The Story of Rachel (Tales of Pandora #1) by K.D. McLean: Review

Title: The Story of Rachel Author: K.D. McLean Format: Kindle Edition,171 pages Published: January 15, 2013 by Monarch Moments (first published July 2012)  Edition language: English
Title: The Story of Rachel (Book #1: Tales of Pandora)
Author: K.D. McLean
Format: Kindle Edition,171 pages
Published: January 15, 2013 by Monarch Moments (first published July 2012)
Series: Book #1: Tales of Pandora
Edition language: English

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Synopsis:

: is immediate and intense. Rachel, who sees vanilla as only a baking ingredient, enchants him. Michael can whip up some pretty hot delights himself, outside of the kitchen. He introduces a curious Rachel to powerful experiences of sensuality. Her Ladylike sense of propriety engages in a running battle with her now sparked Tinderbox desires.
Michael is an excellent cook and knows how to turn up the heat. Sampling the flavors offered, Rachel experiences humorous hiccups. On a date, Michael ramps up the risqué, resulting in a memorable skirt swirling salsa dance. Rachel’s “What the hell, I ain’t getting any younger” attitude spurs Michael to take her to the exclusive, adults only club Pandora’s. Here, Rachel witnesses even more variations of earthly delights, and begins a lifelong friendship with another guest.
Michael is a realist, convinced that within 90 days, his affair with Rachel will be but another painful memory of loss. He is neither willing nor able to yell ‘Geronimo’ and fall for her. He can’t, and that’s that.
Maybe he should just get a damn dog.
This modern, urban, grown up love story is a recipe –three cups romance and one cup of slapdash humor. Blend in spices of eroticism, and beat until smooth.

Source: Author for a fair and honest review

My Rating: 4½/5 stars

My Review: 

**adult –only read**

I have been reading books for a very, very (sigh, I am old), very long time and I can honestly say I still, every once in a while, get ahold of a book that is nowhere close to what I was expecting it to be.  Now this, of course begs the question, what kind of “what was I expecting” is she referring to – the “Oh! Crap, that was awful and I thought it was going to be amazing!” kind of not expecting or the good kind of not expecting that?  In the case of K.D. McLean’s The Story of Rachel, it is the very, very good kind of got what I totally was not expecting. J

Meet Rachel, a thirty (OK, closer to 40) something journalist who lives a pretty charmed life.  As a part of her job she gets to preview and review art openings, concerts, and new theatrical productions; she has an apartment she loves and; friends and family who adore her.  What Rachel doesn’t have is a boyfriend and while she is pretty happy with her life, a little roll in the hay from time to time sure wouldn’t hurt.  And then one night, everything changes . . . .

Meet Michael, an intelligent, witty, and clever author with a care-free lifestyle designed to bring him maximum pleasure with little to no commitment.  Michael is a highly successful author who travels frequently; has a couple of close friends he enjoys hanging out with and; doesn’t mind at all that he doesn’t have a girlfriend.   Several times a year Michael engages in an extended fling he can end easily with no hurt feelings on either parties’ part.  And then one night, everything changes. . .

Rachel and Michael’s first meeting at an art opening is like being struck by lightning for both.  Each is intrigued by the other and by the art which features tastefully presented BDSM images.  Rachel knows little to nothing about the lifestyle and Michael seems to know quite a bit.  The two are so taken by one another they decide to continue their conversation over dinner.  Dinner is as enlightening as it is delicious and both Michael and Rachel want to see more of the other as soon as possible.  Most intriguing to both is Rachel’s expressed desire to take a more hands-on approach to understanding the world of BDSM.  Naturally, Michael is more than willing to be Rachel’s guide and partner.

For the next several weeks Rachel and Michael engage in a whirlwind romance which involves all manner of naughty fun.  Rachel is learning, in a most delightful and satisfying way what it is to be a Sub to Michael’s Dom.  Some of the funniest moments in this novel involve Rachel’s two inner voices (Ladylike and Tinderbox) warring with one another about Rachel’s behavior with Michael and how she should proceed.  Almost everyone (the exception being a horrified Ladylike!) agrees they should proceed to a night at Pandora’s, an ultra-exclusive, member’s only club for those interested in BDSM.  After an absolutely stimulating night out, Michael and Rachel go back to her apartment where they finally, truly consummate their relationship.  All is going completely according to plan until Michael shouts out, multiple times (no pun intended) “I love you!” and then stunningly and epically panics and runs out on Rachel.  At this point, all love for Michael is gone and both Rachel and the reader are left at a total loss as to what the hell just happened?  Over the next few days Rachel wracks her brain trying to understand Michael’s sudden departure and why he hasn’t called.  Over those same few days Michael convinces himself he is absolutely not in love with Rachel and can certainly live his life without her.  And then one night, everything changes . . . .

Rachel shows up at Michael’s place wicked pissed and in a deliver an ultimatum kind of mood.  Rachel gives Michael precisely one week, no more and no less to pull his head out of his ass and come back to her.  This is the part I was so not expecting!  The week Michael and Rachel spend apart is gut-wrenching for everyone.  Rachel is miserable, Michael is trying to convince himself he is not miserable, the reader is miserable, and the warring voices in Rachel’s head are no longer warring but consoling one another.  Yes, misery does indeed love company. L  The conclusion of the week apart is just as unexpected and surprising as the events of the week apart.  Michael is forced to face his past and confront the issues that have kept from committing to a relationship and acknowledging how he truly feels about Rachel.  When he finally comes to his senses, it is just in the nick of time and yet another singularly hilarious moment occurs– seriously, the series of phone calls Rachel receives during this moment had me laughing so hard I was shaking the bed J

The Bottom Line: I went into this book expecting and perfectly fine with a naughty little romp through the BDSM world.  I was prepared for sex on every other page and hoping for a decent plot to wrap around the sex.  What I got is an exceptional plot with two fully-developed characters who both like their sex with a little bit of kink.  Ultimately, The Story of Rachel is just that, the story of Rachel, a slightly naïve woman with an open mind and willingness to explore new things with the right partner.  The Story of Rachel is also very much Michael’s story, a handsome and delightful man who is slightly broken and in need of a good woman to help heal his heart.  Certainly the sex is a large part of this read but it does not define this novel, it enhances it and fits both logically and convincingly into the plot line.  The Story of Rachel is further proof that erotic novels can be so much more than just hot sex!  I can honestly say I am thrilled to have not gotten what I expected and am looking forward to the next installment in the series.

