Review, Giveaway & Interview! Spellcast by Barbara Ashford

Review, Giveaway & Interview! Spellcast by Barbara Ashford

Totally taken by surprise regarding SPELLCAST by Barbara Ashford! This book was sugary sweet, but deeply introspective all wrapped up in a musical that was laced with a little paranormal tid-bits here and there. I still don’t know why I accepted this review copy, I’m not into musical theater, I guess it was the cover, or the originality, or maybe even the glowing reviews – but I’m so glad I did take it, read it and subsequently highly enjoy it. Don’t judge, just read. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.


On a whim Maggie Graham, unemployed, unattached and slightly frayed, ends up in Vermont looking for a bed and breakfast. Instead of finding a place to crash for the night she ends up auditioning for the Crossroads Theatre and being cast into minor rolls for three separate plays that will be performed that summer. Not know why she accepts the gig, Maggie ends up in a run down hotel, being paid $100 a week and now a part of a very strange cast of characters and an otherworldly staff – that casts people not by the character they could best play, but by the character that will teach them the most.

Maggie is the only one that has any prior acting experiences, but the ridiculously handsome, yet strangely ethereal director will only put her in characters that he thinks will make her a better person. It would seem that Rowan, the director has made it his life goal to help people through singing and acting and he has an almost magic voice that brings the motley cast together to make something spectacular. At first skeptical Maggie is soon drawn into friendships and helping others like she never has before. She finds herself eerily drawn to Rowan and his mystery and the aura of otherness that surrounds the staff of the Crossroads. Will this only be a summer fling for Maggie, a push towards her right direction, or will the Crossroads set her on her life-path…

I read somewhere SPELLCAST described as unassuming and it is true. This books description and cover can’t convey what it is. While a bit long, it’s entirety is a discovery of self and friendship and hope. Myself as a person could only hope that a Crossroads Theater would appear for me when I was faced with a large pot-hole in my road of life. Ashford constructed each character with precision and describes each scene as if she had experienced them herself. The plays the characters act out are almost real for me and I wish I had prior knowledge of them so I could get just a little better grasp on what is going on. This was a very entertaining read and I kept finding myself drawn back into the pages as if I had never left as soon as I picked it up.

The drawbacks that I found was that yes, it was a bit long. Ashford would go into details regarding the most trivial of scenes, yet her writing flowed so well that I couldn’t skim – therefor I felt it went on and on over trivialities. And then there was the ending. I will not spoil it, but I do have to say, that while the ending was how I think it should have been there was still that bitter part of me that wanted so much more…


This is an excellent read that I really can’t compare to anything else. Recommended for contemporary romance fans because of it’s only slight taste of the paranormal. Yet, I really wouldn’t describe this as a romance. There is enough to give it a flavoring, but not something I would describe as romance. I don’t know, but this one would probably fit in one of those random genres like Magical Realism or something. It is an adult read, with a bit of language and some sexual encounters.


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Parajunkee: Can you give us a little scoop on what will happen in Spellcast #2?

Barbara Ashford: Well, without giving away too much about the sequel – or Spellcast – all I can really tell you is that:

  • Maggie continues to work at the newly non-profit Crossroads Theatre.
  • To capitalize on its new after-school program, the theatre is presenting three musicals that feature young performers: Annie, The Secret Garden, and Into the Woods.
  • The sequel begins one year after the epilogue of Spellcast. During dog auditions for Annie.
  • The company includes both professional and amateur actors, leading to some friction.
  • Maggie’s absentee father continues to influence her life.
  • So does Rowan.

You can read an excerpt from the sequel on my website. I’m still searching for a title. So even though that plot description is hopelessly sketchy, send in your suggestions! I’ll add them to the growing list.

PJ: Was there a particular theater you were involved in or setting that inspired the Crossroads Theater and the motley cast and characters?

