Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Guest Post: Rob Rufus, Author of Die Young with Me

Back in September, we did a mother-daughter read and review of Die Young with Me by Rob Rufus. This book easily makes our favorites list for 2016 reads. We are thrilled to have him on the blog today talking about the process of his book cover design.

You can’t judge a book by its cover, my ass.
            I love jacket-cover art.  When I’m roaming around bookstores, a cover image can be almost as striking as a book’s title – a good cover is always enough for me to read the synopsis of the book, and consider buying it.
            So when my first book was coming out, I got annoyingly nitpicky about the artwork.  I didn’t know anything about the business of choosing cover art – I guess I had always assumed it was like choosing album art for a rock-n-roll record, (i.e. if the band thinks it looks cool, just throw it on there and roll with it).
            But the process is much more complicated than that.  There are designers, marketers, editors, PR agents, literary agents, focus groups, and all sorts of people you never know or meet who have a valid input on the finally images sitting on a bookstore’s shelf.
            I have to admit, I was a total punisher to my agent, editor, and pretty much everyone else at Touchstone/Simon & Schuster about the art direction.  Since it was my story, it was initially hard to understand that, just because something appealed to me, that didn’t mean it would appeal to the book’s audience.
            My brain gravitated to the harsher aspects of the book – punk rock music, and cancer.  Everyone else, however, leaned more towards the sentimental, coming-of-age aspects.  So while the designers at Simon & Schuster worked on jacket art, I had NYC artist Jeannine Cannon (who usually does envelope-pushing political protest and female empowerment art) mocking up alternate cover designs. The result of all this work was that all the publisher’s designs seemed too tame to me, while the designs I turned in seemed off putting and unmarketable to them.
            In the end it was my editor, Matthew, who worked through this chaos to find the idea that would become the final jacket cover.  He cut out pieces of the mock covers, and taped them on a black book jacket as a straightforward, simple graphic.  The design team at Simon & Schuster ran with it, and cleaned it up so it was palatable.  A lot of people worked very hard to make it all come together, and I think the result is something we can all be proud of.  After all, people are already getting that DYWM skull tattooed on them, so that must mean someone did something right…right?

(Artwork mockup #2/5 by Jeannine Cannon) 

(Eventual artwork concept by my editor)

(Final result)

Thanks so much for sharing, Rob! We think the final result is perfect! Here's a little more about Die Young with Me and author Rob Rufus: 

In the tradition of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl comes the incredibly moving true story of a teenager diagnosed with cancer and how music was the one thing that helped him get through his darkest days.

Punk’s not dead in rural West Virginia. In fact, it blares constantly from the basement of Rob and Nat Rufus—identical twin brothers with spiked hair, black leather jackets, and the most kick-ass record collection in Appalachia. To them, school (and pretty much everything else) sucks. But what can you expect when you’re the only punks in town?
When the brothers start their own band, their lives begin to change: they meet friends, they attract girls, and they finally get invited to join a national tour and get out of their rat box little town.

But their plans are cut short when Rob is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that has already progressed to Stage Four. Not only are his dreams of punk rock stardom completely shredded, there is a very real threat that this is one battle that can’t be won.

While Rob suffers through nightmarish treatments and debilitating surgery, Nat continues on their band’s road to success alone. But as Rob’s life diverges from his brother’s, he learns to find strength within himself and through his music. Die Young With Me is a raw, honest account of a brave teen’s fight with cancer and the many ways music helped him cope through his recovery.

Rob Rufus is a musician and writer living in Nashville. His band, Blacklist Royals, has released two full-length albums and played in sixteen countries over the past five years. Rob has written articles for Modern Drummer, Amp Magazine, Digital Tour Bus, and many music sites. Rob also works closely with the cancer community, including the Lance Armstrong Foundation, Stupid Cancer Podcast (the largest advocacy/support organization worldwide for teens with cancer), and Make-A-Wish Foundation.

