Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

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Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Crenshaw is 9 year old Jackson’s imaginary friend. Jackson is too old for imaginary friends, and yet, Crenshaw is there to help him through the possibility of becoming homeless again. Reality is difficult which is why Crenshaw the cat is with Jackson to help him through these troubling times.  This book does a phenomenal job of being engaging and fun despite material that could so-easily delve into dark and disturbing.  Uncertainties frighten and anger Jackson. He prides himself on his scientist-like thinking, and that’s what he wants to be when he grows up–a scientist. But, like most kids in a family with some serious problems, he has limited time to think about his future. His dad was once a successful construction worker who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and could only take part-time jobs after that time. His mother was once a middle-school music teacher, until her job was eliminated, and she then started working up to three part-time jobs at a time. Unfortunately, all that part-time work never seemed to add up to full-time wages, and, once again, Jackson’s family was looking at the possibility of having to live in their van. Narrated in first person by Jackson, “Crenshaw” is an extremely personal and very realistic story. Chapters are short and easy to read. Language is appropriate for the target age group – 8 to 12-years old – and some of the situations involving Jackson’s family may be relatable to those children. The aspects of this novel that may be personally unfamiliar to many of those young readers involve the situations involving homelessness, job loss, and chronic, debilitating illness.  Wonderful writing with a powerful message!

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Breaking Creed (Ryder Creed #1) by Alex Kava

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Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

I recently attended an author signing where Alex Kava was speaking.  I have read most of her Maggie O’Dell books, but this new series is just as good, if not better!

This is the first installment of the Ryder Creed series.  This book is also a great way for people who haven’t read the author’s Maggie O’Dell series to be introduced to that character because she is in this book as well. As much as I like Ryder Creed as his own character, I hope Maggie will make at least periodic appearances in this new series because the two characters work really well together!

Ryder Creed has a soft heart for dogs of all shapes and sizes and he knows how to train them as drug dogs, cadaver dogs, search-and-rescue dogs.  To tell you the truth, this is why I wanted to read this series, dog lover!  In this book, Ryder and Maggie are working with the DEA on drug smuggling and a case he was involved with ends up intersecting with a case that Maggie is on so the two end up working a search together.   This book is engaging, suspenseful, and entertaining to mystery and animal lovers alike.

As always, Alex’s writing is smooth, scenes flow logically, pages seem to turn by themselves!  This was a seriously good book, my heart was racing at the end and I was glad I had already purchased the second book in the series or I would be a mess!  I can’t wait to see what the next thriller has in store for these characters.  I finished this first book last night and was dreaming about spiders hatching and snakes….thanks Alex Kava, you’ve done it again!

Author Interview…Scott Hawkins, author of “The Library at Mount Char”

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         I’m forty-five, and I live in the Atlanta suburbs with my wife and our largish pack of rescue dogs.  My day job is computer programmer.  When I’m not writing I like to cook and do woodwork, I think because it’s a nice change of pace to work with my hands.  My main recreation is movies.  I’m one of the dwindling minority of people who likes to go out to a theater—I love the dogs, but sometimes it’s nice to get away.

Sierra:  When did you first start writing and when did you finish your first book?

I started writing semi-seriously when I was maybe eleven or twelve.  I got my first rejection slip a couple of weeks after Reagan got shot (April-ish 1981) from, I think, Asimov’s.  Well…that is to say, I thought it was a serious effort.  I imagine that whoever was doing the slush pile the day the short story from twelve-year-old me came in may have had a different opinion.

I finished writing my first novel in the spring of 1994.  Mount Char was my fourth novel, but the first one I ever got published.  For you aspiring writers out there, I’ve heard from several industry sources that it usually takes a couple trunk novels to get the hang of it.

Sierra:  Tell us a little bit about your first book or the first book in the series.

The Library at Mount Char is a blend of genres.  It’s set in the modern world—I heard someone describe it as ‘suburban fantasy,’ which I like.  There’s some mystery, a lot of fantasy, some horror.  When the story opens the librarians of what is for all intents and purposes a magic library are trying to figure out what happened to their adopted father, who may or may not be God.  Father has been known to disappear, but this time he’s been gone for several months.  Possibly he’s off on business or perhaps this is some sort of test.  But it’s been long enough that they’re also starting to worry that he might be dead.

Sierra: How did you choose the genre you write in?

It just seems to be the way my imagination works.  My first (unpublished) novel was a straight crime thriller, kind of in the same ballpark as Richard Stark or David Mamet.  But I noticed while I was writing it that I kept wanting to throw in fantasy elements, to have the scheming partner come back from the dead or something.  For the next book I didn’t fight it.

Sierra: What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write?

My favorite chapter was probably the big showdown between the hero and the main antagonist.  By the time I got to that point, I was thoroughly caught up in the story.  It was all I could think about.  I was burning vacation days at work, waking up at three a.m., just totally obsessed.   That chapter in particular was probably the peak.  When I was working on it, it felt like the floor had dropped out from under me.  Writing isn’t always easy, but when it’s going well there is absolutely nothing better.

Sierra:  Is anything in your book based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?

I’ll be a bit vague here to avoid huge spoilers, but there’s a section in the book where a guy goes out for a jog and gets attacked by some dogs.  That part actually happened to me.

In 1993 I was living in a neighborhood in north Georgia that bordered on a pretty significant stretch of woods.  In that area there were a lot of stray dogs who had been dumped by their owners.  They had gone feral, and joined up into a pack.  They’d raid the trash cans at night, and kill deer.

