Wednesday, October 1, 2014

BOOK REVIEW/INTERVIEW: Embellished to Death by Christina Freeburn




SYNOPSIS

When Faith Hunter agrees to help PI Bob Roget find an identity thief at a local scrapbook retreat, her friendly croppers’ weekend quickly morphs into a dangerous one. As croppers share their own memories, a killer collects them for her new identity, and doesn’t appreciate Faith in the picture. 

Faith struggles to balance her professional, detecting and personal lives as threats and secrets keep her off-balance. Things turn deadly when a woman is killed and Faith is blackmailed. Truth and lies collide when Faith discovers croppers aren’t the only ones embellishing, and the results might end her life.


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REVIEW

Everyone has secrets and issues particular to them.  In real life, as well as in the third installment of the "Faith Hunter Scrap This Mysteries", Embellished to Death, by Christina Freeburn.  This is the first of multiple reasons why this series and book resonate with so many readers.

Everyone has secrets, and for some reason we love reading about the secrets of others...just not our own.  Ms. Freeburn does an excellent job of revealing the right mix of secrets at the right time so that we are able to follow and it enhances the reading experience.

Many people (and not just women) enjoy scrapbooking.  A crop is a get-together where scrappers bring supplies to work alongside others doing the same thing.  My own papercrafting leans more towards making artisan paper and making cards, and I have yet to attend a 'crop'...but I would LOVE to!  Maybe I'd finally get my 17-year old firstborn's 'baby book' done and can get to work on the two younger kids'.

And you hear often in the news that identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in the US or the world?  I guess stealing someone else's information seems to be easier than earning a living themselves.  But it's a slippery slope.

Luckily for her readers, Ms. Freeburn does not follow my tendency to go off on tangents and weaves together many themes of interest to a coherent and entertaining story.  Many arts, crafts and hobbies have found their way into cozy mysteries and I'm delighted that scrapbooking has been added to that particular list.  

Maybe I could start a scrapbook with pages for each book I read and review?  Hmmmm.....;)

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AUTHOR INFORMATION



The Faith Hunter Scrap This Mystery series brings together Christina Freeburn’s love of mysteries, scrapbooking, and West Virginia. When not writing or reading, she can be found in her scrapbook room or at a crop. Alas, none of the real-life crops have had a sexy male prosecutor or a handsome police officer attending.

Christina served in the JAG Corps of the US Army and also worked as a paralegal, librarian, and church secretary. She lives in West Virginia with her husband, children, a dog, and a rarely seen cat except by those who are afraid or allergic to felines.

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INTERVIEW

1.  Where did the Self-Rescuing Princess come from?

A few years ago, I was talking to some friends, actually woe-is-meing, because my inspirational romance novel was turned down after having rewritten it three times by request of an editor for the large well-known romance publisher. The main problem was that heroine (a skip-tracer) was only in danger because she was trying to save her client not because someone was actually after her. In the midst of my angst, a wise friend said, "You don't write women in jeopardy. You write the self-rescuing princess."

2.  Why do you think cozy mysteries usually take place in small towns?

 One of the elements readers love about cozies are the relationship the characters have with each other, and those are usually easier to establish in small towns. It isn’t too much of a coincidence for everyone to know everyone, and everything about each other. Also, it’s more understandable why the amateur sleuth is able to insert themselves into investigations without getting in serious trouble.

3.  How much of you is in Faith Hunter?

Faith’s anxiousness and over-thinking is a big part of me. Those are two of my personality traits I’m not overly fond of and in a way I’m working it out through Faith. As she’s learning to use those parts of herself, rather than being controlled by them, I am also.

4.  Are you a big city woman or a small-town gal?

I’m kind of in between, as I find big cities very overwhelming and small-towns a little confining at times. I do like the amenities of big cities (great libraries, artist communities, concerts, etc.) but large crowds can do me in after a while.

5.  Describe your perfect day.

I started writing about a perfect day which included tasty coffee drinks, words flowing when I wrote and having the needed amount of time to get in some marketing, and after a productive day of work, a cooking a Food Network worthy dinner and still have time for reading. But then I realized my actual perfect day would be the family and I sailing the seven seas on a Disney Cruise ship. We all went on a cruise a few years ago and everyone had such a great time. We were pampered. Had wonderful food. Spent time together. And had time to explore our own interests with the many activities on the ship. I loved spa, the upscale brunch, and I will admit the character photo ops.