BA: Two theatres, actually – the Southbury Playhouse and Fort Salem Theatre. Southbury was an old barn like the Crossroads. Fort Salem was a converted church – home to “Anatevka” (a rundown floor of rooms where the cast lived) and the mottled black-and-gray backdrop described in Spellcast, which we
did, indeed, liken to the Shroud of Turin.

PJ: Your characters are crafted so well, each one with their own back-story and personal problems and personality, are they inspired by real people?

BA: Most are drawn from my imagination. I created profiles for all the major characters, complete with short bios, physical descriptions, quirks, etc. A lot of those details didn’t make it into the book, but they helped me shape their histories and personalities.

If anyone is inspired by a real person, it’s Maggie. She has my voice, my sense of humor. She’s more outgoing than I am, more fearless about confronting people, but a lot of her life came directly from mine: my experience working at a telephone helpline; my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware; my father’s tradition of marking up my letter to Santa Claus and returning it Christmas Day; my mother’s preference for clothes from Talbots.

Spellcast is a story about family – those we are given and those that we find. So even though it meant cannibalizing my life, I’m glad I used those details. I think they help make Spellcast a very real, very personal story – for me and for many readers. And it’s a small way to thank all the people who shaped me.

For more on Spellcast and the sequel, visit my website:

PJ: Thank you Barbara for answering my questions! I can’t wait to read Spellcast #2 – or at least find out the title! I hope you get some great suggestions. I would love for my readers to experience the gem of a novel, so I’ll be giving away my copy to one lucky commentor.


  • One comment will win my ARC copy of Spellcast
  • Shipping is domestic only, sorry, I’m broke
  • Giveaway ends August 10th

Review and Giveaway of Dark Parties by Sara Grant

Review and Giveaway of Dark Parties by Sara Grant

Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian
SciFi Element: Future, Dystopian
Pre-Order Online:
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Review copy provided by publisher via ALA2011.

Another trip into a dystopian landscape had me shivering at the thought of what could be. Sara Grant’s DARK PARTIES was spine tingling good with all the great anxiety ridden flavors that a psychological dystopian thriller should have. Grant’s writing had my brain churning as I was rooting for Neva to escape Homeland. DARK PARTIES was definitely a unique addition to the dystopian young adult genre and I can’t wait to read more from Grant.

In Grant’s imagined future there is a place called Homeland. To escape toxins and war-caused disasters the remaining human population covered themselves with a Protectosphere, a giant shield that protects the citizens against harmful air and other nasties that exist outside. The Protectoshere is there for the citizens own good, because there is nothing left on the outside – according to the government. But, Neva’s grandmother told her otherwise…and then she disappeared. Since then Neva has kept a record of the Missing and each day it grows and so does Neva’s distrust of the Homeland ruling parties, one of which is her father. Small rebellions against the government is what Neva and her best friend Sanna set out to do, they host a Dark Party to recruit people to help them stage a demonstration. A small act of defiance – but something that will make a difference, wake people up.

Neva’s Dark Party does more than wake people up it alerts the government to her rebellious ways and Neva is questioned and other members of her rebellion become part of the Missing. Because of Neva’s father she is given a second chance but she is forced to work for her father, becoming part of the problem, a drone for the government in charge of covering up historical records. What is meant to cow her only strengthens her thoughts of escape…but Neva’s actions will become harmful to the people she loves and now it’s not just her life at stake but her friends and her family.

Grant built a very different world in this dystopian young adult novel. It was a very unique take on something that could very well happen. In the wake of wars, famine, greed and corruption – isn’t it tempting to close yourself off from the rest of the world? Hide behind a protective barrier? Then added to that interesting thought, Grant broke down the repercussions of living in a closed off society, the breakdown of technology because of the lack of production facilities. All clothing and accessories are basically hand-me-downs. Food supplies dwindle to only the food that is able to be produced within the sphere and total control by the government is enacted so the citizens will not demand release. It was a scary depiction of a closed off society and it definitely had me thinking. This isn’t your action packed dystopian like DIVERGENT or THE HUNGER GAMES, this one is more like a mystery/thriller, with twists and turns that will have you not knowing which way to turn until the very end. Grant threw it all at me.

