Friday, March 27, 2015

Contemporary Fiction: Last Words by Rich Zahradnik

I was sent Rich Zahradnik's Last Words: A Coleridge Taylor Mystery in exchange for a book review on this blog. What interested me about this particular mystery was not only the setting of New York City in 1975, but also the nature of the crime the protagonist must investigate. Like any other mystery or thriller, there are the usual twists, turns, and red herrings, but this story overall was slightly different from most mysteries than I am used to reading.

The Situation: It is March 1975 in New York City, and Coleridge Samuel Taylor (yes, you read that correctly) has been relegated to writing obituaries for the New York Messenger-Telegram after the sources for his story on a nine year-old heroin addict disappeared on him. Now a disgraced journalist, Taylor's reputation is non-existent, and his superiors at the paper are itching to be rid of him. And even though Taylor is not supposed to be out seeking out stories to investigate and write, he cannot help but keep up with some of his old sources, and visit some of his most reliable locations for information, such as emergency rooms and morgues, in hopes of delivering himself from writing about dead people for the rest of his career. After coming across the dead body of a homeless teenager, Taylor believes he may have found the deliverance he was looking for. Aside from his clothes, this supposedly homeless boy is too clean and too put together to be one of the many homeless people in New York City that freeze to death in the winter. And that is just enough for Taylor to begin a search for the truth.

The Problem: Once Taylor receives confirmation that the clothes the boy was dressed in didn't belong to him, he knows this is a story worth pursuing, one that could restore is reputation. Not only was the boy from a wealthy and influential family, but the clothes he was wearing belonged to a hobo. Taylor's connections in the homeless community verify that the jacket belongs to a well-known hobo named Voichek. And as Taylor begins to earnestly seek answers, he gains the attention of those who want to keep everything quiet, putting himself in danger, along with anyone else he gets to help him. Soon, Taylor finds himself questioning privileged teenagers, depending on the homeless, hiding from hired hit men, and angering both his coworkers and the police. Time is also not on his side, so Taylor must do everything he can to quickly get to the young boys murderer.  

Genre, Themes, History: Last Words is the first in what will be a series of mystery novels involving the journalist character of Coleridge Taylor. Set in 1975 New York City, the story begins on Tuesday, March 11th, and ends seven days later on Monday, March 18th. In just a week, Taylor will go through all of the adventures of a classic mystery in an attempt to solve this case and save his reputation as a journalist. And since 1975 was not the most prosperous year for New York City, there is much discussion about lack of jobs, rise in crime, and the closing of several newspapers as the industry begins to decline. Another aspect of the story is Taylor's eventual dependence on help from the homeless community. Near the middle of the book, Taylor even receives a lesson in the dying language of the hobo community from someone who has been living that life for decades. Zahradnik himself has been a journalist for 30 plus years and would know the value of reliable sources, as well as the trouble that comes when those sources disappear on you when you need them most.

My Verdict: I am always wary of any mystery that has a male protagonist get involved with a younger woman, only because it is something we have seen and sometimes get tired of seeing. But other elements of Last Words are original and fresh enough that the romance between Taylor and Laura isn't all that bothersome. Overall, the story itself is incredibly intriguing and complex, but not so complex that the reader gets lost. And there are very clear elements of the story that set it up to turn into a series, such as the nine year-old heroin addict and her mother, whom Taylor is able to track down, but he still doesn't know why he was set up, or by whom. And there is also the mysterious Pickwick who has given Taylor some of his best leads, but only over the phone and with a fake name. This story will easily make the first in a fruitful series, and the mysteries will only get better and more interesting.

Favorite Moment: When Voichek lets Taylor in on the language used by all hobos, a language that he feels is dying out, along with his way of life.

Favorite Character: Taylor's homeless friend Jansen serves as sort of the director or organization for a group of homeless people in New York City. He is dependable and organized, words that often aren't used to describe the homeless.

