Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: LOVE’S PREY by Meg Xuemei X

“As its coldness pierces me, I flinch back from my reflection. I was once a cheerful kid, but all I have now is a cold shell, with a colder heart. I put down the mirror, telling myself what I’ve become now doesn’t matter. In two more years, I’ll go away to college and leave this dump. In between, I want no complications.” (17)

Xirena is the girl with “the coldest eyes I’ve ever seen,” according to the neighbors.

The reader will be curiously drawn to Xirena’s dark and flippant personality. The origin of her “slut” nickname was beautifully descriptive and heart-wrenching. Having to deal with strict parents, controlling siblings, harassing peers, and physical violence, is it any wonder why she is the way she is? But “ambiguity is a form of art in Chinese culture. It’s a required survival skill.” (81)  Nonetheless, it was her skillful street-fighting abilities and unwavering determination that made her stand out in triumph. From then on, she was the “black sheep” that everyone stayed away from—everyone except Kai, who “sees something else… beneath the crudeness.” (40)

The story reads almost like a poem with the curt and pensive sentences. It almost feels like a haiku—a Chinese haiku (which are actually Japanese).  Like the weather, these words expressed both the sensitivity and brutality of humans against the backdrop of lovely China.

I was able to relate to Xirena in several ways: her plain features, her anti-social stature, her disregard for everyone’s opinions, her comedic nonchalance and smart-ass remarks, and, most of all, her fascination for the arts. No one would think it from the looks of her, but she is actually very smart (I absolutely know the feeling!)

Believing that he should find some other girl, Xirena refuses to see that she is the honey that Kai is sweet on. His patient persistence was admirable and too sweet to ignore. There was no doubt that he was the artist with a poet’s heart and that he would do anything to protect Xirena.

A well-written and unlikely love story between Shakespeare’s Romeo and the Wicked Witch of the East. This was an interesting tale told from a China girl “born with a pair of slanted eyes that struggled to see the world.” (152)

My rating: 5 stars

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Twelve-year-old April O'Day's summer has gotten off to a flying start. As the new bat retriever for the Harpoons, her hometown's minor league team, she's fetching bats and doling out great advice to players and coaches alike. In a word, she's becoming indispensable. But mysterious things are happening at Haney Field, which April and her best friend - and fellow baseball enthusiast - Darren Plummer are determined to uncover. As they quickly learn, this is no ordinary season. In fact, it's a whole new ball game.

My thoughts: In the beginning, the story had a Rookie of the Year feel—a kid playing pro baseball.

I was glad the hero that was so great at baseball was a girl—a plain, down-to-earth, tomboy of a girl. Perhaps the stats and technicalities of the game were a bit of a bore, but it was impressive to see a girl that was so knowledgeable about it (let’s face it: most of us aren’t.)

But then we get to the spooky part: ghosts? Could there be ghosts on that baseball field? Suddenly nostalgia hit me and I felt like I was reading a Goosebumps book with the mystery wind and shadow players. Weird!

Overall, the book was well-written for the 8-12 age range, and the story was okay.

My rating: 3 stars

Thursday, June 26, 2014

My Writing Process Blog Tour

Since becoming a published author, I’ve had the privilege of meeting many writers—in person and online. One of which was John Heldt, author of The Mine, The Journey, and The Fire, which were books that I reviewed for him. Recently he invited me to participate in the “My Writing Process” blog tour.


Here’s how it goes:

1.       Answer questions about your writing process

2.       Nominate three other writers


This is basically a game of Author Tag, and I thought it would be fun to play!


1)     What are you working on?

Currently I’m working on a collection of short stories.


2)     How does your work differ from others of its genre?

My two novels focus on a young Latina striving to escape the stereotypes and hardships to make something of her life. While the works of other Latino writers rendered Hispanics as immigrants and gang members, I wanted to tell the story of a girl who didn’t fit in any of those categories and just wanted to go to college.


3)     Why do you write what you do?

When I first started writing Esperanza, I just wanted to utilize my own life experiences to create an inspirational heroine. But like any writer will say, it was the love of books and writing that got me started and why I keep on going. Ultimately, I write my stories for me.


4)     How does your writing process work?

As soon as I come up with an idea, I like to do an outline just to have a basic premise of the story. Then I also write my first draft, or what I like to call my “barf draft”, in pencil. A “barf draft” allows me to get whatever I have—anything I have—out on paper in a messy, unfashionable, and undistinguishable way. Once I’m all cleaned out, I go back to it, try to figure my notes, then re-write. The revising process is repeated again and again and again until I have a finely polished manuscript.



Nominations: (I know I was supposed to nominate 3, but I could only confirm 2. Oh, well!)

Mary Castillo's novels have turned romance and mystery readers into dedicated fans. She is the proud author of SwitchcraftIn Between Men and Hot Tamara and novellas featured in the anthologies, Orange County NoirNames I Call My Sister and Friday Night Chicas. Her latest paranormal mysteries, Lost in the Light and Girl in the Mist have been widely praised by critics and readers! Her work is available in print, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks and Smashwords.


Shelby K.Morrison was born in Oregon and grew up in California and Utah. Shattered is Shelby's debut novel, with many more to come. Shelby plans on exploring other genres down the road before claiming a specialty. She currently lives in Utah with her husband and two dogs. When she isn't writing or reading, she enjoys researching, crafting, bargain shopping, and DIY-projects.

Look for their posts next on July 3

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Review: A TRIP THROUGH DOWNER, MINNESOTA by Gretchen Johnson

I’m not really that much into poetry, but after reading the entertaining stories of Gretchen Johnson in The Joy of Deception, I couldn’t resist.

