Wednesday, September 2, 2020

IWSG: Best Beta Partner

 It's that time again . . . 


This Month's Question: If you could choose one author, living or dead, to be your beta partner, who would it be and why?


My Answer: First, I'm assuming "beta partner" is equivalent to "beta reader"?? Because a critique partner is someone who helps tear apart early drafts of your manuscript to help improve it, and a beta reader is someone who reads the first "finished" (polished and amazing) draft to give feedback on the overall plots and character arcs. (I would never replace my current critique partners - they're the best ever. So, I feel like this is a trick question.) But if I can keep my critique partners and just have a new beta reader . . . hmm . . .  I would choose Dean Koontz. Yup.


How about you? Who would you want to read your manuscript prior to publication?



Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Book Review: WHEN I WAS YOU by Amber Garza

The cover reads: Two women. One life. They can't both have it.

Oh. Boy. COUNT ME IN! Such a creepy premise: Two women, one name. When the older Kelly Medina receives a phone call from the pediatrician to remind her of her son's upcoming appointment, she tells them they must have the wrong phone number. That's when she discovers there's another Kelly Medina in town. That's where the obsession begins. 

Scroll down to read my full review.


When I Was You

by Amber Garza

Publication Date: August 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-0778361046

Publisher: MIRA


Description from Publisher:

YOU meets FATAL ATTRACTION in this up-all-night psychological thriller about a lonely empty-nester's growing obsession with a young mother who shares her name.

It all begins on an ordinary fall morning, when Kelly Medina gets a call from her son's pediatrician to confirm her upcoming well-baby appointment. It's a cruel mistake; her son left for college a year ago, and Kelly has never felt so alone. The receptionist quickly apologizes: there's another mother in town named Kelly Medina, and she must have gotten their numbers switched. But Kelly can't stop thinking about the woman who shares her name. Lives in her same town. Has a son she can still hold, and her whole life ahead of her. She can't help looking for her: at the grocery store, at the gym, on social media. When Kelly just happens to bump into the single mother outside that pediatrician's office, it's simple curiosity getting the better of her. Their unlikely friendship brings Kelly a renewed sense of purpose, taking care of this young woman and her adorable baby boy. But that friendship quickly turns to obsession, and when one Kelly disappears, well, the other one may know why.

About the Author:

Amber Garza has had a passion for the written word since she was a child making books out of notebook paper and staples. Her hobbies include reading and singing. Coffee and wine are her drinks of choice (not necessarily in that order). She writes while blaring music, and talks about her characters like they're real people. She lives with her husband and two kids in Folsom, California, which is—no joke—home to another Amber Garza.


My Review:

I LOVED THIS BOOK FROM PAGE ONE!!

Amber Garza does an amazing job of weaving story questions throughout the prose, compelling the reader to keep turning pages to find out what will happen next!

When I Was You was easily the best book I've read in ages. 

Normally, I don't enjoy reading a story written in second-person POV, but Amber Garza used the device so skillfully to ramp up the creepy factor of the book! The second-person POV made it feel like the main character was writing a letter to the woman she was obsessed with. For example:

"As the water boiled, I thought about you. Thought about how lucky you were to have a baby and your whole life ahead of you."

There were really only two elements of the story that bugged me. One: there were moments of missing time for the main character that were never resolved. Two: the sexual relationship with Rafael was too cruel and misogynistic. And yet, even with those two things, this is still the best book I’ve read in ages, and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves a good mystery and suspenseful novel.

When I Was You is the type of book you can't stop reading, and when you do have to stop (for work, sleep, shower, whatever) you can't stop thinking about it.

Some of my favorite lines from the book:

"You seemed surprised, almost shocked, at my kindness. It endeared me to you a little. I knew that feeling. I often felt like everyone around me was my enemy, not my friend. Rarely did people stop to hep each other. It was like everyone was too into themselves to notice when someone was in need."

"But if you thought that was all it would take to break me, you thought wrong. You'd grossly underestimated the determination of a mom."

I highly recommend When I Was You by Amber Garza.


[I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley. This in no way influenced my opinion of the book.]


Wednesday, August 5, 2020

IWSG: Choosing a Form

I always find the IWSG's Question of the Month intriguing and thought provoking. This month's question holds true to that!



This Month's Question: Quote . . . "Although I have written a short story collection, the form found me and not the other way around. Don't write short stories, novels or poems. Just write your truth and your stories will mold into the shapes they need to be." Have you ever written a piece that became a form, or even a genre, you hadn't planned on writing in? Or do you choose a form/genre in advance?

