Monday, December 30, 2013

The Best and Worst of 2013

GOODBYE 2013, HELLO 2014

It's that time of year already. All I can think about is where did the year go? Where am I at life and career-wise? Grad school is tough, but I'm in a better groove than I was last year. I'm hoping to graduate next fall, but it's looking more like next spring. I don't have that full-time book publishing job yet, but I have the next best thing....a paid internship in children's publishing!!!

I hope to reach my reading goals by the time this post goes live. I set a goal of 60 books and I am currently stuck at 59. I'm about to go out of town, so I have to write this post a little early. I should finish at least one or two more books before the clock strikes midnight on January 1st!!

There are so many books I did not get to. Some days I want to read every book out there. Obviously that is not possible!! But of the books I read, some I read were great and some were not so great......

(Note not every book on this list was released in 2013, but I just happened to read them in 2013)

Top 13 books of 2013

1. Parlor Games by Maryka Biaggio -- Love, love, love, loved this book. Historical fiction inspired by a real-life female con artist? I was all in on this story. May Dugas was not a con artist, she was just misunderstood and misguided!!

2. Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson -- More historical fiction!! Sensing a pattern here? This one takes place during World War II. It was an emotional read. How do you find the strength to go on after a heart-breaking betrayal? Read the book to find out!

3. Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany -- Jodi Picoult is my favorite writer, but Amy Hatvany could soon supplant her. Amy Hatvany is equally adept at capturing the complex nature of families. Read this book!!

4. Broken CJ Lyons -- I've never read a book by CJ Lyons before, but I will again. Broken is her YA debut. I was able to figure out the mystery/thriller angle in this book, but the suspense was well-played.

5. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty -- As I said in my review, it's very easy to guess the secret in The Husband's Secret. I was on the fence with this book because it was so easy to guess the secret. But by the end I chose a side and was glad I stuck it out with this book.

6. A Trick of the Light by Lois Metzger -- This was a refreshing take on the teenage perspective. The main
character is a teenage boy suffering from anorexia. The
little voice in this boy's head is trying to drag him down. But his family is fighting to save him. Who will he listen to?

7. The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes -- More historical fiction!! A World War I painting of a woman long forgotten by her country stirs up controversy for a young widow.

8. And Then I Found You by Patti Callahan Henry -- Katie is haunted by a decision she made in the past. Soon her past will catch up with her future!! Another great family drama!!

9. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline -- I learned about a controversial piece of U.S. history. From the late 1850s to the 1920s, orphaned children in overcrowded cities were put on trains to be "adopted" in cities throughout the U.S. The adoptions were more like indentured servitude.

10. A Far Piece to Canaan by Sam Halpern -- A
story of friendship that's reminiscent of the movie Stand By Me!!

11. Friday's Harbor by Diane Hammond -- My first foray into animal fiction was a great one.

12. The Dogs of WInter by Bobbie Pyron -- A young boy is forced to fend for himself and his dogs on the cold streets of Moscow. Reading the book, you might think the streets were the perfect place for him but this sweet, innocent boy really needed guidance and supervision.

13. The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison -- The life and reputation of a single father changes in an instant. How can he solve his problems before he loses everything?

Honorable mention:  The Book of Someday by Dianne Dixon,  The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski,  Dizzy by Arthur Wooten,  The Language of Sisters by Amy Hatvany, and Dancing to the Flute by Manisha Jolie Amin

The not-so good books of 2013

1. Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas -- I did not finish this book. It was torture to get through. This women seemed more like a self-absorbed jerk than a sociopath.

2. In Darkness by Nick Lake -- I actually did not review this one on my blog. I had to read it for one of my classes. I did not like it. The main character in this book was a teenage gang member. At times I felt sorry for him, but by the end I didn't like him at all.

3. The Doll by Taylor Stevens -- Although this is a thriller, I felt like I was reading an episode of Scandal. I know I'll take some hits for saying this, but I don't watch Scandal because I can't take the frenetic pace of the show. I don't like slow plot lines in my books, but I also don't like books that move too fast. The plot lines in The Doll were too fast for my taste.

4. However Long the Night by Aimee Molloy -- If this were a long-form journalism piece in the New Yorker, I would have felt differently about this. But it just didn't read like a biography to me.

5. Dark Tide by Elizabeth Haynes -- There were no thrills or suspense in this one for me. The ending was such a big letdown.

6. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter -- I know a lot of people like this one, but it wasn't that great to me. I think this would work better as a movie than a book.