6.  What writer from history would you most like to meet?

Edgar Allan Poe

7.  So, your youngest child is 16.  Do you think you'll get 'empty nest syndrome'?

My youngest turned 17 this summer, and will be graduating high school in May. I haven’t given (or have tried not to anyway) empty nest syndrome much thought, though I do think I’ll feel a little lost for awhile. I had children very soon after I was married, so my husband and I have pretty much been parents through our entire marriage. It’s going to be different when it’s just us.

8.  Many countries have compulsory military service for their young adults.  Any thoughts on this?

I like that the United States doesn’t have compulsory military service. I think enlisting in the military is something that should be voluntary. When a soldier is out on the battle field, it’s better if everyone willingly enlisted rather than were forced (draft) or obligated to do so (compulsory service). The military life is hard and demanding in a lot of different ways so it isn’t for everyone.  

9.  Do you have a favorite book (or top 5, or ...)?

My favorite book of all time is Misty of Chincoteague.

10.  Where in the world would you like to visit that you have not yet seen?

Scotland. I have no idea why, but since I was a child I’ve always wanted to go to Scotland and Disney World. An odd mix. I’ve been to Disney World a few times and hope one day to visit Scotland.

BOOK REVIEW/GIVEAWAY: The Summer of Long Knives by Jim Snowden


SYNOPSIS

In the summer of 1936, the racial and political climate in Munich are growing tense, and Kommisar Rolf Wundt and his wife Klara are increasingly desperate to leave Nazi Germany while they still can. But when a member of the League of German Girls is found brutally murdered and posed in the yard of a dilapidated farmhouse, Rolf’s supervisor declares that they can’t leave until he’s solved the case. Rolf’s investigation leads him from the depths of the underground Communist movement to the heights of Germany’s elite Nazi society, exposing the cracks in Germany’s so-called unified society as well as the unspoken tensions in Rolf’s complicated marriage. Ultimately, long-buried secrets and overwhelming evidence are laid bare, but how can Rolf bring the killer to justice in a country devoid of justice? And how can he protect himself, his wife, and his former lover from the barbarism of a corrupt and power-hungry government?


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REVIEW

The Summer of Long Knives by Jim Snowden is riveting in the best possible way.

It is the summer of 1936 in Munich, and the express elevator is free-falling through the circles of hell faster than the beer flows at Oktoberfest.  And 'all' Kommisar Rolf Wundt has to do  to be able to leave Nazi Germany with his wife Klara is to solve the murder of an Aryan girl.  The Reich cares little for the lives of Jews, gays or people with Communist sympathies.  But that's not supposed to happen to a member of the master race.

When the investigation stalls, veiled accusations are made that perhaps Wundt's heart isn't in it because he once had an affair with a "Jewess", and a Gestapo liaison is assigned to Wundt's team.  In rather short order, the Gestapo  man 'arrests' a mid-teen Jewish boy, who, with the aid of a little 'enhanced' interrogation (read stripped naked and beaten senseless in a concrete room - with a doctor in attendance (as a spectator?)) identifies his Jewish gang, all of which are subsequently tried in a (kangaroo) court of law, taken out and guillotined.  There we are.  'Justice' served.  Neat little package.

Except it's not.  The killing does not stop.  When Wundt gets uncomfortably close to the killer, another young girl's body shows up in his front yard, the modus operandi far too similar to the first case

And the machinations of the political machine keep getting more twisted and intricate.  Who is the killer?  How has he or she eluded capture for so long?  Is this the first time murders of this nature have occurred?  And does anyone else get the chills knowing that the Gestapo officer's name (Weissengel) translates to "white angel" in English?

The Summer of Long Knives is not for the faint of heart.  This isn't 'Scooby-Doo vs The Third Reich'.  It's more like "Disgusting Crime and (Lack of) Punishment".  If you have any compassion, this book will make you angry, and scared - but in the best possible way, especially if it motivates you  the next time you see someone being mistreated.  

Put this book on your TBR list.  To aid in getting it off your TBR list and into your head, I'll hold a random drawing on October 8th (one week from today) for one e-copy of The Summer of Long Knives for anyone commenting on this post.

