Book Review: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

“Where were you when the dead were following me home?”

Alex Stern. “Ninth House” by Leigh Bardugo (Chapter 6)

Her name is Galaxy Stern but she goes by Alex. A California native, Alex dropped out of school and left her hippie mom’s home to run with her sketchy drug dealer boyfriend. By the age of twenty, Alex has seen it all. Then things go from bad to worse—she becomes the only survivor of a brutal murder. And the killer is still out there. But she receives a special visit during her hospital stay, a benefactor that offers to take her away from L.A. It’s a chance for a new beginning, far from her old life. Of course there’s a catch.

Alex arrives in New Have to begin a new life at Yale. She’s been enrolled as a freshman, but her benefactors have also given her a job. Alex now is part of a mysterious secret society. Yale is home to eight of these active and highly-secret societies who regularly perform rituals of magic to satisfy their wants and needs. Her job is to work with the others of Lethe House to “police” the societies and make sure protocols are followed and campus and New Haven stay safe.

When a town girl is murdered, Alex finds herself on the hunt for the killer. She fights ghosts, powerful magic, and more as she tries to unravel this mystery of this murder as well as one that happened decades earlier. Everything in New Haven is connected. She also has to face the truth about her own past and special abilities.

I enjoyed reading Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo. It is atmospheric and a suspenseful thriller with enough mystery that kept me turning pages. Alex may be flawed, but Bardugo had me rooting for her. Alex’s evolution throughout the story was nicely rounded and believable. There really was a lot to Ninth House and it’s well worth picking up. For me, it was a different look at ghosts and how they may interact with the living. I especially like the Bridegroom; as I don’t do spoilers, just take my word, he has his merits.

Ninth House had plenty of twists and turns, a couple that surprised me and that was fun. While the ending was satisfying, I do like that it’s obvious that this is the start of a series and I look forward to reading the next book.

You can read more about Ninth House at Leigh Bardugo’s website.

Pitch Wars: One Month Update

One month ago, I found out I had been chosen as a 2019 Pitch Wars mentee. It was a supremely exciting moment and for several days I felt like I had to pinch myself, because surely, this couldn’t be really happening to me.

But it was. And it is.

The last few months of the year always are busy for me as freelancer. My clients seem to have more work for me, often with shorter deadlines. I don’t mind and it’s something I’ve learned to expect, which means I build extra blocks of work time into my schedule to accommodate. 

Except this year, it’s different. Because: Pitch Wars.

I’m in the process of revising my middle-grade fiction “Murph Meets a Demon” with help from my mentor, Jessica Bayliss. So far we’ve video-chatted, and despite some technical wonkyness, we accomplished a great deal. I can’t tell you how helpful it is to have someone like Jessica for guidance, to point out potential issues, inconsistencies in plot or character actions, and to just have that support. To have someone in your corner. That’s what Pitch Wars can offer. It’s the community—the mentees, mentors, and admin. What a fabulous group!

Now I’m extremely fortunate, I have an amazing writing community that I’ve been part of for a while. This includes my CP’s (critique partners) and writing friends that I connect with daily via phone, IMs, or social media. They are always there for me, and I’m so grateful. But, I’m also grateful to have my fellow Pitch Wars mentees. We are taking a very specific journey together and I have to say, our 2019 group is pretty awesome!

I can’t wait for their books to be out there and for everyone to get to read them. So many incredible stories! You’re going to be adding many to your TBR list. 

Also, if you follow me on Twitter, and you ARE following me right? 😏

Anyway, I’ve been sharing Pitch Wars mentee/mentor interviews. This is a great way to meet the different mentees and their mentors AND learn a bit more about their books.

Mine with Jessica posted November 22 and you can read it here through this link: https://pitchwars.org/pitch-wars-team-interviews-with-barb-hopkins-and-her-mentor-jessica-bayliss/

This post has rambled a bit, but that’s how it goes today. All day long my brain is always at least halfway with my book as I write other stuff, do chores, or grab 30 minutes for a walk outside on some of the last warm-ish days of the year. I’m really excited about “Murph Meets a Demon” and I can’t wait to share more with you. I promise, my next Pitch Wars update will delve a bit deeper into my book and my 12 1/2 year old MC: Audra “Murph” Murphy. She’s quite the kid!

I’m a Pitch Wars 2019 Mentee!

Last weekend something amazing happened.

Actually, many amazing things happened because I spent Friday through Sunday morning at the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators) Middle of the Map conference. It was a phenomenal conference and I hope to share a bit more about my experiences in another post.

Saturday night, we were just finishing a session of roundtable critiques, and it had been awesome. Great people, fantastic stories, helpful critiques. My phone buzzed and I saw I had an email.

