Review: Summerland, by Elin Hilderbrand

Elin Hilderbrand

Product Description/Synopsis (from
A warm June evening, a local tradition: the students of Nantucket High have gathered for a bonfire on the beach. But what begins as a graduation night celebration ends in tragedy after a horrible car crash leaves the driver of the car, Penny Alistair, dead, and her twin brother in a coma. The other passengers, Penny’s boyfriend Jake and her friend Demeter, are physically unhurt – but the emotional damage is overwhelming, and questions linger about what happened before Penny took the wheel.

As summer unfolds, startling truths are revealed about the survivors and their parents – secrets kept, promises broken, hearts betrayed. Elin Hilderbrand explores the power of community, family, and honesty, and proves that even from the ashes of sorrow, new love can still take flight.

My Thoughts:
Summer just wouldn’t be summer without a new book from Elin Hilderbrand, and her latest novel, Summerland was exactly what I needed this year.

I should confess that my introduction to Hilderbrand’s Nantucket came about two years ago when I was browsing in Half Price books with my husband and many visiting relatives. I found her first seven novels there, took them home, and spent most of April reading them before boxing them up and sending them to my mother in Mexico.

This year’s read, Summerland seemed a little more poignant than previous novels, mainly because it opens with the death of a teenager. As well, a good chunk of this novel actually takes place in Australia, where one of said teenager’s friends is ushered by his depressed mother and well-meaning father.

Nevertheless, Hilderbrand works her magic, and gives us slices of summer at the beach like no other can (although Ann Rivers Siddons and Dorothea Benton Frank certainly have their own charm). As always, her female characters are well developed, though not without flaws, and her male characters aren’t quite as rich (though, in this novel, the men we meet are better developed than they have been so far).

While I am always happy to have a new Hilderbrand novel on my summer reading list, one thing that always disappoints me is the fact that her various novels don’t seem to occupy the same version of Nantucket, but separate versions that exist separately for each book. Still, her work is always entertaining.

Goes well with…lemonade and homemade berry pie.

Review: Solid by Shelley Workinger

by Shelley Workinger

Product Description/Synopsis (from
Clio Kaid may be 17 and just beginning the last summer before her senior year, but her life is anything but typical.

She’s just discovered she was genetically altered before birth and is now headed to a top-secret Army campus to explore the surprising results of
the experiment.

Follow Clio and the other teens as they develop fantastic super-abilities, forge new friendships, find love, and uncover a conspiracy along the way.

My Thoughts:

I love science-fiction, and I love YA novels, so when I received an email from author Shelley Workinger asking if I’d be willing to work Solid (book one of the Solid trilogy) into my summer reading schedule, I said I’d love to. I hadn’t anticipated, at the time, that it would take me nearly a month to get around to reading it. I finally finished Solid on Sunday night, and my only disappointment is that it was only the first book of three. By the time this post goes live, I’ll have already purchased book two from Amazon, and set an alert to let me know when book three is available.

As to book one, however, I found Solid to be engaging and interesting, with teen characters who reminded me a bit of my own teen experience (though we didn’t have ipods or laptops to worry about.)

Clio Kaid, the lead character is delightfully snarky, but realistically awkward. I like that. I like that she’s not perfect, that she makes social gaffes and even that she regretted her choice of spaghetti on her first day on campus because of the potential for making a mess in front of a cute boy. As someone who cannot EVER wear white when going out for pasta or sushi, I totally related to that concern.

Author Workinger kept a good pace going in her story, bringing in new characters when necessary, but never glutting the plot with too many new names to learn. While the choice of lead antagonist was a little predictable, it would probably be less so to younger readers, and it served the need of the story: setting up the continuation of the series.

Bottom line: while Solid is very much the first book in a trilogy, it is also satisfying in its own right, and I look forward to seeing more from these characters, and this author.

Goes well with a plate of spaghetti, as long as you’re not wearing white.

