Book Review: The Raven’s Tale by Cat Winters

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“The life still there, upon her hair – the death upon her eyes.” 

Release Date: April 16, 2019

Pre-Order On Amazon

Price: $12.32 (hardcover)

Publisher: Amulet Books

Plot Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Edgar Poe counts down the days until he can escape his foster family–the wealthy Allans of Richmond, Virginia. He hungers for his upcoming life as a student at the prestigious new university, almost as much as he longs to marry his beloved Elmira Royster. However, on the brink of his departure, all his plans go awry when a macabre Muse named Lenore appears to him. Muses are frightful creatures that lead Artists down a path of ruin and disgrace, and no respectable person could possibly understand or accept them. But Lenore steps out of the shadows with one request: “Let them see me!”

Grade: A+

Review:

I first came into contact with Cat Winters’ writing in the form of the short story, Emmeline, from the thrilling Slasher Girls & Monster Boys. I loved her short story so much that I decided to check out her other works (this is why I love anthologies because it gives you the chance to discover new authors). As a reader, you can’t help but notice just how poetic and elegant Winters’ prose is in all of her writing (think Anne Rice if she were to write YA). So when I found out that Winters was writing a book about my favourite poet’s teenage years, I was beyond thrilled! Honestly, no one else could possibly be a better fit to write about Poe than Winters. I’ve been waiting to read this book for over a year now and was fortunate enough to have received a signed copy of the ARC from the author (a huge THANKS!).

From the very first page, one is completely immersed into the story of Edgar “Eddy” Poe and his beautiful, yet creepy looking muse, Lenore. I’m a huge fan of dual narration, so I loved that we got to know both Poe and Lenore. Most Poe fans know that the Gothic writer had a very tragic life, but to see it come alive in fiction almost makes one a spectator of his formative years. Plus, I really loved the idea of muses coming to life, it kinda reminded me of the Greek muses that were actual women and not just a notion. Not to mention that Winters’ impeccable prose fits seamlessly perfect with any of the Poe-inspired figures of speech.

This is a beautiful tale told beautifully, by a writer who clearly loves her subject as much as I do. You’ll be fascinated and enchanted by the characters and gorgeous prose, and maybe its magic will make you want to discover or revisit some of Poe’s works because that’s what amazing books do. They don’t end when the story ends, and Poe’s legacy is one that will continue forevermore.

Short Q & A With The Author:

What about Edgar Allan Poe’s life made you want to write about him?

I wanted to write about Poe precisely because I didn’t know anything about his life, other than the fact that he married his thirteen-year-old cousin when he was twenty-seven and was supposedly an opium addict (the latter of which has been disputed by scholars). Teachers introduced me to his work when I was in middle school, and he was assigned to me as my American author to study in my eleventh-grade English class. Gothic literature mesmerized me from a very young age, and Poe’s work was no exception.

A few years ago, after using solely fictional characters in my novels, I challenged myself to write about the teenage years of a real-life historical figure, and Edgar Allan Poe immediately came to mind as the perfect subject. Even though his macabre stories and poems are iconic, and he has one of the most recognizable faces in literary history, most people don’t know anything about him as a person. Originally, I didn’t even know where he lived as a teenager, so everything about him was new to me when I first dove into the research.

What is your favourite Poe short story? How about his poetry?

I really love Poe’s short story “The Masque of the Red Death.” To me, it reads like a sinister, Gothic fairy tale, and it’s an excellent example of how to create an atmosphere in fiction—and how to pack a punch with a story’s ending. I love Poe’s poetry even more than his stories, so choosing just one favorite it difficult. “Annabel Lee” was the very first work of his that I ever read, and I’ve always found it both beautiful and chilling. “The Raven,” of course, is a top choice, because it’s quintessential Poe. I’ve also become a big fan of “The Bells.” I wasn’t familiar with that particular poem before writing THE RAVEN’S TALE, but Poe’s rhythm and language—and the way his tone changes throughout the piece—is spellbinding. I love how the poem sounds like bells when read aloud.