From Pitch Wars. 👀 

My heart stopped. 💓 I debated about waiting and opening the email later when I was alone in my room. But I’m not good at waiting. I had to know. I opened. Read and scrolled. Scrolled some more. 

And shrieked. I might have happy-cried a bit too. Okay, yes, I totally happy-cried and my wonderful SCBWI friends gave me hugs and congratulations. I was in!

I had been chosen to be a 2019 Pitch Wars Mentee! https://pitchwars.org/pitch-wars-2019-the-mentors-picks/

And what is Pitch Wars and why is this such an exciting thing?

I’ll share with you directly from the Pitch Wars site:

“Pitch Wars is a mentoring program where published/agented authors, editors, or industry interns choose one writer each to mentor. Mentors read the entire manuscript and offer suggestions on how to make the manuscript shine for the agent showcase. The mentor also helps edit their mentee’s pitch for the contest and their query letter for submitting to agents. Mentors can participate solo or pair up and co-mentor.

During the agent showcase, each mentee is featured on a post that includes their pitch and the first page of their manuscript. . . . Participating agents view the posts and make requests. 

Over the past seven years, Pitch Wars has changed many lives. Countless authors have been matched with agents and even gone on to book deals and successful careers. . . . But most importantly, Pitch Wars has grown the writing community to connect author with author, creating an atmosphere of camaraderie as we go through all stages of revision and publishing.”

You can read more about Pitch Wars here: http://pitchwars.org/new-start-here/

My mentor is the amazing Jessica Bayliss and I’m crazy-excited to work with her. She writes young adult thriller and horror. Definitely go visit her website here: http://www.jessicabaylisswrites.com/

During the revision process of Pitch Wars I will be working on my middle grade urban fantasy: MURPH MEETS A DEMON. I can’t wait for you to read it, and meet Murph—she’s sassy, kind, and has just learned the women in her family are demon hunters. 

I’ll be posting here as the Pitch Wars revision process moves forward; as often as I can. There is a lot of work involved in revising/polishing a book to get it ready for the agent showcase, but it’s so worth it.

There are so many people that have supported me along the way during this journey, and I’m extremely grateful. Thank you!

Keep an eye out for updates!

Book Review: The Daybreak Bond by Megan Frazer Blakemore

“Maybe fate and superstition were just our brains’ way of making sense of the world around us, creating a story to explain events.”

The Daybreak Bond by Megan Frazer Blakemore (Chapt. 5, page 34)

The Daybreak Bond by Megan Frazer Blakemore is the sequel to The Firefly Code, a middle-grade science fiction story set in the future. I love a sequel, especially when the first book captivated me with its story and characters.

Everyone is back in book two, Mori and her closest friends from Firefly Lane in Old Harmonie, the community run by KritaCorp. By the end of book one, we know new girl Ilana is a form of AI and the scientists from KritaCorp have decided to disassemble her. The kids decide to intervene and run away from Old Harmonie with Ilana on a mission to save her life. The Daybreak Bond opens with the Firefly Five outside Old Harmonie and on their own trying to make their way to Cambridge and the campus of MIT. At MIT, they hope to find Dr. Varden, the one scientist that may be able to help keep Ilana alive. 

I like stories where the characters/heroes are on a journey and must overcome obstacles, and The Daybreak Code delivers on that. Blakemore gives the reader five kids who leave their “utopian” community to brave the wilds of the countryside and rough cities where they know no one. On the 24-mile journey the face everything from dangerous dogs to electric fences and kids who know how to survive outside a KritaCorp community. Things get rough and not everyone comes through unharmed. However, the Firefly Five meet new friends and learn to trust others outside their group, while choosing to follow their hearts.

The Daybreak Code is a solid sequel to The Firefly Code, effortlessly combining lite sci-fi with dystopian elements and the universal truths of childhood friendships. I definitely recommend both books for middle grade readers and teens. As an adult, I thoroughly enjoyed the stories and as a parent it’s nice to have books that you can enjoy with your kids.

Be sure to visit author Megan Frazer Blakemore’s website for more information about her books.

Book Review: The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer Blakemore

“That’s another reason why I like it out there: things were left to nature to figure it out, and nature tends to be smarter than people.”


The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer Blakemore (Chapter 3)

There’s something about strolling the stacks at the library and finding a book by an author you haven’t read, and then discovering that book is a complete gem. That’s what happened to me the other day when I found The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer Blakemore. The book is middle grade fiction set in the near-ish future where the community of Old Harmonie is a type of utopia. However, things are never quite as they seem.

