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Book Signing – Release Party for The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters

Cat Winters at Powell's Books

On Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend the release party for Cat Winters’ new book “The Cure for Dreaming” at Powell’s Books. When the event schedule had first come out I brushed over her name, zeroing in on William Gibson (who, alas, I will not be able to see as I had originally planned). It took me a couple of weeks and a second go-over on the events page to connect the release party with the book I had been coveting on other blogs for weeks. I am glad I didn’t miss it, because it was great fun, complete with snacks, visual aids, costumes, and giveaways.  I picked up the book on Saturday and am about halfway through and enjoying it immensely.

Here are a few takeaways from the reading and the Q&A Session:

  • Cat Winters has a young adult novel, short story, and adult historical fiction novel in the works. We can expect a lot more from her!
  • She is inspired by Victorian and Gothic literature. Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” plays a large role in “The Cure for Dreaming”.
  • She has a soft spot for “Wuthering Heights”.
  • “The Cure for Dreaming” was inspired by the music of Kristen Lawrence from Halloween Carols.
  • The cover illustration is a colorized version of an actual hypnosis session done in the 1800s.
  • She will probably stick with historical fiction for a while.
  • “The Cure for Dreaming” opens on Halloween because it was the day before the presidential election in 1900.
  • She spent hours researching and pouring over images for “The Cure for Dreaming”.

Now for the pictures! Please forgive the quality. It was a rainy, blustery day and I didn’t have a proper cover with me to tote my good camera from the car to the shop, so I was relying on my phone.

 

Paranormals on Parade – Five Stories About Vampires, Ghosts, and Monsters (Oh My!)

Happy Wednesday! This is Halloween week, such an exciting, dark (maybe a little too dark since daylight savings time has yet to hit), and spooky time of year. If you are staying in, sheltered away from the rain and cold wind (at least here in Portland) you are going to need something to read, and I have a few haunting suggestions for you.

1. The Bird Eater by Ania Ahlborn (3.42 Goodreads)

bird eater ania ahlborn

Goodreads Summary: Twenty years ago, the mysterious death of his aunt left Aaron Holbrook orphaned and alone. He abandoned his rural Arkansas hometown vowing never to return, until his seven-year-old son died in an accident, plunging Aaron into a nightmare of addiction and grief. Desperate to reclaim a piece of himself, he returns to the hills of his childhood, to Holbrook House, where he hopes to find peace among the memories of his youth. But solace doesn’t come easy. Someone—or something—has other plans. Like Aaron, Holbrook House is but a shell of what it once was, a target for vandals and ghost hunters who have nicknamed it “the devil’s den.” Aaron doesn’t believe in the paranormal—at least, not until a strange boy begins following him wherever he goes. Plagued by violent dreams and disturbing visions, Aaron begins to wonder if he’s losing his mind. But a festering darkness lurks at the heart of Holbrook House… a darkness that grins from within the shadows, delighting in Aaron’s sorrow, biding its time.

My Thoughts: Wonderfully creepy. There was a part of me that was never certain if what was going on was real or imagined, and a part of me that dreaded turning the page to find out.

2. Written in Red by Anne Bishop (4.36 Goodreads)

written in red anne bishop

Goodreads Summary: As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

My Thoughts: “Written in Red” has one of the most unique views on creatures of the night that I have read. It is wildly creative, and well worth the read. There are some nail biting parts, but overall if you are sensitive to scary, you should be good here.

3. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (3.74 Goodreads)

the historian elizabeth kostova

Goodreads Summary: Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor’. Her discovery plunges her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an evil hidden in the depths of history.

My Thoughts: I have a morbid fascination with Vlad Tepas and the role his bloody legend played in the creation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. This story is such a wonderful and haunting tale that in some ways shows how a legacy can become a legend. I am not going to lie, this is one of my favorite books. It’s got just enough creep factor to make it a perfect Halloween read.

4. Anno Dracula by Kim Newman (3.82 Goodreads)

Anno Dracula Kim Newman

Goodreads Summary: It is 1888 and Queen Victoria has remarried, taking as her new consort Vlad Tepes, the Wallachian Prince infamously known as Count Dracula. Peppered with familiar characters from Victorian history and fiction, the novel follows vampire Geneviève Dieudonné and Charles Beauregard of the Diogenes Club as they strive to solve the mystery of the Ripper murders.