My Answer: When I first started writing, I just wrote my truth. But then I had the rude awakening that "my truth" didn't fit into the genre norms and was quickly rejected along traditional publishing avenues. At first, that was very disheartening. Then I studied the qualities and expectations of different genres and worked to master the craft of writing. That led to having two books published within the traditional marketplace. Now, I find myself being drawn with my whole being back to writing what I WANT to write, regardless of genre expectations. It's hard finding a balance between writing for myself and writing to satisfy the dynamics of a certain genre.

What about you? Do you choose a form/genre in advance?


Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Book Review: SOMEONE'S LISTENING by Seraphina Nova Glass

Oh, when I read the description for this thriller, I knew I had to jump into it!! Scroll on down for my complete review.


Someone's Listening
by Seraphina Nova Glass
Publication Date: July 28, 2020
ISBN: 978-1525836749
Publisher: Graydon House Books


Description from the Publisher:
You’re not alone. Someone’s waiting. Someone’s watching … Someone's listening.

In SOMEONE’S LISTENING, Dr. Faith Finley has everything she’s ever wanted: she’s a renowned psychologist, a radio personality—host of the wildly popular “Someone’s Listening with Dr. Faith Finley”—and a soon-to-be bestselling author. She’s young, beautiful, and married to the perfect man, Liam.

Of course Liam was at Faith’s book launch with her. But after her car crashes on the way home and she’s pulled from the wreckage, nobody can confirm that Liam was with her at the party. The police claim she was alone in car, and they don’t believe her when she says otherwise. Perhaps that’s understandable, given the horrible thing Faith was accused of doing a few weeks ago. And then the notes start arriving—the ones literally ripped from the pages of Faith’s own self-help book on leaving an abusive relationship. Ones like “Secure your new home. Consider new window and door locks, an alarm system, and steel doors…”

Where is Liam? Is his disappearance connected to the scandal that ruined Faith’s life? Who is
sending the notes? Faith’s very life will depend on finding the answers.



About the Author:
Seraphina Nova Glass is a professor and Playwright-in-Residence at the University of Texas-Arlington, where she teaches Film Studies and Playwriting. She holds an MFA in playwriting from Smith College, and has optioned multiple screenplays to Hallmark and Lifetime. Someone's Listening is her first novel.





My Review:

I loved it.

This was the first book I've read by Seraphina Nova Glass, and I enjoyed it thoroughly! The characters were well developed, the plot was intricately woven, and the pacing was perfect.

Admittedly, I was a little worried when the opening lines of the story had the main character waking up (a taboo cliche), but the story quickly improved with great imagery and layered questions.

Multiple places throughout the story, the author had me gasping out loud and feeling my own anxiety ramp up.

While the main character was quite complex, there were times when I wanted to reach through the story's pages and shake her, hard. She made a lot of dumb choices for a professional therapist, and her heavy-handed purchase of a gun pulled me out of the story world.

Nonetheless, expert writing and story pacing kept me glued to the pages. The plot was resolved in a satisfying climax, and the reveal of the villain was well justified.

I look forward to reading more books by this terrific author!

Favorite passages from the story:

"Maybe that primal need for your mother when you're in pain, because no matter how abandoned she's left you, no matter how many years have passed, you still carry an illogical hope that maybe ... maybe she'll be there this time."

"It seems impossible that I can go out in the world and find and lose jobs, fall in love, make unforgivable mistakes, hurt people, get my heart broken, develop wrinkles and cynicism, and change so completely from who I was in this house, and come home and that little Christmas globe hasn't moved, probably not even to be dusted, through all of this -- through a person's whole life."



[I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way influenced my opinion.]

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

IWSG: Changes in the Publishing Industry

The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting!



This month's question: There have been many industry changes in the last decade, so what are some changes you would like to see happen in the next decade?

My answer: I would really like to see an increase in the acceptance of all authors and all publishing paths. As writers, we love the process of writing, but sometimes the process of publishing causes finger pointing, raised eyebrows, and unkind comments. We all want the same thing: to share our written stories. Let's be kind about the different paths we may choose to climb that mountain and celebrate each other's successes and encourage each other through our setbacks along the way.

What are your thoughts? What changes would you like to see?


Monday, June 29, 2020

Book Review: I KILLED ZOE SPANOS by Kit Frick

When I read the praise: “The YA thriller of the summer” (Bustle), I knew I had to give this book a try. Scroll down for my complete review.


I Killed Zoe Spanos
by Kit Frick
Publication Date:: June 30, 2020
ISBN: 978-1534449701
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster)

Description from the Publisher:
For fans of Sadie and Serial, this gripping thriller follows two teens whose lives become inextricably linked when one confesses to murder and the other becomes determined to uncover the real truth no matter the cost.