Mori’s grandmother was a scientist and founder of Old Harmonie. Because of her vision and others like her, Mori and her friends enjoy a peaceful and safe life on Firefly Lane. When new girl Ilana joins their group, things begin to change. She’s just a little too perfect and Mori wonders if Ilana is a natural or designed.

Parents in Old Harmonie can dampen and enhance their children’s genetic traits. When the kids turn 13, they also get their “latency” which is an awakening or “turning on” of a trait that will help serve them as they grow into adults. For some it may be more physical, a type of athleticism, while for others it’s something more cerebral like puzzle-solving. Mori’s not sure what her latency will be, but she knows she loves the outdoors and plants. It turns out Ilana shares those interests as well, but the new girl acts strangely at times and that worries Mori and the others. 

The Firefly Code explores the growth of friendship, as well as the coming-of-age in a society where it’s increasingly difficult to determine what’s real. Is the world outside Old Harmonie actually dangerous? What really happened to Mori the one and only time she was sick? Who is Ilana and why did she come to Firefly Lane? When her secret finally is revealed, the Firefly 5 has to decide what defines true friendship and humanity.

I enjoyed this book immensely and highly recommend it to middle grade and teen readers as well as adults. The characters are likable as well as easy to relate to, and the primary themes will speak to any reader.

The Firefly Code by Megan Frazer Blakemore is a Bank Street Books Best Book of the Year (2017 Edition). Its sequel is The Daybreak Code. You can find more about the author and her books at her website: meganfrazer.com

Book Review: The Traitor’s Kingdom by Erin Beaty

“Outside, the world was full of assassins, bitter politics, and the threat of war, but her, in this one place, for one night, everything was perfect.”

Chapter 65, page 310 of The Traitor’s Kingdom

The Traitor’s Kingdom by Erin Beaty is the final book in The Traitor’s trilogy that begins with The Traitor’s Kiss and The Traitor’s Ruin. You can read my review of The Traitor’s Ruin here.

As trilogies go, this one kept me interested and I anxiously awaited the final book. The Traitor’s Kingdom didn’t disappoint—it’s exciting, well-written, and offers a more-than-satisfying conclusion to the story of Sage Fowler.

From author Erin Beaty’s website:

A new queen under threat. 

An ambassador with a desperate scheme. 

Two kingdoms with everything to lose.

Sage Fowler has evolved from matchmaker’s assistant to ambassador representing Demora. She’s traveled far from home, fallen in love, and sacrificed much for her kingdom. Book three opens with Sage working on her duties as an ambassador, keeping up with combat training, and pining for her beloved, Major Alex Quinn.

Author Beaty quickly launches the reader into the political intrigue that readers will be familiar with from the first two books in this trilogy. The one thing that The Traitor’s trilogy doesn’t lack is intrigue, double-crosses, and action. Sage has grown up in this final book, but she’s still just as gutsy and stubborn. I like her in the role of ambassador and wish the book would have had more Sage. I sometimes found the segments featuring the soldiers to be less interesting and I was anxious to get back to whatever Sage was doing.

I liked the introduction of the new queen and her storyline. It was also interesting to watch Clare develop even further and how she deals with her sister. Overall, I thought The Traitor’s Kingdom was a good conclusion to the trilogy. It had enough twists to keep me guessing, but nothing that made me raise an eyebrow because it was too “convenient”. Erin Beaty tells a compelling story and her main characters are definitely likable even when they’re doing things that make me yell at the pages.

The final wrap-up I found to be very satisfying. I really like the endings for Sage and Alex as well as the others. The Traitor’s trilogy is one I’m glad I own, because I definitely will reread it again.

Don’t miss the first two books in Erin Beaty’s The Traitor’s trilogy.


Book Review: With Love, Wherever You Are by Dandi Daley Mackall

“Helen wondered how many couples had walked this very aisle today, this week, this month. Were they all insane to be marrying with a war going on, knowing they’d be starting their lives together, apart?”

With Love, Wherever You Are by Dandi Daley Mackall, pg. 158
Photo by Barb Hopkins 2019

Readers who enjoy historical fiction mixed with romance won’t be disappointed when they pick up With Love, Wherever You Are by Dandi Daley Mackall.

I’ll admit, this is not the usual type of book I pick up (and you totally can tell that if you follow my book reviews or have scrolled through the pages on my site.) However, I’m so glad my neighbor recommended it and I listened to her and read it.

With Love, Wherever You Are is a book of fiction based on two real people: Helen Eberhart Daley and Frank Daley, M.D. Not only did Helen and Frank really exist, they are author’s, Dandi Daley Mackall’s, parents. Mackall has woven a beautiful, at times heart-wrenching, narrative that tells the fictionalized story of an army nurse and an army doctor who meet during World War II. It’s a tale of a whirlwind romance and wedding, followed by separation due to war and duty.