What books were on your list?? 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Please welcome C.J. Lyons

Today C.J. Lyons, the author of several adult books, is stopping by my blog to talk about her YA debut Broken!!
Here is the question I asked: I wondering if you could talk about the switch from writing for adults to teenagers. Did you have to change your writing style in anyway? Are there certain things creatively that you can/can't write about for teens?
CJ: I’ve always loved reading YA and everyone kept telling me that as a pediatrician, I should write it. But honestly, I never found a story that I thought was worthy of my kids—my patients—until BROKEN. Writing for kids is tons
tougher than writing for adults. Most grownups read for entertainment, but kids read for so much more. They want to vicariously experience the world and the choices they’ll be expected to make as adults as well as learn who they are and how they can fit into that larger universe once they’re the ones in charge.

Funny thing is, once I began BROKEN and found my YA voice (very different than my adult thrillers’ narrative voice), I realized I could be much more emotionally honest than with my adult work—which also meant I could tell edgier stories. After finishing BROKEN, I now have ideas for more YA thrillers and can’t wait to write them!
Unlike my adult thrillers, I actually find that I can go deeper and darker emotionally with YA, which is a lot of fun—just goes to show that you can still have the thriller pacing and adrenalin rush without it all being car chases and explosions.
I don’t think there’s anything off limits for YA—it’s all in how you handle the topic. After all, teens are pretty smart, they see the same things on TV and online that adults do, so what’s important isn’t to try to hide topics from them but to empower teens to understand and make good choices.
For instance, I just turned in DAMAGED, my second YA Thriller, and this one was so hard to write! It deals with two kids, Jesse and Miranda, being black mailed by a cyber-predator using capping (screen capture images) and how they find the courage to stand up to him (with the help of their parents). They go through hell and some of the things that happen to them were so painful to write that I was weeping as I typed—but then I was crying again when I wrote the ending as they rose above it all and triumphed.

About CJ:
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of twenty-one novels, former pediatric ER doctor CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart.
Winner of the International Thriller Writers’ coveted Thriller Award, CJ has been called a "master within the genre" (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as "breathtakingly fast-paced" and "riveting" (Publishers Weekly) with "characters with beating hearts and three dimensions" (Newsday).
Learn more about CJ's Thrillers with Heart at

My take on: Broken

I've never read a book by CJ Lyons before, but I know I will again. I knew she wrote adult thrillers and her latest, Broken, is her YA debut. I went into this book with a certain expectation and was completely surprised by the ending.

What was the surprise? I can't tell you without spoiling the book!! However, I can tell you all what I loved about the book before the ending.

Fifteen-year-old Scarlet Killian is finally getting the chance to be a normal teenager. After years spent battling a rare heart ailment, Scarlet is battling her toughest challenge -- high school. Her mother (technically she is her step-mother but in every way that counts she is her mom)  has dedicated her life to keeping Scarlet alive, almost to the point of obsession. Her father loves her, but spends most of his time working. They've done all they can to keep Scarlet in a cocoon. But Scarlet desperately wants out. No more home-schooling, no more pills, no more hospitals, no more special diets, and no longer feeling like a freak. Scarlet thinks high school will be the answer to all her problems. The social cliques, the jocks, the nerds, the cheerleaders, the freaks, and the bullies are more than enough to deal with for normal teenagers...and Scarlet wants to be a part of it. Scarlet's parents have given in, but only for a week. If Scarlet can make it through the seven days without a setback, she just might have a shot at being a normal teenager.

Seven days is a long time in Scarlet's world. One moment she could be feeling just fine, the next her heart could skip more than a couple of beats, and worst of all her heart could kill her.

On the first day of school Scarlet makes friends and enemies. Nessa, Celina, Jordan, and Tony are Scarlet's closest allies. They confide in each other and they stand up for each other, which is a good thing. Mitch, a football jock, makes it his mission to torment Scarlet. I just wanted to punch Mitch. He constantly mocks Scarlet's heart condition. I found that to be a stretch of the imagination. I know times have changed drastically since I was in high school. Bullying has gotten worse and more high-tech since my time. But it's so hard for me to accept that teenagers would make mock someone with a deadly illness.

It doesn't get any easier for Scarlet considering her mother is the school nurse. Scarlet always has to have her guard up at school. Her mother could come out of nowhere at any moment. She doesn't mean to embarrass Scarlet, but it always seems to happen. She's afraid to let go of Scarlet. So much of her time has been spent trying to keep Scarlet alive, she doesn't really know how to let her live. Scarlet's mom would rather keep her daughter in a protective bubble, than let her grow up. Scarlet never got to go through that awkward teenage stage. Scarlet never got to develop social skills. Essentially, Scarlet never got to be Scarlet.

High school awakens a rebellious streak in Scarlet. She can defy her mother in little ways and still have a chance at becoming a normal teenager. That rebellious streak leads to Scarlet discovering a long-buried family secret. Just one of the many twists to this book. Plot-wise, Scarlet's struggles with high school would have been enough for me. The twists just made for a more complex and enjoyable read. I can't say more without giving away too much. But I will say that you should read this book!!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received an e-ARC from the publisher (Sourcebooks) in exchange for an honest review.