One day me and my non-feral dog were out jogging.  We went down a stretch of road I wasn’t familiar with, and it turned out to be undeveloped lots.  Apparently the feral pack thought of this as their turf.  They took offense.  About half a dozen of them came charging after me and my dog.  They were big dogs, most of them, and they seemed quite sincerely irritated.  It turned out they were just trying to run us off, but there was about fifteen seconds there where I seriously thought I was going to get mauled to death in a completely normal suburb, almost within sight of my house.  It was surreal.

Later, after I changed my shorts, I thought “you should use that in something.”
Sierra: Is there any particular author or book that influenced you in any way either growing up or as an adult?

Oh, wow, there were tons.  It’s probably not coincidence that I decided I wanted to be a writer right after I read Salem’s Lot.  (If you haven’t read it, the main character is a writer.)  I read a lot of Heinlein growing up, so I absorbed a respect for engineering and math kind of by osmosis.  I doubt I would have become a computer programmer without Heinlein.

In terms of the craft of writing, I spent a lot of time reverse engineering Pat Conroy books to see what made them tick.  No one does bad guys better than Thomas Harris—I know Hannibal is his most famous, but Francis Dolarhyde, the guy from Red Dragon, was an absolute masterpiece as well.  I read a lot of Joe Haldeman, John Varley, anything by Neil Gaiman or Stephen King.

Sierra: Do you ever experience writers block?

I can pretty much always get something on the page, but I go in knowing that most of what I write will be thrown away, that it’s a means to an end.  More often than not I’ll rewrite a chapter from scratch two or three times before I ever start revising.  Sometimes that’s for mechanical reasons, because I’m trying out a new point of view character or changing the events, but I also do it when a book is starting to come together.  I think you should have a picture of the whole thing in your mind when you’re working on a part, and in the early stages I often do not have that.  It’s a lot of duplicated effort, but no one said this was going to be easy.

In the early stages, just to get rolling, my rule of thumb is to write whatever I’m in the mood for that day, and not spend too much time trying to force something that doesn’t want to come.  Whether or not that something will ever show up in the final product is very much an open question.  But I’m not often completely blocked.

Sierra: Is there an author that you would really like to meet?

Stephen King is my childhood hero, but I think he’s probably the childhood hero of half the writers my age.  It’s occurred to me that probably the best way to show my appreciation for the man would be to leave him in peace.

Joe Haldeman is another biggie.  I get all fanboy every time his name comes up.  Every now and then he’ll do internet Q&As.  Twice now he’s answered a question of mine.  Also, about two months ago I was at a writer’s conference where I ran into a fishing buddy of his.

Sierra: Will you have a new book coming out soon? If so, can you tell us about it?

I’m working on one now that’s also a fantasy set in the modern world.  It’s centered around a school shooting, and structured as sort of a detective story.  Something happened twenty years ago, it’s not completely clear what, but it’s starting to have far reaching repercussions.

Sierra: If you could go back and do it all over again, is there any aspect of your first novel or getting it published that you would change?

A couple of internet reviewers have mentioned that the first couple chapters of the book are tough to follow.  I think there might have been a little bit too much weird a little bit too quick.  My editor mentioned that as well.  That’s a tough balance for me to strike.  I think a lot of the tension in the work comes from me, the writer, not giving away information before I must, but at the same time you don’t want to be too confusing.

Sierra: Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?

Do as much as you can to educate yourself about the industry and the craft.  I will buy and read any “How to Write” book that I see.  Some are obviously better than others, but I always find something in every one that made it worth the purchase price.  Attend workshops.  Participate in critique groups.

Also, if you want to be traditionally published, it is very important to learn how the industry works.  Even if you’re business savvy, you need to read up on publishing.  It has lots and lots of little quirks.  Some of them are historical, some of them are due to the vast number of aspiring writers trying to break in.  There’s a right way and a wrong way to approach an agent.

Another one I don’t see mentioned often enough is that publishing is a weirdly small world.  Word gets around.  Definitely keep that in mind if you’re feeling grumpy at a conference or when blogging.

Sierra: Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?

Honestly, the main thing is that I am extremely pleased and more than a little surprised to have readers and fans.  Thanks to anybody who’s taken the time to try it!

BookPeople Pets!

Very cool book list for pet people from Book People Blog!

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In case you’re keeping track of things BookPeople staff love, here’s one more to add to the list – our pets! Pets are great. They love unconditionally, trust us 100%, exhibit unique personalities, provide us endless entertainment & companionship, and are definitely part of the family.

Pets are also great for struggling, emerging, or reluctant readers. For children learning or struggling to read, pets are great listeners – they don’t judge, correct, or interrupt. They just sit, listen, and lend comforting support. If you have a pet free house, reading to a quiet or sleeping baby can also work. Alternatively, many animal shelters and organizations have some sort of reading program. Austin-area residents may want to look into the Book Buddies program at Austin Pets Alive! or the school & library reading therapy dog program offered by Austin Dog Alliance.

To go with the release of Dr. Seuss’s What…

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A Cold Legacy (The Madman’s Daughter #3) by Megan Shepherd

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Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

All great things must come to an end….what an amazing trilogy!

After killing the men who tried to steal her father’s research, Juliet and the others escaped to a remote estate on the Scottish moors. Owned by Elizabeth von Stein, the mansion is full of mysteries and unexplained oddities: dead bodies in the basement, secret passages, and fortune-tellers who seem to know Juliet’s secrets. Though it appears to be a safe haven, Juliet fears new dangers may be present within the manor’s own walls.

When she uncovers the truth about the manor’s history, it forces her to determine where her line between right and wrong, life and death, magic and science, and promises and secrets falls.  Will she follow in her fathers dark footsteps or will she make her own?

If you haven’t read this trilogy yet, fans of “The Island of Dr. Moreau” and “Frankenstein” will love these stories!  Sacrifice and secrets have come to an end.  I hope to read more from Megan Shepherd, she has been a thrill to read so far!  Highly recommended!