Thursday, December 10, 2015

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2015

My Clean Indie Reads bookcase
If I've counted correctly, I read a total of 106 books in 2015, partly because during 5 months of chemo I couldn't concentrate on my own writing but thankfully could almost always read. Of those 106, 90 were indie, and 16 trad published. I wrote reviews of almost all of them, and compared to last year, this year it's going to be VERY difficult to choose the top ten. I read so many great ones this year! All but one of my top 10 books were written by authors who are members of the wonderful group Clean Indie Reads.

Here are my top ten, saving the #1 for last:

#10 Pride and Butterflies by Franky A. Brown

My review: "This is a laugh-out-loud, fun and funny romantic comedy that also has deeper, more poignant layers. When I first started reading, the first person present tense was almost too much to handle because the main character sounded so hyper and flaky. But actually it worked perfectly for this story and the many zany circumstances. I love the butterfly images, both literal and figurative, throughout this book, and the lovely cover perfectly captures the mood of the story. I'm so glad I bought the paperback so I can admire the artwork again and again. Oh, I almost forgot! This author deserves an award for Best Use of Turtles in a work of fiction! Highly recommended."

#9 Thaddeus Whiskers and the Dragon by H. L. Burke

My review: "This is a delightful read, for cat lovers, dragon lovers, and fairy tale enthusiasts of all ages. It would make a great read-aloud story for families to share together! Thaddeus is a purrfectly rendered "eternal kitten," and Grandious is one of my new favorite dragons. The twists and turns in this fun plot will keep you guessing until the conclusion, with just enough danger to be concerned for the main characters but not so much as to frighten children. The prose sparkles like the diamonds in the dragon's hoard."

#8 Carry Me Home by Valerie Howard

My review: "I normally don't read "quiet" books like this (preferring epic fantasy) but the lovely cover and the blurb drew me in, since I unexpectedly became a caregiver for my 86-year-old father-in-law last year. I thought this book might give me insights, and it gave MUCH more. I ached for Amanda, for the path her life had taken, both through choices others made, and poor choices she made. I wanted so much for things to work out for her that it was difficult to put this book down! Her crotchety patient was so believable; in fact, every character, major and minor, was imminently believable! The writing is superb, and the story touches your heart and will remain there forever."

#7 Finding Peace by Melanie D. Snitker

My review: "This was a lovely romance with an element of suspense and danger, too. Tuck the heartbroken cop is a new favorite character now, and how his relationship with Laurie the kind-hearted photographer develops was so realistic and wonderful, I could NOT stop reading this book until I finished it in less than a day. If you like clean romance with a spiritual bent, and loveable secondary characters, you must read this book"

#6 The Gypsy Pearl 3: Tye by Lia London

My review: "What a magnificent end to this series! I could NOT put it down! Tye is by far my favorite of the three worlds in this trilogy. This third and final installment not only continues Caz's perilous journey, revealing the third (and delightfully unexpected) gift, but introduces fascinating and thought-provoking new cultures. There is gentle wisdom along with tender moments and heart-stopping drama (or in Caz's case, paralyzing adrenaline spikes). This trilogy is a keeper to be re-read more than once, and this reader hopes Ms. London might decide this well-crafted universe has yet more stories to tell among the three worlds of the Granbo System."

#5 Pippa of Lauramore by Shari L. Tapscott

My review: "Romance! Chivalry! Dragons! Fairies! This story is so full of delightful surprises, from laugh-out-loud moments to gasp-inducing danger to heartbreaking encounters, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. I love the spunky main character, the unorthodox Princess Pippa, and I felt so sorry for her not being able to choose who to marry. The tournament to determine which of the many competing princes and lords would win that honor was so well done, I can't wait to read it again. This definitely goes on my favorite books of all time list."

#4 The Collar and the Cavvarach by Annie Douglass Lima

My review: "I was excited to receive an advance review copy of Ms. Lima's The Collar and the Cavvarach, and once I began reading I couldn't put it down. The main character, fourteen-year-old Bensin, is a strong and sympathetic character. He's a slave in a modern empire with undertones of Ancient Rome. The collar on the stunning cover is like the one he has to wear. Benson's five-year-old sister does not yet have a collar, though she is also a slave, and his one goal is to free her. He goes to extraordinary measures to try to make that happen, even putting his own life at risk, because he knows the abuse his pretty sister can expect as a slave. The author does a great job of writing about the brutality of this culture without being graphic, so the stakes are extremely high, making the reader more and MORE anxious. This is a MUST read for anyone who likes YA urban fantasy. The way the cavvarach (the hooked sword on the cover) is used in this story, both literally and figuratively, is unforgettable. The other characters, both good guys and bad guys, are three-dimensional and add much to this powerful story of honor and determination against all odds."