Want to own your own copy of The Story of Rachel (Tales of Pandora #1)?

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My Week with Darby K.: Griffin’s Storm (Book Three: Water/Griffin #3): Review

Title:  Author: Darby Karchut Format: Paperback, 200 pages Published: November 10, 2012 by Copper Square Studios  ISBN:  0974114553 (ISBN13: 9780974114552) Edition language: English
Title: Griffin’s Storm (Book #3: Water/Griffin #3)
Author: Darby Karchut
Format: Paperback, 200 pages
Published: November 10, 2012 by Copper Square Studios
ISBN: 0974114553 (ISBN13: 9780974114552)
Edition language: English

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Synopsis:

An old enemy returns. A new alliance is formed. And Griffin finds himself in the eye of the storm when an ancient racial hatred is set loose, jeopardizing the very existence of the Terrae Angeli.
Once again, the teen guardian angel is forced to battle his worst nightmare. But this time, Griffin comes back swinging. With a vengeance.
After all, an eye for an eye…

Source: Darby K. for a fair and honest review

My Rating: 6 stars and I only use a 5 star rating system!!

My Review: 

It is absolutely no secret how much I love Darby Karchut’s Griffin series and while I was eagerly awaiting the third installment of the series I was in no way prepared for the awesomeness that is Griffin’s Storm.  Fire!  This book is excellent!

With Griffin’s Storm Karchut came ready to play and has delivered a read which has a totally different feel and flow than the other two installments.  From the very beginning there is an air of tension: Griffin and Basil’s missions keep going sideways, Sukalli keeps making appearances, a newly-promoted Sergei is back in a protection capacity, and Katie is struggling with life as the girlfriend of a Terrae Angeli.  Let’s take this one step at a time, shall we?

*It takes about four seconds to figure out Nicopolis is the reason Griffin and Basil’s missions keep going sideways.  The rat bastard is playing for keeps and causing serious injury to both Griffin and Basil at every turn.  As a result, the two angels are removed from active duty and asked to leave their home and go into hiding until Nicopolis can be tracked and neutralized.

*I can’t say I really warmed up to Sukalli in the earlier installments (did anyone?) but he sure does gain my affection in this novel.  Not only is Sukalli an expert healer but he is hot on the trail of Nicopolis and determined to see the rogue angel brought to justice or brought down.  Sukalli is a beast who is more than prepared to do whatever is necessary to see the threat to his friends and colleagues shut down!

* I can’t say I really warmed up to Sergei in the previous installment (did anyone?) but he sure does gain my affection in this novel.  Wait a minute, didn’t I just say that? J  Well, it’s true, again!  Sergei has been promoted to full guardian status and has been assigned to help protect Basil and Griffin, much to everyone’s displeasure.  There is true evolution in Sergei’s character and I like how he and Griffin learn to not only like but truly trust one another.  Even with the arrogance, Sergei turns out to be a true and loyal friend ready to serve and protect his fellow Terre Angeli.

*I am so over Katie and her drama!

While all of the above would have made for a fine novel, Karchut goes four kinds of crazy and introduces some fine new characters and amps up the action to full-throttle awesome.  Making their first appearance in the Griffin series is Nan-ja and her young tiro, Vassar.  Like Sergei, the girls have been assigned to both aid and protect Griffin and Basil while Nicopolis is still on the loose.  In order to better prepare their tiros for the coming battle, Basil and Nan-ja trade tiros.  I cannot tell a lie: I thought Basil was pretty hard-core until I met Nan-ja.  I. Love. Her.  As a fellow Earth/Fire, Vassar and Griffin have an immediate connection to one another that is both endearing and sweet.  We have certainly not seen nor heard the last from these two lovely ladies but to tell you more at this point would just spoil the read for you.

As for the action, WOW!  The final unfolding of events is both highly informative and action-packed.  Nicopolis is absolutely, 100% bat-sh*t crazy and like a bad rash, his crazy has spread to other Terre Angeli.  With his group of psychos and some “fun” new toys (wait till you read about this!) Nicopolis leads a mission meant to destroy Griffin and everything and everyone he holds dear.  Here’s the problem with crazy, you’re CRAZY!!!  For Nicopolis this means he has gone so far ‘round the bend he has actually become fanatical and completely blinded by his hatred and misguided beliefs.  If he wasn’t so bloody awful one might actually feel sorry for him.  I am not that one, however J  Without giving anything away, I have to say the ending of this one was significantly satisfying!

The Bottom Line: I have never, ever added a sixth star to my reviews but feel it is completely warranted for Griffin’s Storm.  This novel is a perfect combination of: characters, both old and new; strong character development; a large leap forward in the on-going plot line with room to add a fourth book (Dear Lord, I desperately pray there is going to be a fourth book. Amen); a very new and exciting feel to the read in terms of tone, tenor, and flow and; quite simply, superb writing!  I have recommended this series to young and old alike twice before and I am whole-heartedly doing so yet again.

Darby K.About the author and where to find her: Darby Karchut is an award-winning author, teacher, and a compulsive dawn greeter. She lives in Colorado with her husband and owns more backpacks than purses. As she should. Her YA books include GRIFFIN RISING (2012 Children’s Literary Awards Gold Medal, 2011 Sharp Writ YA Book of the Year), GRIFFIN’S FIRE (2011 Readers Favorite Bronze Medal for YA Fantasy), and GRIFFIN’S STORM (November 2012).  Her debut Middle Grade novel, FINN FINNEGAN (Spencer Hill Press) will be released March 2013. The next book in the Finnegan series, GIDEON’S SPEAR (Spencer Hill Press) will be released February 2014. She has also co-authored a non-fiction book for teens entitled MONEY AND TEENS with her husband, author Wes Karchut. Visit the author at her website:   www.darbykarchut.com

Want to check out/buy the Griffin series?

