Friday, April 29, 2016

Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older

Title: Half-Resurrection Blues
Author: Daniel José Older
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Bone Street Rumba #1

Mass Market Paperback, 326 pages
Publication: January 6, 2015 by Roc

Source: Personal library. 


Carlos Delacruz is one of the New York Council of the Dead’s most unusual agents—an inbetweener, partially resurrected from a death he barely recalls suffering, after a life that’s missing from his memory. He thinks he is one of a kind—until he encounters other entities walking the fine line between life and death.

One inbetweener is a sorcerer. He’s summoned a horde of implike ngks capable of eliminating spirits, and they’re spreading through the city like a plague. They’ve already taken out some of NYCOD’s finest, leaving Carlos desperate to stop their master before he opens up the entrada to the Underworld—which would destroy the balance between the living and the dead.

But in uncovering this man’s identity, Carlos confronts the truth of his own life—and death…
Half-Resurrection Blues has been sitting on my shelf for over a year. I remember buying it in the early months of its release but never got around to it. Lately however, the last few fantasy novels I’ve read were all ghost based. Then I remembered about Half-Resurrection Blues, so I decided to finally pick it up…I mean I was on a roll with all these ghost-related books. Within the first page, I was berating myself. Why didn’t I read this book sooner, like a year ago! Because within the first page, I knew I was going to like this book and it exceeded beyond my expectations. Half-Resurrection Blues is unlike any Urban Fantasy, ghost-noir I’ve read. And I loved every second of it!

Many of the reviews for HRB praised Older’s prose and I agree with them wholeheartedly. I thought it was different, a bit clunky/rough but I mean this in the best way possible. I don’t know how to explain it exactly but I found it to be a harmonious counterpart to the world building and characters. It just felt right. As for Older’s New York and its inhabitants; they were so meticulously detailed and described that I can vividly see everything and everyone. I think one of the hardest things about writing a book may be capturing all of the five sensory details but Older didn’t have a problem with that in this debut novel. Not only is it well done and executed but I truly got a good sense of Agent Delacruz’s Brooklyn as if I was there amongst the living and the dead.

Carlos, our protagonist, is somethin’ special. And no, it’s not because he’s an in-betweener, a person who is neither dead nor alive. I’ll be honest. As first impression goes, on the surface, Carlos was kind of like a kid. He didn’t know much about anything, didn’t care much in general, about anything, didn’t question the system/or his superiors, and did what he was told…which he also didn’t question. Normally, a character like that would be an automatic turn-off for me. But Carlos is an exception and he’s surely isn’t a child. Carlos had this care-free nature thing going on and I loved his I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude…and the man cusses like a sailor. Well, everyone in this book does…even the youngsters like Kia (I’m usually not fond of book that uses a lot of curse words, but Older made it work lol). Most of the Urban Fantasies I’ve read are full of snarky, strong, and kick-ass females. Exactly how I like them. I don’t remember, at least nothing comes to mind at the moment, of any strong male lead that rivaled all those female UF protagonists. Until now. Carlos is a breath of fresh air in the Urban Fantasy genre; he’s snarky without trying, quirky but still had that bad-boy vibe going on, and was unapologetic. Unlike most males in UF who are typically the broody and serious types…and sometimes just plain ol’ douches. For someone who is described as washed out grayish, Carlos is an effervescent character as are his motley crew.

Bottom line, if you haven’t read Half-Resurrection Blues yet…you need to get on it ASAP! Don’t be like me. I’m all late to the party and should’ve of read it a year ago! I read a lot of Urban Fantasies and it’s been awhile since I read a debut that was not only fresh but also fun and engaging. I highly recommend Half-Resurrection Blues and am looking forward to reading more of this great series. Who knew reading about ghosts can be so entertaining!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Author Interview: Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu

Please welcome Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu to Short & Sweet Reviews blog! Annie is here today to answer some questions about her debut novel, SOMEWHERE AMONG which releases wherever books are sold tomorrow, April 26, 2016!

Hi Annie! Firstly, I just wanted to let you know I enjoyed Somewhere Among immensely! 

Thank you! And thank you for these questions.

