Countdown by Mira Grant

Source: Amazon Kindle
ebook, 82 pgs
On Amazon and on Kobo

Countdown (A Newsflesh Novella) by Mira Grant is a great addition to the trilogy, chronicling the emergence of Kellis-Amberlee from its aucpicious beginnings as separate cures for the common cold and cancer.  There is the saying that there can be too much of a good thing, and in this case, these good things combined to create one of the most destructive things imaginable for the human race.  Dr. Alexander Kellis is working on a way to cure the common cold, but his testing is still in animal trials, while Dr. Daniel Wells is working on the Marburg Amberlee cure for cancer and is testing on humans with some success.

“‘This guy thinks he can eat textbooks and shit miracles,’ was the pitch.”

“Freed from its secure lab environment, Alpha-RC007 floated serene and unaware on the air currents of the stratosphere.  It did not enjoy freedom; it did not abhor freedom; it did not feel anything, not even the cool breezes holding it aloft.  In the absence of a living host, the hybrid virus was inert, waiting for something to come along and shock it into a semblance of life.”

“There is nothing so patient, in this world or any other, as a virus searching for a host.”

While these scientists are working on separate cures, there are forces outside of their labs that threaten their progress.  The Mayday Army, once a pot-head group of kids, is bent on “sticking it to The Man.”  They see an opportunity and take it.  Meanwhile, the unsuspecting people throughout the country, including the Masons from the trilogy itself, are left to deal with the wide-ranging consequences.  Through a series of blog entries, these tales unfold in rapid succession, ramping up the tension toward the ultimate conclusion before the start of the official trilogy.

Countdown (A Newsflesh Novella) by Mira Grant is not a necessary addition to the series, but certainly one that will be appreciated by those that love the novels and want more about how the outbreak that ended modern civilization occurred.  Readers will enjoy how Grant mixes scientific jargon into a thriller.

About the Author:

Born and raised in Northern California, Mira Grant has made a lifelong study of horror movies, horrible viruses, and the inevitable threat of the living dead. In college, she was voted Most Likely to Summon Something Horrible in the Cornfield, and was a founding member of the Horror Movie Sleep-Away Survival Camp, where her record for time survived in the Swamp Cannibals scenario remains unchallenged.

Mira lives in a crumbling farmhouse with an assortment of cats, horror movies, comics, and books about horrible diseases. When not writing, she splits her time between travel, auditing college virology courses, and watching more horror movies than is strictly good for you. Favorite vacation spots include Seattle, London, and a large haunted corn maze just outside of Huntsville, Alabama.

Mira sleeps with a machete under her bed, and highly suggests that you do the same.

Extractions by Melissa M. Firman

Source: Purchased
E-short story
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Extractions by Melissa M. Firman is an e-short story in which something is not quite right with Kari and her family.  While they have that suburban home, there are some financial issues lurking in the background, but that could just be the tip of the iceberg.  This family is racking up the debt with no end in sight and her impending dental work is only going to exacerbate that situation.  Firman has packed a lot of detail into the first couple of pages of this short story, which according to the Kindle estimate is just seven pages in total.

Whether Kari’s drinking has to do with their financial problems or the fact that she’s cyber-stalking an ex-boyfriend on Facebook, it doesn’t matter.  Something has got to change for this family.  They are in a very precarious situation and something is going to push them over the brink.  Kari is dissatisfied, and she’s searching for something outside herself to make herself content.  An unexpected act of vandalism, however, will have her questioning her own actions.   Extractions by Melissa M. Firman is well done, but will likely leaving readers wanting more.

About the Author:

Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pa., Melissa Firman was convinced she would be a world-famous author before she was 18. When that didn’t quite happen, she earned a B.A. in English/Communications from Cabrini College and worked with various nonprofits. Melissa currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband of 20 years and their two children.

“Extractions” is Melissa’s first short story published on Amazon. She recently edited young adult author Melissa Luznicky Garrett’s much-anticipated novels “The Prophecy” and “Blood Draw.”