#3 Joe: the Horse Nobody Loved by Vicky Kaseorg

My review: "Not since I first read The Diary of Anne Frank as a child have I been so moved by a true story. Several scenes reduced me to tears of joy and sorrow. I could so relate to the author's feelings of loneliness and lack of self-confidence. Her relationship with a lonely horse and how both of them are changed in wonderfully unexpected ways is a masterful triumph of storytelling. This book is one of my new forever favorites, and I recommend it to anyone who loves horses or has ever felt alone. Bravo, Ms. Kaseorg!"

#2 Shadow of the Hawk by K. S. Jones

My review: "This is a superb debut historical novel that reads like the finest of literary fiction. The details of the setting are richly drawn without distracting from the characters or plot and make you want to savor them, and yet the reader can't linger too long because the situation presses upon the characters with increasing urgency until you have to find out what happens to the narrator, Sooze, who is engaged to the wrong man because she wants to help her family, and to her family member who is falsely accused of murder. I feel like I've traveled back in time to 1932 Arkansas and experienced a poignant slice of a family's struggles to survive with dignity. I look forward to reading more from this author!"

#1 The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

My review: "This is one of the best fantasies I've ever read. Wish I'd discovered it sooner, but then I might not have appreciated it as much as I do now. The broken protagonist, Caz, is one of the most sympathetic, strong, and richly-drawn characters ever created. This is a masterpiece of character-building, world-building, and storytelling."

So many of the books I read this year were fantastic, and many I gave 5 stars. Of those, several came SOOOO close to making the final cut, but these stood out as especially memorable and ones I plan to read again. What's the best book YOU read in 2015?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Cover Reveal for my newest YA

I am SO excited to share this cover reveal for a book that will finally be published in January 2016 by Pauline Books & Media--Treachery and Truth: A Story of Sinners, Servants, and Saints
Here's the blurb from the back cover:

"I, Poidevin, write this so that all may know the true story of my master, the Duke of Bohemia, the most noble Vaclav. Though our enemy is strong, the Most High is stronger still."

Tenth Century Bohemia: The Dark Ages. In the shadows of paganism and an unquenchable thirst for power, the flame of faith and loyalty is threatened. Sinners, servants, and saints make the choices that will ultimately define them in this intriguing tale of deception and truth. This is the true story of "Good King Wenceslas"—the story of Vaclav I, as told by Poidevin, the servant who accompanied him. Treachery and Truth is a historical novel filled with the tension between betrayal and belief, godlessness and goodness, selfishness and service. 

When the book was first accepted I wrote the story of its very long journey to publication in The Little Book That Could.

Now I've got to memorize the lines of this song before I start doing school visits, just in case....

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Author Spotlight: Charissa Dufour

Charissa's cute cats

Today I am interviewing another wonderful author I met in the Clean Indie Reads group, Charissa Dufour. 

Q: Your Amazon bio says you began writing when you were diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the 8th grade and had to drop out of school for a while. Has that resolved? If there any advice you'd like to give other writers dealing with chronic health issues?

Charissa: Great question. I really appreciate that you already read my bio before writing your questions rather than asking me to regurgitate what is already in my bio. When I was diagnosed, CFS was in its infancy. As I look back and compare what I was going through and what they know now about the disease, I doubt they would diagnose me with it again. Either way, it doesn’t matter. It is just labels. I was very sick. Whatever I have, I can relapse. I still have to take care of myself and watch my sleep schedules. Not taking care of myself can result in a relapse. 

As to writing suffering from chronic health issues, I just want to encourage them to not let it beat them. You have an invisible monster on your back that the average artist doesn’t. Your journey is that much harder, and no one knows your true struggles. Battle with all you’ve got, and use your struggle to your advantage. Those battles, the ones you win and the ones you lose, are meat for your art to feed on. Use them to your advantage. 

The advice I give to all writers, regardless of background, is to write what you want to read. Others say write what you know. I don’t really get that. I write about a princess and space ships. I’ve never been in space. I’ve never been a princess. But I love to read about them. If your written doesn’t enthrall you, it won’t enthrall you’re reader. If a scene bores you, I guarantee it will bore your reader.