Goodreads:     Book #1     Book #2     Book #3

Amazon     Barnes & Noble

My Week with Darby K.: How I Became a Writer, Part Two

Darby K.About the author and where to find her:

Darby Karchut is an award-winning author, teacher, and a compulsive dawn greeter. She lives in Colorado with her husband and owns more backpacks than purses. As she should. Her YA books include GRIFFIN RISING (2012 Children’s Literary Awards Gold Medal, 2011 Sharp Writ YA Book of the Year), GRIFFIN’S FIRE (2011 Readers Favorite Bronze Medal for YA Fantasy), and GRIFFIN’S STORM (November 2012).  Her debut Middle Grade novel, FINN FINNEGAN (Spencer Hill Press) will be released March 2013. The next book in the Finnegan series, GIDEON’S SPEAR (Spencer Hill Press) will be released February 2014. She has also co-authored a non-fiction book for teens entitled MONEY AND TEENS with her husband, author Wes Karchut. Visit the author at her website:   www.darbykarchut.com

How I Became A Writer

Part Two

After Enlightenment

It was a Saturday morning, in late November, four months after I started, when I typed the words The End on the bottom of the last page.

Wow. Cool. I had written a book. A poor one. But a book, nonetheless.

So I hit the save button. Then compulsively hit it again. Then dumped the manuscript on my flashdrive. Then dumped it on a second flashdrive, turned off my computer, and went downstairs for a celebratory cup of coffee.

And I was quite certain that I was now a different person. But I wasn’t. I was still just me. I still had to go to work, clean house, shop for food, clean the litter box, and all the other mundane tasks of life. And that was okay. Healthy, even. A famous Zen Buddhist expression kept running through my mind: “Before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”

Exactly.

(That said, finishing a book remains a rarified thing in this society. There’s a popular statistic that although 85% of population wants to write a book, less than 4% of authors get published. And only 0.2% of those get a chance to publish a second book.)

So I refilled my coffee mug, kicked off my fleece lined flip flops and fired up my laptop.

And began re-writing Griffin Rising that day.

Because I now had a new goal.

To improve my writing. And make those characters so real, so compelling that they would stop yakking in my head and go pester other people. You know. Murmur in their heads all night and leave me alone.

Winter came and went. And I rewrote Griffin’s tale over and over. Some sections just a few times, some sections over twenty times. Added and took away.

I continuously e-mailed new and improved chapters to my beta reader. Than handed the manuscript off to a few friends, including my school’s librarian.

And I rewrote it.

I gave it to my sister and brother for their opinion.

And I rewrote it again.

And it was agony. Excruciatingly painful. I found it was more difficult to accept criticism after I had learned a thing or two than before. With my earlier drafts, I would justify negative remarks by reminding myself it was just that: a draft. But as I re-wrote it and found my voice, the criticisms hurt worse because now it was truly me they were judging. I would force myself to nod and listen, really listen, and then I would look at the section or chapter through their eyes, and I would have to agree.

But finally, on a snowy day in mid-winter, I found myself jotting down some ideas for the sequel. And I knew I was getting closer to the beginning of the ending of the editing process.

Which, I recently discovered, never really ends.

But I loved editing. I loved polishing each sentence until it gleams, each chapter until it was smooth and sharp. The more I edited, the stronger it became. And the stronger I became. Just like a cross country runner, I found my stride, working my writing into the rhythm of my existence, so that writing was a part of my life, not my life.

Yes, sir, nothing could stop me now.

Until I sent out my first round of query letters.

Okay, those left some bruises. But ice and aspirin helped and I kept working on the manuscript. And the query letter. And sent out another round of query letters.

And finally, eleven months after I began writing my first book, Griffin got his wings with Twilight Times Books.

It Takes What It Takes

So what really, really helped me write my first book? Well, lots of things and lots of people. But the three most important things that enabled me to reach my goal were to read a lot, write a lot, and read about writing a lot.

Read a lot.

The other day, I attended a book talk given by an up and coming young adult author at our city library. As I sat poised with a yellow pad balanced on my knee, ready to mine nuggets of brilliance, my mouth fell open at the following statement from the author: “I really don’t like to read that much.”

What the …?!

How can an author not like to read? It’s like a cook who doesn’t sample his dishes or a teacher who doesn’t like children.

Now it used to be the custom, in Europe, that young artists would begin their apprenticeships by studying the works of the masters. For centuries, one would find youths in museums or galleries, feverishly sketching one masterpiece after another, learning the craft by practicing the craft.

Okay, maybe it was different with this guy. I don’t know. But like most authors, I read constantly. All the time I was working on Griffin Rising, I read three or four books a month, mostly young adult fantasy. I read to relax, but mostly I read to learn from the masters.

But I also read several biographies and even a history of the Battle of Thermopylae.

Read. Read everything.

Write a lot.

As I mentioned earlier, I managed to train myself to write whenever and wherever I could. For me, daily self-discipline was the key to finishing my first draft. Yes, I had to compromise in some arenas, but not as many as I had first thought. Oh, sure. My house was not as clean as I usually kept it, but I soon grew proud of my dust bunnies. The bigger, the better was my motto. And I had to keep introducing myself to my husband so he wouldn’t forget who I was.

The two arenas, however, I never neglected were my job and my exercise regime. I still had a life to live outside of my head. And I began to find that when I took a break from my book, my subconscious mind did a lot of work for me, solving plot holes, enriching the characters, and so on. I just needed to give it a chance.

Read about writing a lot.

I continued to study everything I could on how to improve my writing. Everything I needed to learn was available, in books, on-line, in magazine or from the local library. Incredible!

And I am still learning.