Recommended Reading: I recommend The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith, a.k.a. J.K. Rowling. It is a different sort of mystery, but also features a sort of down-on-his-luck protagonist trying to get back on his feet.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Young Adult Fiction: Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira

Ava Dellaira's Love Letters to the Dead was nominated for Best Young Adult Fiction in the 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards, but ultimately lost to E. Lockhart's We Were Liars. Even so, the premise of this book interested me as did its format. Comprised completely of letters written to famous dead people, this young adult novel tells the story of a young girl coming to terms with her sister's death and her own place in the world.

The Situation: Laurel has just started high school the summer after her older sister's death. In an effort to minimize the amount of attention she would receive over what happened to May, Laurel opts for attending West Mesa High School, instead of the school her sister attended. In English class, May is given the assignment of writing a letter to a dead person, and initially, Laurel picks Kurt Cobain as he was her sister's favorite musician. But for some reason, Laurel can't bring herself to turn the letter in, but instead keeps writing more. Eventually she writes to other famous dead people, including Judy Garland, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, E.E. Cummings, and John Keats. But she never turns any of them in; and of course, they all remain unsent.

The Problem: Not only is Laurel still trying to deal with her sister's death, but there is also her parent's divorce, and splitting her home life between her dad's house and her religious Aunt Amy's house. With her mom in California, dealing with her grief in her own way, Laurel can't help but feel that her mother blames her for May's death, since she was the only one present when it happened, and can't seem to be able to discuss anything about it, with anyone. Plus, even with May gone, Laurel still wants to be just like her, even as she is slowly learning that May might not have been as perfect as she believed she was. As Laurel continues to write letters to dead people, she slowly reveals, and is able to talk about, what really happened leading up to her sister's death. But she fears she may have already pushed away those she wants to talk to the most.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel that begins with the start of Laurel's freshman year of high school, and ends after the last day of school in the spring. While May's death is a major focus point in the story, the novel also deals with the effects of divorce, destructive behavior in teens, feelings of abandonment, and also child molestation. In other words, suicide isn't the only heavy issue this book attempts to confront. And not only are the letters Laurel writes addressed to dead people, but they are all famous dead people who died tragically. Some were suicides, but some were not, such as Amelia Earhart. And others were in that tricky are of accidental suicide, like Heath Ledger. As Laurel writes the letters, she often discusses not only what is going on with her, but also the lives of the people she is writing to. She talks to Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse about their music, and E.E. Cummings about his poetry. And she even sometimes get mad at them leaving the rest of us behind, just as she is still mad at May. Ultimately, Laurel is trying to find out who she is, because she always wanted to be just like her older sister, but now that May is gone, she doesn't know who to be. 

My Verdict: Knowing ahead of time that this book was written from the point of view of a young girl whose older sister committed suicide was not adequate preparation for what the story actually contains. There is so much more going on here than Laurel just grieving for her sister. A lot lead up to the night of May's death, and now a lot is happening in the months that follow, even though Laurel would love to just be able to push it all aside and live her life. And as the secrets start coming out, things don't immediately get better. Like many things in real life, the situation gets a little worse first before anything starts improving. It is the kind of book I want to hand to every parent that decides to get a divorce. And Dellaira writes it all, the hard stuff and the fun stuff, with the kind of honesty that a book containing this sort of subject matter has to have in order to work. If you don't want to go beneath the surface to the ugly parts of being a teen and having a hurting family, then this isn't the book for you. But I highly recommend it anyway, especially if you're looking for honesty and a story that took courage to write.

Favorite Moment: As heartbreaking as it was, my favorite moment was when Laurel finally comes clean to her parents about what really happened with May. It is the kind of stuff no parent ever wants to hear, but as Laurel starts talking about it, it is clear that she is beginning to get on the path of not feeling so shattered and alone anymore.

Favorite Character: Laurel's dad, Jim, is hurting just as much as anyone, but he keeps up a strong front and is there for his daughter, whenever she wants to talk. 

Recommended Reading: I recommend E. Lockhart's We Were Liars. It is a shorter young adult novel that also deals with loss, but in a different way.    