After so many years left wondering, fans of Poe finally get a chance to meet Lenore in your novel. Do you think muses are indispensable to an artist, or can an artist create without a muse?

Well, there are both mythological muses and human muses. Both come into play in THE RAVEN’S TALE, and I think in some ways both versions influence all writers. My literary agent will frequently tell me to let my muse guide me, as if a supernatural being hovers around me, inspiring me and deciding when and how I should write. We writers tend to also complain about our muses turning stubborn and silent. I wanted to play with those ideas in THE RAVEN’S TALE, which is why I created the character of Lenore, a mystical, macabre muse who desperately needs teenage Poe to write Gothic works in order for her to survive. Unlike most muses, who remain hidden, she steps out of the shadows of young Eddy’s bedroom wall and demands to be seen. She represents the voice inside all creative souls that drives us to share our work with the world. It’s the same voice that fills our brains with new ideas, often when we’re not expecting ideas to appear, and it sometimes, sadly, falls silent when we truly need inspiration, leading to the dreaded “writer’s block.”

I think all writers tend to have real-life muses, too, whether we realize it or not. Many of my novels involve dark-haired leading men with emotional pasts, and I’m married to a dark-haired guy whom I met when we were both teens.

What part of researching for this novel did you most enjoy?

In 2017 I traveled to Virginia and explored the city of Richmond, where Poe lived the majority of his teen years, and Charlottesville, where he attended the University of Virginia at the age of seventeen. It’s one thing to read about people and places of the past in books and articles, but to actually walk in a historical figure’s footsteps brings a whole new dimension to research. Poe’s dorm room sits on display at the university, and it was incredible to map out my dormitory scenes while looking at and photographing his actual room.

When teaching poetry, I was asked by a student why so many poets and writers seemed to have had experienced some form of tragedy. Do you think that suffering is essential for the artist or can an artist still create relateable material without experiencing pain?

Some artists, including Poe, certainly endure more tragedy than others, but I think most everyone experiences some degree of pain in their life, whether it’s death, loneliness, injury, oppression, bullying, or anything else that leaves a mark on a person. For creative individuals, that pain often works its way into art, just as they also pour their loves and passions into their projects. I don’t think a person has to suffer a horrifying tragedy in order to turn into a great artist, but I think all artists use a version of their tragedies (and fears and challenges) in their works, including comedians, who often cite their pain as the source of their material.

 

 

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Book Review: How To Make Friends With The Dark by Kathleen Glasgow

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Here is what happens when your mother dies.

Release Date: April 9, 2019

Pre-Order on Amazon

Price: $12.91 (hardcover)

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Plot Summary:

It’s the brightest day of summer and it’s dark outside. It’s dark in your house, dark in your room, and dark in your heart. You feel like the darkness is going to split you apart.

That’s how it feels for Tiger. It’s always been Tiger and her mother against the world. Then, on a day like any other, Tiger’s mother dies. And now it’s Tiger, alone.

Here is how you learn to make friends with the dark.

Grade: A

Review:

Having read Glasgow’s heart-wrecking debut, Girl In Pieces, I had an inkling that perhaps her second novel would be another emotional rollercoaster. What I didn’t know is just how much of a wild, heart-breaking ride this would be. Last year, I finally got around to reading White Oleander (about a girl who goes into foster care once her mom is sent to prison for murder), so when Tiger’s mom dies, and she goes to foster care all I can think is, “OH NO BAD THINGS ARE GOING TO HAPPEN NOW!” Because some crazy shit went down in White Oleander that made me grateful that I never had to be a foster child, but at the same time made me feel extremely sorry for those poor kids who do end up becoming wardens of the state. And although I had only known Tiger for a couple of pages, I instantly liked her and was fearful of her future without her mother.