Melissa Firman is currently in the process of writing her first novel and is a freelance book reviewer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Connect with Melissa on her website and blog at MelissaFirman.com or on Facebook at Melissa Firman, writer – www.facebook.com/TheFirmanGroup.

80th book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.

Mailbox Monday #297

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

1.  Extractions by Melissa M. Firman, downloaded from Kindle.

In this short story, a slight moment of deception is all it takes for Kari to realize how quickly and suddenly her carefully-crafted life could be destroyed.


2. Countdown by Mira Grant, which I downloaded to Kindle after reading the three books in the NewsFlesh series.

The year is 2014, the year everything changed. We cured cancer. We cured the common cold. We died.  This is the story of how we rose.

When will you rise?


What did you receive?

Love, Accidentally by Sarah Pekkanen

Source: Kindle Freebie
e-short story, 40 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

Love, Accidentally by Sarah Pekkanen follows her short-e-story All Is Bright (my review), telling the other side of the story from Ilsa Brown‘s point of view, rather than that of Elise Andrews.  Between these two short stories, the love triangle between these characters is real, but not as fleshed out as they would be in a full-length novel.

Ilsa Brown is a veterinarian and she meets Grif by chance in a park where his foster-dog, Fabio, has been injured.  They grow fond of each other, but Ilsa is cautious when her sister’s solid marriage loses its footing.  It makes her wonder how much Grif regrets his past break-up with Elise.  Pekkanen is adept at navigating the fragile balance of male-female relationships, especially when a break-up has recently occurred and one of the pair is still healing.  Ilsa is a strong woman, but she also realizes that the past must be embraced in order for the future to be clear.

“To hide her confusion, she did what came naturally: She reached out with her strong, thin fingers–the two crescent-shaped scars on the back of her right hand gleaming pale and smooth–and began to examine the little mixed-breed dog.”

Both new to Los Angeles, Grif and Ilsa hit it off over their love of animals and pizza, and their relationship moves at a fast pace.  But Ilsa is never more aware of taking things one step at a time as when she talks with her sister, Corrine, about him or when her sister talks about her marriage.  Pekkanen’s prose is simple and captivating in building up the romance in a short amount of time, but it’s her characters that will keep readers engaged because they are not two-dimensional.  Love, Accidentally by Sarah Pekkanen is about how love can hit at the most unexpected times and how it needs to be nurtured and understood in order to flourish.  Readers may want more from these characters, and perhaps the author will weave them into a full-length novel.

About the Author:

Sarah is the mother of three boys, which explains why she wrote part of her novel at Chuck E. Cheese. Seriously. Sarah penned her first book, Miscellaneous Tales and Poems, at the age of 10. When publishers failed to jump upon this literary masterpiece (hey, all the poems rhymed!) Sarah followed up by sending them a sternly-worded letter on Raggedy Ann stationery. Sarah still has that letter, and carries it to New York every time she has meetings with her publisher, as a reminder that dreams do come true. At least some dreams – Brad Pitt has yet to show up on her doorstep wearing nothing but a toolbelt and asking if she needs anything fixed. So maybe it’s only G-rated dreams that come true. Please visit her Website.

Nest. Flight. Sky.: On Love and Loss, One Wing at a Time by Beth Kephart

Source: Purchased for Kindle
eBook, about 34 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Nest. Flight. Sky.: On Love and Loss, One Wing at a Time by Beth Kephart illustrates how the death of the person we’re closest to — oftentimes our mother — sends us out into the world, looking for answers or at least some hope.  Letting go is never about forgetting, while our loved ones may not physically be present any more and all we have is memory — a tricky thing indeed — we have the ability to seek out meaning and hope in the miracles around us.  Anyone who has read Kephart’s books before knows that she loves birds and what they can mean and represent in all their incarnations, but this obsession with birds clearly began with the loss of her mother.