Friday, March 13, 2015

Contemporary Fiction: The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

Today's post will be on the extremely short story (only 96 pages, half of which are covered in pictures) by Haruki Murakami, The Strange Library. Those of you that are more used to reading his longer works, such as 1Q84 or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, will most likely be as bewildered as I was when finished The Strange Library in under 30 minutes. But even though it is incredibly short, almost to the point of being disorienting, it is still very much a Murakami.

The Situation: A young boy is visiting the library like he has done many times before. Everything is as it should be, since he is returning books before their due date, as his mother taught him to do, and is now looking for something new to read. The girl at the front desk is someone he has never seen before, but when he tells her he is looking for something else to read, she gives him directions to room 107. Upon finding and entering room 107, the boy encounters an old man who is insistent on finding the boy something to read and directing him to the Reading Room. The boy really only wanted to check out more books and then go home to his waiting mother, but the old man is so forceful, that the boy finds himself following him into the library basement, with books he really has no interest in reading.

The Problem: It turns out that the Reading Room is little more than a jail cell, and if the boy doesn't memorize everything that is in the three massive books that the old man gave him by the end of one month, he'll have his brains eaten out. A sheep-man that serves as the boys jailer and brings him his meals explains that this kind of thing happens in libraries all of the time. The boy knows he has no hope of memorizing everything in the books. And even if he were to manage an escape, there is no way he could navigate the massive labyrinth that led to the library's basement, and make it bake to his anxious mother.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction short story with elements of fantasy, much like many of Murakami's stories. Also similar to many of the author's other stories is the presence of a young male narrator and protagonist; a mysterious and beautiful girl who is somehow part of this world, but also not; an instance of being held against one's will, though not painfully; strange animals; and of course, delicious food described in detail. As I mentioned, the entire story is only 96 pages long, half of which are filled with pictures. And the text on the other half is not in the standard format of your usual mass market paperback. The font is bigger, there are less lines on the page, and less words in a line. So basically, the book is extremely short, but still very Murakami. And as usual, by the end, it isn't clear to the reader, or even the young narrator, what was real and what was imagined. I am sure there is some social commentary to be found in the fact that the boy is held prisoner in the basement of a struggling library, being forced to read about tax collection in the Ottoman Empire. Many readers out there would love the chance to live in a library, although being forced to read and memorize books on a specific subject at the threat of having our brains eaten is not the way they'd want to get it. 

My Verdict: I would have settled for being able to pick up a Murakami book and finish it within a week of starting it, much less a half hour. Fans of Murakami may end up a little torn on this one. On the one hand, it is a great short story. But on the other hand, it is a short story coming from someone that we know is capable of so much when he takes the time to write out 500+ pages of story. After finishing The Strange Library, I had to wonder in what different kind of avenues this story could have been taken if it was at least as long as Kafka on the Shore. It almost would have been better if Murakami wasn't known for his previous work. But then again, if Murakami wasn't known for his other books, would he have been able to get away with publishing something like this? Either way, Murakami fans should pick this book up. The illustrations alone make the short story worth the 30 minutes it takes to read it.

Favorite Moment: When the young boy is given homemade fresh-from-the-fryer doughnuts made by the sheep-man.   

Favorite Character: At first it seems as if the sheep-man is just a lackey for the evil old man, but he proves to be incredibly helpful. Plus, he makes doughnuts.

Recommended Reading: A Murakami book that will most certainly take more then 30 minutes to read is 1Q84. But if you're not in the mood for a three-part epic adventure, I would recommend The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, although it is still a door stop at 607 pages.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Historical Fiction: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman is yet another selection I picked out from the nominations in the Goodreads Choice Awards. As some readers may recall from previous blog posts, I am a fan of amusement parks and thrill rides, and while Hoffman's novel isn't necessarily about an amusement park, it does contain a lot of the general atmosphere as the main female protagonist resides in a house containing oddities that are part of a, for lack of a better term, freak show. Plus, Coney Island is close by and the museum must compete with the attractions of the much bigger and fancier amusement parks. The description on the book jacket also gave the story the feel of something like Emily Morgenstern's The Night Circus, which I ultimately found to be disappointing, but I did generally like the descriptions and characters.