The prose in this book is amazingly STUNNING, even when events happen that leave you feeling like you’re repeatedly getting sucker punched with the most horrible reality. The author has a way of writing that makes grief and despair appear simultaneously poetic and yet very harsh. This book doesn’t lull you with a false sense of security, instead, it pulls the rug out from under your feet making you fall painfully hard. This book isn’t for those who are looking for a casual YA because other than the protagonist being a teen, a lot of the tough reality of life wasn’t glossed over nor sugar-coated. Glasgow wants you to see how difficult it can be to lose the only person you have in life, even if that reality makes you feel uncomfortable at times.

This book will make you feel in ways you didn’t think you were capable of feeling. It will also absolutely shatter your heart to pieces. Not to mention that ugly crying will be in your near future once you pick up this novel. You’ve been warned. But it’s well worth it.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Squad by Mariah MacCarthy

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A Cheerleader loses her squad but discovers herself.

Release Date: March 12, 2019

Purchase on Amazon

Price: $12.88 (hardcover)

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Plot Summary:

Jenna Watson is a cheerleader. And she wants you to know it’s not some Hollywood crap: they are not every guy’s fantasy. They are not the “mean girls” of Marsen High School. They’re literally just human females trying to live their lives and do a perfect toe touch. And their team is at the top of their game. They’re a family.

But all that changes when Jenna’s best friend stops talking to her. Suddenly, she’s not getting invited out with the rest of the quad. She’s always a step behind. And she has no idea why.

While grappling with post-cheer life, Jenna explores things she never allowed herself to like, including LARPing (live-action role-playing) and a relationship with a trans guy that feels a lot like love.

When Jenna loses the sport and the friends she’s always loved, she has to ask herself: What else is left?

Grade: B+

Review:

After embarking on a creepy, twisty journey with Will Haunt You, I decided I needed a moment of respite from all things horror (at least in books) so I decided to give this book a try. Although when I told a friend of mine that I was reading a book about cheerleaders he said, “Why would you do that? They’re scary!” So I wasn’t sure what to expect. From the first page, I was hooked. Not because anything compelling was really happening (there wasn’t much action throughout the whole novel), but I just loved Jenna’s voice and her way of telling a tale of friendship gone awry. How one single social misstep can instantly make you the outcast of your own group (which I’m sure most of us can relate to, to some extent if you’ve ever been in high school or ya know, just been a teenager).

So Jenna finds herself having to learn to navigate school life without her best friend Raejean, and not being part of the cheerleading squad anymore (something dramatic happens, that’s all I can say as to why she’s no longer in the squad). But I love how this novel explored bullying in a way that wasn’t so over the top, but rather how ignoring someone can in itself be its own form of bullying too. Also, kudos for the author for including a transgender (female to male) character. I haven’t seen that many transgender characters in YA novels, so that was refreshing. The book overall was an easy read and although it wasn’t one of the best I’ve read this year, I did enjoy it, mostly for the realism of teenage relationships with their parents and siblings, dating, and friendships.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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I’ve Applied to be a Mentee in Author Mentor Match!

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What is Author Mentor Match?

In short, Author Mentor Match is a mentorship program that pairs aspiring authors (or self-published authors) with seasoned published and agented authors. The awesome thing about this program is that it’s supposed to help authors who have a completed manuscript and are in the process of querying agents, improve both their manuscript and query letters. The reason why this program is so sought after because the authors you’re paired up with have already gone through the query and publishing process so whatever advice they may have for you is truly valuable and sound.

Why have I decided to Enter this program?

I came across this program by chance (through a Twitter hashtag no less!), but it reminds me a lot of Pitch Wars, which I submitted to last summer but sadly didn’t receive a mentorship through that. However, since I participated in Nanowrimo this past November, I have a new manuscript that I think is ten times better than my Pitch Wars submission, so I wish to try my luck with this.

What I hope to get out of this program is:

  • Write a powerful query letter.
  • Feedback from a professional of both my letter and manuscript.
  • Forging a friendship/professional relationship with a fellow writer, as only writers can understand certain things about what you go through!

My Project

GIRL THAT YOU FEAR, a YA Horror that’s Speak meets The Exorcist.

