Monday, April 30, 2012

A Shakespearean View of Freud, by Stephen Sangirardi

Something in his romantic past has cause two phenomena to appear in Rob Conti's life: intense jealousy/insecurity, and a pretty wicked show fetish.  And those two phenomena are so incredibly intertwined, it is hard to determine if they are, in fact, two separate things.  Regardless, both things are contributing to the total destruction of Rob's marriage.  What will happen when this young librarian finds the tables turned, and becomes the cheater he always accuses his partners of being?

Whew, did this book ever evoke a strong reaction to me.  If ever there was a case where I loved the writing, but hated the storyline, this was it.  Let me explain.  I hated the storyline because it hit entirely too close to home.  You see, I once dated a man who was like Rob Conti, minus the fetish.  Each day was an interrogation regarding who I had spoken with, and whether or not I had "behaved".  If my eyes happened to stray beyond my plate in a restaurant, he was convinced I was sizing up another man, and making plans with the man.  This book read a bit like a diary of that relationship, and view of what my life would have been had the relationship continued.  Actually, it was pretty frightening.  The fact that this book elicited such a strong reaction from me proves the power of the writing.

The book is so unique, in that the first part is in typical novel literary form, and the second part is written as a play.  I quite liked the juxtaposition of the two forms.  It kept things interesting, and helped me see the two parts of the story in very different ways.  There are lots of allusions to Shakespeare, particularly Othello, which I quite liked.  I found the characters were well developed, and despite some similarities in their names, had no trouble keeping the characters straight and understanding where the story was going.

In the end, my initial reaction of "hatred" was unfair; I do not actually hate the book, I hate the fact that men like Rob Conti actually exist, giving the author perfect inspiration to write a wonderful, albeit disturbing, story.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Various Positions, by Martha Schabas

Georgia loves ballet, and wants nothing more than to be a successful ballerina.  When she is accepted into a prestigious ballet school, she finds a way to not only pursue her dreams, but to escape from her family and social problems.  She is quickly frustrated by the other girls who seem do occupied with boys, and remains determined to stay focused.  This focus impresses one of her teachers, with whom she becomes fixated.

I kind of felt like this book was a bit of a "Lolita in reverse" situation.  One look at the description will tell you that this book deals with sexual themes, both in appropriate and inappropriate situations.  This may make many readers uncomfortable, so be forewarned.  However, I think the book delivers exactly what the description states.  Yes, Georgia is dealing with sexuality, as do most teenagers in some manner.  Yes, the characters in the book are dysfunctional, as are most families.  This is not a book that is going to make you feel light and happy, but I believe that it is actually an accurate portrayal of what life can be like for a teenage girl in a world of high pressure.

The storyline is sad, and slightly dark, but I personally do not mind that.  I liked that, while the action is set in the world of ballet, that there is not a lot of intense focus on the technicalities of ballet.  I personally am not terribly interested in ballet, I never wanted to be a ballerina, but I do think it made for an interesting angle and setting, so for me, the amount of dance in the book was just right.

I did have a hard time getting into the head of Georgia, and in general found the characters a little weak.  I never really felt very connected to the story.  This was simply a book to read, not one to get lost in.  I felt like the story never really went anywhere.  No one learned or gained anything.  There was no resolution to most of the situations in the story.  It is for these reasons that I found the book lacking.

Also, I rarely comment on covers, but I must say, I hate this cover.  They really missed the mark here.

This book is too sexual for young teens, but older teens and twentysomethings might enjoy the book, particularly those interested in of having experience of the world of ballet.  This is not a book for those who look to lose themselves in a story, but is fine for readers just looking for something to read to pass the time.

I received a review copy as part of the Amazon Vine program.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Nothing Left to Want, by Kathleen McKenna

Carey is a poor little rich girl, quite literally.  She was born into a life of wealth, privilege, and notoriety, but completely devoid of warmth, love, and encouragement.  It is is not just that Carey is from an important family, it is that Carey is from an important family with high expectations about who Carey should become.  So, when Carey launches on a path of complete self destruction, the family tries to give her a dose of tough love that may end up completely ruining her.

This book is marketed as a modern fairy tale, but it is so deeply entrenched in real life events that I found it to be more like a modern day dirge.  But do not let that fool you, I absolutely loved it.  As soon as I began reading the book, I knew aspects of the story sounded a little familiar, so immediately became fascinated with the characters in the book, as well as the real life women who inspired them.  The author does an amazing job with the character development.  She really creates vivid characters that, while inspired by true life, are unique, and have their own stories to tell.  I loved that.  I really found myself empathizing with Carey's character, despite her life of privileged. 

The story really broke my heart.  We know from the very beginning that Carey is in a bad way and that this story is not going to be pretty.  But honestly, this book broke my heart.  There is just so much pain in this story, I do not know how someone could not feel for Carey.  I thought this was a brilliant example of art imitating life, and I found that I simply could not put the book down.  Which is not a new phenomenon with this author.  Once again, her brilliance and versatility as an author shine through.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author and publisher.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Flash of Murder, by Jeff Boarts

Nothing could be more idyllic than small town life in the mid 1950s.  The town of Kittanning is preparing for the boon of the tourist season, particularly this year, when it is the bicentennial celebration of the French and Indian battle that put the town on the map.  Life in town is routine, quiet, peaceful- or should I say, it was, until a serial killer with an unusual calling card begins terrorizing the town.  As local reporter George Cooper assists the police in their attempts to catch the fiend, people all over town are wondering how well they actually know their neighbors.

