Tuesday, July 28, 2015

REVIEW: Midnight Burning

Midnight Burning
By: Karissa Laurel

Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, Romance
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
Publication date: 7.7.2015
Pages: 288

Recommended by: Sage's Blog Tours, Red Adept Publishing
Date read: 7.27.2015

I was really excited about reading this book for a couple of reasons: she's a baker (so am I), the majority of the story takes place in Alaska (a place I've always wanted to visit), and there's a mystery involving the main death of the main character's brother (I love a little mystery).

The whole story was pretty exciting, what with the twists and turns, and I love how the author writes, the words that she chooses to use.  I am a fan of mythology, and it's always fun to see how different authors can pull that kind of stuff into their stories.  It was also interesting watching Solina (the main character), find her true self on this adventure, especially at a time when my adventure is helping me to do the same thing (though it was a pretty extreme change from how she sees/describes herself in the beginning - sometimes her sarcasm, standoffishness, and need to do things on her own was a little too much).

I did have a couple of issues with the characters.  On one hand, they were good, enjoyable, made me keep wanting to read the story so I could find out what happened to them, but on the other hand they were too easy, and, as with Solina, too much.  Val and Thorin were too perfect, and everything was just too sexually charged when it came to the two of them.  Maybe that's because of the "romance" part of the book, and maybe that's what romance fans like, but it was a little off-putting to someone like me, who's not a big fan of romance.  Skyla was pretty cool, and the more I learned about her, the more I liked her, but she was very stereotyped.  

All in all, a great book, and an author that I'm going to keep my eye on.  I'm curious to see what she gives us next.

Book description:
Solina Mundy lives a quiet life, running the family bakery in her small North Carolina hometown.  But one night, she suffers a vivid nightmare in which a wolfish beast is devouring her twin brother, who lives in Alaska.  The next morning, police notify her that Mani is dead.  Driven to learn the truth, Solina heads for the Land of the Midnight Sun.  Once there, she begins to suspect Mani's friends know more about his death than they've let on.  Skyla, an ex-Marine, is the only one willing to help her.
            As Solina and Skyla delve into the mystery surrounding Manis' death, Solina is stunned to learn that her own life is tied to Mani's friends, his death, and the fate of the entire world.  If she can't learn to control her newfound gifts and keep her friends safe, a long-lost dominion over mortals will rise again, and everything she knows will fall into darkness.

About the author:
Karissa Laurel always dabbled in writing, but she also wanted to be a chef when she grew up.  So she did.  After years of working nights, weekends, and holidays, she burnt out and said, "Now what do I do?"  She tried a bunch of other things, the most steady of those being a paralegal for state government, but nothing makes her as happy as writing.  She has published several short stories and reads "slush" for a couple of short-story markets.
            Karissa lives in North Carolina with her kid, her husband, the occasional in-law, and a very hairy husky.  She loves to read and has a sweet tooth for speculative fiction.  Sometimes her husband convinces her to put down the books and take the motorcycles out for a spin.  When it snows, you'll find her on the slopes.
            Karissa also paints and draws and harbors a grand delusion that she might finish a graphic novel someday.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

REVIEW: Making It

Making It
By: Amanda Gibbs

Genre: Literary Fiction, Poetry
Publisher: Amanda Gibbs
Publication date: 4.21.2015
Pages: 45

I must admit, when I received an email about reviewing this book, I wasn't so sure.  I know we shouldn't judge a book by a cover, but it's true that we all do.  I did not find the cover appealing.  It did not draw me in like I expect a cover to do.  

BUT.  (There is always a but with me, isn't there?)  

I'm glad that I took a chance on this book.  It's cute.  Heck, it's more than cute.  I read the book in .pdf format, so I have no idea what the "real" layout actually is, and I don't know which stories were supposed to be poems and which were supposed to be just stories - to me they all looked like stories - but I really enjoyed each and every one of them.  It was a "romance" that you don't normally see - a real life look at the way couples are with each other.  I really liked both "characters" and how they reacted to each other in different situations, how real (I know I've used that word a couple of times now) their story was.  If romance was like this, I might actually decide to start reading it.  

A quick read and definitely enjoyable.  Thanks, Amanda, for such a great book.

About the book:
Making It, Amanda Gibbs' debut short story, invites readers into the most intimate and personal moments of a couple's life spanning throughout decades.  The story is told through prose, poetry, dialogue, lists, and focused vignettes, all with Amanda's signature concrete voice.  Each entry of Making It represents a day in a year of the couple's relationship, spanning from first meeting to 30th anniversary.

"How am I supposed to know when to say I love you?"
            She passed him the tomato plant to put on the apartment balcony.  It was the first thing they had ever owned together.
            "When to say I love you, or when you know you love someone?"
            He reached over to rub the dirt smear off her cheek.  He licked his finger to make sure he got it all.  She didn't think twice of it.
            She stopped planting for a moment to look out at the industrial view facing her.  Hotels, factories, more apartments.  A couple was having sex against the window across the street.  She didn't look away as she said it.
            "I think you know you love someone when you do things for them when it's inconvenient for you.  I think you say I love you when they do too."