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AUTHOR INFORMATION



Bellevue author Jim Snowden has published short stories in Pulphouse, Mind In Motion, The Seattle Review, The King’s English, and MAKE. His novella, Escape Velocities, was named a 2004 notable story by the editors of StorySouth. Jim received his MFA from the University of Washington in 2004, where he won the David Guterson award for his work on his debut novel, Dismantle the Sun. He also runs a small press, MMIP Books, which published its first short story collection, Coming Unglued: Six Stories About Things Falling Apart, in May of 2011. Its second collection, Blood Promises, And Other Commitments was released in April of 2013.

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(Disclosure:  I received a print copy of this book from the author and publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.)

BOOK REVIEW/GIVEAWAY: Catwalk by Sheila Webster Boneham


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SYNOPSIS

Animal photographer Janet MacPhail is training for her cat Leo’s first feline agility trial when she gets a frantic call about a "cat-napping." Janet and her Australian Shepherd Jay set out to track down the missing kitty, and quickly find themselves drawn into the volatile politics of feral cat colonies, endangered wetlands, and a belligerent land developer. Janet is crazy busy trying to keep up with her mom’s nursing-home romance, her own relationship with Tom, and upcoming agility trials with Jay and Leo. But when a body is discovered on the canine competition course, it stops the participants dead in their tracks—and sets Janet on the trail of a killer.


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REVIEW

There is a lot to like about Catwalk by Sheila Webster Boneham:  the love of the pet owners for their furry family members, the care of many in the community for the feral cat population, and the budding romance between Janet's mother and an elderly gentleman, to name but a few.

Ms. Boneham's smooth prose endears the pets and their people to us from the word "go", or in this case, the word "the", which is the first word in Catwalk.  Janet receives a call from an acquaintance whose cat is missing and she wants Janet's dog Jay to find the feline.  And find Gypsy (the cat) they do ... in the worst place possible:  the 'studio' on the property of a developer who hates animals, with a litter of three new-born kittens.  When the man calls the police to report 'intruders', he gives the number as seven, so the police rush out, thinking they have a situation on their hands.  But he neglected to say that the 'seven intruders' were Janet, her friend, Janet's dog Jay, Gypsy the new mama and her three kittens.  Yeah, now there's a menacing bunch.   Further, he calls Jay a 'vicious dog', whose only growl at the man came when he tried to strong-arm past Jay's person - with a plastic sack, intent on disposing of the kittens.  Oh h-e-double-toothpicks NO!  Not on my watch.  Or Janet's.

This is the same man that wants to develop the wetlands near Alberta's (Gypsy's person's) house, thereby destroying the feral cats' home - all in the name of 'development' and 'money'.  So the environmentalists are not happy with 'Mr. Developer' Charles Rasmussen, either.  His opening parlay in the pissing match involves putting white stones around the wetlands pond for 'improvement' - a way to stake a claim on the land.  But poor them, before that can happen 'someone' spray-paints the rocks day-glo orange.

Rasmussen is a 'great' bad-guy.  He ticks off EVERYBODY.  In addition to the aforementioned offenses, he also abuses his wife, emotionally and physically, and moves his wife's father (without her knowledge) out of the nursing home out of spite.  You see, Louise Rasmussen's father is the man who has fallen for Janet's mother.

Catwalk actually refers to feline agility trials, in which Janet's cat Leo will shortly be competing.  (Who knew there was such a thing?  I thought cats too independent and/or disinterested to be able to concentrate for such a task.)  But Ms. Boneham gives us so much more, both in terms of a captivating story and various social causes.  Catwalk has one of the best marriages of fiction and social causes that I've ever seen.  The cause message gets across in a superbly entertaining manner without being overbearing or preachy.

I have three opinions about this book:  that animals (even feral cats) deserve a family that love them and a suitable, safe place to live, just like people.  It is also my opinion that there is no excuse for abuse of or violence towards someone or something not in a position to defend themselves (the cats, Louise Rasmussen, or her father), and that Catwalk will be loved (and should be read) by animal lovers everywhere.