Springtime in the Rockies (why, yes, that is an oxymoron)

Finally, in the spring, after months of stalling, I screwed up my courage and attended my first writer’s conference. Which I should have done before I began my book, but since I seemed to have done everything else backwards, what the heck.

I arrived an hour early and stood around the lobby of the hotel, my knees shaking as I watched other writers milling around, chatting with each other, no doubt discussing their fourth book deal and the outcome of a private lunch with the editor-in-chief at Random House.

You know, they probably all have been writing since they could hold a pencil, I thought to myself. Or they have master’s degrees in literature and live in New York City. I gulped and went for my sixth cup of coffee.

But once I was registered and bleeding copiously from stabbing myself with my nifty pin-on nametag (the name tag, which, I was quite sure, said ‘Wanna Be’ in neon letters under my name), I crept into the first workshop and hunkered down in the back.

When I looked around, I noticed a lot of others had the same deer in the headlights expression as me. The workshop began, the panel of agents and publishers helping the audience lighten up by wisecracking about the foibles of the publishing industry, and as I heard other writers asking the exact same questions I had, I relaxed and just soaked it all in.

Over the next few days, I lunched and talked with other writers just like me, and scurried from one workshop to another, learning a mile a minute, and even met some future friends with whom I formed a critique group. I came away from that weekend with a renewed determination and a wonderful discovery: for the most part, the writing and publishing world is made up of some of the finest, most gracious people in this round world.

Rearview Mirror

My first book was such a backwards journey. I have often wondered if I would have done better to learn more before writing it. I’ll never know, because I cannot repeat that first expedition.

Writing is an odd duck of a profession. You do not need have a degree or a license or spend a lot of money. Just determination. And almost every bit of information, from how to write to how to get published to how to market your book is easily and cheaply available.

Since then, I’ve written the sequel to Griffin Rising as well as the first novel in another young adult fantasy series. And I will always strive to improve my craft. That will never change. Writing is infinite; my next book will always be better than the one before and rightly so.

Enough of me.

Now go write your book.

Want to check out/buy some of Darby K.’s books?

The Griffin Series on Goodreads:     Book #1     Book #2     Book #3

Finn Finnegan: Book One of the Adventures of Finn MacCullen on Goodreads

Amazon     Barnes & Noble


My Week with Darby K.: Griffin’s Fire (Book Two: Fire/Griffin #2): Review

Title: Griffin's Fire (Book Two: Fire/Griffin #2) Author: Darby Karchut Format: Paperback, 200 pages Published: April 15, 2012 by Twilight Times Books  ISBN:  1606192124 (ISBN13: 9781606192122) Edition language: English Series: Griffin #2
Title: Griffin’s Fire (Book Two: Fire/Griffin #2)
Author: Darby Karchut
Format: Paperback, 200 pages
Published: April 15, 2012 by Twilight Times Books
ISBN: 1606192124 (ISBN13: 9781606192122)
Edition language: English
Series: Griffin #2

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Synopsis:

For centuries, there have been rumors about a lowly caste of supernatural beings known as the Terrae Angeli. Armed with the power to control Earth, Fire, Wind and Water, these warriors and their apprentices clandestinely serve as guardians for humans in danger.
Forced to become mortal, ex-teen angel Griffin has been banished from the Terrae Angeli. Struggling to adjust, he enrolls in the heaven-and-hell known as high school. In spite of his friends’ support, Centennial High proves to be a battleground, complete with a malicious math teacher.
And to make matters worse, his Mentor, Basil, has been ordered to take on a new apprentice, the gifted and egotistical seventeen-year-old Sergei, whose covert attacks make Griffin’s home life as bleak as a Siberian winter.
Caught between school, Sergei, and a desperate secret, Griffin is certain of one thing: the only way to fight a Cold War is with Fire.

Source: Darby K. for a fair and honest review

My Rating: 5/5 stars

My Review:

At the end of 2011, my bloggy boss asked me to put together a list of the best reads of the year. On that list was Darby Karchut’s Griffin Rising, and this year, book two in the on-going series will make the list! Griffin’s Fire is an exciting and somewhat tragic read that I absolutely could NOT put down.

Griffin’s Fire opens with a very angry and depressed Griffin, who has had his angelic powers stripped and is now facing life as a mere mortal. Sadly enough, this is not the only trial Griffin is facing. He’s also challenged with high school and algebra, a new Tiro Sergei
moving into the house, and a girlfriend who is absolutely stoked about Griffin’s new mortal status. Too bad Griffin isn’t as stoked. (HA – stoked, fire!)  A delightful and extremely patient Basil tries his hardest to help Griffin adjust to his new reality, but the road is long and arduous, and Griffin is quite resistant to change. Griffin does his best to fit in at school, but trouble seems to follow the poor kid, and incident after incident (and detentions) piles up. The hits just keep on coming at home, too: Sergei is an arrogant butthole, and Griffin is forced to sit on the side lines while Basil and the butthole go out on mission after mission. For Griffin, the future is little more than a bleak existence, with his only hope coming from his intense desire to somehow, someway, and despite all the odds, earn back his angelic abilities.

The greatest strength of this book is its characters! Karchut literally had me sighing at each of the incidents in which Griffin found himself
involved, hating the new Tiro and Nicopolis (oh yes, he’s back!), wanting to thump Basil on the head for not paying enough attention to Griffin, and wanting to slap Katie for being selfish, even if it is only in her diary. Additionally, the key moment in the book when everything changes for everyone had me obnoxiously cheering out loud, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Karchut has a knack for creating substantial characters in whom the reader can become absolutely invested. When you place these kinds of characters into a roller coaster plot, everything just gets better. Karchut has done just that. The plot line for this book is a fast-paced roller coaster ride and believe me, you will
gladly strap yourself in and hold on for the ride. It’s OK if you squeal a little as well; roller coasters have been known to cause such behavior.