“I work in a square room, watch the world (a garden like an archipelago, a museum of flowering trees) through two wide windows.  I work early in the day, a bare bulb turned on, and I work alone.  But in the months after my mother passed away, much too early, the finches came.  They were still wearing their winter coats.  They favored the crack of dawn.  They held themselves up with the acrobatics of their wings, touched their beaks to my wide windows, and hammered.”

Kephart ties together the memories of her mother’s accident and misdiagnosed and re-diagnosed illness — without naming it because it is unnecessary to do so — with the passionate love of birds held by Genevieve Estelle Jones and Katrina van Grouw.  Like these early scientists, Kephart is exploring the enigma of birds — not so much how they continue to fly and what their eggs and nests look like — but how those former dinosaurs continue to capture the imagination and offer solace to those not too busy to pause.

Readers could imagine glorious photos or illustrations of birds sweeping across the pages, along with Kephart’s words as she remembers the best parts of her mother and the best parts of herself.  Nest. Flight. Sky.: On Love and Loss, One Wing at a Time by Beth Kephart strives to give all those who grieve the hope that there is peace, a peace that we can live with and thrive with, as long as we remember to breathe and be alive.

***This ebook memoir was published by the new venture SheBooks, which published short ebooks for women, by women.  Check out what Beth Kephart had to say.

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is the author of 10 books, including the National Book Award finalist A Slant of Sun; the Book Sense pick Ghosts in the Garden; the autobiography of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, Flow; the acclaimed business fable Zenobia; and the critically acclaimed novels for young adults, Undercover and House of Dance. A third YA novel, Nothing but Ghosts, is due out in June 2009. And a fourth young adult novel, The Heart Is Not a Size, will be released in March 2010. “The Longest Distance,” a short story, appears in the May 2009 HarperTeen anthology, No Such Thing as the Real World.

Kephart is a winner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fiction grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize, among other honors. Kephart’s essays are frequently anthologized, she has judged numerous competitions, and she has taught workshops at many institutions, to all ages. In the fall of 2009, Kephart will teach the advanced nonfiction workshop at the University of Pennsylvania.  Check out her blog.

Christmas at the Beach by Wendy Wax

Source: Purchased for Amazon Kindle
E-Novella, 92 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Christmas at the Beach by Wendy Wax is an e-novella that follows the talented women of Ten Beach Road and Ocean Beach (click for my reviews) — Madeline, Nicole, and Avery — told from the point of view of Madeline’s daughter, Kyra.  Kyra and her now one-year-old son Dustin are arriving at Ten Beach Road and Bella Flora under the close scrutiny of paparazzi.  She has little choice but to don a disguise to keep the photographers on their toes and protect her son as much as she can from Daniel Deranian’s fame and infidelity.

“The celebrity bar has dropped so low that if it were being set for a game of Limbo, that bar would be ankle-height.”

“A couple of weeks ago a crazed Daniel Deranian fan stole one of Dustin’s dirty diapers out of the trash and tried to sell it on eBay.”

Her time at Bella Flora was healing for her and her mother, as well as their new found friends who all found out they owned a piece of the rundown historic site.  Kyra is still struggling with her quasi-fame as the mother of an illegitimate Deranian child, but she still wants her own family to remain the same.  It’s unfortunate that her life plans have a way of changing on her, but she’s clearly poised to learn and grow from those changes.  Wax has created a cast of lovable characters with their own flaws, but these women are tough and ready to take on anything thrown in their way.

“What I really want is something built like a tank and with darkened windows, so that if I mow down a few photographers no one will see the satisfaction on my face,…”

Christmas at the Beach by Wendy Wax is a great novella to catch up with these women and a great set up for the next novel in the series, The House on Mermaid Point.  Kyra’s definitely got her plate full already, but when she learns what’s going on with her own family, she’s bound to feel overwhelmed.  Wax has set up readers for an eventful new novel that comes out in July 2014.

