth—-the one planet Polly has no desire to visit. Ever.

Homesick and cut off from her desired future, Polly cannot seem to fit into the constraints of life on Earth, unlike Charles, who deftly maneuvers around people and sees through their behavior to their true motives. But when strange, unexplained, and dangerous coincidences centered on their high-profile classmates begin piling up, Polly is determined to find the truth, no matter the cost.

A versatile author, Vaughn has earned acclaim in multiple genres even as she continues to hit the bestseller lists. Fans know that she can entertain even while telling challenging and empowering stories about women finding their place in the world. RT VIP Salon describes “the excitement of reading a new story by Vaughn that’s set in a world that is so fascinating.” MARTIANS ABROAD will find fans in adult science fiction readers, young adult fans, and anyone looking for a new take on a classic science fiction adventure.

“Her breezy, convincing teenage heroine brings this familiar material to life: an
excellent retro-SF story retold for a new generation of aspiring starship pilots.”
—Gwyneth Jones (Ann Halam), author of Life

“This fun adventure echoes classic space cadet themes with a
bright finish. It’s in conversation with much of Heinlein’s
legacy with twists to keep it interesting-—a brisk read.”
—Gregory Benford, author of Timescape

About the Author

Carrie VaughnCARRIE VAUGHN, the New York Times bestselling author of the Kitty Norville books, is also the author of the stand-alone novels After the Golden Age and Discord’s Apple, and the young adult books Voice of Dragons and Steel. She holds a Masters in English Literature and collects hobbies—-fencing and sewing are currently high on the list. You can visit her online at www.carrievaughn.com.

Giveaway!

The good people over at Tor Books want to give one of my readers a Hardcover Copy of this book — and who am I to argue? We’re going to keep this simple: if you want the book, between now and 11:59PM MST on 1/30/17, leave a comment on this post. Make it amusing, if you please — it won’t help you get the book, but it’ll make things nicer for me.

Sometime next Tuesday, I’ll use some sort of random number generator to pick a winner, and notify the winner to get your address. Sound easy enough?

Not to take anything away from my upcoming review-ish post, but trust me on this folks, you want this one.

Cover Reveal: Chameleon by Zoe Kalo

Premise

Kicked out of school, 17-year old Paloma finds herself in an isolated convent in the tropical forests of 1970s Puerto Rico, where she must overcome her psychosis in order to help a spirit and unveil a killer

Blurb:

An isolated convent, a supernatural presence, a dark secret…

17-year-old Paloma only wanted to hold a séance to contact her dead father. She never thought she would be kicked out of school and end up in an isolated convent. Now, all she wants is to be left alone. But slowly, she develops a bond with a group of girls: kind-hearted Maria, insolent Silvy, pathological liar Adelita, and their charismatic leader Rubia. When, yet again, Paloma holds a séance in the hope of contacting her father, she awakens an entity that has been dormant for years. And then, the body count begins. Someone doesn’t want the secret out…

Are the ghost and Paloma’s suspicions real—or only part of her growing paranoia and delusions?

Genre: YA/Gothic/Ghost/Multicultural
Word Count: 55,000
Release Date: February 2017

About the Author:

A certified bookworm, Zoe Kalo has always been obsessed with books and reading. Reading led to writing—compulsively. No surprise that at 16, she wrote her first novel, which her classmates read and passed around secretly. The pleasure of writing and sharing her fantasy worlds has stayed with her, so now she wants to pass her stories to you with no secrecy—but with lots of mystery…

A daughter of adventurous expats, she’s had the good fortune of living on 3 continents, learning 4 languages, and experiencing a multicultural life. Currently, she’s working on a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature, which she balances between writing, taking care of her clowder of cats, and searching for the perfect bottle of pinot noir.

Connect with Zoe Kalo on the web: www.ZoeKalo.com / Facebook / Twitter