Anno Dracula is a rich and panoramic tale, combining horror, politics, mystery and romance to create a unique and compelling alternate history. Acclaimed novelist Kim Newman explores the darkest depths of a reinvented Victorian London.

My Thoughts: Yet another vampire novel that plays with the legend of Vlad Tepas. Sensing a pattern here? Vampires, Queen Victoria, and Jack the Ripper in an interesting alternate history? This story was steampunk before people even knew what steampunk was. Kim Newman has a wonderful writing style, and the best word for this story is engrossing. I could not put it down. The sequel “The Bloody Red Baron” is worth a read too, though I did not lose myself in it nearly as much as Anno Dracula.

5. Splintered by A.G. Howard (4.02 Goodreads)

splintered ag howard

Goodreads Summary: This stunning debut captures the grotesque madness of a mystical under-land, as well as a girl’s pangs of first love and independence. Alyssa Gardner hears the whispers of bugs and flowers—precisely the affliction that landed her mother in a mental hospital years before. This family curse stretches back to her ancestor Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alyssa might be crazy, but she manages to keep it together. For now.

When her mother’s mental health takes a turn for the worse, Alyssa learns that what she thought was fiction is based in terrifying reality. The real Wonderland is a place far darker and more twisted than Lewis Carroll ever let on. There, Alyssa must pass a series of tests, including draining an ocean of Alice’s tears, waking the slumbering tea party, and subduing a vicious bandersnatch, to fix Alice’s mistakes and save her family. She must also decide whom to trust: Jeb, her gorgeous best friend and secret crush, or the sexy but suspicious Morpheus, her guide through Wonderland, who may have dark motives of his own.

My Thoughts: I could do without the burgeoning love triangle, but otherwise, this is a great read. If you really think about it, “Alice in Wonderland” is one of the most frightening tales we tell our children. Lewis Carroll’s classic has taken imagination in a darker direction for years. This is one of the best “dark” adaptations I have read. Asylums, monsters, dark and dangerous world, and so much more make it an excellent Halloween read.

Book Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

Castaway on Mars, how is that going to work? Pretty well, actually. I knew “The Martian” was highly acclaimed. I knew it was considered one of the best Indie books to come out in the last five years (it was originally self published before being picked up by its current publisher), and it was on a Goodreads list of top reads for 2014. Still, it took me several months from when I added it to my ‘To Read’ list to the time I actually picked it up. Perhaps the summary didn’t sound as exciting as the other books in my virtual pile. Perhaps I was worried about how well I would like a book that contained one voice. I don’t really know why I put it off, but I am glad I finally read it.

It takes a gifted author to keep the reader entertained when a story is absent of any other voice, as “The Martian” is for a large chunk of the book. Eventually the point of view changes and you get a glimpse into what his crew, NASA, and even the world is thinking as astronaut Mark Watney fights for survival on the red planet. Mark’s voice is so incredibly entertaining that even when he was rattling off paragraphs of heavy scientific explanations, I could not help but keep reading. He has an unrelenting sense of hope and an ability to laugh at himself and his horrifying situation that makes him feel like a real person. His resourcefulness actually feels like a product of his intelligence as a well education botanist and electrical engineer, and not some magical deus ex machina contrived to get him from point A to point B. Because he felt so real, I was fully invested in the story, feeling both fear and relief as obstacles were met and overcome.

The narrative changes quite a few times from Mark Watney’s logs on Mars, to the inner offices of NASA, to NASA worker bees, and even small expository asides that explain how Mark Watney became the first man left behind on Mars (with so many other firsts to come), and what people are willing to do to get his feet back on terra firma. I could have kept reading Mark’s narrative and not been upset, but I truly appreciated the fullness of story that the introduction of supporting characters brought.

If you are looking for a smooth and easy read in the hard science fiction genre, I would definitely recommend this. “The Martian” illustrates the strength of the human spirit and shows us how one person’s life can bring a world of people together, how one man’s struggle can cause millions to hold their breaths and send their prayers and well wishes into the sky. In some ways, the hopeful tone reminded me that most people are in fact good people and that our strength as human beings is in our creativity, our spirit, and our ability to love. It is hard to believe that this is Andy Weir’s debut novel and I look forward to seeing more from him in the future.