Spencer Torres seemingly has it all, she’s beautiful, popular, smart, and on her way to becoming the school’s valedictorian. However, after a visit on the Queen Mary ship, something goes amiss. It all begins with the ominous taps she hers on the walls and the nightmares of an enigmatic, yet creepy young man called Dever. Her therapist believes she’s simply under stress. But Spencer secretly believes another truth. One far more sinister. She thinks she may be possessed by the demon Dever, and a part of her doesn’t mind. A part of her relishes in her new power. Especially when triggered by a song she remembers a sexual assault that she had repressed in her mind. Now, with vengeance as her sole companion, she seeks out to destroy all of those that were to blame for her rape. She doesn’t care if it even means that she will lose her soul in the process.

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Who else is participating in Author Mentor Match? Let me know!

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Poetry: Blood Remembers Even When You Don’t

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I left lipstick imprints on your neck

We bathed in rose petals and strawberries

Champagne kisses

You were like a tormented Arthur Rimbaud

All the girls bursting with love for you

But you only had eyes for me

Baby, it wasn’t maybe

And I was living free like Carole Lombard

We didn’t know we were bound for heartbreak

The young are fearless

Baby, we were crazy

Wrapped in our intoxicating dreams of forever

Chasing each other in the night

Our hearts exploding with possibilities

Sometimes we look back and try to grasp

How we fell apart

But baby, it was never maybe

We’re immortal in the blood and memories we left behind.

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ATTENTION!

For a limited time, you can now request an early ARC of my upcoming poetry collection, “Bleed Like Me: Poems for the Broken” on NetGalley! You’ll find this and other poems in the book! You can pre-order the book on Amazon!

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Book Review: Hanna Who Fell From The Sky by Christopher Meades

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“A powerful meditation on how we define ourselves… A gorgeous blend of dreamy folklore and gritty reality.”

Release Date: December 4, 2018

Order on Amazon

Price: $15.99

Publisher: Harlequin

Plot Summary:

Hanna has never been outside her secluded community of Clearhaven, nor has she ever questioned why her father has four wives. And in only one week, on her eighteenth birthday, Hanna will follow tradition and become the fifth wife of a man more than twice her age. But just days before the wedding, an enigmatic stranger challenges Hanna to question her fate and to follow her own will, causing her world to begin unraveling around her.

When her mother reveals a secret, Hanna is forced to decide whether she was really meant for something greater than the claustrophobic world of Clearhaven. But can she abandon her beloved younger sister and the only home she’s ever known? With lush, evocative prose, award-winning author Christopher Meades takes readers on an emotional journey into a fascinating, unknown world—and along the way brilliantly illuminates complexities of faith, identity and how our origins shape who we are.

Grade: A

Review:

The premise enthralled me right away. The idea of a secluded community that lived like a cross between Mormons and a bit Puritan both fascinated and interested me. Something about people in modern times CHOOSING to live in such a backward and misogynistic society (especially for the women) really had me thinking. I can understand the girls who were born into the community and didn’t really know much about the outside world, but a lot of the older women (like Hanna’s mum) chose to live there (although we later find out WHY Hanna’s mum chose that life and it was plausible for her to choose it given the circumstances).

I really liked Hanna because although she was born into that community as she got older and was forced to become the fiance’ an older man she began to question the community’s rules and regulations. The men in Clearhaven fit into two categories: noble and heroic or rapist and violent. The men in this community had a ton of women and the only way this was possible was because the eldest in the community would send the younger men out of town and so they’d accumulate young teenage brides whose sole purpose in life was to please their men, be a meek housewife, and be knocked up most of their lives. Truly terrifying but I guess it’s paradise for the men.

I liked the bond Hanna had with her siblings, although towards the end I was getting a bit too frustrated with Hanna due to the choices she was making because of those bonds. I guess in her place, especially after all she had been through I would’ve been a bit more selfish. Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book and it had a magical element that wasn’t too ludicrous and fit well with the theme of the book.