What happened to Zoe won’t stay buried…

When Anna Cicconi arrives to the small Hamptons village of Herron Mills for a summer nanny gig, she has high hopes for a fresh start. What she finds instead is a community on edge after the disappearance of Zoe Spanos, a local girl who has been missing since New Year’s Eve. Anna bears an eerie resemblance to Zoe, and her mere presence in town stirs up still-raw feelings about the unsolved case. As Anna delves deeper into the mystery, stepping further and further into Zoe’s life, she becomes increasingly convinced that she and Zoe are connected—and that she knows what happened to her.

Two months later, Zoe’s body is found in a nearby lake, and Anna is charged with manslaughter. But Anna’s confession is riddled with holes, and Martina Green, teen host of the Missing Zoe podcast, isn’t satisfied. Did Anna really kill Zoe? And if not, can Martina’s podcast uncover the truth?

Inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Kit Frick weaves a thrilling story of psychological suspense that twists and turns until the final page.

About the Author:
Kit Frick is a novelist, poet, and MacDowell Colony fellow from Pittsburgh, PA. She studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA from Syracuse University. When she isn’t putting complicated characters in impossible situations, Kit edits poetry and literary fiction for a small press and edits for private clients. She is the author of the young adult thrillers I Killed Zoe Spanos, All Eyes on Us, and See All the Stars, all from Simon & Schuster / Margaret K. McElderry Books, as well as the poetry collection A Small Rising Up in the Lungs from New American Press. Kit is working on her next novel. Let's keep in touch! Please visit me online at www.kitfrick.com and follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest @kitfrick. For insider access to book news, events, and giveaways; a behind-the-scenes look at my writing life; and recommendations drawn from my endless fascination with psychological suspense and true crime, sign up for my monthly newsletter These Little Secrets at bit.ly/KitLetter.



My Review:

This summertime thriller by Kit Frick did not disappoint! It is the first novel I've read of Frick's, and now I am a fan! 

With terrific writing, a complex cast of characters, and a non-linear timeline, Kit Frick's I Killed Zoe Spanos dangles story questions and clues that will compel readers to keep turning pages until the satisfying end! 

The characters were well developed with full arcs, the plot was twisty, the format was engaging with podcasts, police interviews, and narratives, and Frick did an amazing overall job of storytelling.

The only issues with the story that bothered me in the slightest were: 1) The extremely large cast of characters made me struggle to keep them all straight. 2) The changing points-of-view in the midst of a non-linear timeline made me re-read sections to grasp who was telling the story and when, especially in the beginning of the book. Once I got into the rhythm, it became easier to follow. (These are not reasons to discount the book, merely reasons, for me that I had to work a little harder to immerse myself completely within the world of the story.) 

Nearing the end of the story, I read faster and faster, determined to solve the mystery before it was revealed. While I did guess a couple of elements, I was pleasantly surprised at the final reveals and resolutions. Loose ends were tied up nicely, leaving me quite content. Nicely done, Kit Frick!

I look forward to picking up another one of her books.



Some of my favorite lines from the book:

"She looks like she's been living ten seconds away from tears for months."

"The banister, once a grand thing, is dusty and coated with bird shit."

"She hurries quietly around the side of the estate, into the backyard where the weeds reach up to snag her tights like bony fingers in the moonlight."

[I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my opinion at all.]

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

IWSG: Secrets

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting!



June's Question: Writers have secrets! What are one or two of yours, something readers would never know from your work?

My Answer: Huh. This one really stumps me. I am not a keeper of secrets. I pretty much wear everything right on my sleeve for the whole world to see. Well. Except maybe my pandemic hair. I'm considering letting it go gray. (YIKES) But I haven't decided for sure. It makes me feel older every time I look in the mirror. Maybe I should keep coloring it? I'll make a decision before my next official author appearance. Ha. 

How about you? Do you keep secrets?


Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Book Review: LITTLE CREEPING THINGS by Chelsea Ichaso

Little Creeping ThingsLittle Creeping Things by Chelsea Ichaso

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Such a terrific premise for a book: the main character writes down her secret fantasy for killing off her nemesis, but then someone snatches her notebook and frames her for the murder.

The hook was so great, it kept me reading clear to the end to find out who committed the murder. However, I wish the main character was easier to like. I found myself not really caring what happened to her. She was whiny and repetitive with her complaining. While the story was a compelling mystery to solve, I wanted more character development with richer, fuller arcs.