In Their Words: Author Bo Briar talks about MORGAN HALL

Bo Briar Just yesterday, I posted a review of the marvelously moody, spectacularly spine-tingling Morgan Hall, a modern gothic novel by Bo Briar. Ms. Briar was gracious enough to spend some of her writing time doing an emailed interview with me. I can tell she’d be a great person to share a mug of tea with while spinning stories on a rainy afternoon.

Bo, please tell my readers a bit about you: Where are from, and what led you to become a writer?
I was born in Hong Kong. My Dad was an architect and my Mum was an avid horse rider. I also have one brother. After being sent to school in the UK, I lived there for over 20 years. – worked, married and had children. I’m a single parent of two lovely children, a boy and a girl ages 9 and 10 respectively. I’m a professional writer and editor.

I think I’ve always just had a tale brewing within me. As a child I was always fascinated by ghost stories, classical architecture, historical places and drawn to heroes that were a bit dark and mysterious such as the classical Heathcliff and I would have loved the modern day Lestat. I’ve always had that romantic gothic inclination. Then as you grow up, you meet certain people, experience intense emotions both good and bad and get thrown into situations out of our control; basically life is one big story. Together with a creative imagination and much life experience Morgan Hall just evolved naturally within me until I had to write it down on paper and transform it into novel.

Morgan Hall is a modern gothic. Have you always been drawn to that genre?

Yes, definitely, I’ve always been drawn to the gothic atmosphere and characters. Then my interest was sealed when I read Wuthering Heights.

The descriptions of places (houses, grounds, York, London) in Morgan Hall are particularly vivid. How much of that comes from research, and how much comes from your imagination?

In fact all of that comes from experience. I write about places and situations I know and know of, and my fictional places are reality with a creative twist, but most of them are based on real places. I’ve lived in London for 20 years so know it very well and what you saw is “my” London, and I’ve also been to York many times. The descriptions and feel of those places are very real. The villages and towns are all based on real places with a creative twist.

Morgan Hall the house is itself an amalgamation of different stately homes that I have visited, including my old boarding school. My father was an architect so I know architecture pretty well. The outside of the hall is English Jacobean in design, but as with many of these old houses they have been renovated throughout the centuries, hence the different styles within. From decades of having visited many of these historical houses around the UK and Europe and having lived in one too (school), I have in my mind exactly what Morgan Hall looks like inside and out. The same applies to the other houses in the book, Belerion and Forton Park. It’s a mixture of my tweaking reality to maximum effect.
The scene where Christie and the Boys (and yes, I do realize they’re all adults) draw a Ouija board with marking pens took me back to my own school days. Did you draw that scene from a real memory?

Yes, like you we used to do that too! A whole group of our friends used to sneak out of our dorms and meet in the middle of the night right at the locked entrance to the basement (a hallway). Our school was built in the early 18th century with foundations dating all the way back to the early 13th century, so beautiful as it was, you can imagine how scary it could be.

We prepared the Ouija board just as Christie and the boys did in the book. Spooky things really did happen. Questions were answered and the heavy ginger-pot lid that we used moved effortlessly. We did it a few times until one night the lid started spinning, literally spinning on the spot round and around and it was increasing in speed. That was horrifying. Since then we never touched it again and we burnt the Ouija board and discarded of the ginger-pot lid.

Morgan Hall is wonderfully moody – as a gothic should be. Did you use any special tricks to help sustain that moodiness (drink a special tea, listen to music, etc.)?

It was very natural because when I write, I’m totally there. I actually feel myself living and breathing the place and environment that I am writing about. I see exactly what the characters see and feel what they feel. Sometimes I do have some music playing in the background though for added effect.

Many writers have a personal soundtrack that goes with each of their books, either the music they listened to during the writing process, or the music that inspired scene, tone, etc. Are you influenced by music? If so, what five songs are your personal “Morgan Hall Mix?”

I love music and I am always influenced by music. It’s amazing how hearing a tune can bring you right back to that exact moment in time when you used to listen to it most – when it meant a lot to you. For Morgan Hall it would be quite an eclectic mix of music and songs.

