SPOTLIGHT & INTERVIEW: Ava of the Gaia by Grace Nosek

Ava Fae saves the life and steals the affection of the beautiful new boy at her high school, knowing full well that saving his life may mean losing her own.
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Synopsis:

When Ava dances in the rain, nature dances with her—fallen leaves and shimmering petals swirl around her in a tornado of color, as if the Earth is lending out its crown jewels to adorn a favorite princess. Ava belongs to the ancient Order of Gaia—a secret group created by those with superhuman abilities to safeguard the vitality of the natural world. Now, another secret group, the Order of Ares, is methodically hunting down and killing the Gaia.

Isolated from the conflict and lulled by the halcyon setting of her rural Massachusetts town, Ava is content to use her powers to frolic with the local fauna and compel her teachers to recycle, until a new boy wearing the tattoo of the Ares arrives at her high school. With a pair of wickedly slanting cheekbones, a silent hurt in his blue eyes, and the Ares’ ability to control his own and others’ pheromones, Lucas is a one man siren song, pulling Ava inexorably towards him. No hapless schoolgirl to be so easily ensnared, Ava responds to the beautiful boy’s attention with un-tempered ferocity, especially after he appears to casually crush a spider in front of her. But Ava catches Lucas carefully releasing the spider outdoors. Then, after rescuing Lucas from a late night bar fight, she glances up from tending to his wounds to find a look of such trust in his eyes that it leaves her struggling to breathe. Ava must decide: are these moments of intimacy artfully contrived steps in a plan to lure her into betraying her people or can she actually work with Lucas to bring about a rapprochement between the warring orders?

About the Author:

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Dismayed at literature’s lack of strong female role models, Grace Nosek decided to create her own. Nosek wrote and published the young adult novel Ava of the Gaia, featuring “a strong female lead and an environmental twist.” Her passion for the natural world began at a young age when she would rescue worms and snails from certain death on the sidewalk.

Grace was recently featured in Business Insider as one of the most impressive students at Harvard Law School. In addition to traditional legal advocacy, Grace has created a stop motion film on food waste in America. Grace also works for MTV’s The Buried Life, a show that follows four guys on a mission to tackle their bucket list and encourage others to follow their dreams.  Check her out!

9 Questions for Grace Nosek:

1) Can you describe your book in 30 words or less?

Ava Fae delights in the appearance of an alluring new boy at her high school, until she sees the dagger tattoo on the inside of his wrist. She knows that tattoo, and it can mean only one thing—either she or the new boy will be dead by the end of the school year.

2) Who is your intended audience and why should they read this book?

It always cracked me up as a kid playing boardgames when the boxes would say something like: “for ages 8 to 99.” What happens when you turn 100? I hope that people of all ages can read the book and enjoy it. But I did write it especially with young women in mind.

3) Tell us about the cover art.  Who designed it?  Why did you go with that particular image?

The cover art was done by Sarah Carolan. She’s an amazing graphic designer based out of New York.  I wanted an image that would be simple but evocative and that’s exactly what Sarah created. I also love how colorful the cover is, because as the novel is in many ways an ode to the natural world, color pervades the book.

4) Who is your favorite character from the book and why?

My favorite character is Ava because I’ve been looking for a strong, intelligent, empathetic female protagonist in my YA novels for a long time.  Having found a dearth of such characters, I felt compelled to create my own.  However, some of the animals featured in Ava steal the spotlight from their human counterparts–if you’re an animal lover you’ll find plenty to enjoy in this book.

5)  Of course I’m asking next…who is your least favorite character?  Why is this person less likable?

Hmmm…if I told you that, it might ruin the ending of the novel.  But suffice it to say my least favorite character has a charming facade that hides malice underneath.

6)  What other books/series would you categorize yours with?  In other words, what other books/series are similar to your own?

For me, it’s more useful to compare my protagonist to others.  I think Ava’s physical prowess is similar to Katniss’ from The Hunger Games series.  She also reminds me of many of the women in Tamora Pierce’s novels.  Ava also shares the quick wit and kind heart of one of my personal favorite characters from literature–Hermione Granger.

7) What can we expect from you in the future?

Currently, I’m working on the sequel to Ava, as well as several other creative projects.

