Monday, March 19, 2018

Monday Book Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli
Published April 2015, by HarperCollins Publishers

About the Book:
Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he's pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he's never met.
Incredibly funny and poignant, this twenty-first-century coming-of-age, coming out story—wrapped in a geek romance—is a knockout of a debut novel by Becky Albertalli.
My Take:

Last week we had a blizzard and spent a week with no power. Okay, it was two days and nights, but it felt like a week. It was cold. My Kindle died. Our computers died. There was no television. My youngest child and I were here alone with candles and books. So we read. This was one of the books we both read. Him first, and then he basically stood in front of me shoving it into my hands until I agreed to read it too.


I wish I'd written this poignant, funny, sarcastic and emotion-tugging coming of age novel. Because, really. It's a great book. Even though it doesn't fit any of my normal reading patterns as well as pushing a few of my "don't do that!" buttons.

My son had the same issue the first time he tried to read it - alternate chapters are email conversations between the lead character, Simon, and another boy, although they each use pseudonyms online. The other chapters are first person from Simon's point of view. My son put it away last time he tried because of the email chapters, and I have to agree that I might have done so as well if not for his recommendation. He went back and tried again because of the movie which just came out last week, as well as because of the recommendation from a trusted friend.

So if you're reading my book reviews, I'll play the part of the trusted friend. Get over the email chapters. Actually, they hold some of the most insightful and enlightened prose in the book. It's actually pretty awesome watching the relationship develop between the two characters through their anonymous online interactions.

Let's put it out there right up front: the book is different than the movie. They changed some of the characters, did away with a few of the characters altogether, and changed some of the subplots, all in the name of creative license and selling movie tickets. Or some of the changes are likely because of the shortened time slot and attention span of movies versus books. I haven't actually seen the movie yet, I know these facts from both the trailers and from my two children who went to see the movie opening night. (and my youngest went back again on Saturday for the matinee. It's a good movie. But the book is better. A lot better.)

And we're here to review the book. 

Simon is an average teenager, in his junior year of high school. He's figured out that he's gay, but he's not sure what to do about it. As in, he hasn't even told his two best friends, let alone his parents. He lives in Georgia, outside of Atlanta, not exactly a bastion of liberal tolerance. Another boy posts anonymously online about being gay and feeling alone, and Simon writes back, which begins an online back and forth, kind of flirting, kind of getting to know each other. 

And then another boy finds the emails and blackmails Simon. I'm not giving anything big away here, this is all revealed in the first few pages.

How Simon deals with all of this is the story. 

And it's a good, real, gritty, funny story. With characters that feel like real high school kids. The author does an excellent job of not succumbing to stereotypes of any sort - the author is almost color blind in the way she describes her characters, and blends the soccer players and the drama kids in a way that, while we're only seeing from one kid's point of view, makes it all seem pretty real. As our lead narrator, Simon is a normal, self-absorbed sixteen year old, who only comes to realize his own self-absorption as he becomes more self-aware. Yeah, it's pretty cool.

Okay, perhaps I'm not selling this as well as I could, but I totally want you to go try this for yourself. Get over the hump of that first chapter filled with back and forth emails, and keep reading. 

Totally worth it.

Grab a Kindle copy on AMAZON.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday Feature: Fourth Graders Rock and other Mermaid Tales

Next week, I'm headed into one of our local Cape Cod middle schools to chat with a series of fourth grade English classes about writing and publishing. My visit is scheduled for Tuesday, so yeah, I'm hoping that next Nor'easter doesn't ruin my plans or leave me without power and hot showers again next week (this week was a bit like camping out, as 120,000 Cape residents were without electricity, including me.)

Fourth grade is an awesome year. At least, it was for me and it was for all three of my kids. My first book was published when I was in fourth grade. No really.
The Mystery of the Haunted House was 22 pages of text, not including the table of contents, dedication pages, etc. My aunt worked at a printing company, and when she saw me scribbling in a notebook over summer vacation, she told me if I finished writing a book, she would publish it for me.

And she did. Real typeface, illustrations, the whole nine yards.

Honestly, it's not a good story. Yes, I wrote in complete sentences, and it has a bit of a Nancy Drew or Dana Girls feel to it, but the plot is very thin. What does a fourth grader know about counterfeiting rings anyway? The fact that my aunt stayed true to her promise and surprised me at Christmas with a box of 50 copies made me feel like the most brilliant author in the universe. At age ten. I had a book signing at school, on the playground, and some of my old friends still have their signed copies. Yes, I signed my last name, even to my friends and family. What a dork, right? It made me feel official.

I still have several copies, actually, my mom had them in a box that I found after she died and we were clearing out the basement. I thought it would be fun to bring them along to show the students - - dreams do come true, if you believe in them. And work at it. And don't give up.

The books I'm really going to talk with them about are my Young Adult mermaid books - the Son of a Mermaid series. One of the teachers has been a fan since the first book came out with my old publisher. And since the series starts on Cape Cod, there's a strong tie for the local kids. This weekend, I need to sit down and map out what I'm going to talk about to the three classes, but I'm hoping it will be mostly Q&A. Conversations are easier for me than lectures.

Wish me luck, and any advice from you seasoned veterans is welcome!

Happy Writing - and Reading!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Monday Book Review: Marriage of Inconvenience, by Penny Reid

Marriage of Inconvenience, (Knitting in the City Book 7)
by Penny Reid
Published March 2018 by Caped Publishing

About the Book:

There are three things you need to know about Kat Tanner (aka Kathleen Tyson. . . and yes, she is *that* Kathleen Tyson): 1) She’s determined to make good decisions, 2) She must get married ASAP, and 3) She knows how to knit.