~A week before the tomato plant died

The first time he said it, they were assembling an IKEA baby crib for her sister's newborn.  He was kneeling on the ground reading her instructions while she lay partway under the crib, screwdriver in hand to do the hard bits.  She didn't even hear him the first time.  She wore his old painting t-shirt and a pair of Roots sweatpants, and he had just yelled at her a half hour before for spending too much money on Wendy's.
            "I love you."
            She reached her hand out to pat his knee affectionately.  "No, babe, it's fine, you didn't shove me at all."
            She had the screwdriver in her mouth so she could use both hands to piece the thing together, making it difficult for him to understand much of what she said either.  He did one of those nervous laughs reserved for 10th graders about to give a presentation on the reproductive organs, but, to his credit, he said it again quite fanatically and even toned, especially for a man who had only ever previously said "I love you" to his mother and goldfish.
            "I love you."
            She dropped the screwdriver.  On her face.
            "What did you say?"  It barely came out as a whisper.  "I love you."
            The first time she said "I love you" was 13 weeks after he did.  He was sleeping, she was propped up on her elbow staring at him, as she had been for the past three hours trying to garner the confidence to spit out the three words.  It was his snore that did it.  He did this thing where he simultaneously exhaled and inhaled, while making a spitting noise which included an elephantine snore.  She started giggling uncontrollably, and didn't even realize at first when the words popped out.
            "I love you."
            It didn't matter that it would be six more months before she said it to his face, because she said it.  It was out there in the universe.  And she meant it.

~How she chipped her front tooth from a screwdriver

"I always get so sad when I see 8- year old couples eating at restaurants, not saying anything the whole time."
            She turned the pepper grinder over his soup exactly three and a half times; he didn't need to ask.
            He poured her wine to the half way mark; she didn't need to ask.
            "Because.  They've been around each other so long, they have nothing left to say.  I never want to be like that."
            He toyed with the stem of his glass a moment.
            "But what if they're so comfortable around each other, they know each other so well, they don't always need words to communicate?  They've gotten to the point where silence is comfortable ... then I'd want to be exactly like that."
            They ate the rest of their meal in comfortable silence.

~Tomato Soup and Chardonnay

About the author:
Amanda Gibbs is an eighteen-year-old student, photographer, and actress from Toronto, Canada.  Writing since preschool with Crayola crayons, Amanda's passion is writing stories that make the mundane beautiful, and the little moments in life profound.  Inspired by writers like Michael Faudet, Jamie McGuire, and Walt Whitman, Amanda loves experimenting with form, dialogue and combining poetry and prose.  In her spare time, Amanda trains in mixed martial arts and takes care of her six dogs, as well as procrastinating schoolwork to write her next book.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hi, Michelle.  Welcome to The Gal.  Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Michelle Bellon:
I live in the Pacific Northwest with my boyfriend, Seth, and three of my four children.  My oldest is living on her own as she tries to figure out the grown-up thing.  I'm still working on that as well. :)
            I've been a registered nurse since 2005 and currently work at a surgery center.  In my free time I write books.  In the past five years I have published six novels in multiple genres including literary fiction, romance suspense, young adult, and women's fiction.  Two of these books have won literary awards.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is the first book you remember reading?

Michelle Bellon:
Oh, wow, that is a tough question.  Are we talking way back when we were children?  My mom taught me to love books from the time I was an infant.  She read to me every single day.  I know I learned my ABCs quickly and read early.  The book I clearly remember reading and loving at an early age was Are You My Mother, a Dr. Seuss book.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What are you reading now?

Michelle Bellon:
Actually, I'm desperately searching for a good book to read right now.  The last few books I've read were disappointments.  It feels like the quality of writing is decreasing as an influx of new writers explode on the scene.
            However, about two months ago, I had the pleasure of reading Lamentation by Joe Clifford.  Excellent read.  Well written.  I'm eagerly awaiting the sequel.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you decide you want to write?  When did you begin writing?

Michelle Bellon:
After I had my fourth child, I had decided to stay at home with her.  So I quit my nursing job and focused on the baby.  During that time I started to have dreams about different story ideas.  I'd wake up and think of these stories and ponder the idea of trying to write them down.  That idea was ridiculous though.  Other than college papers, I'd never written much of anything.  The concept of being able to synthesize an entire story into coherent, legible writing seemed a feat too impossible.
            Except the dreams kept coming and the ideas kept flowing.  So one day I decided instead of thinking about how difficult it would be and what if I couldn't do it, I decided to think, what if I could?
            So I set a goal to write at least twenty minutes a day while the baby took her nap.  Some days I didn't get the chance to actually sit down and meet the goal but many days I did, and found that twenty minutes quickly turned into an hour or two.  Six months later, I sat back in my chair and looked at the screen of my laptop at the final sentence of the manuscript I'd been working on, and thought, "I've done it.  I've just written a book."
            I quickly learned that writing the book was the easy part.  Selling it to an agent or publishing house and then marketing the book was the hard part.  But I dove in and began the difficult process which began with realizing that, though I'd written a book, it needed a LOT of work.  It was a mess.  A mess with potential, but a mess nonetheless.  So began the rewrites and edits.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have a special place you like to write?