8)  How can readers contact you or find out more about your book?

Readers can reach me at genosekauthor@gmail.com.

9)  Lastly, how about a little excerpt to tantalize us?

Still a little breathless from the night’s adventures, and from the smoldering kiss Lucas had left her with before dashing off into the woods, Ava wasn’t paying her usual careful attention to the environment around her.  Just as she was stepping out into the clearing next to her farmhouse, she felt it.  The total silence of the woods.  Someone was there in the clearing with her.  Someone who must be very powerful indeed to have circumvented all of the supernatural protection surrounding the house.  She stepped quickly back into the protection of the woods, mind churning, and focused on the trees around her.  She could channel the power of the great cats to see in the dark and began to intently scan the expanse of forest around her.  Although the night air was cool, sweat dripped steadily down her back.

And then, suddenly, the slightest noise drew Ava’s attention upwards.  A dark shape was dropping quickly, straight down towards her.  Ava’s body hit the ground with a thud, but as she landed she was already trying to roll over on top of the person or thing that had dived down upon her.  Unfortunately the person, for she had discerned that it was indeed a person, just rolled with her.  Ava’s heart beat wildly, adrenaline and the energy of the soil—enhanced here, in her sacred homestead—coursed through her veins.  Her attacker had grabbed her arms while they were rolling, and they were now locked in a deadly and unmoving embrace.  But Ava had the misfortune of being stuck on her back, helpless against the ground.  Ava cursed herself for leaving her hair down—the only feminine trick she had allowed herself to use to attract Lucas—for it was now massed in front of her face, making it impossible for her to see her attacker.

She couldn’t think why the trees weren’t lashing out at this imposter; maybe they were afraid that they might hit Ava instead.  The pressure on Ava’s arms was increasing, and she had no doubt that if she slackened her grip on her attacker that he or she would soon have a death grip on her neck.  Shrieking with rage, she pushed herself slightly off the ground and rolled, slamming her opponent down into the ground as hard as she could.  As she left the ground to do her deadly combat she reached out to the soil, willing that it become as hard as stone, something that would come as a nasty surprise to the attacker when he landed on it.  The move would have left any normal human unconscious, if not dead, but it seemed only to temporarily stun Ava’s dogged attacker.  But it gave her enough time to shake herself loose from the iron grip of her mysterious hit man and to leap backwards into a fighting crouch.  As she leapt, Ava whipped the rubber band off of her wrist, caught her curly hair up into a mass, and looped it into a bun impossibly quickly, knowing that she would be the laughing stock of every Gaia in the world if they had seen her do this.  If she lived through this, Ava promised that she would never let her vanity get in the way of her survival again.

 

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Review: Seeing Red by Sidney Halston

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I couldn’t decide between three or four owl rating for this book, as you can see.  About 75% of the way through I was almost set on a four owl rating, but then the cliffhanger at the end threw me off a bit along with the words “Coming Soon — Book 2 of Seeing Red Series.”  That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy this book.  It just didn’t expect this book to turn into a series, and I can’t conceive what the sequel would be about.  Still, this was without a doubt a page turner, filled with suspense, intrigue, and LOTS of sexual tension.

A Brief Synopsis:

Jillian Stone, Oliver and Alexander Jacobs are an unusual group of 22-year-olds.  They were raised on a deserted island under the guardianship of a woman named Helen.  After twelve years they’re rescued and go their separate ways, only to be reunited years later at the funeral of their beloved Helen.  A love triangle erupts between them.  Jillian struggles with the decision of which of the twins she should be with, all the while trying to comprehend her psychic abilities that resurfaced from her time living on the island.  At the same time, a mystery unravels through Helen’s old journals.  Jill begins to uncover why she ended up on the island in the first place and whether she’s in danger now back in the real world.

Now Let’s Break It Down

Despite its categorization under ‘paranormal romance’ on Amazon, I personally would define Seeing Red as a romance with a mystery twist.  Unlike most romance novels, there are two main story lines in this book:  a love triangle (and for a hot second a love square) plus an added level of mystery, distinguishing this book from your typical love story.  Each story line integrates a level of suspense into the novel.  The intense love triangle is one reason you want to keep reading — to find out who Jillian will choose.  The perpetual question going through my head was, is it going to be Oliver?  Alexander?  Halston sure knows how to build sexual tension well.  There are so many hot and cold moments between the characters, especially Jillian and Alexander.