I saw on your blog that when you first set out to write your middle

grade novel, it was entirely different. You never intended it to be about September 11th, but I am curious about the conception of the novel and how Somewhere Among came to be. So, my first question is, how did your original middle grade novel set in Texas transform to Somewhere Among, set in Japan during the tragic time of 9/11?

The two are different novels, different stories. The Texas novel remains on file for future revisions. I started writing Somewhere Among while we were experiencing aftershocks from the earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

We experienced a fraction of the initial quake, but it was frightening. We didn’t have any damage at our Tokyo house. In my area, there were scheduled electricity blackouts and only shortages of bread and toilet paper, but the earth rumbled under our feet for months reminding us that Tokyo is expected to have a big earthquake someday. The discomfort from the aftershocks, concern about a possible big quake, and the grief from the aftermath of the tsunami made me turn to writing.

But I couldn’t work on the Texas novel. I started writing poems, memories, images and funny experiences from our life in Tokyo. But it didn’t take long for memories of 9-11 to come back.

I started thinking about how we coped with that tragedy. And the tragedies that Japan and the US share. I also thought of myself as a child in elementary school in the 1960s. It was a difficult time, too. But there were voices of peace all around. I remember the comfort of the words of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and the songs of the time.

All those bits and pieces came to together as a way of coping with the aftershocks. On my mind was how people keep going, keep strong. The cornerstone of this story became the peace doll a woman gave me on the train when I was pregnant with my first child. The message “May Peace Prevail on Earth” was taped on it.

How much research did you have to do for Somewhere Among? Were any of the characters in the novel based off anyone you know in real life?

The story actually came fast. Both my children went through the Japanese public system so I had many details from those days. I also had vivid memories of 2001; details, images, observations and emotions of the Ehime Maru, 9-11, Martha Stewart being grounded here, the music, the meteor shower, rocket launches, and the typhoons we experienced that year.

I take note of things in daily life and I have had a very good memory (so far).

The story fell together and then I began researching, making sure of the timeline and layering more details of events, the weather, foliage, moon phases and NASA. The story has an extensive bibliography. An abridged copy can be found on my website,

Sticking to the timeline made revisions tricky. It was a mind-blowing experience.

The historical events are documented by newspaper articles, TV reports, and my photographs. The neighborhood is based on my neighborhood. The clump of trees down the street. The timing of cicadas and swallows. Foliage changes (this is different in different regions). The house is the house we used to live in before we built a new house. (We lived in one room and my in-laws’ section did not and still does not have a chair.) We have always been watchers of the sky.

The characters are fictional, but of course I drew on my experiences with people here. The grandmother is not my children’s grandmother. She’s the sum of all the cultural “mishaps” I learned here from different people. For example, it was suggested to me after my babies were born that visitors should not come to the room where we sit, eat and sleep. The grandfather is the sum of the affection and unconditional love my children’s American and Japanese grandparents’ had for them.

I would never have attempted this story if I hadn’t had the experience of living with my in-laws and my children going through the Japanese public school system.

I personally haven’t read a book written entirely in poem, in a very, very long time. I thought it was a nice change from my usual reading. Why did you choose to write in the style of poetry?

This story came in this form. Poetry is important to the mom in the story. She made it a part of her child’s life. My love of poetry started at a young age. I have always read more poetry (and short stories) than novels. I have written children’s and adult poetry along with short stories, flash fiction and a blog for many years. Writing poetry feels natural. Writing short feels natural.

Somewhere Among releases tomorrow, do you have any celebration plans?

I should have planned something! Our house is too messy for teatime visitors. Maybe later I will do some spring cleaning. But I am planning to go the Heiwa no Daito (translated as The Great Pagoda of Peace even though it is not a pagoda) . There is a peace festival each May. I am planning to go to the States in September. I have heard Kinokuniya in New York would like me to come sign books! Befriend me on my Facebook page Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu (with a hyphen) for updates.

What is one thing that you hope readers will take away after reading Somewhere Among?

That even though we don’t have any control over the events in the world or control over how others talk or act, we do have control of our own reactions and actions and words. We can work on our own hearts. There is a chance we may be able to influence others to do the same.

And lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read. But be a creative and an analytical reader at some point after the enjoyment of reading a story. Take note of the choices the author made. Keep a reading journal (that would be fun for young readers to watch their growth as a reader even if they don’t want to be a writer.)

Observe, take note of life. Make connections.

Write for yourself. Don’t think about publishing. If you do decide to pursue publication, don’t send something out too soon.

Find readers for your work. Listen. If they don’t understand what you are trying to say, don’t write them off. Go back, reread, rewrite.

Go to writing workshops and conferences. Enter contests for critiques. Take every opportunity.

I took Somewhere Among fully formed (I thought) to a verse novel workshop at the Highlights Foundation in 2012. I learned the basics and had critiques from the instructors, Virginia Euwer Wolff, Sonya Sones, and Linda Oatman High. I met other writers there who read and critiqued it. One attendee read the whole novel!

SCBWI-JAPAN offered a critique by an editor. Afterwards, I made some revisions. I entered the 2013 Writers League of Texas competition in order to have it critiqued. I won the contest and made some revisions. I signed up for a critique at SCBWI-LA in 2013 and Somewhere Among was critiqued by the Adams Literary Agency. I then felt ready to submit it to literary agent Holly McGhee. She asked many questions that led to revisions. Then the editor had some more questions that led to revisions.

You have to observe and listen in order to write. And to publish.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer a few of my questions Annie! I can’t wait till other readers get the chance to read Somewhere Among when it releases Tuesday! 

Thank you for your review, your enthusiasm, and this interview.

Image via Simon and Shuster Site

               ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu lives in Tokyo, Japan. Her work has been published in Hunger Mountain, Highlights, Highlights High Five, Y.A.R.N., and other magazines. She received a grant from the Highlights Foundation to attend Chautauqua in 2009. Somewhere Among won the 2013 Writers’ League of Texas award in the middle grade category and is her debut novel. - See more at:

Thursday, April 21, 2016

[Early Review] Somewhere Among by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu

Title: Somewhere Among
Author: Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu
Genre: Fiction, Free-Verse Poetry 
Series: N/A

Hardcover448 pages
Publication: April 26th 2016 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books 

Source: I received a review copy (ARC) from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.


Eleven-year-old Ema has always been of two worlds—her father’s Japanese heritage and her mother’s life in America. She’s spent summers in California for as long as she can remember, but this year she and her mother are staying with her grandparents in Japan as they await the arrival of Ema’s baby sibling. Her mother’s pregnancy has been tricky, putting everyone on edge, but Ema’s heart is singing—finally, there will be someone else who will understand what it’s like to belong and not belong at the same time.

But Ema’s good spirits are muffled by her grandmother who is cold, tightfisted, and quick to reprimand her for the slightest infraction. Then, when their stay is extended and Ema must go to a new school, her worries of not belonging grow. And when the tragedy of 9/11 strikes, Ema, her parents, and the world watch as the twin towers fall…

As Ema watches her mother grieve for her country across the ocean— threatening the safety of her pregnancy—and her beloved grandfather falls ill, she feels more helpless and hopeless than ever. And yet, surrounded by tragedy, Ema sees for the first time the tender side of her grandmother, and the reason for the penny-pinching and sternness make sense—her grandmother has been preparing so they could all survive the worst.
Somewhere Among is a realistic fiction about a girl straddling two worlds, two cultures, America and Japan; all while moving across the country with her family to live in Japan, anticipating the birth of a new baby and coping with the disaster that hit home (America) while she’s hundreds of miles away.

I’m sure everyone in the world was watching when the Twin Towers were hit in New York on September 11, 2001. It was the tragedy heard round’ the world. This year marks the 15th Anniversary of that day, and still I remember it vividly. I was around Ema’s age, our heroine of the story and I still recall where I was at, what I was doing and who I was with. It shook everyone’s lives, those watching from their TV to the people living in other countries. So when I was given the chance to review Somewhere Among, I knew immediately that it was definitely not a book I wanted to pass up. And I’m so glad I didn’t.