About the Author:

Award-winning author Wendy Wax has written eight novels, including Ocean Beach, Ten Beach Road, Magnolia Wednesdays, the Romance Writers of America RITA Award finalist The Accidental Bestseller, Leave It to Cleavage, Single in Suburbia and 7 Days and 7 Nights, which was honored with the Virginia Romance Writers Holt Medallion Award. Her work has sold to publishers in ten countries and to the Rhapsody Book Club, and her novel, Hostile Makeover, was excerpted in Cosmopolitan magazine.

A St. Pete Beach, Florida native, Wendy has lived in Atlanta for fifteen years. A voracious reader, her enjoyment of language and storytelling led her to study journalism at the University of Georgia. She also studied in Italy through Florida State University, is a graduate of the University of South Florida, and worked at WEDU-TV and WDAE-Radio in Tampa.

The Queen of Bad Decisions by Janel Gradowski

Source: Author Janel Gradowski
Kindle eBook, 43 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Queen of Bad Decisions by Janel Gradowski is a “cupcake” novellette, volume 2 in the Bartonville series.  Daisy is the protagonist in this prequel, which takes place before Must Love Sandwiches (volume 1 in the Bartonville series).  She’s just realized that her relationship with Gary is not and will never be what she expects it to be, especially when she’s paying half the rent, for all the food, and he stays out drinking all night.  Although her life is less than perfect, she still loves her bookstore job and her life is not as pathetic as her drunk brother’s.  Moving — even temporarily — back in with her parents, she realizes that her life is not as bad compared to some others.  But it takes a swift kick in the pants for her to change her own life.

“All of the useless utensils were in the kitchen drawer when she moved in with Gary.  Everything needed to be replaced.”

“She hadn’t just lowered her standards when she started dating Gary, she sucker punched her morals and left them to wallow in the mud.”

Daisy is an insecure young woman, still looking for her place and looking for the right man.  While her mother is supportive, her father is more of a go-getter — meaning get the kids out of the house ASAP.  Her boss, meanwhile, has kept her mouth shut, but once the floodgates open, there’s no stopping her helpful advice from flowing.  Gradowski creates characters that are three-dimensional, and her dialogue is always punchy and comical, without a single wasted word.  The Queen of Bad Decisions by Janel Gradowski is a short satisfying treat, and the only complaint from readers could be that they want more.  In case of Gradowski’s series, there will be more in store.

This series also includes bonus stories and recipes.

Check out my other reviews:

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski grew up, and still lives, in the mitten of Michigan. She is a wife and mother whose writing companion is a crazy Golden Retriever named Cooper. In the past she has worked many jobs. Renting apartments, scorekeeping for a stock car racetrack and selling newspaper classified advertisements are some of the experiences that continue to provide inspiration for her stories. Now she writes fiction and is also a beadwork designer and teacher. She enjoys cooking and is fueled by copious amounts of coffee.

Her work has appeared in many publications, both online and in print. She is the author of two series. Her first women’s fiction series is The Bartonville Series. Each volume contains stories ranging from flash to novella length. All of the stories are set in Michigan every volume contains accompanying recipes. The 6:1 Series features themed collections of her stories that are based on the title’s theme.  Connect with her on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.

Check out another part in the series, Ready or Not, published in serial format at JukePop.

Must Love Sandwiches by Janel Gradowski

Source: the author Janel Gradowski
Kindle ebook, 85 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Must Love Sandwiches by Janel Gradowski is a “cake” sized novella and volume one in her Bartonville Series, which also includes not only recipes, but a couple of bonus stories.  Emma and Daisy live at the artist’s colony creating crafts sold in the gallery store, but their worlds are shaken by the presence of food trucks in the park, where most workers end up taking their lunch.  Emma, who makes fairy doors and jewelry, is shaken by a recent break up with a fellow artist, Max, and she decides that rather than follow the path of her mother, she’s swearing off men.  Wouldn’t you know it, that once she makes that decision, she meets Brad of The Sandwich Emporium.  Meanwhile, Daisy is wondering where to go with her creations that are selling at a slower rate, enlisting the innovative thoughts of her good friend, Emma.  She’s also crushing on another food truck foodie, Marshall of the Vegan Valhala, even though she loves bacon!