There isn’t really one main character in this story, as it rotates between three points of view:  Jillian and the twins Oliver and Alexander.  Despite this, Jillian still feels like the protagonist as she is the target of every male character’s affections and the individual the mystery revolves around.  That said, I loved every character except for hers.  Especially next to her kind, generous, selfless, good-natured southern belle of a roommate Heather, Jillian comes across as very selfish woman.  She’s entirely too comfortable leading on three men at the same time, two of whom genuinely worship her.

This is when the love triangle starts to get on my nerves as much as it keeps me hooked.  At halfway through the book, Jill’s mind had gone back and forth between the guys so often she began to drive me mad.  Can anyone be more indecisive?  Or dissect a situation more?  Just pick a guy already and take everyone out of their misery!  But still I kept reading through Jill’s long-winded rants and rationalizations because in the end, she does pick a man.  The reader isn’t left hanging — in regards to the romantic story line.

My only other complaint aside from Jill’s frustrating character is how slow the book starts off.  The first few chapters feel more like a memoir simply because there’s a lot of telling over showing, a lot of listing “Then this, then that.”  This type of writing is almost unavoidable when catching the reader up on a character’s background, or to convey long periods of time passing.  Once the book gets going however, the pace picks up and the slow start is history.

Conclusion

I truly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys a good romance and occasional mystery.  Sure there are a few typos and the writing isn’t too eloquent at times but that’s not why you would read this book anyway. If that’s the reading experience you seek, I suggest you pick up a Brontë novel.

Review: Curse of the Beast (Curse of the Beast #1) by Ashley Lavering

13479898I am not giving this book a rating.  That’s not because I didn’t think it deserved even One Owl, but because I only made it 40% through the book.  It didn’t seem fair to give the book a bad rating since I did not reach the halfway mark — so I’m simply giving it none.

I’m a bit shocked by the abundance of 5 star reviews for this YA fantasy fiction.  That goes to show you how subjective writing is.  Remember:  We book bloggers give our opinions based on past reading experience but it’s also a matter of personal taste.  My unenthusiasm towards this book is not a matter of writing ability — on the contrary, I believe the author to be very talented in that regard.  What didn’t appeal to me is the author’s modern spin on the classic  tale of Beauty and the Beast.  Which is kind of funny, because according to Goodreads  and Amazon that’s exactly what other readers liked — no, loved about the book.

I still enjoyed parts of the book.  In the beginning, our 17-year-old protagonist Tayla is dealing with more pressures than your average teen.  What with the responsibility of taking care of her cousins and mentally unstable aunt along with dealing with the stresses of moving every few months I could appreciate Tayla’s teenage angst.  When Kyle, the hot, popular guy at her new school is suddenly fawning over her, I think I’m happy for her, and she deserves the attention she never had.

Perhaps because I just came off of reading a handsomely executed werewolf fantasy fiction (My Wolf’s Bane)  I wasn’t into this author’s portrayal of the all-empowering, controlling alpha male Kyle.   But not only that, I couldn’t understand why almost the first half of the book consists of Tayla crying and running away from Kyle who I believed to be the ‘Beast.’  But no, suddenly she meets the real Beast through a wacky, drawn out exchange in the woods during which he shoots a magic lightening bolt into her stomach.  The description of the wolf-man alone baffled me — I couldn’t picture this Beast at all.  Is it a wolf?  Is it an exceptionally hairy man?   This first interaction between them was just so strange and I couldn’t get into the book after that. Even knowing full well the story of Beauty in the Beast, I didn’t know where the story was going nor did I care.

All that said, I give The Curse of the Beast a non-rating because I did not finish the story and you never know when a book might redeem itself later on.  Perhaps I missed out on a great rising conflict.  All the same, life is short  and I’m moving on to the next one.

Review: Coexist (Keegan’s Chronicles #1) by Julia Crane

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The purpose of my blog is to seek out books with little to no reviews (based on Amazon and Goodreads) and determine if they deserve more attention.  However I did not apply this logic when choosing to download Coexist (Keegan’s Chronicles #1) by Julia Crane.  The book — the first of three in the series, which also inspired a few spin-off series — had plenty of reviews already on both websites.  Most were four and five star, though there were a significant amount of one and two star reviews.  I was intrigued by the split opinion, and by the premise of elves living in modern times.  To top it off the ebook was free, so I thought I’d see what the fuss was about.