Q: Your world building in the Dothan Chronicles is full of wonderful details. What inspired the creation of this world and its very human characters?
Charissa: I have a horrible confession to make. The Dothan Chronicles originally came from reading a book and not liking how a plot line turned out. So I rewrote it. Then I threw my rewrite away and started over. And then I threw that one away and started over again. Eventually I got to what is published. To be honest, there is not a lot left from that original inspiration of someone else’s book. Technically speaking the original spark came from someone else’s work, but what isn’t? 

What book isn’t the result of a writer looking at a painting or watching a movie and having the “light bulb” moment? I won’t say what book I was reading when mine came. That is my secret, and I will take it to my grave.

Q: Although I don't like vampire stories, I'm intrigued by the genesis of your "Series That Just Plain Sucks." Did you set it in Olympia, Washington for a specific reason, or because you grew up there? I've visited once, and it's a beautiful place. 
Charissa: I set it there for a few reasons. One was for the very practical reason in that I went to high school there and therefore knew it intimately. It made it very easy to describe the environment and culture of the Pacific Northwest. 

Another reason is that the series was originally created to make fun of Twilight. It stemmed from a conversation with my husband in which we asked the question “What if Stephanie Meyer got turned into a vampire and discovered they don’t actually sparkle?” For that reason, I wanted to set in near Forks, but in a place that I could describe accurately, unlike her. 

For the final reason, I wanted to put it in a place that was logical for vampires to reside. I will hand it to Meyer, as bad as her books are, vampires in the PNW makes sense. There isn’t a lot of sunlight there and the days do tend to be short.

Q: I see you're a film and play actor. Is that you as Sylvia in the movie "Debt Man"? Do you think your acting experience helps in writing dialogue for your own characters? 
Charissa as "Sylvia" in the 2014 movie "Debt Man"
Charissa: In some ways, my acting experience is a detriment. It results in me directing my characters in my head, and makes me want my readers to see the scene exactly as I see it. As a result I pour in descriptions, trying to explain things that don’t need to be explained. Thankfully I have an editor that pulls me back and takes phrases out. What would I do without her!

Q: What would you like readers to know about your new Void series?
Charissa: My Void Series is such a fun romp through the Urban Fantasy genre. It centers on Sam Gollet, a half-fae Void. She has no powers of her own and is only able to take from the other mystical creatures around her. In this world, set in the near future, all mystical creatures—fae, vampires, werewolves, and mages—are known to mankind and reside inside Reservations under the control of the humans. Being the only Void in her Reservation, Sam is feared by all her fellow inmates. 

In her debut story, Sam must travers the murky waters of her home while being called upon to solve the disappearance of a fellow fae.

Book two of this series is set to release January of 2016

Q: What else do you have for us in the pipeline? 

Charissa: I am proud to announce the release of my very first Sci-Fi novella, Trust and Treachery, Book 1 of the Echoes of Sol series coming December 1, 2015.

Larissa Earnest, or Bit to her friends, is an indentured servant in a world where space travel is just becoming the norm.

Calen Macleef is a pilot of his family’s space freighter, travel the universe between the freshly terraformed planets and mining asteroids. 

In a lucky hand of poker, Calen accidently wins himself a person. What will his brother, the captain, say when he brings a pretty young woman aboard the freighter full of merchant marines?
* * *
Find Charissa's books on Amazon.
Check out her author web page
Follow her on Twitter.
Because you can't have too many cute cat pictures

Friday, November 13, 2015

Cover Reveal: Time for the Lost by Chess Desalls

TFTL Cover Reveal 
Calla's disappearance leads her family and friends to suspect that she’s lost. In a desperate attempt to find her, Valcas seeks help from a man he betrayed. A new search begins, one that sounds promising, even if it forces Valcas to confront his past. The travel team reunites for a mission they never saw coming: a journey to a world caught between life and death, and hidden within the deepest recesses of time. Ivory rediscovers a friend and Ray learns the meaning behind his tattoo. But the connections they make between travelers and the lost may twist the core of the Time and Space Travel Agency inside out. Time for the Lost is the third installment in The Call to Search Everywhen serial series. Catch up with Calla and Valcas' adventure before the third book releases in February 2016!
About the Author
Chess Desalls is the author of the YA time travel series, The Call to Search Everywhen. She's a longtime reader of fantasy and sci-fi novels, particularly classics and young adult fiction. Her non-fiction writing has led to academic and industry publications. She’s also a contributing editor for her local writing club’s monthly newsletter. The California Writers Club, South Bay branch, has awarded two of Chess’ stories first place for best short fiction. When she's not reading or writing, she enjoys traveling and trying to stay in tune on her flute.
Connect with Chess on:
Twitter Facebook Tumblr Instagram Goodreads Pinterest

I "met" Chess on Twitter, and immediately connected with her because she's a fellow flutist! Now we're both members of Clean Indie Reads, which is the best writer's group ever!