You can find Rob online at: 

© at A Belle's Tales


Monday, November 14, 2016

Gratitude Giveaway

Welcome to our stop on the Gratitude Giveaway, hosted by Mary at Bookhounds. This is our favorite giveaway of the year because it's a way to say thank you to our wonderful followers. We want to give you a book of your choice ($20 limit) from Amazon to show our gratitude. This is an easy giveaway to enter that doesn't require any demanding tasks. If you're a follower (or if you'd like to be one), just fill out the Rafflecopter form below to let us know who you are and how you follow. That's it! We appreciate every one of our followers, readers, commenters, and supporters!

 -one winner will win a book of their choice ($20 limit) from Amazon
 -please see terms and conditions on the Rafflecopter widget
 -giveaway is open to those who can enter and receive books from Amazon
 -must be 18 years of age to enter

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Check out the other participating blogs here:

Thank you to all our amazing followers! 

© at A Belle's Tales


Early Review: The Dollmaker (The Forgotten Files, #2) by Mary Burton

Title: The Dollmaker (The Forgotten Files, #2) 
Author: Mary Burton 
Publisher: Montlake Romance 
Source: Publisher 
Expected Publication: November 15th, 2016 
Pre-order: Amazon | B&N 

Summary: Dr. Tessa McGowan had never seen anything quite like it. But the mutilated bodies on her exam table tell a stunningly macabre tale: someone with a twisted mind is kidnapping women and altering their faces to resemble real, life-size dolls. As a forensic pathologist, it’s her job to aid the agent leading the case—even if that agent is her estranged husband.

Twelve years ago an unspeakable tragedy destroyed Dakota Sharp’s world. Haunted by the ghosts of his past, he’s devoted himself to capturing killers. His only regret is that it cost him Tessa. Now, as the Dollmaker case brings them together—and raises his suspicions that he’s crossed paths with this deranged psychopath before—they may just have their second chance. But it seems Dakota’s not the only one who wants to make Tessa his own…

She may be the Dollmaker’s next target, but Tessa has no intention of winding up as another toy on his shelf. Can she and Dakota stop this ghastly killer before his next deadly playdate?


The Dollmaker is the second book in The Forgotten Files by Mary Burton, but I love that it can be read as a stand-alone. While book one, The Shark, focused on Trooper Riley Tatum and Shield Security’s Clay Bowan, this book belongs to Agent Dakota Sharp. We met Agent Sharp in The Shark, and I loved getting to know him in The Dollmaker.

Agent Sharp may appear aloof, but he’s a good man and an incredible agent. His personal story is a sad one; and after his wife Tessa left him, an already reserved man became even more distant. But Dr. Tessa McGowan is back, and she’s willing to fight for her marriage if she can just get Dakota to realize they are worth fighting for. Here’s where I easily became invested in the story: Tessa is a forensic pathologist who is going to be working alongside Dr. Kincaid, whom we met in book one. I’ve worked in pathology for years so I loved the inclusion of the autopsies and the work that is second nature to me.

In The Dollmaker, a missing woman is found dead with her face permanently altered to resemble a doll’s. And she’s not the last. Who is this deranged killer whose fixation is transforming women into dolls, and why are the missing women linked to Tessa and perhaps even Dakota himself? Working together won’t be easy after their personal heartache, but nothing will keep these two from finding this psychopath and stopping him.

While there are cameos from characters in The Shark, readers can easily pick up The Dollmaker without missing a thing. I appreciate how the author connects the series while allowing them to be individual reads as well.

Good pacing and intriguing characters made this an enjoyable book for me; and even though I had my suspicions, Mary Burton kept me on toes as the plot thickened. A nice suspense thriller with a bit of romance that is perfect for readers of this genre and even fans of detective shows like Law & Order.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. 
© at A Belle's Tales


Early Review: Criminal Zoo by Sean McDaniel

Title: Criminal Zoo 
Author: Sean McDaniel 
Publisher: Rare Bird Books 
Source: Publisher 
Expected Publication: November 15th, 2016 
Pre-order: Amazon | B&N 

Summary: Like millions of children, Samuel Bradbury comes from a broken home. Yet he still enjoys the everyday activities of being a kid: playing basketball, shooting his air rifle, and hanging out. Something else, however, exists inside Samuel—something that sets him apart from other children. He enjoys killing.