Nonetheless, if you like interesting mysteries, read LITTLE CREEPING THINGS.

Here are some of my favorites lines from the book:

"Though Maribel boasts breathtaking scenery, boredom is the leading cause of death."

"The name Brandon Alvarez sits on my tongue like a rotten bite of fruit. I want to spit it out."

"I'm dizzy. All that digging and walking and lying."

"Everyone in this town knows I'm trouble. Or troubled."

"But I let myself believe the lie ... and it shaped every decision I made. I let those little creeping things embed themselves inside my brain, inside my very core, until they ate away at who I was."




[I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley, which in no way influenced my opinion.]



View all my reviews

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Book Review: BREATH LIKE WATER by Anna Jarzab

After recently taking swim lessons (as an adult!), I was intrigued by the description of this book. I jumped at the opportunity to read an early copy, and it was the BEST book I've read in ages! Scroll down for my complete review.


Breath Like Water
by Anna Jarzab
Publication Date: May 19, 2020
ISBN: 978-1335050236
Publisher: Inkyard Press

Description from Publisher:
Susannah Ramos has always loved the water. A swimmer whose early talent made her a world champion, Susannah was poised for greatness in a sport that demands so much of its young. But an inexplicable slowdown has put her dream in jeopardy, and Susannah is fighting to keep her career afloat when two important people enter her life: a new coach with a revolutionary training strategy, and a charming fellow swimmer named Harry Matthews. As Susannah begins her long and painful climb back to the top, her friendship with Harry blossoms into passionate and supportive love. But Harry is facing challenges of his own, and even as their bond draws them closer together, other forces work to tear them apart. As she struggles to balance her needs with those of the people who matter most to her, Susannah will learn the cost—and the beauty—of trying to achieve something extraordinary.

About the Author:
Anna Jarzab is the author of All Unquiet Things, The Opposite of Hallelujah, Tandem, Tether, Red Dirt, and Breath Like Water. She lives in New York City and works in children's book publishing. Visit her online at www.annajarzab.com and connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @ajarzab.



My Review:

Anyone who's ever dealt with an overbearing, in-your-face coach ... anyone who's ever dealt with disappointment ... anyone who's ever dealt with mental illness ... and/or anyone who's ever wanted a goal so badly every fiber of their being ached for it ... should read this book!

Breath Like Water by Anna Jarzab was simply the best book I've read in ages. The writing was terrific and easy to read. The characters were well developed. The plot was captivating. The setting was fascinating. And I was intrigued from page one.

Often times in books targeted at the young adult audience, the parents are absent from the story or neglectful in some regard (in order to let the teenager solve his/her own problems, which is a necessary story device). However, in Breath Like Water, the main character's parents were present, supportive, and realistic. And the main character, Susannah, was still able to solve her own problems. I think this is true in real life more often than we acknowledge. Part of good parenting is allowing your children to make their own decisions, and part of being a teenager is making choices regardless of what your parents may recommend.

"It's my responsibility to take care of you, and to teach you how to take care of yourself. I take it seriously."

Another huge adult influence in the lives of teens is a coach. If a teen is blessed with a great one, the benefits are limitless. If a teen is cursed with a bad one, the damage is limitless, and the belittling can cause scars that carry into other aspects of their lives and far into adulthood. Breath Like Water explores the two different types of coaches. Many times, parents are never fully aware of the harmful things coaches say to their kids. Books such as Breath Like Water will help many young adults realize it's not just them being verbally abused and bullied by their coaches. This happens to a lot of people. They're not alone, and they can rise above it.

"Dave has been my coach for nearly ten years. He knows exactly what knives cut the deepest, and he keeps them nice and sharp at all times."

My only criticism of this story: I wanted Susannah to be more inquisitive around Harry sooner. I wanted her to care enough about him to ask him questions and probe into his life. This aspect pulled me from the story, aware that the author was making me wait for the information.

Nonetheless, I loved this book so much! Jarzab's storytelling was captivating, and her writing was inspiring. She made me feel emotions deeply; I cried several times (tears of joy, relief, and sadness). She made me stand taller, feeling seen for my own abilities and struggles. We are not alone. We are strong. We are capable.

"Failure is an intersection, but even though I took a detour for a while, I ended up on a better stretch of the same road." 

Breath Like Water offers hope and encouragement to anyone, any age, striving to manage their lives, overcome their circumstances, and achieve their goals. 

For those concerned with triggers, be aware that this book deals with topics of mental illness and suicide.

Some of my favorite lines from the book:

"There's no worse struggle than the one that never begins."

"How do you even begin to mourn the death of a dream?"

