Minutes Before Sunset Cover Reveal!

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I am so happy to be a part of sharing this fantastic news for an author friend of mine, Shannon A. Thompson! Despite a few rough months recently, she has fought her way through and her YA novel, Minutes Before Sunset, has found a new publisher and an amazing new cover.  Below you’ll find my review from Goodreads.com (before I started my blog).

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Minutes Before Sunset
(2013)
Shannon A. Thompson

The author provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Welcome to Hayworth, a nondescript Midwestern town that hides a secret of worldwide importance. Things are certainly not as they seem – Dark is good, Light is not, and the descendants of each are perched on the edge of the battle that will decide which side survives. Minutes Before Sunset sets the stage for this battle, introducing the reader to the primary characters and the central conflict of the planned trilogy.

Eric Welborn is the son of a prominent family in Hayworth – a family touched by repeated tragedy. The deaths of his mother and girlfriend – although years ago – continue to haunt Eric’s every step. His vital role in the upcoming battle casts a long shadow, and his refusal to follow the rules may put his side in jeopardy.

Jessica Taylor has just moved back to Hayworth and wants to find out as much as she can about her birth parents. She makes a few close friends, but is thrown into partnership with Eric for a school project, which may ruin her grade and her chance to explore her past.

Underneath it all weaves the balance of power between the Light and the Dark; a balance that will be swayed by the appearance of a new shade with incredible strength that could win – or lose – the war for whoever can claim her.

I enjoyed Minutes Before Sunset. It was a quick read at 250 well-paced pages. The plot development and conflict develop smoothly with sufficient input from both sides of the story. The book alternates between the point of view of each of the main characters without a set pattern, and Ms. Thompson should be commended for her ability to create two characters that are similar enough to keep these sections from being disjointed, but different enough that the reader can tell in an instant who is speaking.

The romance aspect of the novel is more understated than most Young Adult novels – something I appreciated. There is enough to make it sweet without the characters’ relationships becoming the central theme. The characters are well-developed and believable.

There were only two issues that I felt really took away from the book, and one of those is just a personal preference. I’ll get that one out of the way first. I’m not a fan of coarse language in Young Adult novels. I’m not really a fan of coarse language in any novel to be completely honest. There were a few instances of cursing in Minutes Before Sunset, and I didn’t feel like they were necessary. Ok, personal rant over. The other issue I had was more of a housekeeping concern – there are quite a few spelling errors, homonym confusions, and awkward word choices scattered through the book that a good proofreading should eliminate.

Even without some minor tweaking, I highly recommend Minutes Before Sunset to anyone who enjoys Young Adult novels, light romance, paranormal characters, or just a good, quick read. I’m looking forward to the next two books in the series!

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Frog

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Frog
(2015)
Mo Yan

 

Frog is a hard book to read and an even harder book to categorize. It begins with the rise of Communism in China and ends in the 2000s, so it could be called historical fiction. As with much of classic Asian literature, it entwines myth and fact – and makes you wonder which is which – in a way that could almost be called magical realism. Social statement, political statement… the list goes on.

Frog follows the story of Tadpole as he watches his aunt, Gugu, become the foremost midwife of their county and ultimately the individual responsible for ensuring compliance with the government’s one-child policy. Not an easy subject. Combine difficult subject matter with a tendency to write around the main point, as well as overall cultural differences between Eastern and Western societies, and I understand why many American readers haven’t enjoyed it.

Enjoy it, I did, however. Once I adjusted to the lack of quotation marks and learned to read the truth beneath polite conversation, I found Frog to be a haunting and elegant tale of the psychological toll of China’s family planning policies. On the families who adhered to it, the families that fought it, and most poignantly to me on the woman tasked with both ensuring healthy pregnancies for her patients and preventing – or aborting – unsanctioned births. Mo Yan ends the book with a nine-act play in which lies much of the emotional heart of the book, but you must read carefully to truly understand.

Frog is often a dismal, dissatisfying, and confusing journey, but I am immensely glad to have had the opportunity to experience it. It made me grateful to live in the time and place that I live, and it made me think. This to me is the definition of a good book.

Note: I received a free copy of Frog from Gooodreads.com.

Native Son

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Native Son
(1940)
Richard Wright

It took me a while to put this review together, and I’m still not sure I’m completely prepared. This is a loaded subject, and I’m a white, middle-class female. I have struggled with what exactly I can speak to regarding Native Son. Two thoughts have remained in the forefront of my mind in the weeks since I finished reading this book.