Young adult paranormal romance is one of the most written genres, which creates a struggle for authors to create a unique plot and carry a distinct voice.  Unfortunately, this book reminded me of many others in its category.  What bothered me more than this was the central character of this series.  Keegan is the teenage elf protagonist living in a nondescript American suburb with her elvish family, all creatures of the ‘light.’  Her father is the leader of the good ‘light’ elves; throughout the book, he and Keegan’s genius younger brother along with the rest of her relatives train and prepare for the fast approaching Great Battle between the light and dark elves.

But Keegan couldn’t care less about preparing for the war between good and evil.  She’s too busy shopping with her friends, buying clothes and having fun in general.  To put it bluntly, Keegan is a spoiled brat with no concern for anyone but herself.  Oh–maybe for her ‘chosen,’ the male elf who is destined to be her significant other from the age of eighteen when they meet for the rest of their lives.  When Keegan isn’t whining to her parents (who are, mind you, still busy preparing for the Great Battle) about getting a custom made SUV for her birthday or about how she absolutely cannot wait to meet her ‘chosen,’ she’s busy going to Starbucks and the mall with her friends, all things she ‘loves.’  Oh–she also ‘loves’ the feel of the wind on her face.  Just FYI.

Aside from the lead character, the one major flaw in the book was the scene where Keegan and Rourke, her chosen, meet for the first time.  As much as I find the protagonist annoying, the key moment when the chosen pair meet could have been way better.  For preceding chapters, everything is built up so that you expect this suspenseful, intense initial interaction.  Instead the meeting lasts for barely a page.  One minute Keegan and Rourke are complete strangers and the next they’re spinning around stupidly in a field, falling down and laughing.  It comes off corny instead of romantic.  They were irritating and I as the reader was disappointed.

Recall this review has two owls, not one.  Why is that?  Because I enjoyed Rourke’s character, as much as he reminds me of Edward Cullen from Twilight.  As Keegan’s chosen and the love interest, Rourke is a brave, honest, caring, protective elf warrior — basically he has the polar opposite personality of Keegan.  He lives by his morals, and he’s just all around the ideal love interest in this type of YA fantasy fiction.   As much as I like Rourke’s character, I was equally frustrated with his scenes because he constantly is preoccupied with protecting oblivious Keegan who doesn’t deserve to be with such a good person.

Another reason I gave this book two owls is the battle sequence.  I thought these last few chapters were the most captivating.  Without giving too much away, the dramatic events that ensue in these scenes set up the sequel nicely.  Not that I’m going to read the rest of the trilogy.   But for everyone else I’ll say this:  if you don’t think the protagonist’s shallow, bratty, somewhat obnoxious character traits would annoy you then perhaps you would enjoy this book.  I’ll let you decide.  For me,  I know if I dislike the central character of a book, chances are I’m not going to love it.

Review: The Temple by Heather Marie Adkins

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Heather Marie Adkins is a born story teller.  There’s no debating that with regards to this book.  A good balance of description, consistent action and likable characters all carry the story along agreeably.  That is, for most of the book.  What disappointments me most about reading a story is when it starts off so strongly and I’m loving every bit of it — but then something goes awry.  It gets weird.  For me, that’s what happened with The Temple.

First, I want to point out the strong points about this book.  The rising conflict is perfectly set up.  Vale Avari is a small town U.S.A. turned small town U.K. female protagonist who recently moved overseas for an unusual job — to help guard a temple dedicated to the goddess Cerridwen (worshipped by Wiccans today).  Vale has superhuman powers along with the other temple protectors, one of which she becomes romantically involved with.  The temple is protected at night from the ghost-filled gang of men and wild horses (picture the Headless Horseman).  The legend has haunted the town for centuries, and the residents blame it for the lost lives of several of its inhabitants.  While residents believe in this myth, our protagonist thinks a serial killer is in fact committing the murders and using this ‘Wild Hunt’ as a coverup.