I've read the first two books in this fast-paced, mind-bending time travel series and highly recommend them. You have time to read both before book 3 comes out....

Friday, November 6, 2015

Writer's Life Blog Challenge

Me being silly at the San Antonio Zoo

Oh, boy! A blog challenge! I was tagged by one of my favorite authors, Shari L. Tapscott at her blog for the Writer’s Life Challenge. This sounds like fun (*rolling up sleeves*)….

Write Fuel: What do you eat/drink while writing?

Since I had to give up coffee, I usually drink iced tea or water while writing. And since it takes two hands to type, I don't eat while writing, but I do have to get out of the chair at least once every hour or my back will remind me I've been sitting too long. Then I might grab a handful of almonds or a piece of fruit.

Write Sounds: What do you listen to while writing?

Since I'm a professional musician, I can't actually listen to music WHILE I'm writing or I stop paying attention to the words and start analyzing the melodic line, chord structure, etc. But I do warm up for a scene or to hear a character's voice by listening to instrumental Baroque, Classical, or Celtic music while doing mindless chores.

Write Vice: What’s your most debilitating distraction?

Social media, especially Facebook and Twitter. When I'm doing serious writing, I have to NOT check those sites until AFTER I've finished what I'm working on, or it won't get done that day!

Write Horror: What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you while writing?

I have lost small parts of larger projects because I didn't think I needed to save it, or thought I'd already saved what I was working on, but they actually turned out to be blessings in disguise, because the rewrite was even better. My "horrors" have all come during marketing and promotion, but they also turned out for the best, because I learned new ways of NOT doing things….
Me giving a presentation at a local school.
 Write Joy: What’s the best thing that’s ever happened while writing or how do you celebrate small victories?

The most joy I've had while writing involved a pivotal chapter in a recent book. I spent a lot of time researching jousting, even attending two different ones, and then I figured out each knight who was participating, designed his heraldry, color of his horse, all the possible details I might use. And then I just "observed" and wrote down what I saw. I had no idea who was going to win, and it was a totally delightful surprise. (Although I soon learned that it mattered a great deal to the plot, because it set in motion events that led to the climax.) That's serendipity!

Write Crew: Who do you communicate with or not communicate with while writing?

I don't talk about plot or ideas before I write, because I learned the hard way that it takes away the urgency to tell the story. After everything is written, I read it out loud to my husband, and also share with my critique partners, with whom I have a working relationship spanning decades.

Write Secret: What’s your writing secret to success or hidden flaw?

After thirty years of writing, I'm still trying to figure it out. I have learned not to wait for "inspiration" but to make a habit out of writing. I have always done my best first drafts writing by hand in a spiral. I know that's not the most efficient way, but it works for me. I'm a very fast typist (140 wpm) so while I'm typing from the handwritten notes, I can do my first round of editing at the same time.

My flaw, which is probably not so hidden, is second-guessing myself. I tend to listen to that little editor on my shoulder (the one with devil horns and pitchfork) who whispers, "What makes you think you can write?" I have to mentally flick her off before I can get any writing done.

Write-spiration: What always makes you productive?

It may come from my earliest years of writing, when I did a lot of work for magazines, but I can focus better and be more productive when I have a deadline looming.

Write Peeve: What’s one thing writers do (or you do) that’s annoying?

I can honestly say there is only one thing that "peeves" me: When wannabe writers want to know how to get an agent and how much money they'll make before they've even written a single piece. I always want to say, "Write a million words first, and then you might be ready to talk about those things."

Write Words- Share one sentence from a project. Past or present.
Here’s the first line from my current WIP, Mercy's Children, Book 3 of my fantasy series He Who Finds Mercy:
Inside a spartan wooden hall decorated with rows of skulls, Liall Guinness, the former Lord of Moor Point, stood glaring at yet another Vandal chieftain.

These were fun questions! Thank you, Shari, for tagging me. If you haven’t checked out her blog, please do. Shari's Eldentimber series is fabulous!

Now, I’m going to pass the challenge along to Bokerah Brumley at her lovely blog, Joyful Peacock. She's so sweet about featuring other authors, it's her turn to tell us about herself. Can’t wait to read your answers, Bokerah!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Friday New Book Spotlight: I.T. Geek to Farm Girl Freak: Along the Bumpy Road of Rural Life

Release day for the sequel to S. A. Molteni's warm and hilarious I. T. Geek to Farm Girl Freak is Sunday, November 1st.

