Sarah Lampkin is another one of my incredible Parliament House Press sisters, and we’ve been fortunate enough to work alongside each other at not one, but two events this year!
(Check out our interview on YA Fantasy and Science Fiction at the Alabama Book Festival below!)
Sarah is awesome to work with. She’s also a gym rat and is a big inspiration to hit the gym if you follow her on social media! So I was thrilled to get a chance to review her book, To Dream Is To Die.
Finished: June 5, 2019
First of all, the concept behind The Dead Dreamer series (this is book 1 of that series) is so fascinating! I love the mixture of dreamers, spirits, and portals for demons and fairies. Brenna is a tough-as-nails protagonist and although her pessimistic personality took a bit to win me over, her friends and experiences soften her hard exterior throughout the story.
I also loved the mystery that takes place on a haunted college campus! I mean, technically anywhere Brenna goes is ultimately haunted, but you know what I mean. As someone who works on a campus, this especially appealed to me. I really enjoyed the fast pace and the way each of the characters change and evolve over time. For fans of ghost hunters, conspiracy theories, administrators hiding the truth, and characters with big secrets to hide, this is a novel for you!
I’m really excited to read book two in The Dead Dreamer series, To Wake The Dead, coming in October!
What I consider a 5-star book:
Is it a fun read? Although it took a little longer for Brenna to grow on me due to her pessimistic outlook on life, once the story got going I had a hard time putting this down!
Would you recommend it to others? If you love ghosts, people who turn into ghosts, or ghosts co-existing with demons and the fae, then this is definitely a book to check out!
Does it stick with you? This book has some scenes that will absolutely stick with you for a long time to come!
My overall rating: 5/5
Note: This book follows Brenna in her first year of college and she’s surrounded by party people who drink a LOT, with all the detail of having to puke into trash cans and whatnot. For me, this was triggering, but I’m a little squeamish about that sort of thing. For others, it may not be a problem at all. So just a warning if you’re squeamish like me to tread cautiously!
Today is International Tiger Day, so I thought I needed to give a shout-out to some of my favorite animals. First and foremost, let’s get the adorable pictures out of the way.
Adorable doesn’t even begin to describe this cub.
Not enough cuteness for you? Then I recommend you head over to Mother Jones and check out their whole page dedicated to the beautiful creatures. Don’t worry, I’ll wait until you get back. Got to get the Aww! out of your system after all.
Now if you want to read more about Siberian tigers, I recommend checking out The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant. I listened to this book on audio last year, checked out for free from my library, and I have to say it was an intense listen. For me at least, the audio book helped because listening to how the names were pronounced helped me to have more of a distinction for the characters. Check out a snippet of my review of the book:
The tiger is revered, feared, compartmentalized, and idealized. There is a main story, but mixed throughout are backgrounds for the various people whose lives were affected, as well as fascinating tales of the various tigers that our main forest ranger has encountered.
I learned a lot about Russian history and its economy in this book, as well as all the temperamental relations that have existed in the past with her neighbors. The book is also peppered with adventurous tiger stories (besides the primary tale), even from a few survivors, and you learn how intelligent, territorial, and vengeful these animals are. These sections were by far my favorite parts of the book, and made for some entertaining discussions around the dinner table.
As frustrating as the structure was at times, listening to it in audiobook format made the Russian names, terms, and locales easier to understand and I didn’t feel daunted by the language as much as I think I would have been had I read this in paper/ebook format.
Overall a fascinating book about a beautiful but dangerous predator.
Another good source for information on not only the Siberian tiger but also the people of the Taiga is the documentary titled Happy People (available on Netflix), which walks you through a regular working day for people who live among the largest land man-eaters on the planet. You really get a good taste for the environment in Vaillant’s The Tiger, but it really hits home to see the reality of it. Not only do you see how they have to create makeshift traps in the woods but you also watch them make their own boats, all using the simple but reliable tools at their disposal.
Finally I’d like to leave you with some excellent places that work with tigers on a regular basis.
Big Cat Rescue in Florida. A wildlife conservatory for big cats that are rescued and given a happy home. The video and pictures they post on a regular basis will make your heart melt.
Noah’s Ark in Georgia. I have a special fondness for this non-profit located right around the corner from where I live. They take in all sorts of animals, not just tigers. Recently they took in a bunch of dogs that were removed from a puppy mill, got them cleaned up, gave them medical exams, and will soon be adopting them out. One of their biggest attractions though is their BLT trio – a bear, lion, and tiger who live in the same enclosure and are incidentally best friends.
In preparation for shipping Suzie’s Nightmare around to different agents, I decided to give it to a few friends and get them to read it over. Get their impressions of the plot, the characters, the storyline. In his book On Writing, Stephen King sends out his burgeoning manuscripts to numerous fellow writers and readers he knows to get their opinion. I wish I could do that, but I just don’t know that many that I trust in the area. I work in web development after all, not writing. So I gave a copy to a friend, my sister, and my mom: all of whom are avid readers and seemed really enthusiastic about my piece. So far the friend has been afk regarding the document, my sister is putting it off until she’s out of “grading mode” from spring semester, and my mom just now finished it.
She called me yesterday and was railing about how good it was. That’s how impressed she was with it.
Claiming it was one of the best written books she’s come across in a long time, and how it was difficult to put down from midpoint to the end. Can you imagine how excited that makes me? Now I’m not getting my hopes up here, and she swears up and down that she’d let me know if it was bad, but I have to still hold her review a little skeptically simply because well… she’s my mom! But at the same time I’m thrilled that the first real feedback I get is one of raving review! She pointed out a few plot holes that need plugging and a few details that need to be added, but that’s certainly not difficult to do.
Now comes the difficult job of shopping it around to a few agents. I’ll probably be doing edits to the manuscript and working on the next book while shopping it around. Hopefully I get a few interested bites here. Still have to write a short synopsis of the book, which is going to be difficult considering how detailed the plot becomes. Still, it might get me primed for writing more on the sequel.
This is very much a book that is difficult to rate for me. At times I was annoyed with Natalie (affectionately called Nat in the piece), and at other times I completely sympathized with her. She is both the wise sage seeming to know more about the art of writing than you ever guessed, and at other times she seems very distant and naive.
At one point she talks about how she had a job that required her to go in once a week, and found that this was too much for her to handle and got in the way of her writing. So she quit the job and spent the rest of her time focusing on her piece. Not many people I believe are able to make such a choice so casually, and I would wager that most writers have people in their lives that rely on their day job paycheck. It’s naive to think that everybody could do this on a whim, but at the same time I have to admire Natalie for not beating around the bush here. She comes right out and tells you this even though it might come across negative to the readers. That’s fine bravery there.
Although I don’t always agree with Natalie, I found her book be quite inspiring. She gets you to think about writing in new ways, and she gets you to feel more comfortable writing. At one point she says that writing is just like mastering any other skill such as running. You get better at it with practice, and as they always say with experts, the better you get the more difficult it becomes to instruct beginners. You’re with Natalie through her ups and downs, though her questioning search for identity, and her beautiful mix of zen and writing. I would certainly be interested in reading her other novel, Writing Down the Bones, since it’s typically seen as a better guide for writers than this book. However I highly recommend reading this. Her prose is calm and smooth, and you feel like she’s chatting to you across a cafe table sipping some herbal tea.
Just be prepared to accept Natalie as who she is and keep an open mind. You’ll be greatly rewarded if you do.