The Bottom Line: book one of this series was so good that I was afraid book two would not be able to live up to the high standards set by book one. (Do I really need to make an Alanis Morissette “Jagged Little Pill” reference here?) I needn’t have worried, as I am beyond impressed with book two! Karchut delivers once again with a smooth, exhilarating, and wild ride that has the reader hooked from the beginning. The plot, the characters, the writing, the pace, everything about this book is top notch. Overall, the series is perfectly appropriate for young adult readers, but I would encourage adult readers not to overlook this series because of its young adult classification. I highly
recommend this book and its predecessor to anyone looking for, quite simply, a fantastic read.
Next up in the series is Griffin’s Storm: Book 3: Water.

Darby K.About the author and where to find her:

Darby Karchut is an award-winning author, teacher, and a compulsive dawn greeter. She lives in Colorado with her husband and owns more backpacks than purses. As she should.
Her YA books include GRIFFIN RISING (2012 Children’s Literary Awards Gold Medal, 2011 Sharp Writ YA Book of the Year), GRIFFIN’S FIRE (2011 Readers Favorite Bronze Medal for YA Fantasy), and GRIFFIN’S STORM (November 2012).  Her debut Middle Grade novel, FINN FINNEGAN (Spencer Hill Press) will be released March 2013. The next book in the Finnegan series, GIDEON’S SPEAR (Spencer Hill Press) will be released February 2014.
She has also co-authored a non-fiction book for teens entitled MONEY AND TEENS with her husband, author Wes Karchut.
Visit the author at her website:   www.darbykarchut.com

Want to check out/buy the Griffin series?

Goodreads:     Book #1     Book #2     Book #3

Amazon     Barnes & Noble

My Week with Darby K.: How I Became a Writer, Part One

Darby K.About the author and where to find her:

Darby Karchut is an award-winning author, teacher, and a compulsive dawn greeter. She lives in Colorado with her husband and owns more backpacks than purses. As she should. Her YA books include GRIFFIN RISING (2012 Children’s Literary Awards Gold Medal, 2011 Sharp Writ YA Book of the Year), GRIFFIN’S FIRE (2011 Readers Favorite Bronze Medal for YA Fantasy), and GRIFFIN’S STORM (November 2012).  Her debut Middle Grade novel, FINN FINNEGAN (Spencer Hill Press) will be released March 2013. The next book in the Finnegan series, GIDEON’S SPEAR (Spencer Hill Press) will be released February 2014. She has also co-authored a non-fiction book for teens entitled MONEY AND TEENS with her husband, author Wes Karchut. Visit the author at her website:   www.darbykarchut.com

How I Became A Writer

Part One

One day, the idea of writing my own story, with my own characters, ambushed me while I was running in the foothills near my house. A story about a young hero rising above a brutal past with the help of others along the way, with whiffs of fantasy and history and philosophy and even a love story. Maybe something with … with … with angels.

Man, I really should have run faster.

For I already had a career. I taught, and still teach, social studies at a junior high school, and during the summers, my husband and I have been building a modest cabin in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. A full life. A happy life. A life with some bloody down time!

But the idea of writing my own story would not die. I kept thinking about writing a book. Which is all good and well, except for one problem.

I had never written anything like a book.

I had never written a short story.

I had never written creative fiction (except a few pieces of fan fiction)

I had never written a song or an epitaph or a poem.

Nothing. Nada. Zippo.

I had no idea what I was doing.

Now don’t misunderstand me. All my life, I have consumed books. I have read hundreds of books, thousands of books. Mostly fantasy, but also historical fiction, chick lit, biographies, world history, philosophy, science fiction, and young adult books. A metric ton of young adult books.

If my home library was a continent, it would be Asia.

It was similar to having an eating disorder. There’s an old saying among writers: you read and you read, and then one day you throw up a book. So to purge myself, I decided to write one, too. About a troubled teen angel named Griffin, and his steadfast father-mentor, Basil.

Because my life was getting just too easy and laid back.

Damn Calvinistic streak.

As I wrote my first book, I did everything wrong. I had two characters, but no plot. No plot as no beginning, no middle and certainly no ending. It was like building a house on an empty lot and starting out by purchasing a coffee table and an ice cream scooper.

But I took advantage of the Internet, my local Borders Bookstore, and other writers, and I learned and practiced the noble craft as I wrote. And rewrote. And rewrote. And rewrote.

Then I broke the rules to make the story better. Everything is about the Story.

Stupid Fate

As well known author, Toni Morrison, once said, “Write the book you want to read.”

Best advice ever for any author.

I think I toyed with the idea of writing a book for years, but only on a subconscious level. I was a child of J.R.R. Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, C.S. Lewis, Madeline L’Engle, and many other classics, so I knew if I ever did write one, it would be a fantasy.

As I said at the beginning, I had never written a story before. Oh, I’ve written one master thesis, various reports, and a bazillion lesson plans, but I never created a tale, populated with good guys and bad guys having adventures. I did not like or dislike writing. To me, it was simply a means to other ends.

Then, one day in late June 2009, several months after posting my first fan fiction piece, I happened to re-read C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. It is a curious little text in which he explains the basic tenets of Christianity through a series of letters between a senior devil and his apprentice. In the Introduction, Lewis briefly mentions that the opposite of devils are, of course, angels. Warrior angels. Butt-kicking angels. Not the poufy little cherubs that make me believe childhood obesity began during the Victorian era, but real soldiers of Heaven.

I liked the idea. Of celestial warriors. In fact, I found myself wishing Lewis or someone had written such a book. About an angel teaching and training his young apprentice while fulfilling their roles as guardians of humankind, but with an urban twist.

So, off to Poor Richard’s, my favorite local used bookstore, for such a book. Searching, searching, searching. Rats. Nothing.

However…

While digging around, careful not to get splinters from the plywood shelves, I came across a battered paperback on angelic lore from various cultures. And there it was. From the High Middle Ages in Europe came a description of a lower caste of angels said to control the four elements: earth, fire, wind, and water. Sounded like Jedi knights with halos.