If you can't wait, or if Halloween might distract you, you can always pre-order I.T. Geek to Farm Girl Freak: Along the Bumpy Road of Rural Life (Book 2) here:


After ditching a full-time career and moving to a small hobby farm to enjoy a slower pace and a healthier lifestyle, isn't everything supposed to be idyllic or "peaches and cream" as they say in the South? Well, not exactly ...

In this second installment of the "I.T. Geek to Farm Girl Freak" series, follow the author as she holds on for the ride, "along the bumpy road of rural life" where her friendly neighbors become not so nice and her farm animals evolve into completely coddled pets - with her Royal Palm turkeys becoming the most pampered ones of all.

There are still 3 more days to enter a drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card on Molteni's website here.

While you're waiting, be sure to read the first book. I did, and wrote this in my review: "The author's 'voice' is friendly and honest and feels like a chat over coffee at her kitchen table. Great collection of short essays detailing the author's journey from corporate America to a hobby farm and including hilarious moments interspersed with poignant heartache."
Get it for only $0.99:

Kudos for Molteni's I. T. Geek to Farm Girl Freak:

Very good memoir of an individuals' account having left the business world to be both closer to family while building a farm from basically the ground up ... Well-done and I did enjoy!
- Don Kidwell - Top 1000 Amazon Reviewer

The book is a collection of essays the author wrote about her experiences making the transition from I.T. Geek to Farm Girl Freak with the majority of the stories about adapting to her new life on the farm. At the end of most of these essays or stories the author tells the reader what the "life lesson learned" was for her... I found that by combining her stories with my experiences, I could also find additional lessons of my own. Maybe you'll find the same.
-Big Al's Books and Pals

Read more about S. A. Molteni at her website, twitter, and goodreads.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Potpourri Friday: Bits and Pieces

This clip has special meaning for me this week, and it has nothing to do with Christmas. I have been battling a recurrence of my lymphoma since the first of June, and yesterday finished my last infusion of chemotherapy. At the cancer center there is a bell that patients are encouraged to ring to signal the end of chemo. It felt good to ring that bell (and it sounded JUST like Zuzu's). I won't know for sure that this is over until November 18, but the end is in sight!

I also realized I did not post this video when it first aired in August. I was nervous about doing this interview while in the middle of chemo brain and mouth sores. I was so afraid I'd forget something or not be able to speak clearly, but it mostly went well, after my initial nervousness.

The other day I was thinking that having chemo brain must be what a Cotton-Headed Ninny Muggins feels like. LOL!

Monday, October 12, 2015

New Cover Reveal: Blue Hydrangeas

Design by Perry Elisabeth

What if the person who knew you best and loved you most forgot your face, and couldn't remember your name? A pair of retired Cape Cod innkeepers struggle with the wife's Alzheimer's. A beautiful love story written by a masterful storyteller who happens to be a nurse.
Amazon-rated 4.7 out of 5 stars
Goodreads rated 4.11 out of 5 stars

Readers say:

"Heartbreakingly beautiful."

"I felt drawn to Jack and Sara from page one and find myself wondering about them even now.
The book is very well-written and believable."

"A heartfelt tender story that is entertaining and emotionally gripping!"

"A real page turner and it gives you insights of the daily life events living with this crushing disease called Alzheimer’s."

"While not a 'happily ever after' love story, Blue Hydrangeas is sure to be one you will ponder for some time after you have finished reading it."

Purchase Blue Hydrangeas in ebook, paperback, and audiobook

About the Author
Marianne Sciucco is not a nurse who writes but a writer who happens to be a nurse. A lover of words and books, she dreamed of becoming an author when she grew up but became a nurse to avoid poverty. She later brought her two passions together and writes about the intricate lives of people struggling with health and family issues. Her debut novel, Blue Hydrangeas, an Alzheimer’s love story, is a Kindle bestseller, IndieReader Approved, a BookWorks featured book, a Self-e Selection, a 5-star Readers Favorite, and winner of IndieReCon’s Best Indie Novel Award, 2014. She's currently working on a YA novel, Swim Season, about the new girl on the team who challenges a longstanding school record, to be released in 2015. A native Bostonian, Marianne lives in New York’s Hudson Valley, and when not writing works as a campus nurse at a community college. She loves books, the beach, and craft beer, and especially enjoys the three of them together.

Connect with Marianne Sciucco

Why did I Write a Book about Alzheimer’s?