In the early days of writing Morgan Hall I did often have Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” on, the Nigel Kennedy version because his is very powerful and passionate which suits Morgan Hall. Sometimes I’d also play the Bach Violin Concertos. Classical music tended to inspire the scenery and feel of the places.

But to inspire the scenes between the characters there was “Somewhere Only We Know” by a British band called Keane. “These Dreams” by 80’s rock band Heart. “You’re the Inspiration” by Peter Cetera (ex-Chicago) the 1997 “new” version. The cover version of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by the British rock band Muse. And my favourite, “Love Walks In” by American rock band Van Halen.

I know that when I’m reading (or writing, or acting in) something particularly dark or eerie I often scare myself. Have you ever been frightened or disturbed by something you’ve written?

Yes definitely. Morgan Hall has been edited quite a few times. The original version was much scarier and I used to have to look over my shoulder sometimes as I’d suddenly be spooked while writing certain scenes. And I guess it didn’t help that I used to do a lot of my writing late at night.

Writing is, by nature, fairly internal. What do you do to shake things up when you’ve been living inside your own head for too long?

I’ve always been able to separate fiction and fantasy from reality. After having become a single parent, even more so. You just can’t afford to live in a dream world all the time. You’ve got to be on the ball.

What’s next for you? What Bo Briar title should we all be looking for?

I am working on the sequel to Morgan Hall and plan on creating a series. Like with Morgan Hall, the characters are passionate, dark, romantic, deep and intriguing. This time the story is very contemporary and takes the characters (new and old) from the UK up to the icy mountains of Switzerland and half way around the world to Hong Kong in the mystical East. The villain is even worse than the last! The sequel is much scarier. I get chills writing it.

Where can readers connect with you? Twitter? Facebook? Pinterest? Anything?

Email me at:

I am very happy to receive emails from readers and anyone interested in Morgan Hall and it’s good to meet new people. I always reply.

My website: is under construction.

Review: Morgan Hall, by Bo Briar

Morgan Hall
by Bo Briar

Product Description/Synopsis (from
Love never dies, and revenge never sleeps in Morgan Hall…

Morgan Hall, a desolate country estate, has been in Lady Christie Morgan’s family for almost 400 years. A family cursed by eternal tragedy, and now Christie is the last Morgan.

Apparitions appear, sparking a chain of horrifying occurrences involving Christie and the two men who love her: Anthony Longfield-Lothian and Tristan Ely.

A saga of mystery and sordid family history weaves intrigue for the passionate love triangle. Past and present war as the secrets of three aristocratic families unfold – resurfacing in a spine-chilling mystery of passion and lust, ghostly happenings, and blood-curdling murders.
Emotions run high as their world spins wildly out of control. Are they all cursed to repeat the grizzly past? Does sweet revenge claim its prize?
Morgan Hall.

My Thoughts:
There are times when a gothic thriller is the perfect thing to read, and I was lucky enough to read the bulk of Bo Briar’s modern gothic Morgan Hall on a murky, moody, rainy August morning that perfectly complimented the book.

Why do I call it a “modern” gothic? Because while Morgan Hall has all the requisite elements of a classic gothic – huge old manor houses with disturbing histories and some disrepair, orphan heiresses with tragic pasts, unrequited love, stormy weather, ghostly apparitions, and creepy housekeepers, it’s actually set in a time not too far removed from today, and the characters all have cars, computers, and cell phones (not that the latter ever work reliably). In fact, about the only thing missing is someone hiding behind a billowing curtain.

But don’t assume that I mention this because I didn’t like the book. In fact, I enjoyed it immensely. Sure, Christie Morgan’s behavior was often frustrating to my feminist sensibilities, and true, I didn’t quite buy the instant-love between Christie and Tristan (the best friend of Christie’s lifelong friend and ‘kissing’ cousin Anthony), but when an author is spinning a good story, the willing reader overlooks minor things like that, just as the good audience member engages in willful suspension of disbelief when watching Harry Potter and friends soar around on broomsticks to play Quidditch.