These poems actually don’t read so much like poems;  they feel more like little stories—stories told from the eyes of a middle-aged man dealing with his overbearing mother, nagging girlfriend, and every dull drone in his sleepy town of Downer. Each is a mere observation. For instance:

[Excerpt, pg. 13]

Today I saw an old man walking
with a young dog,
and I wondered what they’ll do
when the other is no longer here,
the dog having no one to feed him
and the man no one to walk toward.

As I continue reading, the nameless narrator feels restless in his town, in his life.

[Excerpt, pg. 23]

Sometimes, in the middle of the night,
I pack a suitcase in my mind,
softly sliding shirts and slacks, socks and shaving cream
into the dusty suitcase while Charlene snores in the next room,
and I sit alone in the quiet living room,
stuck on the sofa with a cup of powdered cocoa in hand,
my finger follows highlighted highways
across state maps spread out over the coffee table,
and I can feel myself driving south
through Pipestone and down 75 past Rock Rapids, Iowa,
watching the sun rise over foreign fields
as Charlene sleeps to dawn
but I always rinse the cup out, fold the maps,
and head back to bed, and Charlene always wakes before me
and plans another day out too swiftly
for me to ever escape it.

This made me wonder: People are always dreaming and scheming of getting out—out of a job, out of a relationship, out of the parents’ house, out of the state, out of this world—but, in the end, we always end up back where we started. Why? Are we mindless hamsters constantly riding in the spinning wheels of our cages? Perhaps that’s all we know.

[Excerpt, pg. 35]

Charlene is destroying me,
too slowly for anyone to notice,
like the Mount Rushmore t-shirt
worn and washed too many times
And she says she loves me
as she shears my hair too short for January air,
talks endlessly through the last lunches with my mother,
spends nights uninvited,
and insists I shower with rose-scented soaps
and sometimes I stand alone
in my fast fading house and wonder
how many washes are left
before I fade completely.

Must we lose ourselves to gain another?

My favorite one had to be the one that compared Charlene to a tornado, only getting worse in its lingering presence and eventually destroying everything in its path. Of course, my review is based almost entirely on these few select poems; others weren’t quite as memorable. Still, the good writing was there.

Thought-provoking and candid. Well done, Ms. Johnson!

My rating: 4 stars


Friday, May 23, 2014

Review: WELCOME TO DEEP COVE by Grant Reed

At thirty-one, Garrett Willigins has finally earned his private investigator's badge. Unfortunately, the bills haven't stopped coming and building a solid reputation won't happen overnight. Forced to take employment wherever they can, Garrett and his miniature dragon partner Merle, must dirty their hands any way possible to make a buck.

Shoveling manure, chasing cats, and dock duty seem to be the order of the day. Working off back rent for a notorious gangster isn't the safest of jobs on a good day, but when the other workers start turning up dead, Garrett finds himself elbow deep in a mystery that could spell a quick end to his short P.I career.

My thoughts: The first thing that struck me about Garrett Willigins was: he has a dragon—a dragon named Merle? Mmm….  And he talks, too!  

The pair was kind of like an odd couple, like the roommates on the comic strip, The Duplex, and the two were set in a scene straight from King Arthur’s court. Knights, kings, goblins, and princesses are all things you’ll expect to find in this book.

I’m not that much into fantasy, but what encouraged me to try this book was that it dabbled in the mystery genre, even though I couldn’t figure out why there would be a private investigator in King Arthur’s court when they had wizards to do the bidding. This story presented a light-hearted dialogue with humorous quips; however, my interest was deterred by the complexity of the plot. There also may have been a few too many characters to keep track of. Percy, Pacorro, Don Fergani, Omik, Kaxaun—who can remember these? If I can’t say the name, I usually don’t remember it.
And I honestly couldn't quite understand the need to work at a fisherman's dock.

I trudged on until about a quarter of the way before I stopped all together. I just didn't get it.  

My rating: 2 stars


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Review: EMILY: A COMPILATION OF SHORT STORIES by Chantal Bellehumeur

In these twelve stories, we follow the life of Emily, a young and eager woman sifting through the challenges of everyday life.

Emily is a likable and sensible character full of integrity and hope. Most people will be able to relate to her wide-eyed naiveté as she struggles with her mistakes and tries to learn from them, but, in all honesty, you’d probably relate to her better if you were a mom (which I am not.)

 In “A Mother’s Love,” Emily experiences fear and angst as she figures out how to deal with the consequences of one passionate night. Terror follows Emily in “The Halloween Party.” “An Unplanned Wedding” reminded me of the days I traveled through the streets of Rome with sights such as Piazza di San Pietro, Colosseo, Fontana di Trevi, The Roman Forum, and Palatine Hill, while “Emily’s Birthday Getway” prompted me to jot down places to see when I visit New York.

The stories express endurance, happiness, and love in one tight, little package. At times, they felt a little dry and flavorless. Sometimes “brevity is the soul of wit,” and I think the stories could’ve benefited more from that to avoid some of the mundane details. There were also a few typos scattered about; some would completely change the meaning of the sentence, which might’ve been confusing if you weren’t paying attention.

Overall, the stories were okay. Clearly they were intended for the sentimental crowd, especially since they were originally published for a family-oriented magazine.

I may check out her other stories. Veronica’s Soap Opera Life and Just.Another.Common.Killer sound more compelling.

My rating: 2.5 stars

Friday, May 16, 2014

$25 Gift Card Giveaway - Enter to Win!

If you post a review for Esperanza or Beyond the Gardens, you will automatically be entered for a chance to win a $25 Amazon or B&N gift card.

The review can be posted anywhere (Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, Shelfari, your blog, etc.)

To enter, please post the link to your review in the comments section and be sure to include your name and email address.

This offer ends: December 31, 2014