Note: I read the self published version of this book. There are differences, though not too many from what I understand.

the martian by andy weir

Book Review: Nest by Nancy Ehrlich

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way influenced my opinion.

This isn’t a book review, per say, as I was not able to finish the story, but I could not think of a better category to place my commentary. Why would I post about a book I did not finish? Because I think it has the makings of a classic and I want as many people to know about it as I can. It might sound strange, but there is an explanation. Tagging a book as “Did Not Finish”, especially an advanced reader copy, tends to have a negative connotation, and in nearly all cases that is true. In this case, perhaps instead of saying “Did Not Finish,” I should say “This was not the season for this book.” Nancy Ehrlich has written a beautiful and emotional middle grade novel that deals with the theme of coming of age in the shadow of illness and depression. It is so powerfully emotional that I could not finish, because as I read, I began to draw parallels between the protagonist, Chirp’s, story, and my own.

When I was 12 going on 13 the grandparents who raised me took my sister and I to the Northern California coast just a few weeks before summer’s end. I would be entering the 7th grade. Middle school. It seemed so exciting back then. It was morning when my grandmother fell ill. We were in a hotel room only a short walk away from Pismo Beach, a beautiful and rocky shore with sand crabs that pinched when you unknowingly sat on their nests. The past few days had been wonderful, building sand castles, swimming the day away, watching as my grandmother’s teacup poodle, Dolly, chased the receding waves and then ran away when they inevitably came back. Sure, we got kicked out of our first hotel because Dolly was technically not welcome, but that was not enough to ruin our day. We found a room where she was, and continued on our merry little way. We were due to go home in another day, but instead my grandmother woke up screaming and dry heaving into the ice bucket.

It happened quickly. The memory is just flashes. The sounds of sirens and waves mixing. Stuffy hotel room. Cool ocean breezes that smelled of seaweed and sand. The heat of the summer sun on the concrete outside the emergency room. Red lights flashing. Patients in and out. Feet wrapped in stiff white sheets. My sister and I wondering if everything would be all right– hungry, tired, and afraid to ask for anything for ourselves. Then came the diagnosis; a burst aneurysm. Prognosis? Not good.

I would lose my grandmother nearly six months later. That day was the last day we would see her eyes and hear her voice. She had an operation. It was successful in that they repaired the burst blood vessel, but the bleeding had already done its damage. On my first day of middle school, she was in a hospital an hour and a half from my home, stuck in a coma she would never come out of. I started out awkward, sad, and somewhat broken. But there was joy, too.

“Nest” captures the fear, joy, and awkwardness of 12 year old Chirp whose summer ends much like mine did. Erhlich captures the fear and sadness so well. She captures the beauty of every day life and the resilience of children who must go on with their life, despite everything they know falling down around them. She understands how those in pain reach out to other aching souls for comfort, friendship, and camaraderie. I could sympathize so well that my heart was heavy while reading, and I needed to put the book down.

I will one day return to “Nest”. Maybe when my son is older and he starts to learn the sad truth that illness exists and that bad things happen to good people. Perhaps when he is 12-years-old, all arms and legs, and squeaky voice. When he needs to know that no matter what, life goes on, and it is beautiful. I know it is odd to recommend a book you have not finished. Almost as odd as it is to put down a book you find so well written because you simply can’t finish, but I truly feel that “Nest” should be in every middle school and high school library. Go ahead and give it a try. I think it is worth it.

nest_esther_ehrlich

Book Review: The Younger Gods by Michael R. Underwood

I was given a copy of this novel for free by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way influenced my opinion.

First, let’s publicly announce the winners of the giveaway. Each winner will receive a copy of “The Younger Gods”

Benni from Benni’s Bookbiters

and

Olivia from Olivia’s Catastrophe

I hate pilots of new television series. They are often enjoyable, and often interesting, but I always feel like the spark that gives characters a life of their own separate from the actor is missing. I feel like I can’t truly immerse myself into the story and enjoy it until I have had the chance to get to know the characters and the world a bit better. Books usually escape this criticism, but not always. It took me three books to get into “The Dresden Files”. I was interested enough to keep reading the series, but until book three, I didn’t have that “Gotta turn this page right now and find out what happens next” feeling. I think it is going to be the same for “The Younger Gods”. There is not getting around saying it, this was a fun read. Really fun. I just feel like I need a bit more time to form a deep and lasting relationship with Michael R. Underwood’s new series. I want a little more character development and a little more world building before becoming fully vested. We are friends, but not yet BFFs.

“The Younger Gods” strength is in its protagonist. Jacob Greene is awkward and lovable. His formal way of speaking, huge heart, and general naivete about the modern world endeared me to him in a way I can’t really explain. It was as if he embodied the awkwardness many of us nerdy folks, no matter what we geek out over, feel in the face of a “normal” society. Granted, I doubt anyone reading this blog was sequestered from society and home schooled by an intelligent and frighteningly evil family of cultists, but there are very few people, especially in the Geekdom who have never felt like an outsider looking in. I could understand Jacob and his motivation as his voice carried me through the story. He grew as each page progressed. Beside him, the extremely diverse (both culturally and personality-wise) cast of characters felt a little thin, and the antagonist was a cookie cutter evil baddie. This is the first book in a series, so I have no doubt that Jacob’s friends and companions will grow into themselves and the story as time goes on.

This adventure is your traditional black and white good vs. evil romp through New York City with a surprising twist at the end. Once the story revs up, it is nonstop action until the last page. There is not a lot of time to breath in “The Younger Gods”. Think action movies and think Dresden Files (and if you have never laid hands on Jim Butcher’s “The Dresden Files”, get thee to a library!) and you will understand what I am talking about. It is one fiery, tooth and claw gnashing, sword wielding, magic slinging battle after another in a quest to save the world before time runs out. The plot’s urgency can definitely be felt in the pacing of the book. On the other side of the coin, the nonstop action may have come at the cost of character building, creating the lack of attachment I mentioned above.

Underwood is a true geek and a student of mythology. Both are clearly illustrated in his work as the cast meets up with a variety of mythical creatures from different cultural backgrounds. He is passionate. And, while I am not really interested in reading his other series Geekomancy because I prefer my urban fantasy a little less full of pop culture, I look forward to the next installment of “The Younger Gods” and other books by Michael R. Underwood. If you are a geek/nerd like me and enjoy action packed adventures specifically tailored to an urban fantasy, mythology loving (dare I say Dungeons and Dragons playing?) crowd, you probably want to give this one a try.

The Younger Gods by Michael R. Underwood

Book Review: The Winter Boy by Sally Wiener Grotta

I received a copy of this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way influenced my opinion.

I have been holding on to this review for several days because I am having difficulty finding the words to properly express my feelings towards “The Winter Boy”. The story embodies so many things. It is a coming of age tale. It is post apocalyptic. It is fantasy. It is not romantic, but it is full of love. It is somehow both a story of political intrigue and personal conflict. It is sensual, beautiful, and emotional. It is an empowering story of female strength and loyalty. It is far more than should be able to fit between two covers and a few hundred pages. “The Winter Boy” could have easily become tangled with so many threads running throughout, but Sally Wiener Grotta’s expert wordcraft instead created a wonderfully intricate tapestry for the reader to explore. Very few stories have had this sort of affect on me, and among them are “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, and “The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant.

The word Allesha, used to describe the widowed mentors and peacekeepers of this world, means “Every Woman”. To the boys she mentors, she is teacher, lover, and friend. She is their entire world… for one season. She fulfills all roles a woman can fulfill. The name is more than a name, it is a metaphor, because “The Winter Boy” is everyone’s story. The Valley of the Alleshi could exist in any part of the world. It is a culture that could have sprung from any people. The unnamed cataclysms that destroyed the advanced societies from the “before times” and the times of chaos and war that followed before the Alleshi secured peace could have happened to any society in our past or our future. There is more diversity found within the pages of “The Winter Boy” than in many fantasy series.

It is not the diversity or portability of the story that is its true strength. That lies in the relationships. There are many types. Teacher and student, lover, wife, parent, and friend. All are strong and authentic, even in moments of danger or betrayal. Grotta writes beautiful female friendships, something that is difficult to find in the worlds of fantasy. The characters interact as real human beings, right down to struggling with prejudice and a sense of fear for “The Other” or “The Outsider”.

“The Winter Boy” is an amazing character driven story with excellent world building and plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader interested. I highly recommend it. It has not even been released yet, and I can hardly wait to get my hands on the next installment.

Note: For sensitive readers, there are a few detailed sex scenes scattered throughout the book.

the winter boy

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