As far as character’s go, Neva was a character that I could identify with, but she was about the only character that I liked. Even Sanna her best friend I couldn’t really touch-base with because I found she was a bit too flakey for me and she was also used sometimes as the information conduit to move the plot along and that didn’t go over that well. I couldn’t tell with her. Is she rebelling or falling in love and staying out of things? I wasn’t quite sure. I did like the romantic aspect and I thought Grant put a unique twist on the whole love triangle interplay. Yet, thinking back on it and what was revealed at the end I don’t see the reasoning behind Braydon’s actions. You’ll have to read it to understand it – and if you have read it what are your thoughts?

Overall it was a good book and a nice addition to the genre. I wouldn’t rank it at the top of that genre but it is very worth your time and thoughts. A must read – because in essence it is going against some really heavy comparison. I was taken in by the plot, the world-building and the main character, moved along by the mystery behind the world and the romantic entanglements gave it the added oompf it needed, added to that the horrific discoveries that ha
ppen later on in the book – DARK PARTIES by Sara Grant made for a compelling read. I could literally describe it as a modern young adult 1984. I rated it down 1 star because of the few inconsistencies in the plot that didn’t reveal themselves until after completion (a plot trick that worked to keep the anxiety up but didn’t make sense at the end) and because I couldn’t relate to the secondary characters.

Recommended for fans of WITHER by Lauren DeStefano, DELERIUM by Lauren Oliver and other books of that ilk. This is a dystopian young adult but there are quite a few references to sex and the characters are quite free about it since the government pushes teens to procreate, nothing descriptive though. There is also some explicit language used. Recommended for mature teens.

I enjoyed this dystopian, but don’t just take my word for it. Read an excerpt and judge for yourself.

review title

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About the author:
Sara Grant is an American living in the UK. Born and raised in Washington, Indiana, Sara graduated from Indiana University with degrees in journalism and psychology. She now works as a freelance writer and editor for Working Partners, a London-based company creating series fiction for children. She lives in London with her husband. This is her first novel.

The wonderfulness that is LITTLE BROWN has wonderfully offered up A Book Light and copy of Dark Parties! Defeat the Dark with this prize pack!


  1. One Winner chosen by rafflecopter
  2. Prize: A Book Light and copy of Dark Parties
  3. Comment to win: Tell me what you think of the review. Or — What would you miss the most if you couldn’t get any imported goods? If your country closed the borders and let nothing else in?
  4. Giveaway ends 7/26
  5. Use RAFFLECOPTER to tally up your entries & extras (but still comment!)

Sunday Winners!

Sunday Winners!

Winners have been chosen! *Fist Pump* Let’s start with the Annie Nicholas Giveaway. Our WINNER for the Digital copy of IRRESISTIBLE by Annie Nicholas is….EmmaD (email starting with emmad@xtr)
And for the RANDOM FRIDAY giveaway…
WINNER #1 who has the choice between a BLOG DESIGN or a HOT ARC is…Andra (email starting with andralynn7@)
WINNER #2 (who will have to wait for Andra to choose) is Joder (email starting with joderjo402@)
Because it is a PICK and CHOOSE giveaway. Winners have 24 hours to respond to the emails sent before new winners are chosen. 

Giveaway: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Giveaway: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.
With exquisite illustrations by acclaimed artist Ana Juan, Fairyland lives up to the sensation it created when the author first posted it online. For readers of all ages who love the charm of Alice in Wonderland and the soul of The Golden Compass, here is a reading experience unto itself: unforgettable, and so very beautiful.

Macmillan page for the book & author:
Author’s website & blog:

Embark on an epic adventure with a copy of Catherynne Valente’s new book!

Contest Deets ONE WINNER:

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