"A year ago, I had no idea [Harry] existed. Now, nothing seems to have really happened until I've told him about it."

"And fighting, not for the promise of a reward but simply for one's own satisfaction is the greatest glory a person can attain."

"Failure is an intersection."

"To demonstrate the skills that I'm so proud of ... I have to open myself up to the censure of the world, which will judge me according to its standards, not mine."

"I'm starting to understand the power of individual moments. The joy that can be found when you're not too distracted by the faraway horizon to appreciate the beauty of where you're standing."

"Just because a dream won't bend to your will when it's convenient doesn't mean it's not worth pursuing."


[I received an early copy of this book from the publisher for free, via Net Galley, which in no way influenced my opinion.]

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Book Review: THIS IS HOW I LIED by Heather Gudenkauf

This was my first time reading a novel by Heather Gudenkauf, and I was not disappointed. Scroll down for my complete review.


This is How I Lied
by Heather Gudenkauf
Publication Date: May 12, 2020
ISBN: 978-0778388111
Publisher: Park Row


Description from the Publisher:
Gudenkauf proves herself the master of the smart, suspenseful small-town thriller that gets right under your skin.” —Gilly Macmillan, New York Times bestselling author of The Nanny

Everyone has a secret they’ll do anything to hide…

Twenty-five years ago, the body of sixteen-year-old Eve Knox was found in the caves near her home in small-town Grotto, Iowa—discovered by her best friend, Maggie, and her sister, Nola. There were a handful of suspects, including her boyfriend, Nick, but without sufficient evidence the case ultimately went cold.

For decades Maggie was haunted by Eve’s death and that horrible night. Now a detective in Grotto, and seven months pregnant, she is thrust back into the past when a new piece of evidence surfaces and the case is reopened. As Maggie investigates and reexamines the clues, secrets about what really happened begin to emerge. But someone in town knows more than they’re letting on, and they’ll stop at nothing to keep the truth buried deep.

About the Author:
Heather Gudenkauf is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Weight of Silence and Not a Sound.  Heather lives in Iowa with her family.


My Review:

This is How I Lied by Heather Gudenkauf kept me guessing until the final pages!

What is a secret you've kept to yourself your entire life, hoping no one would ever find out about? Interesting concept to ponder. And while Gudenkauf does a terrific job exploring this facet of the small-town Grotto society, I would not call this story a thriller. It is definitely a well-told mystery, but not a thriller. A mystery is designed with the crime at the beginning of (or before) the story and the narrative question is: Who committed this crime? A suspense or thriller novel usually has an impending crime, and the narrative question is: How can this be averted? Nonetheless, while it was promoted as a thriller, Gudenkauf's mystery was well-written and captivating.

The slow reveal of information kept me intrigued and glued to the pages to find out who the real killer was, and the final reveal was justified.

Admittedly, at the start of the novel, I wasn't certain if I was going to like it, because I felt distanced from the fifteen-year-old character, Eve, and even had to check to see if this novel was written for the young adult audience or an adult audience. (It is written for an adult audience.) I assume Gudenkauf wrote the opening the way she did to avoid revealing the gender of the killer, but it was clunky and I almost stopped reading. Throughout the novel, anytime the story was from Eve's point-of-view, I had to work to stick with the story.

I'm glad I kept reading.

The rest of the book was fascinating. The different points of view, the non-linear timeline, and the multiple formats of storytelling (utilizing transcripts from therapy sessions) kept me engaged and curious to find out what was going to happen next.

I do wish there had been a content warning, because I usually choose to avoid any books involving childhood sexual abuse of any sort. Gudenkauf dealt with it at the surface level, never delving too deeply. So I was able to handle it, but consider yourself warned. There are topics of sexual assault, domestic violence, pedophilia ... in addition to the expected violence that accompanies any mystery or thriller. 

In This is How I Lied, Gudenkauf gives the reader a well-developed cast of characters, a twisty plot, and a satisfying ending!

I look forward to reading more books by Gudenkauf!


Some of my favorite lines from the story included:

"I'm used to toting around a sidearm, not an infant."

"Plastic garbage bags stuffed with random items filled corners, their black mouths gaping open as if vomiting mildewed clothing, board games, and VCR tapes."

"The orchard fills both sides of a lush valley and I love walking the rows of apple, fir, spruce and pine trees. Each row has its unique scent--sharp, sweet, woody. I've always imagined our children playing beneath the trees trying to catch the falling delicate pink-and-while apple blossoms that cling to their hair like confetti."

"If you don't understand how things die, how can you understand how they live?"


[I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. This in no way influenced my opinion.]