I’ve never or don’t recall, at least in quite some time, reading a free-verse poem novel. I’m positive there are plenty of poem books, but I can’t say I’ve read many of them. Somewhere Among is written entirely in Free-Verse. It was a very different reading experience and a pleasant one at that. The book is just shy of 450 pages, but since it’s written in verses, it was a quick read. I love reading about the Japanese culture; seeing the similarities and difference between the East and West’s views. One thing we all have in common, regardless of culture is that we all wish/hope the best for our families in terms of happiness, health and stability. That hasn’t changed from generation to generation.

Donwerth-Chikamatsu did a great job taking a real situation and incorporating it into a realistic story of family and school life of an 11-year-old. Readers empathize with Ema as she temporarily transitions to life in Japan. Ema may have roots in both countries, but she still struggles with feelings of inadequacy, like an outcast, stranger as she familiarize herself with the customs, rules and life in Tokyo. Readers also see how the tragedy of 9/11 affected Ema and her family emotionally and physically; taking a toll on her mother and stopping her father from coming home from work and grounding planes all over the world which also stopped her Grandpa and Nana from visiting from America.

Overall, I enjoyed Somewhere Among way more than I expected. I think it’s a book many can relate to, whether they too, are of two cultures or were old enough to live through or understand the meaning of 9/11. I highly recommend this book, especially where we are today; because one thing I can say for certain, I learned from reading this book is that we all aren’t that different, if we just stopped and really looked; we have more in common than we’d think.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

The Demonists by Thomas E. Sniegoski + Giveaway

Title: The Demonists
Author: Thomas E. Sniegoski
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Demonists #1

Trade Paperback, 336 pages
Publication: April 5, 2016 by Roc

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.


There is more to our world than meets the eye—darker things, crueler things. Exorcist John Fogg and his wife, psychic medium Theodora Knight, know what lurks in the shadows. But even they’re not prepared for the worst Hell has to offer... It was supposed to be a simple exorcism, a publicity stunt to firmly establish John and Theodora’s thriving paranormal investigation empire in the public eye.

But something went wrong, leading to an on-air massacre that unleashed a malicious host of demons and left Theodora catatonic, possessed by countless spirits.

John sets out on a desperate quest to find a cure for his wife, but his obsession brings him face-to-face with an even more terrifying problem: Theodora’s possession is only one piece of a deadly plot that is threatening the entire world. Because an ancient evil is about to make Earth its battlefield—and without John and Theodora’s intervention, there is no chance for salvation...
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m one of those folks that enjoy watching paranormal/ghost reality shows. Whether it’s real or not, whether you believe it or not are all part of the fun! When I first heard about The Demonists I was immediately intrigued! Sniegoski takes the idea of a ghost reality show and incorporates evil vengeful spirits, a missing children investigation and secret societies seamlessly; creating a dark and compelling world.

There were a lot of different plot lines at play throughout the book, which meant there were a lot of characters. It was a little overwhelming at first, with multiple POVs one after the other but a few chapters in, I was able to differentiate who was saying what. We have our two main characters, husband and wife John and Theodora, Elijah, leader of an organization that battles evil entities, and ‘The Teacher’, a child abductor who was snatching 6 year-olds across the country. At first, the plot lines looked unrelated to one another but as readers progressed, the various plot lines converged towards a satisfying ending that wrapped up neatly but also left room for more books in the series. I thought most of the characters were very interesting. Everyone had some sort of run in with the paranormal and I loved reading about their background and how that affected their choices/ the actions they took. The only two characters I had an issuing connecting with were the two main characters, John and Theodora. I tried to sympathize with their situation but I never did. The prologue with the two meeting and Halloween night had me more engaged then later on when Theodora came down with an affliction. But this is the beginning to a new series, so there’s always room for character growth and development. Which I hope we'll see in the next installment.

All in all, The Demonists was a good start to a brand new series. Let me warn you though, that this is an extremely dark fantasy. If there weren’t any of the fantasy elements, this book would probably be categorized as a horror novel. It’s very graphic and detailed. I’m all for dark fantasy, so of course I highly recommend it but a word of advice: don’t read it before bed! I look forward to seeing where Sniegoski takes this group of Demonists!

Thanks to the wonderful people at Penguin, I have two (2) copies of THE DEMONISTS to giveaway! To enter, please fill out the Rafflecopter below! Thank you.


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