Samuel's murderous impulses follow him into manhood and his lethal actions ultimately land him in the Criminal Zoo—society's final answer to a problem as old as mankind. His days are filled with suffering, as visitors with revenge in mind are allowed physical interaction with the inmates. He exists in torturous misery and all hope is lost. Death, an unattainable early release, becomes his only desire. An unexpected guest, however, changes everything; a surprise visit will decide Samuel's fate.

This is his story. 


Criminal Zoo by Sean McDaniel is a disturbing thriller but also a thought-provoking one. When the governor of Colorado loses his wife, he begins a crusade to build a zoo filled not with animals but with criminals; it will be interactive – guests will be allowed to inflict “a punishment” upon the inhabitants. Depending on the price they pay for admission, they can either view the exhibits or participate in what they consider some type of retribution. The governor believes that anyone who commits a violent crime “should be punished equally violently.” Very eye for an eye.

Our narrator informs us that the governor’s dream has become a reality. The 562-bed prison is known as Supermax and houses the Criminal Zoo. It has state-of-the-art security, there has never been an escape, and our narrator knows this because he is Samuel Bradbury, exhibit CZ One-Zero-One-Three, and this is his story.

Oh, Samuel… you sick, sick, deluded individual. You almost feel sorry for Samuel until you’re let into his mind. Samuel definitely deserves to be incarcerated… but does he deserve the zoo? I have my answer, but you’ll have to find yours.

Someone interviewing the governor questions whether he is confusing justice with vengeance, and I found myself wondering the very same thing. After all, two wrongs do not make a right… do they? And what would my feelings be if someone were to hurt my loved ones? It’s so easy to think we know ourselves when we view a path we’ve never had to actually walk. This story was a graphic one, and again I need to use the word disturbing because it’s the best descriptor. But it was also captivating and one I was equally repelled and transfixed by.

Criminal Zoo is not for the faint-hearted or delicate readers. I’ll be honest, some parts were a bit too unsettling for me. I recommend this to fans of horror and psychological thrillers. Fans of King and Ketchum will devour this!

Huge thank-you to the publisher for sending a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.   
© at A Belle's Tales


Monday, November 7, 2016

It's Monday! What are you reading?

It's Monday! What are you reading? is a great weekly meme now hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date. It's where we share what we're currently reading and what we're starting next. 

Currently reading: 

Mckenzie: I'm still working on Paradise Lost for school and fitting in Harry Potter when I can! I'm having my wisdom teeth removed this week, so I'm not sure how much fun reading I'll get in. 

Michele: I have a review book about a dancer trying to follow her dreams. I think I need something lighter after all the thrillers I've been reading, and this sounds like it fits the bill! 

Up next: 

Mckenzie: Hopefully I'll be able to start this soon! 

Michele: I finished The Passage – which I thoroughly enjoyed – but that ending has me ready to dive right into The Twelve. No doubt this will be my next read. 

Previous posts: 

Mother-daughter review of Unnatural Deeds by Cyn Balog

What are you reading this week?
We hope you have a happy Monday!

 © at A Belle's Tales


Friday, November 4, 2016

On My Shelf: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo

On My Shelf is an awesome feature hosted by Teresa at Readers Live A Thousand Lives that anyone can join. The idea is to spotlight a book from your TBR shelf; it's a fun way to discuss books with fellow bloggers and, with their help, decide which books are must-reads... and which ones can wait a while longer.

Love and Other Perishable Items was another bargain I grabbed. The cover and title drew me in. I've enjoyed several books by Australian authors lately, and the synopsis of this is super cute.

Have you read Love and Other Perishable Items? What are your thoughts? 
Do I drop everything and start reading -- or put it back on my shelf?

Hope everyone has a great weekend! See you Monday!