I was hooked. Fate decided that I needed to write the book I was searching for.

Stupid Fate

But I didn’t want goody-goody angels. I even wrote, in huge letters across the top of my first page: “No Touched by An Angel allowed.” I wanted a down-to-earth type of angels who did the mundane, day-to-day guardianship stuff the other angels were too busy to take care of, with a strong emphasis on the delightful friction that occurs when the everyday rubs up against the supernatural.

And I knew the story must incorporate a master and apprentice, knight and squire, father and son type of relationship. The archetypical champion and his wise sage had intrigued me even before Joseph Campbell made me aware of the hero’s journey.

So I began writing what was to become my first book, Griffin Rising, that weekend; a tale about a young apprentice angel with serious self esteem issues and his coming of age under the tutelage of a larger-then-life mentor, interwoven with a charming love story between Griffin and the mortal girl next door.

And thus angst-ridden Griffin and noble Basil and sweet Katie and everyone else in the book started talking.

To me. In my head.

All the time.

Like children when you are trying to make a phone call.

Earth Angels

Since my angels (or as I sometimes referred to them after a long writing session, the boys) had both their feet on the ground (so to speak), I decided they should belong to sub-caste of angels, the very lowest of the lows. Terra Angeli: Latin for Earth Angels. Now the belief in angelic beings can be found in many of the world’s religions and I borrowed freely from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. My Prologue gave a nod to the early Christian writing The Celestial Hierarchy and with my background in anthropology, any and all world cultures were grist for my mill, to be sure.

For example, the Terra Angeli were inspired by classical Sparta, the Irish myths of Cuchulainne, Finn and the Red Branch, the European feudal system, the Plains Indians of North America, and Great Britain’s Royal Air Force during World War Two (and there’s a tip of the hat to Foyle’s War.)

The Four Months

For the next four months, I wrote and re-wrote the first few chapters a dozen times. I knew I wanted it to be a character driven book, but I soon realized my characters needed something to do, by golly! Or it would simply be one lengthy Seinfeld episode.

After wailing to my husband that my book was stagnating like three o’clock coffee at Starbuck’s, he dragged me off to the Holy of Holies.

Otherwise known as our local Borders Bookstore.

“Look,” he said, gesturing to an entire rack of how-to-write magazines. “You could read a few articles about plot. Have a cup of coffee while jotting down pointers, then put the magazine back and pick up another. Voila! Free education for the price of a latte.”

I naturally pitched a fit about “the experts” stifling my creativity and that Real Writers learn by struggling on their own (preferably in a quaint cottage overlooking a pastoral scene or deep in SoHo in a hip martini joint) and blah, blah, blah.

When I finished, he nodded like he understood, then said, “Yeah. Whatever,” grabbed the nearest magazine and headed for the cafe. Stumping after him, I imagined tripping him from behind and sending him face first into a rack of greeting cards. Too bad he’s agile.

After ordering our coffees, we found a table by the window (because a view of a parking lot is always so motivational) and I opened the magazine to the table of contents. Okay. There was an article about how to outline the plot of your novel. And it didn’t seem too long. I even knew and respected this particular author. Fine, I thought. I’ll read the damn thing. But don’t expect me to follow her advice. I’m not some lemming jostling for a front row position.

You know. That whole creative-stifling thing.

But, by golly, there were some rock solid, down to earth, kind-of-obvious-if-you-bothered-to-pull-your-stubborn-head-out-of-your-butt ideas that made sense. And the author even added a caveat at the end declaring that any advice should always be taken cautiously. Find your way of planning or outlining or story boarding or whatever. Any method works as long as it works for you.

I HATE it when my husband is right.

I started going to Borders at least once a week. And I read every writer’s magazine, devoured every article. And I started seeing a pattern. Author after author, editor after editor, agent after agent kept repeating the same things: compelling plot, strong characters, crisp dialogue and find your voice.

And I began to develop a writing process. I would write a few chapters, then stop and study the craft of writing. Then I’d go back and re-write them. Then plow ahead a few more chapters and repeat. I wasted a lot of time, but it was perfect just-in-time learning for me. I would study another rule or technique, and apply it immediately. Not just practice it on a short story, but put it to use on the book I was passionate about.

This process quickly morphed into reading every blog, every website, every e-article about the art and craft of writing fiction. Learn, learn, learn. Apply, apply, apply. Fall asleep thinking about the book, the characters whispering in my ears like creepy little stalkers.

All this while teaching junior high school full time. Talk about incredible field research for a young adult author! I would stand around and soak up teenage dialogue, often making notes on my hand if paper wasn’t available.

Luckily, I had a friend, another faculty member at my school, who read one of my earliest rough drafts. She was always gracious about my pulling her to one side between classes to ask her opinion, although she looked a bit worried when I asked her, very earnestly, one day: “Do you think Griffin would wear a pink polo shirt?” (Griffin, of course, being my sixteen year old protagonist.)

At least I didn’t ask the boxers versus briefs question. That would have been awkward.

Along the Way and Away

The magic of writing is that some days I wrote the story, and a lot of days, I simply took dictation while the characters lived out their lives for me. My subconscious came up with scenes I would never have conceived of, even on my best days. Those were wonderful days.

Known to writers as The Flow. It would be my drink of choice if we could ever bottle it.

Then there were days when every word written was covered in blood and spit. I would struggle with a sentence, a scene, a character, heck, a comma! But those were muscle building days. When I was literally clubbing my book to work; when I fought to use every little trick and skill I had recently picked up. Smashing the craft into my brain and then out onto my work.

Writing is gut-busting, molar-grinding hard work.

And, oh, so sweetly satisfying when it goes well.

Obsessive does not even begin to describe my behavior during those months. Thank goodness, my husband, who is an award winning artist, understood the creative drive. But I had to learn to balance my career and my family while writing. For the sake of my marriage as well as my sanity. (Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. The best advice I can give anyone attempting to write a book: turn off the television. It’s all drivel anyway and you might as well be working.)