Bonus: Usually author afterwords aren’t that reflective, but I found Christopher Meades’ afterword to the novel to be very inspiring. He detailed how his idea of Hanna was born and how many years it took him to actually put his idea unto paper after a hastily written rough draft. His journey was an author was truly inspiring and being a writer myself it kind of gave me hope that if he could persevere through a concussion, then any one of us can manage to jump through all the book writing hurdles there are.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Harlequin for the digital ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: The Fade by Demitria Lunetta

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The Others meets The Cellar in this scary ghost story thriller from the author of BAD BLOOD.

Release Date: December 11, 2018

Order On Amazon

Price: $12.32

Publisher: Delacorte Press

Plot Summary:

We don’t want to disappear.
We want to be found.

Something terrible happened in her basement. Haley can feel it.

Four girls went missing several years ago, and the police never solved the case. But Haley knows the missing girls were murdered. How else can she explain the hostile presence in her house?

The ghostly girls need something from her. And unless Haley can figure out what they want…she might be next.

Grade: A

Review:

Creepy haunted house in a small town? Check. Missing girls that are possibly dead and haunting said house? Check. Creepy little boy, that sees dead people? Check. Basically, this book has all the things that a good ghost story murder mystery should have. I liked that the book started right off the bat with creepy events, it wasn’t a slow burn. And I like that some of the minor characters were right on board with the belief of ghosts, cause sometimes it gets kinda taxing to have characters go back and forth about whether or not the existence of ghosts is possible.

The mystery of what happened to the missing girls is what had me hooked, to be honest. I really wanted to know what happened to the girls, how they were murdered, where, and why. I also wanted to know who had murdered them. That mystery was the most interesting aspect of the book. I also enjoyed that the book didn’t try to force romantic relationships, or rather they were more casual, rather than insta-love. There are some events that take you by surprise, so it isn’t one of those predictable books, instead it keeps you wanting to read because I really had no idea where it was going to take me. But it was a fun, yet creepy ride!

The writing flowed very well, and if you’re a fan of YA and ghost stories, then this book will be right up your alley.

Short Q & A With the Author:

Why do you think that books about missing girls are so popular?

I think that the mystery is what really gets people. WHAT HAPPENED?! Then when it’s a young person, when there’s an expectation of care, it’s even more important to figure out WHAT HAPPENED?!

What inspired you to write your current book?

I moved into a new house and was at the top of the basement stairs thinking, “This is such a murder basement.” And the idea for THE FADE was born!

The Fade isn’t only a thriller mystery but it has a paranormal twist to it with the ghosts. What makes ghost stories and haunted homes so frightening?

Ghost stories are terrifying because they’re all about the unknown. Unexplainable phenomenon is terrifying! When reading/watching ghost stories I always think about the point of when I would leave the haunted house. It’s usually pretty soon. I could get a new house. And new stuff. And a new husband. I’d be so gone at the first spine prickle of a ghost.

Your book kind of reminded me of The Sixth Sense in the way that Haley is tasked with trying to help the ghosts she encounters. What movies do you think influenced or inspired you with the writing of this book?

Yes! Haley’s name is inspired by Haley Joel Osment from the Sixth Sense! I loved the creepiness of that movie but also the revelation that the ghosts just want help.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Delacorte Press for the digital ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review!

ENTER FOR A CHANCE TO WIN A SIGNED ARC OF THE FADE BY CLICKING THIS LINK!
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Book Review: And We Call It Love by Amanda Vink

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Release Date: June 1, 2019

Pre-Order on Amazon

Price: $19.95

Publisher: West 44 Books

Plot Summary:

Clare and Zari are best friends. They write music together, go everywhere together, and they know everything about the other. At least they did before Zari started dating Dion. The more Zari falls for Dion, the less she has time for anything else. At first, Clare chalks it up to a new and exciting relationship, and she tries to be happy for her friend despite her loneliness. When Zari starts to show up to school with half-hidden bruises, Clare knows there’s something darker about this relationship that has to be stopped.