Michelle Bellon:
I wish I could say this quiet little room in my house where I stare out the window and think up glorious plots while I sip my tea.  The reality is that I have three children running around with constant demands and a dog that likes to bark at every little sound.  So I sit down and write when I feel driven to do so with the hopes of getting my thoughts onto paper without being interrupted more than ten times in a ten minute span.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Michelle Bellon:
I don't like music or television on when I'm writing.  It's much too distracting.  Also, I have a habit of pulling up a solitaire game when I get stuck writing a scene.  I'll play three or four games, or ten, whatever, and then when I'm done I seem to be able to finish writing the scene better.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What books have most inspired you?

Michelle Bellon:
All books.  I just love reading.  I love escaping into another time, another life or dimension.  I love how you can have experiences and feel emotions that you might never have experienced otherwise through a well written book and its characters.  The reason I write multi genre is because I read multi genre.  I don't want to limit my experience by sticking to only one writing style.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Michelle Bellon:
I wish I had known more about the marketing aspect.  I've had to learn the hard way what it takes to get your book in the hands of readers and I always advice aspiring authors to do their homework on what it will take to market their work.  Writing the book is one thing.  Marketing it is a whole other beast.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What do you think makes a good story?

Michelle Bellon:
The characters, without a doubt.  Of course you need a good, solid pollen.  That goes without question.  But without interesting, gripping characters, no one will care enough to follow the plot.  I believe in creating characters with serious flaws and who face realistic life struggles.  I don't want to read a story where the character has it all figured out and never makes mistakes.  No.  I want to watch them make those mistakes and face those demons.  This is what makes them believable, human.  It's what makes us, as readers, invest in them.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Michelle Bellon:
I'd have to say Matea from Restless.  But I haven't published that one yet, so I can't say anything more about it or I'll have to kill you.  Just kidding.  That book should release this coming winter.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes your books different from others out there in their genre?

Michelle Bellon:
This book will stick out in its genre because it takes the struggles of three simple individuals and interweaves their lives with a metaphysical, almost magical element to the story.  I've had reviewers compare it to works like The shack and The Lovely Bones, so think along those lines.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is in your 'trunk'?  (Everyone has a book or project, which doesn't necessarily have to be book related, that they have put aside for a 'rainy day' or for when they have extra time.  Do you have one?)

Michelle Bellon:
This particular book was my 'rainy day' project.  I started writing The Fire Inside five years ago.  Since the day I finished it, I've rewritten it so many times I lost count.  Then I had it professionally edited and rewrote it another eight to ten times.  Every time I'd go back and read it, I'd shake my head and think, 'It isn't read.'  Normally an impatient person, I wrote and published many other books during that time, but kept this one in 'the trunk' for 'someday.'
            Finally, one day, after working on it for another solid month, I put it aside and felt good about where it was at.  Still, I put it away to work on something else.  Another month later, I pulled it up and started reading.  When I was done I smiled and felt a glimmer of peace.  It was ready.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What can we expect from you in the future?

Michelle Bellon:
Hopefully, a lot more stories.  As I said before, I plan to publish Restless, a women's fiction title this winter.  I'm also working on my first ever non-fiction piece.  I'd like to have that done by next year.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Thanks for stopping by, Michelle.  It was great having you!!

Michelle Bellon:
Thank you for having me on your blog and a special thanks to my readers for all the support they've shown me.

About the book:
Aiden had the perfect life.  A job he loved, a beautiful son and a loving wife.  In an instant everything is taken from him and Aiden assumes his life is over.  Falling into a deep depression Aiden has all but given up on his job, his friends and himself.  But when a mysterious force gives him the power to heal those around him, Aiden is forced to pull himself out of his depression in favor of the greater good.  When he mets Ryan, a young woman living on the streets, and Norma, a woman whose marriage is crumbling around her, Aiden acknowledges that maybe his life still has a purpose and his ability to heal maybe more powerful than he may have ever imagined.


The Fire Inside
By: Michelle Bellon

Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Booktrope
Publication date: 6.16.2015
Pages: 221

Aiden had the perfect life.  A job he loved, a beautiful son and a loving wife.  In an instant everything is taken from him and Aiden assumes his life is over.  Falling into a deep depression Aiden has all but given up on his job, his friends and himself.  But when a mysterious force gives him the power to heal those around him, Aiden is forced to pull himself out of his depression in favor of the greater good.  When he mets Ryan, a young woman living on the streets, and Norma, a woman whose marriage is crumbling around her, Aiden acknowledges that maybe his life still has a purpose and his ability to heal maybe more powerful than he may have ever imagined.

About the author:
Michelle Bellon lives in the Pacific Northwest with her four children and boyfriend, Seth.  She loves coffee and has an addiction to chapstick.  She works at a surgery center as a registered nurse and in her spare time writes novels.  She writes in the genres of romance suspense, young adult, women's fiction, and literary fiction.  She has won three literary awards.