The Situation: It is 1911 in New York City, and Coralie Sardie has a nightly obligation as a part of her father's Museum of Extraordinary Things. Since she was a young girl, the professor has trained Coralie to be an excellent swimmer. Not only can she swim in extremely cold temperatures for a much longer amount of time than normal, but she can also hold her breath for an incredible amount of time, making it seem as if she has no need for any air at all. So the professor shows her off every night as a mermaid, allowing the birth defect that gave her webbing between her fingers lend to the fantasy. Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, Eddie Cohen is somewhat of a loner, but with some peculiar if helpful skills. He used to work for a man who was paid to find people, and he still remembers everything the man taught him, which will prove useful in a task he is given by a man searching for his lost daughter. But Eddie has also managed to become an incredibly skilled photographer, even though the types of pictures he is known for taking don't exactly make him a welcome sight with the general public. These two people live in the same city, but somehow worlds apart. Even so, a series of strange events will bring them together.

The Problem: The growing attractions at the nearby amusement park, which also has a freak show of its own in Dreamland, cause the professor to steadily lose business, as well as willing workers. As such losses make him more and more desperate to find an attraction worthy of bringing a large crowd, he also forces to Coralie to put on a different type of show that is only meant for certain visitors late at night. The more Coralie performs, and the more she learns about her father, the more miserable and defiant she becomes. And it is their discovery one night by the river, a discovery that the professor believes will save his museum and solve their money problems, that will bring Eddie into their lives, changing all three of them forever.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a historical fiction novel set in early 20th century New York City. Some events that are central to the plot, such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, and the 1911 fire on Coney Island, did really happen. And it is Eddie's presence at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire that causes him to be called upon to search for a local man's missing daughter, who should have been at the factory at the time, but isn't among the surviving or the dead. As Coralie lives with her father and shares the house with his freak show, there is much description of both living and preserved things that many don't often see in nature. There are disfigured animals in jars; men as hairy as wolves; a "butterfly girl" with no arms, but wings that she puts on when she is at the museum; and even a 100 year-old giant tortoise kept in a pen. Coralie herself is billed as a mermaid girl because of her ability to stay underwater, and the blue dye the professor has her apply to her skin. It is an interesting look at what people will pay to see and how they choose to entertain themselves. 

My Verdict: Ultimately, while the premise for this book sounds both promising and fascinating, I found the entire story to be incredibly disappointing. And the disappointment I felt reminded me a lot of how I felt at the end of Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, with the difference being that at least I enjoyed The Night Circus right up until the ending. With The Museum of Extraordinary Things, I was only about 50 pages in when I felt this novel to be a letdown. While The Night Circus had beautiful descriptions and settings, as well as characters I could hold onto, Hoffman's book was strung together by a series of events that felt forced. And not only did the characters not feel like real people, I also couldn't get myself to care what happened to them. Much of the novel seemed rushed through, as if it was written in a hurry, to beat a deadline, and maybe it was.

Favorite Moment: When Coralie and Eddie manage to set the 100 year-old tortoise free.

Favorite Character: Even though she had her own set of problems to deal with, Coralie's caretaker, Maureen, is devoted to her charge and refuses to leave her, even though she could easily do so and live her own happy life away from the sinister professor who often mistreats her. 

Recommended Reading: I am actually going to recommend The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, even though I find the ending to be lacking. But I recommend it because of the similarities it shares with Hoffman's story, and, like I said before, it also has better descriptions and better characters.  