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AUTHOR INFORMATION



Sheila Webster Boneham writes fiction and nonfiction, much of it focused on animals, nature, and travel. Drop Dead on Recall (2012), the first book in her cozy series from Midnight Ink, won the 2013 Maxwell Award for Best Fiction Book from the Dog Writers Association of America and was named a Top Ten Dog Book of 2012 by NBC Petside. The sequel, The Money Bird, was released in August 2013, and Catwalk will be released fall 2014. Six of Sheila’s non-fiction books have been named best in their categories in the Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) and the Cat Writers Association (CWA) annual competitions, and two of her other books and a short story have been finalists in the annual competitions. Her book Rescue Matters! How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion Animals (Alpine, 2009) has been called a “must read” for anyone involved with animal rescue. Sheila lives in North Carolina and travels frequently to speak to groups and teach workshops.

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a Rafflecopter giveaway

(Disclosure:  I received a copy of "Catwalk" from the author and publisher via Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my honest, unbiased opinion.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

BOOK TOUR: Montreal by Debra Schoenberger


DESCRIPTION

Category: Adult non-fiction, 64 pages
Genre: art / photography
Publisher: Blurb
Published: August 24, 2014
Content Rating: G

Montreal as seen through the eyes of a street photographer. These unusual images show Montreal and Montrealers from an entirely different perspective.


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MY THOUGHTS

On my blog here, since the beginning of 2014, I have done quite a number of book reviews and tours.  But I'd never participated in a tour for a book of someone's photography.  And I wanted to make sure I had a handle on what exactly "street photography".  As it turns out, my inkling was essentially correct.

According to the site "Street Photographers", photographers in this genre "capture un-posed moments, interpreting life around them and challenging our perceptions of the world".  I like that it includes 'regular people'.  If you look at newspapers and popular magazines, the majority of photos are of celebrities, politicians and the like.  But as most of the living and dying that goes on in the world is done by us 'regular people', it's nice to see someone celebrating that ... in this case, through photography.

There are also several amazing pictures of scenery and architecture in Montreal.  I've been farther east and farther west than that in Canada, but have yet to visit that fine city.

I wish I could plaster a bunch of Ms. Shoenberger's photographs on the blog so you could see how wonderful real, regular life is.  But I cannot cross that line of showing her work without her permission.  It is not right, and it could seriously mess up my real, regular life.

My recommendation would be to get this book in either the hard or softcover editions.  Unless you have a larger monitor than I have on my little laptop.  That, and it'll look fabulous on your coffee or end table.  I'd like to get a copy for my daughter (who is 11 years old), who comes out to the patio every evening and wants to use my tablet to take a picture of the sunset.

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PHOTOGRAPHER INFORMATION



"My dad always carried a camera under the seat of his car and was constantly taking pictures. I think that his example, together with pouring over National Geographic magazines as a child fuelled my curiosity for the world around me.

Although I worked in the field of photography for over 20 years, it wasn't until very recently in 2010 that I bought myself a secondhand professional camera and started experimenting with street photography. I shot over 50,000 images that first year and gradually began to improve.

Photographers I admire are Vivian Maier, Robert Frank, Steve McCurry and Edward Steichen to name but a few amongst the many incredibly talented people over the last century.

Street photography is my true passion. Having a slightly off-kilter sense of humour helps keep me looking for the unusual."

Street photographer, Debra Schoenberger aka "girl with camera" captures the more unusual side of Montreal in her foot travels around the city. The images portrayed in the book are from 2010 to 2014

View more photos from her world travels on her profile page at Your Shot National Geographic.

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(Click above to see the rest of the tour schedule!)

(Disclosure:  I received an e-copy of Montreal from the author and publisher via iRead Book Tours, in exchange for my unbiased opinion.)

Monday, September 29, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: A Penny for the Hangman by Tom Savage


SYNOPSIS

In Tom Savage’s chilling novel of suspense, an ambitious reporter is beckoned to an island paradise for the story of a lifetime. But this scoop might just be the death of her.

Fifty years ago, on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, two teenagers born to privilege were convicted of slaughtering their parents in cold blood. Today the men are free and a Hollywood movie has been made about the murders. For Karen Tyler, an eager New York journalist, the case is irresistible. She has been invited to the Virgin Islands for an interview that’s too good to pass up . . . and sounds too good to be true.