I read this book over the course of two days because I became so enthralled with Helen’s and Frank’s story. From their first meeting to the final days of the war, their story kept me turning pages. Without spoilers I will tell you that the place they met definitely was not a place where a young woman and man would normally meet in 1944. Author Dandi Daley Mackall takes readers on a journey, that is at its heart a love story set amid the horrors of the Second World War.

While Helen and Frank meet before D-Day, they don’t have much time to get married before they’re both sent overseas. They write many letters to each other throughout their deployment, more than 600 total according to the author notes, often writing two or three times a day. Before they are shipped out, the crafty couple devises a system, a code of sorts so they can tell each other where they are stationed. This had to be done because if they just wrote that out in a letter, the Army censors would have blackened those words out. Many of these letters are included throughout the book so you have a real sense of their emotions, personalities, and how the war affected these newlyweds.

When you pick up a copy of With Love, Wherever You Are be sure to read the author’s notes at the back, it’s a treasure trove and so much fun after spending 460 pages with Helen and Frank. She does tell the reader which characters were added for fiction, and other notes. I enjoyed that section as much as the story itself.

Please stop by Dandi Daley Mackall’s website and check out With Love, Wherever You Are and her other books.

Book Review: The Tesla Legacy by K. K. Pérez

“The truth was so much more X-Files than Lucy could have imagined.” (pg. 177)

Readers looking for a young adult, sci-fi thriller with mystery and even a bit of romance can find it all and more in The Tesla Legacy by K. K. Pérez. The story follows Lucy Phelps, an intelligent 18 year old in the last few weeks of her senior year of high school and the “shocking” information she uncovers about herself, her family, and the legendary Nikola Tesla.

Lucy has epilepsy, or so she’s been told her entire life. Because of that, she’s been sheltered by her parents shunned other kids, especially when she was younger. A budding and brilliant scientist, Lucy just wants to venture out on her own terms and that means getting away to college. She does have the love and support of her best friend Claudia, but things are a bit rocky with her boyfriend Cole. When Lucy accidentally discovers a hidden message in a photograph of her younger self, it leads her into New York City and an experience that will change her life.

After discovering the hidden Tesla room in New York, Lucy has her hands full. She’s promised Claudia she’d help with the lighting design for prom, there’s issues with her boyfriend, she needs to keep working on her science experiment, and there’s also this little (not!) issue of her newfound abilities that involve her ability to manipulate and control electricity. And let’s not forget the handsome new teaching assistant that’s taken an interest in her as well as the two rival, ancient, alchemical societies that each want Lucy for their own agendas.

I enjoyed The Tesla Legacy immensely. It kept me entertained and engaged, even during its science-y moments. For me, there was a nice balance between sci-fi and action as well as between the sci-fi and romantic elements. Lucy is a likable character and I found myself cheering her on as she takes a stand.

Author K. K. Pérez provides enough twists to keep a reader guessing, but not too many where it becomes tedious. I do like that we’re set up for a sequel and when it’s released, I’ll definitely be adding it to my TBR list.

Please go check out the other books by K. K. Pérez at her website and grab a copy of The Tesla Legacy today.

It’s National Library Week!

National Library Week is NOW! April 7 – 13, 2019.

How are you celebrating? It’s really easy.

  • Go to your local library & see all the amazing resources
  • Don’t have a library card, get one
  • Check out books
  • Read books there, it’s a great place to relax
  • Ask a librarian a question—seriously, they’re more personal than Google
  • Use one of the library’s services: internet, copying, free classes

What is National Library Week?

From the American Library Association (ALA):

“National Library Week is an annual celebration highlighting the valuable role libraries, librarians, and library workers play in transforming lives and strengthening our communities.”

2019 theme:

Libraries = Strong Communities

The ALA has a great list for 19 Ways To Celebrate National Library Week.  http://www.ala.org/conferencesevents/19-ways-celebrate-national-library-week

I Love a Good Hashtag! It’s #MuseMondays

Keep an eye out here and on my Instagram & Twitter accounts for weekly additions to #MuseMondays. I’ll be sharing some of my favorite books, authors, music, movies, and more. Inspirations for both my writing and what I grab to read when I want to escape from the daily mundane.

Today, it’s Josephine Angelini’s “Starcrossed”, a young adult trilogy that I’ve read and re-read multiple times. Add it to your TBR list today; it’s a fun twist on traditional Greek mythology.

The “Starcrossed” trilogy by Josephine Angelini