Friday, February 27, 2015

Nonfiction: Becoming Richard Pryor by Scott Saul

Richard Pryor is my father's favorite comedian of all time (with Red Foxx being a very close second). I remember as a kid my father retelling some of Pryor's jokes from his albums, while cleaning the language up considerably, and him laughing harder than I would. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I was even allowed to listen to cleaner parts of the albums, of which my father still owns on vinyl. And to this day, I haven't heard any of them all of the way through because they are so filthy, and Daddy still remains hesitant to share them with his daughter in all of their vulgar glory. I picked up Scott Saul's Becoming Richard Pryor not in an attempt to finally see the uncensored world of my father's favorite comedian, but also because I was genuinely curious about the man who set himself on fire in 1980, something I didn't learn about until I was an adult. I knew there was more to the man than just his comedy albums, 80's movies, and the fire incident. And while I like Wikipedia, I decided I couldn't lean on it if I wanted the whole story.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a biography of the late Richard Pryor, an African-American comedian and actor. The author begins the book a couple of generations before Pryor's birth, starting by framing the world in which his grandmother, Marie, grew up. Marie is the woman who would ultimately raise Richard and to whom he would refer to as "Mama" well into adulthood. From this starting point, Saul tells Pryor's life story with intimate, and often painful, details. And while the story naturally ends with Pryor's death in 2005, Saul stops telling the story with such detail when the narrative hits the year 1980. Of course Pryor was still active after 1980, even doing one more comedy routine after he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, but Saul decided to end the story right when Pryor reached the height of his popularity. Pryor's story is one filled with violence (a lot of which he was the source of), drug and alcohol abuse, racial tension, struggle with identity, and women (and even some men). Naturally, many other Hollywood names appear throughout the story whom Pryor came into contact, with some of the more notable ones being Bill Cosby, Diana Ross, James Earl Jones, Chevy Chase, Lily Tomlin, Billy Dee Williams, Gene Wilder, Mel Brooks, and Pam Grier. His road to becoming a household name was not a straight one, and he wasn't completely out of the woods once he got there, as easy access to money and drugs often made it easier for him to get into trouble. Becoming Richard Pryor certainly doesn't seem to hold back on the truth about one of Hollywood's most interesting and mysterious figures.

My Verdict: Having a vague understanding of parts of Pryor's life, I new I was going to be in for a pretty crazy story, and I was proved right. Becoming Richard Pryor was often incredibly hard to read. And for some reason, I foolishly believed that once the narrative left Pryor's hometown of Peoria, Illinois, things would get better and maybe less tense, but I was wrong. Throughout many chunks of his life, Pryor was generally not a likable person, and many in Hollywood didn't want to risk working with him because he was so volatile. Saul certainly managed to convey Pryor's radioactive and almost always on the edge of exploding personality. The author gave a full picture of a man who would often be called one of the funniest people alive, while also being so troubled and tragic. Since honesty is something to be expected out of anything nonfiction, especially something like a biography, I would say Saul certainly met that expectation. He did his research, thoroughly, and put what he found on the page, as hard as it may have been to read sometimes. But I can also say that the book wasn't just 400+ pages of a hard life story. There were bits that would make many Pryor fans smile as they read some of the quotes from interviews, movies, TV, and especially his comedy routines. 

I will say that I was disappointed that the book didn't continue into the rest of Pryor's career after 1980. It gives a general description of were his career went after the fire incident, but not in the same detail and with the same amount of attention as the rest of the book received. It is still a thorough story of Pryor's life, but I wanted a little more.

Favorite Moment: When Pryor gave an Emmy he had won to Juliette Whitaker, a woman in Peoria who was one of the first people to encourage him in his talents and give him a venue to use them in a small local community theater.

Recommended Reading: Born Standing Up by Steve Martin is more of a memoir than a biography/autobiography, and of course, Martin is a different kind of comedian. But it is still a good read and remains one of my favorite memoirs of all time.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Science Fiction: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This is yet another novel that was nominated for a 2014 Goodreads Choice Award. I had already added Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven to my always present and incredibly long "to read" list, but went ahead and purchased it not only because it was nominated, but also because the always awesome staff at BookPeople in Austin, Texas had featured it on the "New Fiction" shelf, and there was only one copy left. And let me just begin by saying, I now get what all of the fuss was about.