Grade: C –

Review:

I usually love poetry and verse, however, this book just didn’t hit the mark for me. I think my biggest issue with it, despite the fact that it was written as poetic verse, was that the writing just wasn’t that poetic. I was expecting more lyrical writing with this type of writing format. Sadly, this wasn’t the case. Another issue that I had with this book is that it was told in alternating perspectives, and I usually love the dual points of views, however, the way it was written, there was no clear definition between who was Clare or who was Zari. So it made it a little confusing to keep up with the plot because of that.

It saddens me that the execution of the story wasn’t done well because the book explored some very important topics like friendship, self-discovery, and abusive relationships. And I think those are some compelling topics for teens to read about if done well. The characters in this book weren’t very well-developed and this book just fell short.

As a writer, I honestly despise being too critical when it comes to debut authors so I won’t delve too much on the negatives. Also, since I’m not the intended audience, the writing may not resonate with me so much, however, middle-grade readers or tweens may find this books interesting.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and West 44 Books for the digital ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review!

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Book Review: Nick and June Were Here By Shalanda Stanley

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How far can they get on love alone?

Girl in Pieces meets All the Bright Places in this heartbreaking story of two teens who are determined to stay together in a world tearing them apart.

Release Date: February 19, 2019

Pre-Order On Amazon

Price: $17.99

Publisher: Knopf Books For Young Readers

Plot Summary:

Nick and June were best friends for years until their relationship suddenly turned into something more. Now, June is coping with a new diagnosis of schizophrenia, a secret she asked Nick to keep for too long. Between managing her symptoms and her parents, June is just trying to keep it together. Nick is a reluctant car thief, supporting his aunt with the money and focusing on his art whenever he can. But when June’s condition sends her to the hospital and Nick’s latest crime threatens to land him in prison, the two decide to run away. When the world is trying to tear them apart, can Nick and June find a way to stay together?

This emotional lyrical novel will tug at your heartstrings and make you think twice about what you would give up for love, even if it’s a piece of yourself.

Grade: A

Review:

I really felt bad for these star-crossed lovers. Unlike Romeo and Juliet, Nick and June’s relationship was an enduring one, as they were best friends since fifth grade, and sometime in high school, the two decide to become a couple. I always felt like whenever Nick and June were together, the best of them came through, it was when they were apart that the worst of them came out.

The two characters had a strong and passionate bond, and when you’re a teenager you truly believe that true love is forever. But Nick and June have so many things going against them, from Nick’s car thievery occupation to June’s recent schizophrenia, it’s almost a bad idea for these two to even be together. However, the two truly believe that love can be all for them, although at times June acknowledges that forever doesn’t have to mean forever in a physical sense, but that her love for Nick will live forever in her heart.

Despite the odds, the reader can’t help but cheer for these two. You truly want their love to endure and hope that nothing will break them up. The fact that these two characters are likable and relatable makes you wish that somehow, in the end, they can have their happy ending.

This is definitely a journey you won’t want to miss and one that will surely pull on your heartstrings.

Author-Photo-Shalanda-Stanley

Follow Shalanda Stanley on Twitter!

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Knopf Books for Young Readers for the digital ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review!

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Upcoming Books: Betty Bites Back – Horror Stories for Young Feminists

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I’m thrilled to announce that my short story, GOOD SISTER, BAD SISTER is going to be included in the upcoming anthology Betty Bites Back – Horror Stories for Young Feminists (coming out October 2019). This anthology is put together by award-winning badass authors, Demitria Lunetta, Mindy McGinnis, and Kate Karyus Quinn.

Here’s a little teaser of what my story is about:

GOOD SISTER, BAD SISTER by Azzurra Nox

Puberty comes with many changes, but after being bitten by a mysterious animal in the forest, Dilay finds out that some changes may just give her a certain edge she didn’t have before.

Until then, support me and the amazing authors that are going to be included in this awesome anthology by stopping by the Kickstarter Page for it (even if you can’t contribute monetarily, forward the link on your social media so we can spread the word!).

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