“Often her mind wandered as she created the miniature art, inventing a world inhabited by delicate fairies.  In that world everybody was happy and relationships never fell apart.”

To say that these women have commitment issues outside of their artistic passions is an understatement, but while Emma was shaped by her family history of dysfunction, it is unclear where Daisy’s self-esteem issues stem from, though it is clear she does not see herself as a beauty.  Gradowski has created not only realistic characters in these two women, but characters that feel like friends who need a shoulder to cry on and a kick in the pants sometimes.  Her situations are never far-fetched, and the only complaint could be that the story ends too soon, even though the ending is satisfactory.

“Chuck’s hair was always a crazy mess, whether he had just woken up or was going on a date.  His full beard was a thicket of ginger-kissed facial hair.  Emma wrinkled her nose.  ‘He kind of looks like a bear when he’s naked, too.’

‘Thanks for that visual.  I’m going to need a lot more alcohol to erase that image from my mind.'”

Must Love Sandwiches by Janel Gradowski is a mouth-watering tale that will have readers salivating for the recipes in these pages, but also for more romance.  There are some great twists in this novella, and readers will be eager to learn more about the craftiness of these women and their evolution into strong women in search of love.  The author is a fresh new voice in fiction worth reading.

***Having met Janel long ago on the Internet at Janel’s Jumble, her own craftiness — particularly with beads — shines through in this novel, and if you follow her blog, you’ll see that she often shares some of her flash fiction and recipes.

Check out my other reviews:

About the Author:

Janel Gradowski grew up, and still lives, in the mitten of Michigan. She is a wife and mother whose writing companion is a crazy Golden Retriever named Cooper. In the past she has worked many jobs. Renting apartments, scorekeeping for a stock car racetrack and selling newspaper classified advertisements are some of the experiences that continue to provide inspiration for her stories. Now she writes fiction and is also a beadwork designer and teacher. She enjoys cooking and is fueled by copious amounts of coffee.

Her work has appeared in many publications, both online and in print. She is the author of two series. Her first women’s fiction series is The Bartonville Series. Each volume contains stories ranging from flash to novella length. All of the stories are set in Michigan every volume contains accompanying recipes. The 6:1 Series features themed collections of her stories that are based on the title’s theme.

Short Story Friday: Rules for Virgins by Amy Tan

It’s Friday again, and as promised, here is one of the occasional Short Story Friday features. Today’s feature will focus on Amy Tan’s e-short story, Rules for Virgins.

Rules for Virgins by Amy Tan is a short story in which a virgin courtesan is being told the ins and outs of the profession.  Set in 1912 Shanghai, Magic Gourd is explaining the ways in which courtesans gain favor with the wealthiest of men.  Violet, a young woman whose mother owned a similar house of women, is being tutored in the ways of beguiling and pampering not only the men they want to attract, but the other women in the house so that competition does not become deadly.

“While you are still a virgin courtesan, you must know all the arts of enticement and master the balance of anticipation and reticence.”

The way in which the story is told is in the form of teacher-student, and while Magic Gourd is harsh at times and provides unabashed detail about the expectations of men.  She exposes the inner workings of the house and the other women’s jealousies, but she also explains the function of the “mosquito press” in spreading rumors that build the reputations of new girls and houses.

“Few men are capable of preserving their ideal self.  If he is a scholar, what philosophical principles were sacrificed to ambition?  If he is a banker, what oath of honesty was dirtied by favors?  If he his a politician, what civic-minded policies were destroyed by bribes?  You must cultivate his sentimentality for moral glory and help him treasure his myth of who he was.”