Karen packs her bikini and her digital recorder and follows an ingeniously designed trail that leads her to a wealthy, mysterious figure. The man claims to be one of the notorious boys, but Karen soon learns that all is not as it seems. On this isolated utopia of sun and surf, a young reporter far from home fights for the truth—and for her life. Because the shocking secret behind the infamous atrocities has remained hidden all these years. And the killing isn’t over yet.


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REVIEW

Our day (ok, maybe my day) had the Menendez brothers.  Karen Tyler, journalist had Rodney Harper and Wulf Anderman, two boys (15 and 14) who were extremely intelligent and banded together at school as a shield against the relentless teasing and bullying of their classmates.

Wulf kind of goes along with whatever Rodney says and does.  More's the pity because Rodney is a sociopath.  A Penny for the Hangman opens with an excerpt from Rodney's diary:

"This is a day unlike any other day, ever, in the history of the world.  It is my birthday, and it is my new beginning. I, Rodney Lawson Harper, am 15 years old today, and I have a plan. ... On this day, this BIRTH day, I promise DEATH, the most famous event in the history of the Virgin Islands.  Oh, what a triumph it will be!  A glistening, wet, red triumph!"
Did I mention Rodney thinks he's probably the smartest person on the face of the earth?  And that he believes Wulf will do whatever Rodney wants because his friend loves him?  Could no one see this coming?

Less than one year later, on Friday, March 13, 1959, Rodney's plan was put into action.  He and Wulf conspired to kill both sets of their parents.  When the dust settled, the housekeeper was dead as well.  Wulf did not exactly follow the plan, which resulted in both boys being apprehended by the police, tried for murder and sent to separate prisons in the US.

IMO, Rodney is just plain evil.  Make that E-V-I-L.  Mr. Savage does an excellent job of leaving us a breadcrumb trail to follow as we wind ourselves deeper into the madness of Rodney's new plan, and Karen's adventure/nightmare.  Karen believes the man who sent her the ticket to the Virgin Islands to get the 'real, untold story' about the case is, in fact, one of the boys, now grown up.  She just doesn't know which one.

Even with such mystery, I cannot see traveling overseas on my own, to meet someone the world considers to be a convicted murderer.  Then there is the fact that she has to go visit him on a private island only accessible by boat.  I'd be leaving breadcrumbs of my own, notes with people of where I was going, etc. etc., in order to have some sort of trail.  It's a little stretch to believe a savvy New Yorker would go along with that, but the lure of that particular story, especially in light of the in-book movie being filmed of the crime, would have been difficult to pass by.

Karen's best friend's 'questionable' boyfriend has followed Karen down to the Islands, thinking to trump her story for himself, to get the glory and the byline.  Stupid.

As Karen is drawn into a killer's web, so Mr. Savage draws us into A Penny for the Hangman.  Pretty soon, none of us can leave, even if we wanted to.  Karen learns something about her past, that is at once disturbing and wonderful.  Am I going to tell you?  In a word, "No."

Why?  Because that's like telling someone every little thing that goes on in the Haunted House.  There's no surprise.  There's no thrill.  And that would be a crime.  If you like thrillers, and can stand a healthy (?) dose of creepy, you have got to read A Penny for the Hangman.

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AUTHOR INFORMATION



Tom Savage is the author of six previous novels and numerous short stories. His books have been published in fifteen countries, and his bestselling novel Valentine was made into a Warner Bros. film. Raised in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, he now lives in New York City, where he worked for many years at Murder Ink®, the world’s first mystery bookstore.

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(Disclosure:  I received an e-copy of this book from the author and publisher via TLC Book Tours in Exchange for my unbiased review.)

Click the logo just above to follow the rest of the tour, including guest posts and author interviews.

BOOK REVIEW: The Sweetest Thing You Can Sing by C.K. Kelly Martin


SYNOPSIS

Losing weight over the summer gains Serena some popularity, but it also means discovering first-hand the pains of being a fifteen-year-old girl in a world that both sexualizes and shames young women. After narrowly avoiding exploitation in a shortlived relationship, Serena aligns with a new friend who was the victim of an explicit image that was shared at school. When Serena finds herself in a relationship with a new guy, she is surprised to find a different set of expectations. But have her previous experiences damaged her too much to make it work? As Serena struggles to find who she is as opposed to who she is expected to be, she begins sighting Devin – her older brother who disappeared months earlier.