Being a billionaire heiress isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, it sucks. Determined to live a quiet life, Kat Tanner changed her identity years ago and eschewed her family’s legacy. But now, Kat’s silver spoon past has finally caught up with her, and so have her youthful mistakes. To avoid imminent disaster, she must marry immediately; it is essential that the person she chooses have no romantic feelings for her whatsoever and be completely trustworthy.

Fortunately, she knows exactly who to ask. Dan O’Malley checks all the boxes: single, romantically indifferent to her, completely trustworthy. Sure, she might have a wee little crush on Dan the Security Man, but with clear rules, expectations, and a legally binding contract, Kat is certain she can make it through this debacle with her sanity—and heart—all in one piece.

Except, what happens when Dan O’Malley isn’t as indifferent—or as trustworthy—as she thought?
My Take:
If you've never read a Penny Reid book, you have no idea what you're missing! Her latest book, Marriage of Inconvenience, released last week, appearing like a late Christmas present in my Kindle library. Don't you love when you forget you preordered something you really-really-really want to read?

This series is filled with smart, unique characters that you can't help falling in love with. Each couple has their individual problems and quirks that aren't really apparent until it's their turn in the spotlight. As this seems to be the last book in this series, each of the other six women in the Tuesday night knitting group has already paired up with their unlikely - but perfect for them - mate, and the rest of the couples are there to help the last woman find her Happily Ever After.

But it's more than that, as the various standalone books weave in and out of each others timelines, something I've been trying to do with my own writing so its fascinating to see it done by an expert. And have no doubts. Penny Reid is an expert. Her books keep getting better and better.

Yes, each of the novels truly is a standalone, and you can start anywhere and understand all the characters and be totally satisfied by the storyline, because each story gives you the perspective of the lead couple, a he said/she said first person POVs that show you what they think of all of their friends. Which is cool. But for the full immersion experience, start at the beginning, with Neanderthal Seeks Human and work your way through them all.

Back to reviewing this actual book.

As Penny Reid wraps up her Knitting in the City series, she proves once again how she is the master of writing smart, quirky romance. Marriage of Inconvenience gives us main characters who appear smart and capable to everyone around them, while their insides are roiled with self doubt and frustrations.

Kat Tanner is the heiress to a multi-billion dollar Boston pharmaceutical empire, hiding behind a fake name while living, working and attending college in Chicago. She met Janie at the architectural firm where they both worked, until Janie was fired but that's another story (literally), and Janie introduced her to the Tuesday night knitting group. Unfortunately, her time is running out as her cousin is determined to take over her father's corporation, and the quickest solution is to have Kat committed to a mental institution. Yeah, it makes more sense when you read the story.

Dan O'Malley is partners with Janie's husband Quinn in their high end security company, but he also came from Boston roots, just not of the billionaire variety. He's had a crush on Kat for more than two years buthasn't acted on his feelings because, well, she's just too good for him because he knows about her past and she has no clue that Dan spent time in prison, or that his brother runs a gang he was once part of. And, oh yeah, that one night in Las Vegas (Book 2? Book 3?) they had a bit of a misunderstanding.

Kat needs to get married, like a month ago, to keep her safe from her cousin's evil intent. She asks Dan, sure he has no actual feelings for her. But then finds out he does. And things get complicated, like all Penny Reid books tend to do. Deliciously, messily complicated.

Told in alternating first person POVs, Dan's chapters are hysterically coarse and blunt, so if the "F" bomb offends you, this isn't the book for you. However... The twists and turns and witty dialogue kept me turning pages all day long - yes, I was supposed to be working, but I kept stealing time to read pages here and there and once it was after 5 p.m., I didn't stop reading until I was finished. And smiling. So maybe don't start reading until you have a whole day to savor this. But definitely read it.

Grab your copy on AMAZON

Friday, March 9, 2018

Friday Feature: K.R. Conway Launches DAYBREAKER - the final book in the UNDERTOW series is finally here!

Daybreaker, the final book in K.R. Conway's Urban Fantasy series known as Undertow, is finally out! If you're on Cape Cod this weekend, Kate will be signing books and chatting with fans at the illustrious Titcomb's Bookshop (432 Rte 6A in Sandwich) on Saturday March 10 - but only from 1-2p.m. If you can't make it to the book launch, Titcomb's has extra signed books on hand and would be happy to mail them to you!

If you have yet to read about Eila Walker (you know, the hilarious teen girl who inherits a house with a murderous past along with a snarky crew of supernatural rejects and a killer boy who's determined to keep her alive), have no fear: the link to the first book is here:
The link to all Conway's books are here:

About the Author:
K.R. Conway is a sarcastic bugger who likes to torment Cape Cod's summertime tourists, taunting them about sneaky sharks and traffic-free backroads. She's been a professional journalist since 1999 when several newspaper editors lost their minds and hired her as a feature writer. She is best known, however, for her Urban Fantasy series, Undertow, which reads like a mash-up of Jaws and The Goonies.

Awards, nominations, and features include Barnes and Noble's Seven Terrifying Summer Reads for Teens (2015), Teen Ink Magazine's Best Picks, Girl's Life Magazine Cool Winter Reads, newspapers, magazines, and radio. Nominations include Indie Recon Live (Best New YA, Best Opening Line, Best Book Boyfriend), YALSA, Cybil, Goodreads, IRDA, and others.

The series has spawned fan fiction, fan art, jewelry, clothing, and even tattoos. Conway, who is a member of SCBWI, teaches fiction craft at writer conferences, high schools, and libraries. She lives on Cape Cod with her equally weird family and a strange assortment of critters. When not writing, Conway drives a forty-foot Loser Cruiser that smells like forgotten Pony sneakers from the 80s.

Stalk Find her here: