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Book Review – Sister Wife by Shelley Hrdlitschka

June 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Sister Wife

Book Description:

In the isolated rural community of Unity, the people of The Movement live a simple life guided by a set of religious principles and laws that are unique to them. Polygamy is the norm, strict obedience is expected and it is customary for young girls to be assigned to much older husbands.

Celeste was born and raised in Unity, yet she struggles to fit in. Perhaps it’s because of Taviana, the girl who has come to live with them and entertains Celeste with forbidden stories, or Jon, the young man she has clandestine meetings with, or maybe it’s the influence of Craig, the outsider she meets on the beach. Whatever it is, she struggles to accept her ordained life. At fifteen she is repulsed at the thought of being assigned to an older man and becoming a sister wife, and she knows for certain she is not cut out to raise children. She wants something more for herself, yet feels powerless to change her destiny because rebelling would bring shame upon her family. Celeste watches as Taviana leaves Unity, followed by Jon, and finally Craig, the boy who has taught her to think “”outside the box.”” Although she is assigned to a caring man, his sixth wife, she is desperately unhappy. How will Celeste find her way out of Unity?

Torn from the headlines and inspired by current events, Sister Wife is a compelling portrait of a community where the laws of the outside world are ignored and where individuality is punished.

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Sister Wife by Shelley Hrdlitschka is a thought-provoking book about the experiences of three young girls who belong to a polygamist religious sect called The Movement. In this isolated rural community of Unity, the Prophet’s word is law and strict obedience is expected (especially from women and children). Girls are brought up chaste (and uneducated!) – their only destiny to be a ‘child bride’ turned ‘sister wife’ or ‘plural wife’ whose grace are measured by their obedience and fecundity. It’s a world totally estranged from mine – so I was very curious when I started reading it. I thought Sister Wife was well-written (just don’t read the Epilogue!) and it certainly grabbed my attention (not to mention stirring up some strong emotions in me!)  I couldn’t help but think about the young girls and women who do belong to such sects in real life.

Sister Wife  is told from three separate first person POVs  (14-year-old would-be rebel Celeste on whom the story is concentrated on; her devout 13-year-old younger sister Nanette who is a  ‘true-believer’ ; and 17-year-old Taviana –  an ex-prostitute turned new The Movement disciple). The conflict in Sister Wife starts off when an increasingly rebellious Celeste develops doubts about her being assigned to an older husband when she turns fifteen. Her ‘impure thoughts’ aren’t helped by a burgeoning relationship with Jon (another Unity teen who is himself questioning his faith.) In contrast to Celeste, younger sister Nanette welcomes the attentions of an older man and can’t wait to be a bride herself. Their friend Taviana isn’t 100% sold in the tenets of The Movement, but she’s so grateful for the temporary safety she has found within its confines that it’s a crushing blow when she is asked to leave. I did like Ms. Hrdlitschka’s approach of having all the different perspectives presented to the reader, although it was confusing for me at first to distinguish between the characters as their voices were so similar.

Given the subject matter of the book, I didn’t really expect a happy ending. Ultimately, there are very little options open for a fifteen-year-old Unity girl who has only known that kind of life. There were many instances in the book  that were just infuriating, but in the end, I understood why the girls made their choices. Which leads me to why I was so disappointed when I read the Epilogue – it was a total copout, completely turning the entire story on its head. Instead of the relative realism of what came before, the Epilogue presented a Disney-esque ending where everybody (and I do mean EVERYBODY) inexplicably ended up with a happy ending. I felt like if the author wanted that as the real ending, then she should have written a sequel and shown us how the characters reached that happy point.

Sister Wife by Shelley Hrdlitschka from Orca Book Publishers is available on Amazon as a Kindle edition and Paperback.

It is also available as an eBook at B&N, Kobo Books and Apple iBookstore.

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Indie Saturday: Book Review – Your Fifteen Minutes by Joey Aaron

January 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Well, I guess this had to happen sometime … the author who was slated to guest post for today’s ‘Indie Saturday‘ was unable to provide us with a post. We got an email yesterday (Friday) that he was taken ill. We wish him well, of course, but it’s really a pity that he didn’t let us know beforehand as we could’ve given the slot to another indie author. So, that concludes our ‘Coming-of-Age‘ month!

Anyway, the blog’s resident book reviewer (Kris) thought it would be a pity to end the month like this, so she decided to write up a quick review for a random indie book that would still (kinda) fit within the theme of January. She chose Your Fifteen Minutes by Joey Aaron. Ugly cover, but she did like the sample. Here’s the review – thanks Kris for rescuing ‘Indie Saturday‘!


Book Description:

Fifteen-year-old Simon Land has a good thing going. He’s finally shed his vegan Oompa Loompa image.

With the help of a thrift store full of cheap Abercrombie and Polo, now he’s in the running for Best Dressed Prep. Even better, he’s caught the eye of serious hottie, Lindsay Booker, and he’s just about to take a major step up the high school social ladder. But Simon has a secret. He has an alter-ego, uberlonelyguy16, an emo air guitar fanatic who dreams of Internet fame. Not that it’s likely, since his YouTube channel doesn’t have any followers. Until one day, when he gets one fan, then another… then another. Now Simon is going to have to choose which is more important to him? Joining the ranks of high school royalty…? Or grabbing hold of his fleeting fifteen minutes of Internet celebrity.

A hilarious romp through the land of internet memes, high school dress codes, and depressed former Numa Numa guys, Your Fifteen Minutes takes on the many varieties of high school celebrity in the era of Rebecca Black.

Joey Aaron is a pseudonym for the writing team of a New York Times bestselling author and her teenage son.

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Your Fifteen Minutes by Joey Aaron is a very witty and funny take on  a low-key high school kid’s unexpected stratospheric flight into superstardom when his mockingly angst-ridden YouTube video goes viral.  It’s a very short book (coming in at a little over 100 pages) so I was able to speed read through it during lunch for this quick review. If you’re looking for something light to read that’s likely to tickle your funny bone, be sure to check this out 🙂  I for one was totally charmed.

Fifteen-year-old Simon Land’s social climbing ascent in his high school (fueled by shopping trips to a ‘high-end’ thrift store) is unexpectedly derailed when an embarrassing video blog he made in a pique hits YouTube’s most-viewed charts. Simon is appalled, but quickly regroups with the support of his best pals (improbably nicknamed Cock, Hondo and four Nicks – warning: these friends frequently steal the scene!). What follows is a hilarious adventure involving (in no particular order): a brisk internet tee-shirt business, a guesting in Good Morning America, a killer party to end all parties (aka ‘The Internet Celebrity Party of the Century’) and even American Idol’s Sanjaya doing  a cameo!

Simon is a cool protagonist – he’s funny and sarcastic, but a genuinely good guy. I loved how he just shrugged off everything thrown at him (including several run-ins with the school’s Vice principal Mr Stuckman). Simon learns a thing or two (or three) about the fleeting quality of fame, but then, he was such a well adjusted kid anyway – I thought he was pretty lovable pre- and post-internet stardom actually. The whole premise of the book was very silly, but what can I say, I enjoyed reading this one!

Your Fifteen Minutes by Joey Aaron (Trewellyner Press) is available on Amazon as a Kindle edition.

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Indie Saturday – Author Traci Hall on “Diary of a Bad Boy”

January 21, 2012 14 comments

Today, we have author Traci Hall featured on the blog’s ‘Indie Saturday‘ for her young adult coming-of-age novel “Diary of a Bad Boy” (Available on Amazon).  Everybody deserves a second chance, including fourteen-year-old Josh Grady who goes on a personal journey leading to forgiveness and redemption.


Author Traci Hall writes about ‘Diary of a Bad Boy’:

Diary of a Bad Boy is a story about a fourteen year old kid who makes a series of bad choices. Josh Grady hasn’t had an easy life, but is that any reason to steal his dad’s junker car, and talk his best friend into running away to California?

Probably not 🙂

In this novel, I created a character who is most definitely flawed. His outbursts are endearing, frustrating and all teenage-boy. Josh’s perceptions of things are skewed by the last few years of tragedy, and he resists all help by acting out whenever his emotions are threatened. The story begins with Josh stealing his dad’s old car, and smoking pot with his best friend, Brian, while driving to California. They get into an accident, and Brian ends up in a coma. Josh is given a chance that he doesn’t feel he deserves when he is sent to Shining Star Boy’s Ranch instead of juvie. He wishes he could trade places with Brian. His alcoholic father seems happy enough to deliver Josh into somebody else’s care. Josh resents the rules and the other boys, and continues to make the wrong choice. He is given a journal as part of his therapy, something he deems stupid. But in the end, he is able to write to his dead mother, allowing him to begin the healing process. Killed by a drunk driver, he views his mother’s death as the catalyst for everything wrong in his life. Once he forgives her for her ‘abandonment’ he is able to forgive himself.

One of the reasons for independently publishing this story is because traditional publishers shied away from the faith aspect of the book. I used a light hand, but faith is an integral part of these programs, and learning to release negativity, whether by religion, or individual practice, is an important step in self awareness.

Many, many years ago, my younger brother spent some time in a boy’s ranch. Diary of a Bad Boy is not based on his experiences, but the set up always intrigued me. We’re talking boys on the verge of being sent to jail, or too ‘bad’ for foster care, who don’t function well in a traditional format. What caused them to act out? In the end, can love, routine, and boundaries, all be combined to save them from a life of crime? Of misery? Maybe it takes a little bit of faith, too. And the people who dedicate themselves to helping these boys are crucial to their success – one person’s guidance can truly make a difference.

As a former teenage rebel, I firmly believe in second chances, lol.

I’m an active member of Florida Romance Writers, as well as a previous President of the organization. I write Medieval Paranormal Romances, Young Adult Paranormal, Coming of Age YA and Non-Fiction. Telling stories is something that makes me happy down to my toes. I detested being a teenager, since I wasn’t very good at it, so writing stories that have mostly happy endings is a great way to restructure my past!


Diary of a Bad Boy by Traci Hall is available at Amazon in Kindle format. You can check out her Amazon author page for a list of all her books (which also include paranormal and romance titles). Traci Hall’s books are also available at Barnes and Noble.

More info also available on her Facebook, Website and Twitter!

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Do you want to be a featured ‘Indie Saturday’ author too? Go here for more info!

Read an embedded sample of “Diary of a Bad Boy” after the jump!

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Indie Saturday – Author Shelli Johnson on “Small as a Mustard Seed”

January 14, 2012 4 comments

Today, we have author Shelli Johnson featured on the blog’s ‘Indie Saturday‘ for her award-winning coming-of-age novel “Small as a Mustard Seed” (Available on Amazon). Publishers Weekly called it: “An intense and heartbreaking story of the fallout of war” and we agree. We read the opening chapters, and we were immediately gripped by the desperate plight of the two young girls coping with a father traumatized by war, and a mother helpless to protect her family from his PTSD.


Author Shelli Johnson writes about ‘Small as a Mustard Seed’:

I think the best stories are the ones where the writer drops the characters into a situation & lets them figure it out, where it gets messy and isn’t planned, where shocking things happen that the writer didn’t see coming because that means the readers won’t see it coming either. That’s what happened with this book.

I was writing about the main characters — sisters: Ann Marie, the older one, and Jolene, the younger — for about 4 months, both of them as adult women. The story wasn’t really going anywhere and then one morning at about 2 a.m., I was in my little attic writing room when Ann Marie showed up as a 10-year-old in a barn, scared out of her mind, her father with a gun to his head & threatening to pull the trigger. That scene came out of nowhere & I let it play out, let the characters do whatever they were going to do while I just wrote it down. It ended up being the first chapter of the book. Once I got that idea, the rest of the story simply came along with it. The story takes place in the 1960s & 70s and primarily chronicles the girls’ lives from early adolescence until young adulthood.

Frank, the father, joined the army as a means to an end: he’d wanted money to go to college and to finally move away from the small town of Stanhope, Ohio. When the war in Korea erupted, he was sent off to fight in subzero temperatures, without adequate equipment, and not realizing an event would occur there that triggered devastating post-traumatic stress, which would then follow him home. He confuses reality with soul-searing memories, believing he’s still a soldier fighting for his life in battle-torn Korea, and that confusion leads to his daughters to fearing for their lives. It might be easy to blame Frank, maybe even to hate him, but I did my best to write the fragile parts of him, too, the parts that make him a man struggling against something he can’t control.

Adele, the mother who had sported Frank’s class ring and given him her virginity before he shipped off, who’d also had dreams of her own, wasn’t prepared at all when he came home severely wounded, a faint shadow of the man she remembered. Hobbled by her own memories and wants, Adele scrambles to keep order while Frank’s threatening and unpredictable outbursts slowly tear the family apart. In the book, Ann Marie calls her mother “weak-willed” and maybe that’s true, but being a mom myself, I can see Adele’s side of things and my heart still breaks for her, even now.

Jolene, the younger sister, is headstrong & stubborn but loyal to her sister to a fault. She wants their lives to be normal, to be like everyone else’s, just school and boyfriends and sleepovers. But her father, without warning, mistakes her for a Communist, for an enemy solider or a Korean villager, and leaves her clambering to protect not only herself but her older sister as well. Later on, she makes a choice that has devastating consequences for everyone involved. That scene, where she makes that choice, is my favorite scene in the whole book.

And finally, Ann Marie, through whose eyes the entire story is told, is just trying to navigate her way through her childhood and keep herself—both physically and mentally—intact. She loves her parents fiercely and, at the same time, is helpless as a child to do anything about what’s happening around her. She loves her sister with that same intensity and is helpless, too, to make their situation any better. The book’s written in first person, and while the events are a figment of my imagination, Ann Marie and I share a lot of the same personality traits: the aching want for something different, the hollowness that happens when we can’t have it, the kernel of hope that’s always there.

The title, SMALL AS A MUSTARD SEED, is part of a quote from the Bible about how a tiny amount of faith can make a difference. While the book is not Christian fiction, there is the idea of faith running through the story. As a reader once said, “In the end, sometimes a small amount of faith is all we have left.” As a writer, it always makes me glad to make somebody feel something so intensely that it sticks with them long after they’ve closed the book. Based on reader feedback/reviews, I believe I’ve achieved that with this novel.

This book is the Grand prize winner of the Writer’s Digest International self-published book awards and has also won a substantial grant from the Weisman Fund.

After receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Kent State University, Shelli Johnson went to work at a major metropolitan newspaper for several years, the majority of which was spent in the Sports Department. While there, she won a Hearst National Journalism Award and two departmental Associated Press awards for her reporting. She earned a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction Writing at Columbia College Chicago, where she completed her award-winning novel, Small as a Mustard Seed.


Small as a Mustard Seed by Shelli Johnson is available at Amazon in Kindle format. You can also get the book at Barnes & Noble and iTunes.

More info also available on her Facebook, Website and Twitter! The author is also active on Goodreads and the Bookblogs forum.

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Do you want to be a featured ‘Indie Saturday’ author too? Go here for more info!

Read an embedded sample of “Small as a Mustard Seed” after the jump!

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Indie Saturday – Author Tom Taylor on “In Memory of Todd Woods” (With Giveaway!)

January 7, 2012 2 comments

** Tom Taylor is offering a FREE download of “In Memory of Todd Woods” through Jan 14 via Smashwords! (Use this coupon code CG39F to get it for FREE) **

Today, we have author Tom Taylor featured on the blog’s ‘Indie Saturday‘ for his debut coming-of-age novel “In Memory of Todd Woods” (Available at Amazon). Tom Taylor tackles suicide, love and friendship among a group of very real teens. (We read the sample on Amazon and liked it so much we had to invite him!)


Author Tom Taylor writes about ‘In Memory of Todd Woods’:

Coming-of-age stories tend to be very personal, don’t they? Which leads many readers to assume that the writer is simply cataloguing his or her own experiences. I brought this on myself a little harder, maybe, by setting my book In Memory of Todd Woods in a perfect replica of my own high school and hometown in Connecticut.

And sure, there’s a lot of me in my main character Bob. Like him I know maybe a little too much about Star Trek, and in high school I mooned over a girl or two, had zero idea what to do about it, and hid in the AV room with my friends, pretending not to care. Unlike Bob, though, I had no beautiful and unattainable Ellen Trumbull show up out of nowhere to suddenly upend my whole life, become my girlfriend, and drag me into the popular crowd.

To be honest, I really don’t know for sure where Ellen Trumbull came from. I like her and I understand her, but I’ve never really known anyone quite like her. On the one hand, she’s the It Girl, the Most-Popular-Girl-in-School Girl, the girl every guy would of course be in love with. And yes, she’s the girl every writer would want his fictional alter-ego to hook up with. But as much as Ellen’s role in the story might sound like obvious wish fulfillment on my part, it’s not that easy. As much as she seems to have it all together, she’s actually very haunted, and she really does have very good reasons for approaching Bob the way she does.

Some of those reasons might have to do with the recent suicide of her friend Todd Woods. Todd had been the Most-Popular-Guy-in-School Guy, and no one seems to know why a guy like that, with the world on a string, would ever want to take his own life. But Ellen and her friends know, and maybe she isn’t so much running to Bob as she is running from something else.

But, even if this amazing girl just lands in Bob’s lap, this is still high school, which means that nothing is easy. The trouble is that Bob’s best friend Pete is also one of those guys who’s in love with Ellen Trumbull. And yes, I do know what it’s like to be that guy. It’s not easy for Pete, seeing his best friend trot off with the girl of his dreams. He doesn’t know what they do together, but he can still torture himself by guessing.

This is the kind of thing that Bob and Pete never saw coming, and they are completely unequipped to deal with it, as is their close circle of friends. Martin may be an angry quasi-punk rock agitator, but that doesn’t keep him from going all doe-eyed for Maggie Smart. Not only does she possess the serene inner beauty that could calm his raging brain, but if Bob and Pete aren’t going to be his stable foundation anymore, he’s got to land somewhere. And Jen hates to see Bob and Pete growing apart and tries to help, but maybe tries too hard. I feel bad for Jen. Things get very tangled for her.

Of course, things get tangled for everybody. As things go from confusing to bad to unrecognizable, some of these characters begin to think that maybe they do know what happened to Todd Woods.

But it’s not all hopeless. I feel I’ve written a book about vibrant, intelligent young people meeting intense changes head on. Whatever they do to make it to the other side, they’ve come of age.

Tom Taylor was raised in Connecticut. He studied writing at Emerson College in Boston, and received his MFA in Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago. He lives in Chicago with his wife and son. This is his first novel.


In Memory of Todd Woods by Tom Taylor is available at Amazon in Kindle format. You can also get his book at Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and iTunes.

More info also available at his Facebook, Website and Twitter!

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Do you want to be a featured ‘Indie Saturday’ author too? Go here for more info!

Read an embedded sample of “In Memory of Todd Woods” after the jump!

Read more…

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