The narration is reminiscent of Tan’s earlier work, but in this case, the women are not related by birth, but by situation, and the older, wiser Magic Gourd is imparting her wisdom to the younger courtesan.  Rules for Virgins by Amy Tan is a great look into this mysterious world of entertainment and enticement, but it seems too short and would have been great to see Violet begin to navigate this world at the guiding hand of Magic Gourd.

About the Author:

Amy Tan is an American writer whose works explore mother-daughter relationships. Her most well-known work is The Joy Luck Club, which has been translated into 35 languages. In 1993, the book was adapted into a commercially successful film.

The Heart of Haiku by Jane Hirshfield

The Heart of Haiku by Jane Hirshfield, which I first read about it on Beth Kephart’s blog, is lyrical, meandering, and informative not only about Haiku — the art, its origination, and its longevity — but also about one of the greatest poets, Bashō, who lived and breathed Haiku.  Knowing very little about this Japanese poet from the 17th century doesn’t mean you don’t know him because as Hirshfield points out, he infuses every Haiku with his soul and experiences.  Not only can readers live his moments alongside him, but they also can create their own experiences within the Haiku.

“To read a haiku is to become its co-author, to place yourself inside its words until they reveal one of the proteus-shapes of your own life.  The resulting experience may well differ widely between readers:  haiku’s image-based language invites an almost limitless freedom of interpretation.”

Like many poets, verse comes naturally and is less like a job or profession than it is like breathing.  With elements of Zen and Shinto’s spiritual traditions, the poet led a contemplative life focused on not only the natural world, but his experiences with it and as part of it.  At many points in his life, he is affected by events beyond his control, but his poetry never fails to account for these moments or to push him through those hardships — even though it doesn’t seem as though Bashō considered them hardships.  Hirshfield says, “He wanted to renovate human vision by putting what he saw into a bare handful of mostly ordinary words, and he wanted to renovate language by what he asked it to see.”

“Zen is less the study of doctrine than a set of tools for discovering what can be known when the world is looked at with open eyes.  Poetry can be thought of in much the same way, and the recognition of impermanence, ceaseless alteration, and interdependence–the connection of each person, creature, event, and object with every other–need not be “Buddhist.”  These elements permeate the poetry of every tradition. . .”

What is most beautiful about Hirshfield’s examination of Bashō is the reverence she pays to him and her passion for not only his work, but also his dedication to improving it even when near death.  And like many others, he remained focused on pushing his students to strive for more than even he could achieve, urging them not to be the “other half of the split melon” by mirroring his own work.  Hirshfield not only provides history and poetry in this essay, but she also pinpoints the evolution of Haiku and discusses its beauty and its endurance through the ages, even as a teaching tool.

The Heart of Haiku by Jane Hirshfield is a stunning examination of one Japanese poet’s work and his love of life and poetry.  Her narration provides a unique way of stepping into the life and thoughts of Bashō as writer, poet, teacher, and human being.

About the Author:

Jane Hirshfield was born in New York City in 1953. After receiving her B.A. from Princeton University in their first graduating class to include women, she went on to study at the San Francisco Zen Center. Her books of poetry include Come, Thief (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011), After (HarperCollins, 2006); Given Sugar, Given Salt (2001), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Lives of the Heart (1997), The October Palace (1994), Of Gravity & Angels (1988), and Alaya (1982).

This is my 11th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

Monsters in My Closet by Ruby Urlocker

Ruby Urlocker’s Monsters in My Closet is a collection of poems and short stories by a talented young writer with a fresh voice who explores the uncertainty of her teenage years and the harsh realities of adolescence.  She explores themes of growing older, losing one’s innocence, and battling inner demons.  Even though she deals with harsh realities, her images are playful and sometimes whimsical, like her short story about a banana dreaming of becoming human — reminiscent of Kafka’s Metamorphosis but in reverse.