© at A Belle's Tales


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Mother-Daughter Review: Unnatural Deeds by Cyn Balog

Title: Unnatural Deeds 
Author: Cyn Balog 
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire 
Source: Publisher 
Published: November 1st, 2016 
Purchase: Amazon | B&N 

Summary: Secrets. Obsession. Murder. Victoria is about to discover just how dangerous it can be to lose yourself.

Victoria Zell doesn’t fit in, but she’s okay with that. All she needs is the company of her equally oddball boyfriend, Andrew. She doesn’t care what anyone else thinks…until magnetic, charming, mysterious Z comes into her life, and she starts lying to everyone she knows in an effort to unravel his secrets.

And then something terrible happens. Someone is dead and it’s time for Victoria to come clean. Interspersed with news clippings and police interviews, Victoria tells her story to Andrew, revealing her dark, horrible secrets…secrets that have finally come back to haunt her.


Michele's thoughts:

Foul whisp’rings are abroad. Unnatural Deeds 
Do breed unnatural troubles. Infected minds 
To their dead pillows will discharge their secrets.
                       – Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act V, Scene I

When a story starts with a quote from Macbeth, consider my attention grabbed. When it’s followed by the news story of an apparent homicide, I’m sold. And that’s how Cyn Balog begins Unnatural Deeds. What follows is a unique and all-consuming story that, even though it made me sob, made me fall completely in love with this book.

This was a very timely read for me, as my daughter is currently reading Macbeth for school and the characters in this story are putting on a play of Macbeth. So what started as a solo read quickly turned into a buddy read, and I loved sharing this wonderful book with her. I think she fell even more in love with it than I did.

To talk about the actual story will be difficult because it’s important not to give away a single thing. This is the kind of book that makes you think it’s one thing but that you quickly realize has cleverly disguised itself… because it is something entirely different. What may seem like a typical high school insta-love scenario is anything but. Once I began to suspect what was going on, I was a goner. I read this in one sitting, and it is a fast read but thrilling story. The characters are flawed, unreliable, and fascinating. While I may have pegged the twists, it certainly didn’t take anything away from the story. Brilliant. Reservations about certain characters and their actions are fully comprehensible given certain revelations.

Cyn Balog has always been an author whose work I love, but I believe this is my favorite. I can’t give her credit for the perfect timing of reading Macbeth alongside it… or can I? She very well may be the wizard I believe she is ;) 

Mckenzie's thoughts: 

It's not uncommon for my mom to read a book and tell me, "You have to read this." However, it's not very often that she grabs me by the arm, pulls me down to sit beside her, puts the book in my hands, and says, "Read. NOW." This was one of those times, and Unnatural Deeds was one of those books.

Our MC Victoria hasn't had the easiest high school experience; she suffers from severe anxiety and is a complete outcast at the private school she attends. The only person she can truly call friend is her next-door neighbor-turned-boyfriend Andrew, who she's known since they were kids. Andrew is the love of her life; she tells him everything. So of course she tells him about the bold, mysterious new kid at school. Andrew seems instantly wary of Z, though Victoria's not sure why. Z has been nothing but nice to her. He may have convinced her to cut class to get breakfast with him, and he's a little different, sure  I mean, how many kids can charm a ruthless teacher into overlooking gum and texting in class?  but he's nice nonetheless. Maybe it's because, aside from Andrew and her parents, no one's really paid this kind of attention to Victoria before now. Or maybe Z is just the kind of guy you can't help but be drawn to. But she wants to get to know Z better. No matter what kind of trouble it might be getting her into.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg with this story. Unnatural Deeds is unlike any other book I've read before. It may seem like nothing more than teen drama and a mysterious new guy, but trust me when I say it goes much, much deeper. This is such an intricate, brilliant plot that I won't risk any spoilers by telling more. But I will borrow my mom's strategy and implore you to read it now. 

Unnatural Deeds is a dark, fascinating story with twists that will leave you thinking long after you turn the last page. This was my first Balog book, and this author's writing is phenomenal; I can't wait to read more of her work. 

A huge thank-you to the publisher for providing us with a copy of this book in exchange for our honest review. 
© at A Belle's Tales