Book Review: The Bug Boys by Stewart Hoffman

I’ve just finished The Bug Boys and, oh, what a delightful read! This good tale can be found on Book Club Reading List.bug-boys

Synopsis

Alex and Ian are two ordinary middle-schoolers growing up in an ordinary small town in England. One afternoon they ate a lunch that made them feel peculiar. Little did they know, that peanut butter sandwich and apple were saturated in an ancient alien life form that turned their bodies into portals to a distant planet. They first discovered something was amiss when, after being forced to swallow a ladybug by the school bully, Alex grew 4 extra arms, acquired super-strength, and could understand the language of bugs–but only for about 20 minutes. With their newfound superpowers, Alex and Ian felt unstoppable. What better way was there to use their new abilities than to fight crime and become superheroes? After dealing with the local school bully, Alex and Ian find themselves tangled up in a corporate conspiracy far out of their league and soon long for the days before their problems became so complicated.

Strengths

This book is SO funny! I love the storytelling style and the humor that is woven so effortlessly throughout. The author has referenced his love of Terry Pratchett and I can see his influence in book’s sense of humor. I love the lighthearted, fresh twist on a superhero story, and I love that the main characters–Alex and Ian–behave exactly how you would expect pre-teen boys with superpowers to behave. They are absolutely believable and genuine characters that are so easy to love. While The Bug Boys is an entertaining read for anyone, if you have a son who might struggle with finding interesting books to read, you MUST give them this one! They will love it! Maybe I’m biased because I’m a girl (and therefore exposed to a plethora of interesting-to-girls literature), but I don’t think there are enough books geared toward middle school boys. The Bug Boys would be a fantastic addition to any young reader’s bookshelf.

Weaknesses

There were a few chapters where the action slowed down a bit, examining the story from a different point of view. While it was nice to get a different perspective, the change in pace during these chapters was a little slower than I preferred. But these chapters were generally brief before connecting back to Alex and Ian’s adventures.

Conclusion

This is a book you don’t want to miss. It has broad audience appeal, thanks to the easy humor and fun writing style, and will be enjoyed by readers of any age. I would especially recommend to middle school age boys, but again, everyone can enjoy this read. Go get yourself a copy and enjoy your next good tale!

5 stars

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Author Interview: Stewart Hoffman

stewart-hoffman

Stewart Hoffman is the author of The Bug Boys, a science fiction novel about a couple of middle-schoolers who get super powers. You can find this fun tale on Book Club Reading List.

How did you come up with the idea for this book?

Back in 2006, I was at the theater watching Superman Returns, and I started to think about what I would do if I were to create a superhero adventure. How would my heroes get their powers? Moreover, how would that work in the real world? I wanted to create something a little different from the usual superhero origin story, and through the writing process, The Bug Boys idea took shape and became a reality.

Who is your favorite character?

Alex. He’s the main hero of this story even though there are two Bug Boys. He’s creative, but not very organized, unlike his friend Ian.

Did you base any of your characters on real people?

Nearly every character in this book is loosely based on someone I know. For my first book, I wanted to make things easy for myself, and not have to create everything from scratch. Using people and places I know made it easier to track where the story and characters were heading.

Describe your writing process.

I joined two writers groups to help me get through this project, and set a pace I knew I could maintain. Every two weeks, I’d have a new five or six-page chapter done, and I’d review the text with these groups. Based on their feedback, changes were made, and I would keep marching on. These groups were also a good barometer going forward. If I got the feeling I was wasting my time with this project (as in, people were struggling to find something nice to say about my work!), I would have saved myself the embarrassment and shelved the idea forever!

Who are some authors who have influenced you?

Thbug-boysere is a reason the main family’s surname in my book is Adams, and why I have a character called Mrs. Pratchett. I love the books by Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, and their influence shows in my sense of humor and choice of story topic. I wanted to be honest about that inspiration so that’s why they are included. I also enjoy John Scalzi’s work (Red Shirts) and Harry Harrison’s novels (The Stainless Steel Rat). I also hope Andy Weir (The Martian) writes some more books too; he’s hilarious!

What made you want to become an author?

I simply wanted to do something creative with my life. I knew I could tell a fun story, I just needed help with the mechanics to make sure I released something worth reading.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

Set a pace you can maintain and stick to it. Let your ideas brew for a while before sitting down to write (never force it), and find other writers to critique your work as you go. They’ll help you recognize your weaknesses, and ask tough questions about your work.

Thank you, Stewart!! Readers, watch for my review of The Bug Boys later this week!

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Cover Reveal: The Bug Boys by Stewart Hoffman

bug-boys

Up next is a middle-grade science fiction novel called The Bug Boys by Stewart Hoffman. It can be found on Book Club Reading List.

A quiet South Yorkshire village called Rossolington becomes the origin point for the world’s latest superheroes, The Bug Boys! Two regular kids, Alex Adams and Ian Harris, get embroiled in an ancient alien research project and become the heroes their village never needed.