My first thought was that we haven’t come very far in 75 years. I’m not saying we haven’t made any progress as a society, but you could probably take the entire plot of Native Son and set it in the current era and not really have to change a thing. So many people still feel disillusioned and isolated in the same ways that Bigger expressed throughout the story. I don’t intend to get into any kind of sociological debate here, but we have to do better – ALL of us have to do better.

The other thought that struck me significantly is the importance of fathers. Bigger’s father is never mentioned. He has no involvement with his family – we don’t even know why he’s absent. Let me detour to my “real world” experience as a psychological examiner for just a minute. I thought back through a lot of my toughest cases as a child therapist and the majority of them had problems with their relationship with their fathers. These were boys and girls from a variety of socio-economic classes, both genders, black, white, Hispanic, Middle Eastern … I could go on. For all of these kids their fathers were absent in some way and it created huge issues. Granted, Bigger has some frightening psychological traits that likely wouldn’t have been alleviated by the presence of his father or a father-figure earlier in his life, but it’s worth thinking about how things could have gone differently.

I have to say that Native Son was probably the most frightening book I’ve read in a very long time. Frightening because it is so real. People like Bigger Thomas exist in every society and there are more questions than answers when it comes to what can be done to alleviate the many factors that play into such a pathological lack of empathy. Regardless, I’m glad I read it and I think Native Son is one of the most important books of American Literature.

Death Before Daylight

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Seconds Before Sunrise

Death Before Daylight
(2014)
Shannon A. Thompson

Death Before Daylight is the final book of the Timely Death Trilogy by Shannon A. Thompson. I’ve reviewed several of her works previously, and I hope to have to opportunity to continue to do so since I appreciate her writing style and dedication to her fans.  That said, Death Before Daylight was not my favorite work of hers thus far.

The battle between Dark and Light is nearly at an end. Eric and Jess must face one final hurdle to their love, but it could be the death of one or both of them. As we return to Hayworth, Kansas, the prophecy has failed and many on both sides have lost their lives. While many of the Dark report their powers weakening, Eric and Jess – and the new half-breeds – find their own powers growing and even in some cases changing. Darthon has also become stronger, and he is intent on taking over. This third installment brings us to the final showdown, and not everyone will come out alive.

As with the previous book, Seconds Before Sunrise, the new plot starts right away. If you’re reading the books straight through, this probably won’t be an issue. However, if you’ve had much of a delay this may leave you a bit lost for a few chapters. Or the majority of the book. It depends on how much you’ve retained. I think that both books would have been improved with a short prologue to remind the readers of what happened before and reintroduce some characters. There were several times throughout the book where I realized I had forgotten a plot point from one of the previous novels or could not remember why a character was important.

I was also a bit disappointed in the increase in violence and strong language (including an f-bomb) in this final entry into the trilogy. In the past, I’ve found Ms. Thompson to balance these concerns with a very even hand. I’m certainly not saying that characters should never swear or act violently, but for a YA novel that is going to have some audience younger than the main characters, I felt that some of the content was too strong. There is a part of the book in which one of the main characters is beaten repeatedly and I personally felt it was a little too long and a little too graphic for the primary audience.

Negatives aside, Ms. Thompson has crafted an excellent story arc that is well-paced and characters that are dimensional and engaging. She handles alternating points-of-view better than most – I never found myself confused as to whether I was reading Eric or Jess. Her secondary characters are also solidly painted with their back stories revealed more fully as we near the end. I did see a few of the plot twists coming, but I wouldn’t consider that detrimental. I was satisfied with the ending of the trilogy, and sad to say goodbye to Hayworth and it’s residents.

I sincerely hope that this is not the last we see of Ms. Thompson’s work.

Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

The Magic Trick

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The Magic Trick
(2014)
Levi Stack

I’m hooked. Beyond hooked. I find myself in that difficult, mixed-feelings conundrum that all passionate readers know too well – the excitement of looking forward to the last book in the series while dreading the close of an adventure with characters you are invested in. The Card Game series is just that well done.

The Magic Trick picks up shortly after the end of The Silent Deal. Our young heroes, Vicktor and Romulus, have survived their first serious confrontation with the Leopard and his cohorts, and exposed the Silent Deal. Romulus has decided to enter the mines and attempt to gain the support of the workers there, and Vicktor has been selected to endure the Apprentice trials in the castle itself. A circus has also come to Aryk, and has unexpected ties to some of the boys’ closest friends – and may possibly hold even deeper secrets.