I liked this premise.  I was into it.  Though it isn’t evident from the synopsis, the book was starting to feel like its own fun genre — a paranormal romance crime thriller.  But as the story moved on, I don’t think this premise was executed that well.  About 60% way through the book, to be specific.  At this point the two genres that were coelesced so well earlier on — crime thriller and paranormal romance — become separated.  The two concepts even get their own climaxes and resolutions.

I enjoyed the part I thought was the resolution, when I thought the ‘bad guy’ was caught.  And sometimes this works really well in literature and film — when you think the bad guy is gone, but then you realize they didn’t catch the right person because bad things are still happening.  The Temple did not succeed at the second-ending concept.  Mainly because the second climax/resolution is so bizarre, so suddenly very supernatural with a scene in the temple involving a living breathing goddess coming to life unexpectedly and solving the world’s problems.

Aside from the incongruous plot, my only other critique of this book is the neat, too-tidy of an ending.  I honestly believe the book would’ve been better without the bow-tie last chapter.  Nothing was learned about the characters at this point, and it didn’t move the plot along any further.  I don’t need to know how happy the characters are and how well they’re doing months after the conflict resolution.  The final chapter could have been left out entirely.

Don’t get me wrong — these things don’t ruin the book entirely.  There’s enough suspense with the consistent killings, the sketchy Temple employees, and the question of whether the ‘Wild Hunt’ is a hoax or not to keep you turning the pages.  My issues were with a) the last chapter and b) how the paranormal aspects of the story were not always weaved together well with the normal.  I like it to be apparent what genre book I’m reading.  I don’t think this book knows what genre it is.  If I had to categorize it, I’d have to say “crime thriller turned weird fantasy.”  If that sounds appealing to you, you may truly enjoy this book.  The seamless writing and suspense will certainly keep you entertained until the end.

Review: Prophecy of the Flame by Lynn Hardy

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The difficulty with deciding to purchase a self-published book is that you’re taking a gamble both with your money and your time (if the book was free.)  Life is short–you don’t want to spend hours reading a poorly written, dull story.  And if you, like me, have strict yet at times irritating reading principles ingrained in you then you also will hate not finishing a book.  Thankfully, my reading principles weren’t compromised with Prophecy of the Flame.

First and foremost the cover of this book caught my attention.  It’s not overly detailed, a trait I come across perusing Amazon books which shamefully will cause me to dismiss a potentially good read.  The image of a solitary, red-headed female clad in a blue-silver cloak had an air about her that screamed bad-ass warrior.  I normally am more partial to male protagonists when it comes to fantasy and sci-fi.  But from the first chapter I knew Archmage Reba, the lead in this work, was a heroine of a different flavor.
I don’t believe in giving away plot details in a book review.  All you need to know is that the plot premise is simple yet imaginative.  Five characters including Reba (Rebecca while still on earth) are initially still on earth in a hotel at a Live Action Role Playing convention.  In a flash of light, they are summoned to a parallel universe–a kingdom called Cuthburan that is in grave need of the services from these newly transformed warriors.
While Reba is the only woman among the company, she isn’t 100% warrior like her male peers.  She has a definite feminine side the author brings out, describing Reba’s inner conflict of remaining faithful to her husband who is back on earth while being immersed in a new culture where nobody gives a second thought to infidelity or promiscuity.  I believe women who enjoy fantasy/paranormal romance novels would identify with this character and her struggles that are similar to that of many women in today’s world.  Reba struggles to remain in check while being constantly pursued by a crown prince she finds physically irresistible if not personably.  All the while the crown prince’s brother provides a relief to the reader as a more likable character and match for Reba, even if she isn’t taking the bait.  At the end of Book 1 we still don’t know how this game of cat and mouse ends up, but luckily the next two books are already available on Amazon.

While I am not a religious person and usually shy away from novels with any mention of religion, the Christian undertones in this book were subtle and did not mess with the plot.  There is enough romance in this book that is enjoyable without the graphic sex scenes that can be irritating and feel out of place and sometimes take over the plot entirely.  To conclude, this book was a quick read and I found myself wanting to find out what happens next which is the ideal reading experience, I think most readers can agree.  I highly recommend this novel for fantasy readers, especially females who love a good, strong ass-kicking heroine like Archmage Reba.