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Book review: The House of Baric Part One: Shields Down

Shields Down Digital Front-smallerI have finally finished The House of Baric Part One: Shields Down! This historical fiction novel by Jillian Bald can be found on Book Club Reading List. Now, I say “finally” because I have been diligently working on it for the better part of a month. It is quite long, but very entertaining!

Synopsis

Resi is a girl from Greece whose father arranges her marriage to a Croatian baron’s son to keep the peace after a trading deal goes awry. Betrothed from a young age, Resi is unsure of her future. She doesn’t want to marry a stranger and live far from her family in a foreign land. When she is finally sent for to fulfill the marriage contract, she moves to Croatia with her best friend Ruby to keep her company. Her new husband, Baron Mauro Baric, is not what she expected. The House of Baric: Shields Down explores their first two years of marriage, getting to know each other and discovering they might actually like each other. The reader gets to know a colorful cast of characters and becomes immersed in 17th-century life in Croatia.

Strengths

If you love historical fiction, this book is for you! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Historical fiction is my favorite way to learn history. I cannot get through dry history books; I literally fall asleep every time. But historical fiction? Sign me up! I love learning about the past, what life was like, how things were different from the world I live in today, and historical fiction teaches history by immersing the reader in that period. The House of Baric did a great job at fully depicting its world, 17th-century Croatia, a time and place I have never learned much about. Bravo to Jillian Bald for the sheer amount of research I’m sure she did to accurately write in such a setting.

The writing is very strong, descriptive and sophisticated. It was long, but easy to read.

I very much enjoyed the characters and getting in each of their heads. I loved Resi and thought she was very brave in accepting the terms of her marriage and making the best of it. She is a very intelligent woman with a strong spine who isn’t afraid to stand up for herself or others she thinks are being mistreated.

Weaknesses

The main problem I had with this book is that I didn’t feel like as much was accomplished during the story as should have been, given how long it was. It is definitely a slow-moving, descriptive book, which is fine, but there were events that I kept expecting to get to only to have the plot derailed by something else. For example, we learn early on that Resi has been communicating with her favorite brother, a mercenary who has not gotten along well with Mauro in past years. Her brother will be in the area and wants to come for a visit. Naturally, I expected this highly anticipated event would cover at least a portion of the rest of the book. Instead, unexpected visitors show up at the Baric household, then Mauro’s ship is confiscated by the government, there’s a ball and a camp out on the beach… All entertaining parts of the book, but then Part One ends just as Resi’s brother shows up. I guess that’s meant to be motivation to read the next book in the series, but I’m a little annoyed that I was waiting for the confrontation with the brother for so long and didn’t even get to read it.

Conclusion

This is definitely a book for all historical fiction lovers! I wish I could go on a Mediterranean cruise or something now. Lounge on the beach, gaze into crystal clear waters, and curl up with a good book. Doesn’t that sound amazing? This book put me in that mood! It is a little on the long side and definitely has passages that could be trimmed down, but The House of Baric Part One: Shields Down is a quality, worthwhile read. Be prepared to take your time to savor all it has to offer.

4 out of 5 stars

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Author Interview: Jillian Bald

Jillian BaldHere’s my interview with Jillian Bald, author of The House of Baric Part One: Shields Down. I found this good tale on Book Club Reading List.

How did you come up with the idea for this book?

In the beginning, it was a simpler story about a girl sent away to a new land for an arranged marriage. I had planned to tell the story from her perspective. The ideas that I began outlining were more back stories of her husband, Mauro Baric, and from there, the stories about those living at the Baric castle. Resi and her journey are still prominent, but I ended up focusing on the men in the books more than I originally thought I would. I am happy with this choice, though.

Who is your favorite character?

All of my characters are dear to me in their own way, but I have taken special care of Jero in the books. His role will grow as the trilogy progresses, and I have had fun with his struggles. You might expect me to say Mauro or Resi, but Jero is my number one.

Did you base any of your characters on real people?

I hope I did not base any of my characters on real people. We have all had a friend like Fabian or Isabella at some point in our lives (maybe we are like them ourselves, and not like the more serious Mauro). I decided on a few personality and physical traits for each of my characters, and, weirdly, the people in my book sort of took on their own voices.

Describe your writing process.

I write notes down on my tablet in chucks of ideas, always out of sequence, but I organize these pieces of the story into a storyboard on my computer. I save every idea, even if it is just a sentence at a time. In the end, half are thrown away, but the other half is in the book. Before I wrote the first draft, I did a lot of research for The House of Baric for the setting and culture. When it comes to actual writing, I begin at chapter one and take the story in its order. I am always ready to move little plotlines around and edit, edit, edit.