And make no mistake, Bo Briar spins a good story. Her descriptions of place, whether she’s talking about the afore-mentioned manor houses (one of which was a castle) or just describing modern London or a pub in York, are so vivid that when she wrote about gusts of wind or rainwater puddling in the street, I found myself looking outside to see if my weather was the same. I felt like I was walking through the corridors of the titular Morgan Hall with Christie Morgan.

As well, Briar knows how to set a tone. In my “I finished this book” tweet, I mentioned that Morgan Hall is wonderfully moody, but what I didn’t say was that, while reading the first part of the novel late at night, I had to insist that my husband come to bed RIGHT NOW because her writing worked with my over-active imagination to give me goosebumps.

I read across many genres. I love science fiction and contemporary literature, but I also love good mysteries. While I don’t read a lot of gothic fiction, when I do, I always enjoy the pleasantly shivery feeling of being just a little bit scared. Briar’s book gave me that feeling – I put aside my disbelief in some of the plot elements (like Christie, Andrew and Tristan all having inherited big old houses, or the three of them platonically sharing a bed) but was involved enough in the story to worry when Tristan turned out to be less – and more – than he seemed, and to worry for Christie when we learned what jeopardy she was in.

There are perfect times and places for gothic fiction. I was lucky enough to read Morgan Hall over a late August night and a rainy August morning, but even if you read this in the bright sunshine of a happy summer day, I think you’ll find this tale both compelling and just scary enough to make the hair rise on your arms.

Goes well with shepherds pie and a tall glass of hard cider.

Review: You Can’t Shatter Me by Tahlia Newland

You Can’t Shatter Me
by Tahlia Newland

Description/Synopsis (from

Sixteen year old Carly wants to write her own life and cast herself as a superhero, but the story gets out of control when she stands up to a bully and he turns on her. His increasing harassment forces her to battle flying hooks, giant thistles, doubt dragons and a suffocating closet. Dylan, a karate-trained nerd who supports her stand, turns out to be a secret admirer, and while he struggles to control his inner caveman, Carly searches for her own way to stop the bully. An old hippie shows her an inner magic that’s supposed to make her invincible, but will Carly learn to use it before her knight in shining armour risks all in a battle with a fire-breathing dragon?

This heart-warming magical realism story will inspire and empower teens and adults alike.

My Thoughts:
I’m turning 42 on Friday, but I still love young adult (YA) fiction. In fact, I firmly believe that YA offers some of the most empowering stories and empowered female characters available in modern literature. I also believe that Tahlia Newland’s fiction is some of the best YA on the market, so when she asked if I’d read and review You Can’t Shatter Me, of course I said yes.

I was not disappointed.

In fact, I was awed.

Newland refers to this story as an example of magical realism, and it is. Sixteen-year-old Carly imagines herself a green lycra-clad superhero, flying from her bedroom window to mete out justice to bullied kids in her school, and uses her vivid imagination to visualize personal problems as doubt dragons to be slayed, while dealing with the very real torment of being the target of a bully herself.

Dylan also uses his imagination in powerful ways, seeing words as tangible objects that can harm or heal, and learning to conquer the former and boost the latter.

Both teens recognize that at some point each of us has to take a stand and become the writers of our own scripts, the authors of our own futures, and the breakers of our own paths.

Newland excels at weaving meditation techniques, including guided imagery, into the narrative without making it seem forced. Instead, she gives Carly an aunt who is part aging hippie/part guru, and who teaches her niece how she can make herself emotionally strong by sending love and light to the universe – even to people who mistreat her.

While You Can’t Shatter Me could have been a preachy diatribe against bullying, in Newland’s deft hands, this novel is an absorbing, educational read, that both satisfies and gives hope to adults and younger readers alike.

Goes well with a picnic lunch on the beach.