The Situation: Arthur Leander has just collapsed onstage while playing the title role in William Shakespeare's King Lear. As former journalist-turned paramedic Jeevan Chaudhary rushes onstage from the audience to perform CPR, most everyone else in the audience and on the stage still haven't quite figured out that Arthur is no longer acting. But once the curtain actually drops, and all attempts to revive Arthur fails, the world begins to become a completely different place, and not because a famous actor has just died. 

The Problem: Jeevan never reaches his apartment after leaving the theater, as a frantic phone call from a friend of his working in a hospital emergency room informs him that a deadly and fast-spreading flu is infecting seemingly everyone. After stocking up on supplies at a nearby grocery store, Jeevan arrives at his brother Frank's apartment, barricades them both inside, and waits. Over the next few days and months, the world, as everyone knew it, ends. Planes will no longer fly. Cars will cease to be used or even useful as gasoline goes stale. Electricity will no longer be generated. And luxuries such as the Internet and wifi will cease to exist. The population around the globe will dwindle to only the few who were either lucky/resourceful enough to survive, and those who happen to be immune. In the years that follow, small pockets of civilization will pop up, built by those that wish to remain in one place, while some, like Kirsten Raymonde, will travel with her fellow actors and musicians, performing Shakespeare for the survivors they find along the way. But such traveling means a risk of encountering people like The Prophet, who insists that the plague happened as a way to weed out the darkness and leave only the good behind. Not only does he believe himself to be "the light," but he also manages to recruit followers that help him raid other towns, stealing their weapons and ammunition for his own use. Station Eleven tells the story of a selected few before, during, and after the pandemic. All of them are somehow connected, mostly through Arthur, but also through the struggle to survive the unimaginable. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a science fiction book that is alternately set in the past and in the future. Just as it changes focus between many of its characters, it also switches back and forth from before the plague and after, while also not neglecting the horrors of the early days when the sickness was at its most dangerous. Many post-apocalyptic novels focus almost entirely on the days after, with a little mention of what life was like before, and almost no mention of what it was like during the actual outbreak. Station Eleven meets the plague head on and talks about the struggle of early survival, glossing over nothing. Eventually, the reader is given both background and closure on pretty much every primary character that is introduced. Arthur is sort of the focal point and every other character seems to have some sort of link to him: Miranda, Arthur's first ex-wife, is the author of the comic book that features a Dr. Eleven. It's a story that makes it into the hands of several characters over the years. Clark is Arthur's best friend and is given the terrible task of notifying the family of his death, but ends up stranded in an airport once the flu hits, a place where he will end up spending the rest of his life. Kirsten was a child actress in the same production of King Lear that ended up being Arthur's last, and now continues performing Shakespeare with the traveling symphony. And Jeevan now uses his studies in paramedics to care for the sick or injured in the settlement he chose. Everyone is separate, but still linked, with their own stories of struggle and survival.

My Verdict: This book was much more involved and intricate than I had initially expected, but it was a nice surprise. Not only does Mandel tie everyone's stories together in just the way that I like, but she also manages to fully explore the scenario of the apocalypse. Instead of avoiding the tense and always heart-breaking detail of the early days of the pandemic, Mandel talks about it in detail, even with all of the difficulty that can come with writing about such a thing, but it ends up being incredibly worth it. The reader gets a fuller story, and I know I became more invested in humanity's next steps. And while post-apocalyptic stories are nothing new, Mandel managed to not have Station Eleven become either predictable or so incredibly dire and bleak that the story is hard to read. Not every scene is original, but they are somehow written in a way that makes them feel like they are. As I said in the introduction, I get now what all of the fuss was about. 

Favorite Moment: Any time when the reader was given even the slightest glimpse into how everyone's story was connected.

Favorite Character: There are a few options here, but I will select Arthur's first wife, Miranda. For one, I have always liked the name Miranda, so I was immediately somewhat biased. Second, she is someone who can get lost in writing and drawing for the comic book she made up, even though she doesn't necessarily intend to submit it anywhere for publication. She just likes drawing and creating for this imaginary world that she came up with, and people like that always interest me.