From "Walking Around the World":

I walked across the world today
in my old running shoes.
Because I was free on a Saturday
And wanted to beat my blues.
From "Fallen Angel":

My shadow, hanging onto the wall.
I watched it turn to meet my gaze,
My eyes, a desperate wish.
Those stares, those sugar coated liars
Stealing away who I am.
From "The Storm":

There's a gust of wind inside my throat,
Hands clutching it tightly so as not to hurt anyone.
But I grow sick and weary of choking myself

Urlocker has a childlike way of expressing emotions, but she also displays a mature grasp of the darkness that lurks within all of us. Alongside the shadows and ghosts her narrators chase around corners and into the darkness, religious verse and stories ground the reader in a belief that there is something more to this life — whether it is a reincarnation of the same soul until the goal is achieved or the passage of the soul into the afterlife. Unlike other teenage writings that are often full of angst and despair, Urlocker infuses her stories and poems with hope and color — a beacon in the darkness.

One of the most surprising and most developed pieces is “Hidden People,” which is more than a homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado. Urlocker talks about imaginary friends and growing up, which in some cases means leaving those beloved friends behind along with are more innocent selves. Even though this is a short piece, readers will become emotionally invested in the story the narrator weaves about her past and friends. There is a deep sense of regret and loss, but also the fondness of those memories.

Monsters in My Closet by Ruby Urlocker is a well crafted debut that explores themes of adolescence, lost innocence, and the hormonal battle that teens experience as they sort through friendships, memories, and love. The collection also includes illustrations, which merit a mention as they are unique and childlike, but also demonstrate a complexity that mirrors the work Urlocker does in prose and verse. She’s an up-and-comer with room to grow and surprise us.

If you’re interested in winning a copy of her book, enter the giveaway here.

About the Author:

Ruby Urlocker is a teenaged author, singer and songwriter. She has been writing and publishing stories since she was seven. Ruby lives with her family and dog, Rufus, a wheaten terrier.


This is my 1st book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013 and the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

The Marriage Price by Alma Katsu

The Marriage Price by Alma Katsu is another short story from The Taker series and it reunites readers with Jonathan’s hometown just before he marries child-like Evangeline.  Told from Evangeline’s point of view, readers will get a taste of her less than innocent side as she talks of the finery and the house that will be hers once she is married to Jonathan.  There’s is clearly not a love match in more ways than one as Jonathan’s family chose her for him, and she clearly has ulterior motives of her own.

She’s a naive girl who is chosen by his family to become his wife as Jonathan’s father declines in health. While Lanore from The Taker and The Reckoning does not appear in the short story, her presence is clearly felt by Evangeline, who — while naive about the sexual relationships between men and women — is not blind to the emotional connection between Jonathan and Lanore.

Evangeline’s character becomes more nuanced through this short story. Although she is portrayed as innocent in The Taker and even child-like, she is more of a strategist in The Marriage Price. She’s looking forward to the big house and the finery she can obtain through her marriage, and while Jonathan is preternaturally gorgeous, his behavior toward her is forward and aggressive by her standards. Their relationship is more student-teacher, though Evangeline’s eyes are more on the prize than on the “love” they can share together.

“Now, it was all she could think about, those shameful things Jonathan had coerced her into doing. That was why she was certain a woman would come forward on her wedding day: it would be a punishment for what she did with Jonathan before they were legally wed.” (Kindle short story)

Katsu creates a dynamic subordinate character that can stand on her own and gets a taste of what her married life will become.  Evangeline may have thought she would gain a great deal through her marriage, but she may have fooled herself into believing that what happened between them in the marriage bed would stay there.  The short story raises questions about arranged marriages, marrying for money and position, and the dark secrets that spouses can hide about not only their pasts, but also their passions.

About the Author:

Alma Katsu is a 30-year DC veteran who lives in two worlds: on one hand, she’s a novelist and author of The Taker (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books). On the other hand, she was a senior intelligence analyst for CIA and NSA, and former expert in multilateral affairs.  Check out this Interview With Alma.

This completes my first series for the Finishing the Series Reading Challenge 2012.