#FRC2014 - Rebels by Jill Williamson

  


SYNOPSIS

The Safe Lands have long kept the true meaning of Liberation secret from their people. But after being sentenced to Liberation themselves, Mason and Omar soon discover the truth. 
Levi watched his brothers’ public sentencing and tries to hold out hope they are still alive, He is forced to focus his attention elsewhere, however, when his new wife, Jemma, is captured and made the Safe Lands’ newest Queen. His only choice to save Jemma may be to take up Omar’s old role of undercover vigilante, leading the rebels in their quest to overthrow the government. But will Levi’s new role be enough?

Meanwhile, Jemma’s sister, Shaylinn, is ready to give birth to the “Safe Lands’” children … but not even Ciddah is sure they can be delivered safely in the midst of a rebellion. And Mason must face the fact Omar’s illness could be fatal.

If they can all unite their efforts, together they may be able to expose the Safe Lands’ lies to the people. But if they fail, they will all surely die.


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REVIEW

Unlike many of Williamson's readers, Rebels introduced me to a new author. Rebels is the final installment in The Safe Lands trilogy. As a new reader to the series, the 'Safe Lands' did not seem very safe to me at all. But I'm sure most of the people who did not live in the Highlands would agree with me. There was kind of a Logan's Run feel, but here the older citizens of the society are 'liberated' and very few people know what occurs during or after liberation. Many assume it is death. No one has ever returned from liberation - until now.

There is a prevalent illness in the Safe Lands, called the 'thin plague'. One of the side effects is that babies are unable to be conceived naturally and artificial insemination is the order of the day, whether or not the surrogates are willing. When they no longer have enough women able to carry children, they go outside the Safe Lands borders to kidnap the women they need.

I knew going in that this was a dystopian novel. I have nothing against the genre, but have seen enough and see enough 'real life' to make me sufficiently pessimistic about human nature. So I tend to read a lighter fare.

Having said that, I was pleasantly surprised by Rebels. Yes, there was a lot of "how can people do that to each other", but there was also a lot of hope. There are still relationships, people still have babies, people still get surprised by other people (for good or bad). Many, many story threads are expertly woven together to form a consistent picture and story.

The only thing that surprised me more was seeing Rebels listed on GoodReads as (also in Christian fiction). There are some Biblical references and kerfuffles with the 'Kindred', a group of people who live in a group of underground houses to keep themselves safe from the Safe Landers - and who are a conservative people. Many don't want outside influences disturbing their way of life. The upshot is the book does not thump you on the head with religion.

Reading Rebels also made me glad my younger son has a keen interest in the 'prepper' shows.

Rebels engages readers of many levels. I worried over Mason and Omar's safety as they settled into their new lives in the Lowlands. They were both under the standard liberation age of 40, but they were 'strikers', or people who had committed infractions against the Safe Lands, so they were liberated early. I struggled with Shaylinn as she faced having twins early in the underground housing. I gave hearty thumbs up to Tova (the Kindred leader's wife) who got past her distrust of the outsiders for the sake of helping Shaylinn deliver her twins. And so many others. Rebels is a sweeping story and a rambunctious ride. It's also a darned good answer to the question "what should I read next?"

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AUTHOR INFORMATION



Jill Williamson is weird, which is probably why she writes science fiction and fantasy novels for teenagers. She grew up in Alaska with no electricity, an outhouse, and a lot of mosquitoes. Thankfully it was the land of the midnight sun, and she could stay up and read by the summer daylight that wouldn’t go away. But the winter months left little to do but daydream. Both hobbies set her up to be a writer. Her debut novel, a medieval fantasy called By Darkness Hid, won an EPIC Award, a Christy Award, and was named a Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror novel of 2009 by VOYA magazine. Jill has since published twelve books. Jill loves working with teenagers and encouraging them to respect their dreams. She speaks and gives writing workshops at libraries, schools, camps, and churches. She lives in Oregon with her husband, two children, and a whole lot of deer. 

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(Disclosure:  I received a print copy of Rebels from the author and publisher via the Book Sparks' Fall Reading Challenge 2014 in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.)