Recommended Reading: We all know they are many post-apocalyptic novels out there to choose from; however, I will recommend The Road by Cormac McCarthy, or even On Such a Full Sea by Chang-rae Lee. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Young Adult Fiction: Reaper by Kristi R. Johnson

I am just going to start off by saying that this is so weird. I never thought I would ever have the opportunity to write on my own book blog about the novel that I wrote. But here I am, doing exactly that. Reaper is my first book and it came out yesterday. So I figured why not write a post about a recently published novel, just like I would almost any other Friday. The only difference is that this time, the author is me.

The Situation: Ana "Reaper" Keating has just started her freshman year of college at the Hugo Liberal Arts College (HuLAC) in Prescott, Arizona. Dorm life will be incredibly different from her life in her hometown of Mayer, which is only 40 miles away. For one, she'll finally have reliable air conditioning providing relief from the Arizona heat. Second, she'll be living in a conventional residence, unlike the cave in the onyx rock quarry she grew up in. Third, for the first time in her life, she'll be away from her father, Jim, and instead have a roommate. Haley is also a Mayer High School graduate, so it isn't as if Reaper will be living with a complete stranger. Even so, Reaper isn't sure how her naturally antisocial temperament is going to fair in this new environment.

The Problem: Aside from having dependable air conditioning, something else Reaper was looking forward to was no longer looking being in the same town as the wealthy, powerful, and vengeful Goldwater family. But at the end of move-in day, Reaper learns that the youngest Goldwater, Ian, is attending HuLAC as well and has already come looking for her. Ian's father, Mr. Paul, still blames Reaper's father for what happened to Reaper's mom, who also happened to be Mr. Paul's adopted sister. Neither Reaper nor Jim like to talk about Sue's death, and for the last 16 years, Mr. Paul has proven to be bent on revenge. Before classes even start, what was looking like a chance to start fresh has turned into a new chapter of an ongoing nightmare. It may be the last thing Reaper wanted, but it is also what Jim has been preparing her for all of her life.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel set in two small towns in Arizona. While both Prescott and Mayer are real cities in Arizona, I haven't been to either one, so all of the landmarks and locations are of my own imagination. HuLAC is also not a real college that exists anywhere. The one thing that is real in Mayer, Arizona is the onyx rock quarry. But again, I have never been to Mayer, so I have never seen the quarry, and I doubt very seriously that there is a cave in it that could be turned into a fully functional home with electricity, plumbing, and of course, air conditioning. I started this book back in November of 2013 as part of National Novel Writing Month. To my great surprise, I managed to reach the required 50,000 words that you need to "win," NaNoWriMo. And after adding another 25,000+ words in the early part of 2014, and doing some heavy editing, I submitted it to a few publishers, and here we are. And I decided to set it in college as opposed to high school because most YA novels are set in high school, which makes sense, but I feel like there aren't enough set in college. Plus, I believe that teenagers are curious about college, but ultimately know very little about it and aren't really sure what to expect if and when they start their freshman year. So college life in general is a big theme, as is vengeance, justice, and the idea of doing almost anything for family.

My Verdict: Not really sure what to say here since I wrote this one myself. There are parts of it that I am less pleased with than others, but overall I am really happy with this book. Honestly, when I first started out in those early days of November, I was afraid that I didn't have it in me. I was worried that I didn't have enough story to tell and that I would run out of steam at around 20,000 words. Well, that didn't happen, and next thing I knew it was mid-November and I was already at 35,000 words, with plenty more to say.

Favorite Moment: When Haley proves to be tougher than Reaper, or really anyone, believed she was.

Favorite Character: I had a lot of fun creating Jim, Reaper's father. I've been describing him to people as a Ron Swanson type, only less ridiculous, and even less of a sense of humor. He is a no nonsense type of person, trying to live his life in a world that is full of it.

Recommended Reading: I recommend Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, mostly because it is also set in college, but also because I am always looking for reasons to recommend that book. But as for as something that is somewhat gritty like Reaper, I recommend This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers.

You can order your own copy of Reaper at Black Rose Writing. It is has truly been my pleasure writing it, and I hope you have just as much fun reading it.