Mr. Stack has matched – if not surpassed – his gift of storytelling from the first book in the series. The Magic Trick is well-paced, with interesting characters, plenty of plot twists, and even more action.  Some of the questions from The Silent Deal and The Magic Trick are resolved, but there are still many mysteries left to reveal. Unfortunately, the third book is not ready yet. I think I may have withdrawals.

Note to parents/teachers/etc: The action is even more intense in this second book of The Card Game series, and characters do die. There are several scenes that may be too intense for younger readers, but Mr. Stack again refrains from excessive gore or graphic description. There are a few instances of the word “bastard”, however in my opinion this is used in its traditional context and used appropriately (i.e., not as a curse word).  Most of the “magic” in the series is explained by science, however there are a lot of references to traditional folklore.

The Silent Deal

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The Silent Deal
(2013)
Levi Stack

What a fun read! Mr. Stack offered me a free copy of The Silent Deal in exchange for an honest review, but I had been interested in this book before being contacted. I’m a sucker for action and adventure, and Mr. Stack did not disappoint.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover the setting of The Silent Deal is Russia circa 1839. Not the usual setting for a middle grade adventure story, but that is just the beginning of what helps to set this work apart. Mr. Stack has done his research on the era and regional folklore in crafting a detailed and believable world in which our young protagonists, Vicktor and Romulus, search for answers to the mysteries that plague them and the town of Aryk.

Vicktor is the main character and yet he is not exactly the hero but more of the sidekick. It is interesting and refreshing to experience the story from this perspective. We see the flaws of the hero, Romulus, and the doubt at times that others have regarding his leadership and motives, but also how Vicktor holds to his faith in their friendship. The boys are thrown together in a fight against the elite class and administration of their town, led by a mysterious character called the Leopard. The Leopard appears to be responsible – directly or indirectly – for the death of Romulus’ parents, and no one in the town will talk about the past. I want to say more, except that I feel I would be running too high a risk of giving too much away.

The complex plot builds throughout the book, and once the dominoes start to fall there is no stopping the action. The last several chapters are quite intense, and I actually did not see a few of the twists coming. The Silent Deal could almost be a stand-alone book, but there are a few questions that remain (it is a series, after all) and I am happy to say that book two, The Magic Trick, is already downloaded and ready to read.

For parents/teachers/etc: Vicktor and Romulus are described in the book as teenagers (15-ish, I believe), and I would think this series is appropriate for about middle grades and up. There is no inappropriate language or sexuality. Vicktor and Romulus both have romantic interests in the book, but nothing occurs between the couples beyond kissing. The boys visit a gypsy camp and they do play a card game (card games are rather central to the theme). There are some references to alcohol, but the characters do not drink or use other substances. The book starts with a hanging and there is quite a bit of violence throughout, including several characters being murdered. These are described without gratuity or gore.  There are several scenes that younger children might find intense and/or frightening. Overall, Mr. Stack has written an adventurous, dramatic tale without resorting to unnecessary vulgarity or graphic content. Certainly worth the read, and a more original concept than most of what I’ve read in the past year.

The Protector of Peace

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The Protector of Peace
(2014)
Scott Clements 

The Protector of Peace is the final book in the Trip Montgomery series about the Triumvirate, a trio of diamond figurines rumored to give the individual that holds them immense power. Starting again in Florida, Trip and his friends journey to Pennsylvania on the trail of a series of clues left by none other than Benjamin Franklin as they search for the last piece of the Triumvirate, and finally show down with the destroyer in Washington DC. 

The tension rises to a whole new level in book three as the teens are frequently only a few steps ahead of the Destroyer. Trip frequently struggles with how to make the best decisions for everyone involved while still doubting that he is the best choice for Protector. This is certainly the most dramatic and exciting book of the series, and Mr. Clements has done an excellent job of building the story from beginning to end in a fluid and coherent arc. 

Yet again, historical places and people are painted in a way that makes them real and relevant – and certainly makes me want to check out more than a few of them for myself!

Notes to parents/teachers/etc: Per usual, no foul language, no sexual content, completely age-appropriate and fun, adventure-filled material (one of the things I like best about Mr. Clements books). Spriritual/fantastic content that you may or may not be comfortable with based on your personal beliefs. Some slightly violent content toward the end but nothing graphic or gory.

I highly recommend this series for middle-grade readers and anyone else who enjoys a good treasure hunt!

*I was provided with a free copy of the book in exchange for my honest review, but I would have wanted to finish reading this series whether the book had been provided free of charge or not.

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