So I trained myself to write whenever I had a fifteen minute block of time (or longer). Even if it was just a few sentences. Lunch time, after school, during the evening, every weekend. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote.

And I found the more I wrote, the better I got at it.

Well, duh. You think?

One “trick” I learned was to stop just short of saturation for the day. I would stop in the middle of an action scene or during an emotional exchange. That way, I would come back fresh and eager knowing exactly what I was going to work on in the next session. This got me warmed up and gave me a quicker start out of the gate.

Another useful bit of advice I followed was to get a beta reader. A person who would read your work and give your feedback. I did so after a few months and holy cow, was that scary! What if I really did suck? Oops. Sorry. I mean inhale deeply. I had to develop a thick skin and fast.

But I so fortunate to retain my mother as my beta reader. As a retired school teacher, she had the background and time to critically read each chapter as I went along, pointing out weaknesses in the plot as well as discrepancies in the characters. But, being my mother and I, her favorite child, (no matter how much my siblings protest) she was also fantastic at pointing out what was working well. For me, a balanced viewpoint was critical at this stage in my career because I was always looking at what was wrong with my story. And I needed to know what I was doing right so I could repeat it.

Day after day, word after word, I plodded along, until I reached the infamous middle of the book. The nemesis of so many good writers. I had been dreading this moment. After reading about writers giving up at this point in their book, I was mentally prepared to slam into the Wall.

Maybe I was geared up. Or lucky. Or maybe all that advice from other authors helped, but whatever it was, I hit the middle of my book, lowered my head and battered my way to the two-thirds section. Came up for air and looked around.

And that’s when I knew.

I was going to finish my first book. The plot was slowly tightening up, dialogue was flowing like the Colorado River during the spring melt, and I even knew how Griffin Rising was going to end. The adrenaline took over and I sprinted toward the finish line.

Stay tuned for part two of How I Became a Writer by Darby K. on Thursday, February 14, 2013

In the meantime: Want to check out/buy some of Darby K.’s books?

The Griffin Series on Goodreads:     Book #1     Book #2     Book #3

Finn Finnegan: Book One of the Adventures of Finn MacCullen on Goodreads

Amazon     Barnes & Noble


My Week with Darby K.: Griffin Rising (Book One: Earth/Griffin #1): Review

Title: Griffin Rising (Book One: Earth/Griffin #1) Author: Darby Karchut Format: Paperback, 176 pages Published:  June 15, 2011 by Paladin Timeless Books (first published April 14, 2011)  ISBN:  1606192108 (ISBN13: 9781606192108) Edition language: English Series: Griffin #1 Literary awards: Winner-2011 Readers Favorite Awards (Honorable Mention) (2011), Winner-2011 Sharp Writ Book Award YA Book of the Year (2011), Gold Medal-2012 Literary Classics Award for Fantasy Novel (2012)
Title: Griffin Rising (Book One: Earth/Griffin #1)
Author: Darby Karchut
Format: Paperback, 176 pages
Published: June 15, 2011 by Paladin Timeless Books (first published April 14, 2011)
ISBN: 1606192108 (ISBN13: 9781606192108)
Edition language: English
Series: Griffin #1
Literary awards: Winner-2011 Readers Favorite Awards (Honorable Mention) (2011), Winner-2011 Sharp Writ Book Award YA Book of the Year (2011), Gold Medal-2012 Literary Classics Award for Fantasy Novel (2012)

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Synopsis:

For centuries, rumors have abounded of a lowly caste of supernatural beings known as the Terrae Angeli. Armed with the power to control Earth, Fire, Wind, and Water, these warriors secretly serve as guardians for mortals in danger.But for one young angel-in-training, Griffin, life is hell as a cruel master makes his apprenticeship a nightmare. On the verge of failing, a new mentor, Basil, enters his life and changes it forever.Taking on the identity of father and son, Griffin and Basil forge a special bond where honesty and trust go hand in hand to secure Griffin’s destiny as a Terrae Angeli. Griffin’s belief in himself and the love of a mortal girl are the perfect combination in overcoming the darkest days of his life. But will it be enough for him to succeed?For Griffin, it’s time to angel up.

Source: Darby K. for a fair and honest review

My Rating: 5/5 stars

My Review:

Holy crap, Batman!  I don’t know where Darby Karchut has been (actually I do, I read the author info) but I can tell you, she is a welcome addition to the world of young adult writing!  Her first-in-a-series novel Griffin Rising was a fantastic read that had me hooked at page one of the prologue.

Griffin Rising is a novel that follows Griffin (DUH!), a young Tiro or apprentice who is learning the skills necessary to serve the world as a Terrae Angeli or guardian angel.  This particular caste of angels is completely earthbound and often blends into society at large which allows them to better perform their jobs.  For the most part, the guardians look just like other humans but unlike the humans they protect, they have a unique skill set which requires training and years of practice to master.  Griffin Rising traces Griffin’s life and training with his mentor Basil, a lovely British Terrae Angeli who comes to love Griffin as if he were his own.  When Basil first encounters Griffin he finds a thirteen year old boy who has been abused by his first mentor, Nicopolis; Griffin is scared and virtually untrained despite his innate ability to control both earth and fire.

Rather than bogging the reader down in the minutiae of the training years, Karchut advances the story three full years following the meeting of Basil and Griffin.  At this point, Griffin is sixteen, a funny and talented apprentice who is able to fully participate in rescue missions alongside Basil, and totally smitten with Katie, the girl across the street.  It is in these aspects that the reader will find one of the novel’s greatest strengths: characters that are real and completely accessible to readers of all ages.  Karchut establishes early on that the Terrae Angeli must blend into the human world.  To support this she had to create characters that the reader could understand and fully relate too.  Mission accomplished!   Throughout the book there is humor, witty conversation, moments of anger, anguish and tension, as well as moments of fun and pure joy – all emotions that the reader can certainly identify with.  Add to this the complete and utter likability of Griffin, Basil, Katie, and her parents and you have a wonderful cast of fully developed characters whose story you eagerly follow.