Who are some authors who have influenced you?Shields Down Digital Front-smaller

I have been influenced by many writers. For entertaining romances, I have a lot of books by Julie Garwood in my collection. I have read a lot of early John Irving novels. He has something to say with his storytelling, and I like that in a book. I am a fan of Hugh Howey. He is a newer author, and I like his writing style and his story choices. I do like the classics. I am a bit old-school in my preference for formal punctuation, semi-colons, and long sentences in the writing of Tolkien or Jane Austen. Their original readers had not traveled far from home, and they had to create the world for their audience in pages of descriptive writing that must have taken great patience to perfect.

What made you want to become an author?

I have some flexibility in my schedule at this point in my life, and I had some stories twirling in my head. I am not a full-time author yet, but that is my goal. I have been writing for several years now, and it is a wonderful, creative outlet that gives me a lot of satisfaction.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

“Unplug” from the distractions of your electronic world and listen to the “voices” in your head. Write down what they say at the time, or you will never remember that brilliant thought. Trust your instincts. Read your dialogue out loud, like a play, to be sure the conversation is natural and you are keeping true to the different voices. Be prepared that it takes a long time to write and edit a decent story, but even longer to publish and market a book.

Thank you, Jillian!! I’m also a bit old-school in my preference for semi-colons and the classics. Readers, watch for my review of The House of Baric Part One: Shields Down, coming soon!

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Cover Reveal: The House of Baric Part One: Shields Down

Shields Down Digital Front-smallerThe House of Baric Part One: Shields Down is a historical fiction novel by Jillian Bald. I found this tale on Book Club Reading List.

Set in the Venetian Empire’s colony of Croatia at the end of the Thirty Years’ War, “Shields Down” introduces you to the young nobleman Mauro Baric. Mauro was the last of his family bloodline. With the sudden death of his father, Mauro unhappily took his title as the baron of the House of Baric. His first duty to his family in this new role was to marry and make an heir.

Resi Kokkinos was not interested in marrying an aristocrat any more than Mauro wanted a common, Ottoman Greek girl as his bride. Betrothed as children to repay Resi’s father’s debt to the Barics, the two had no choice in their paired future together.

Life for Resi and her Greek companion, Ruby Spiros, was dull while her soldiering husband and his small army were often away protecting the Venetian Empire’s borders. Even while home, Mauro found little time for his new bride. Disappointed in each other, they questioned just who they had been matched with. Resi’s servants Verica, Jero, Idita, and Nela tried to make her feel at home as the new mistress of the House of Baric.

The Baric’s story takes flight after the young couple’s first wedding anniversary. Unexpected visitors arrive at the castle and add a new dimension to their predictable lives in Solgrad. Mishaps and adventures are a part of living, and Resi and her husband will have their share. After some time and togetherness, the two could no longer deny that their arrangement was more than tolerable.

You are a fly-on- the-wall following Mauro and Resi, their soldiers, servants, and friends of the House of Baric during one pivotal summer in 1649. All are destined for arranged marriages and fixed stations in life. Is there room for happiness? Hiding behind the high Baric castle walls, can they avoid their allotted fates? In book one of this engaging trilogy, you will discover, as they do, that it is not so easy.

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Book Review: Waterwight by Laurel McHargue

waterwightI’ve finished Laurel McHargue’s Waterwight. What a fun read!! I found this gem on Book Club Reading List.

Synopsis

After a catastrophe only known as “the Event”, Celeste escapes from a home for orphans with little to no memory of what happened to her parents. Determined to learn the truth, Celeste embarks on an adventure to save what’s left of the world from an ever-growing ocean of toxic ooze. Guided by a mountain spirit and befriended by a giant, flying frog, Celeste must learn how to live in this changed world devoid of adults where children have started getting supernatural powers. Hunted by a murderous shape-shifter, will Celeste uncover the mystery behind the ooze before the rest of the world is overcome?

Strengths

I thought this was such a creative take on a post-apocalyptic world. I’m not sure I’ve ever read one where the children were the only survivors. Throw in supernatural powers and you’ve got a really interesting story. I think the characters were well-developed; my favorite is Orville, the French, flying frog. Who knew a frog could be so overwhelmingly charming?? I am dying to know how his story continues in the next book!

The supernatural powers that start manifesting in the children are so cool and varied. Mind reading, flying, invisibility, time-stopping, visions, super-strength…I could go on.

A huge strength to this book is the driving mystery. Where did this ooze come from? What exactly happened during the Event and what caused it? There’s a dreamlike quality throughout that makes the book feel very magical.

Weaknesses

There were times when the traveling of various characters got a bit tedious. Celeste has to fly across the ocean a couple of times and I think those parts could have been sped up or condensed further. But otherwise there weren’t many weaknesses!

Conclusion

This is a definite must read! Especially for the YA or middle school audience. Fun characters with superpowers and fast-moving, interesting plot, this is a book you won’t want to miss!

5 stars

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Laurel loves to hear from her readers! Contact her on Book Club Reading List or on Facebook

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