Rest assured dear reader there is drama aplenty in Griffin Rising as well.  All Terrae Angeli apprentices must, at the end of their three year training period endure a wicked and awful test known as the Proelium.  Unfortunately during the performance of his Proelium, Griffin’s tortured past comes back to haunt him in the form of Nicopolis.  Oh Nicopolis, how I hate you!!  This is yet another of the book’s great strengths, the level to which you find yourself actually hating a character.  Thank you Darby Karchut for making me wish evil, awful, and vile things to happen to a guardian angel – I feel so good about myself now J

The Bottom Line: At the end of the day, Griffin Rising is an excellent book by an exciting new author in the young adult world.  Take the time to read the information following the end of the novel: you will find that Karchut is an extremely well-educated writer who thoroughly researched her topic before setting pen to paper.  Her research and preparation has paid off!  Griffin Rising is an extremely well written first novel with strong characters (both likeable and not) an intriguing plot, and the potential to be an outstanding series.

Darby K.  About the author and where to find her:

Darby Karchut is an award-winning author, teacher, and a compulsive dawn greeter. She lives in Colorado with her husband and owns more backpacks than purses. As she should.
Her YA books include GRIFFIN RISING (2012 Children’s Literary Awards Gold Medal, 2011 Sharp Writ YA Book of the Year), GRIFFIN’S FIRE (2011 Readers Favorite Bronze Medal for YA Fantasy), and GRIFFIN’S STORM (November 2012).  Her debut Middle Grade novel, FINN FINNEGAN (Spencer Hill Press) will be released March 2013. The next book in the Finnegan series, GIDEON’S SPEAR (Spencer Hill Press) will be released February 2014.
She has also co-authored a non-fiction book for teens entitled MONEY AND TEENS with her husband, author Wes Karchut.
Visit the author at her website:   www.darbykarchut.com

Want to check out/buy the Griffin series?

Goodreads:     Book #1     Book #2     Book #3

Amazon     Barnes & Noble

Heart’s Storm by Julia Sherman: Excerpt and Giveaway

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Hi!  Welcome to my stop in the AToMR Tours-sponsored stop on the Heart’s Storm tour.  Today I have an excerpt and giveaway for and should you like to follow the rest of the tour (and we would be all kinds of excited if you do!) just click here.

CoverSynopsis:

Elizabeth Shulman, a twenty-seven-year-old Russian Jewish immigrant, would like nothing better than not to die a corporate accountant working at a Fortune 100 company. She wants to walk away from the corporate rat-race, but…she’s still holding onto the painful memories from her poor past—from the days her family came to America with nothing so that their children could have a free life.

 But soon one day’s event turns Elizabeth’s world upside down and inside out. With her bubble burst, Elizabeth decides to take the first step, quit her job. However, her bullying boss from HELL offers her a promotion and a big raise. But there’s a hitch. She must also agree to do pro bono work to bolster the company’s image. Her pro bono assignment: tutor unprivileged kids in a Southwest Chicago elementary school. And there, in school, her life begins to change when she gets a peek at a different type of world from her own.

 Heart’s Storm is a bitter-sweet romantic comedy about love and career, family and friends, immigration and hardships, betrayal and forgiveness, and the promise of the American dream.

Excerpt from Heart’s Storm:

I was ready to cross, but the light has turned to red, so I stopped to wait for it to change. I glanced up and down the sidewalk and across the street, where pedestrians were rushing back and forth.

Rushing pedestrians. Back and forth, back and forth, there, there they went: click, click, click. I could hear their heels on the pavement, trying to conquer the beast, rush against time in the city, where the shushing echo bounced from building to building, from ear to ear; “time is money,” it screamed; a substance that doesn’t grow on trees; a substance that everyone wants; and yet, I sighed deeply, a substance that you can’t take to your grave. Click. Click. Click. So why rush so fast then?

For a second I stood on the sidewalk just watching the pedestrians, and then in my mind I saw myself take off and sprint into the crowd. There I go, there I go, clearly blending in with the rushing people, and running, running along as I always did everyday. Just like them, just like them. How I hate myself for doing that! There, there, I go! Where are we rushing like that? Can anyone please give me an answer to that?

Then something squeezed tightly inside me. There it was again, that sad, overwhelming, deep aching emptiness in my heart. It came on like a hurricane. How could this happen so fast?

A few moments ago, I was among people: I stood next to businessmen and women, a homeless bum, construction workers, young college kids, a few cops, and others townspeople, under the bright blue sky that hung low over the skyscrapers.  Everywhere I looked, people were wide awake, talking. They stood close and chatted in groups, or they stood apart and yelled, their voices echoing the streets. Not anymore. On the sidewalk I was standing utterly alone, staring now at the building across the street. What was inside the walls was pure futility. They are still here, people, and yet, I am all alone.

Stop it! It’s just a building. Not so. For five years, that was my whole life. It is still your whole life, isn’t it?

I craved something different, I needed meaning and purpose. I didn’t know what I needed.

I looked up in the sky, and said, in a voice louder than I intended, “Just so you know, I’m not going to be there for the rest of my life.”

My philosophy professor in college often talked about how life is a lot like puzzle. We can eventually make sense of it, if we could just hold all the pieces together at the same time. I haven’t gotten any further than that.

Press PhotoAbout the author and where to find her:

Julia was born in Minsk, Belarus. At the age of eleven, she immigrated with her family to the United States. She currently lives in Chicago, IL with her husband and their daughter, Arielle.  She graduated from DePaul University in 2002 with a B.A. in Accounting and Finance. She also has an MBA from DePaul University in Entrepreneurship. She studied Creative Writing with Jerry Cleaver at the Writer’s Loft, and with Susan Breen at NYC Pitch and Shop, among many others. Additionally, Julia was one of the staff writers for the Chicago Holocaust Project, “Evidence of Holocaust: Never Forget.”

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Thanks to Julie at AToMR Tours for organizing this tour 🙂

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