This is the first time I have had the supreme honor to review for an author that I know in my personal life.  Add to that the fact that this book is set in the town in which I live, and let me tell you, the anticipation of this book had me more antsy than a child on Christmas morning.  And that anticipation?  So totally worth it.  I cannot fully express how impressed I am with this book.

While I am not, by any means, an aficionado of mystery novels, I think even a novice to the genre can see the skillful manner in which the author created the plot and action of the story.  Within minutes of the opening, the action begins, and builds throughout the story.  I felt myself increasingly pulled into the plot, yet never at anytime did I feel the action or any of the specific scenes overwhelm the story as a whole.  

I loved the setting of the story, although I am a bit partial.  Despite the fact that this was my town, it was still a new setting due to the era.  There is a definite feeling of noir to the story, but it is very subtle; you never see any of the stilted and often cheesy dialogue found in some noir stories, particularly those with the pulp or hard boiled slant.  No, this is more of a noir light, enough to set the scene and the tone, but not hit you over the head.  I thought it was just perfect.  The small town feeling was just general enough that it could be relatable to anyone living in a small town, while still focusing on the specifics of a very real location with real history.

Of all the writing aspects, I was probably most impressed with the character development.  Many times, when I read mysteries, there is so much focus on the action that I never connect to the characters.  This book shows that you can have well developed characters, with whom a reader connects, without shortchanging the action.  I really came to care about George, and his suffering throughout the book.  And I found myself empathizing with many of the characters, both major and minor.  I felt like I was a part of the town, dealing with the situation right alongside them.

In terms of the "whodunit" aspect of the book, I started out thinking I knew the culprit.  By the end, I was not sure who to trust.  The story takes plenty of twists and turns, and of course a couple of red herrings.  I felt like it followed a logical path, one that any crime investigation would follow, and in the end, it all made sense.  However, I thought some of the "clues" along the way were presented in brilliant, subtle ways.  It makes me want to immediately re-read the book to catch them all.

In short, I have nothing but glowing praise for the book.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Girl Meets Boy, edited by Kelly Milner Halls

There are two sides to every story, but rarely do we get to hear them both.  In this collection of short stories, we hear about several teenage relationships, from the perspective of both the male and the female involved.  A diverse cast of characters helps prove that even in the teen world, male-female interaction can be quite complex.

I must say, I really loved the concept of this book.  Hearing a story from both perspectives was an interesting idea, and I think overall it was very well delivered.  Some of the story couplings worked better than others, but overall, conceptually the book is fresh and interesting.  It also provides the reader with an opportunity to find new authors.

I thought that, in general, characters were well developed for being in short stories.  The book highlights many different types of teenagers by having characters from diverse ethnicities and cultures, 
sexual preferences, personalities, and family situations.  I greatly appreciated this diversity; I think makes the book relatable to a much broader spectrum of young adult readers.  Everyone wants to read about someone like them at that age, when everything makes you insecure.

As with any collection of stories, some will be stronger than others, and this book is no exception.  One particular pairing of stories really failed to hold my attention, and the execution of the writing just seemed awkward.  But overall, I thought the book well done.  While there are some sexual situations in some of the stories, this is hardly new to the world of teenage fiction.  And certainly no different than the television shows currently marketed to kids.  However, parents who are concerned about this may want to make note that teen sexuality is explored in this book.  I think the book will appeal to a broad audience of young adult readers.  The short stories make for a quick read, yet still have a lot of depth.

I received this book for review as part of the Amazon Vine program.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Jeff, One Lonely Guy, by Jeff Ragsdale, David Shields, and Michael Logan

Jeff was reeling from a bad break up, living Manhattan, and feeling completely isolated.  In a desperate effort to reach out to mankind, he posted fliers with his phone number, asking people to call and talk to him.  Calls started pouring in, as photos of the flier went viral all over the internet.  He recounts some of the striking phone and text conversations he had as a result of this experiment.

When I heard of this little social experiment, I was fascinated.  I thought that this was an incredible social experiment, as one man attempted to connect with real people while living in a society obsessed with virtual communication.  I was incredibly disappointed for so many reasons.

First off, I found the set up of the book to be clunky.  The conversations Jeff has do not seemed to be organized in any sensible fashion, other than a random word from one conversation would be also found in the next conversation, and by random I mean something as meaningless as the word "cornflakes".  This means there is no flow to the content of the book. It makes it really hard to read, and although it is separated into chapters, there still is no sense to the order of the conversations.

For someone who claimed to be reaching out to connect with society, it seems as though most of the conversations are with lonely women, and are about sex.  Which makes me think this was just a way for Jeff to get his jollies, have free phone sex, and sext with strangers.  A few of the women mention Jeff having sent them explicit pictures, and elude to the fact that he is engaging in explicit conversations.  I find this really troubling.  I feel like he is preying on lonely women with low self esteem, and calling it art.  I just was really turned off.  Maybe he had deep meaningful conversations, conversations that were life changing for both him and the person on the other end.  But mostly, the conversations in the book are about sex.  It was kind of gross actually.

Finally, a quick internet search reveals that Jeff Ragsdale has done some questionable things in the past, media stunts fooling The New York Times, landing himself on various tv shows, "protesting" in New York just to get in the spotlight.  I highly suspect that this is just another stunt, an attempt to lengthen his 15 minutes of fame, and doubt that some of these conversations actually happened.  If he posted his real number, I am sure he got lots of calls, but I am not sure he was lusted after by strange women as the book portrays.

All in all, I really cannot recommend this book for any reason other than boredom and idle curiosity.  But I warn you, it is kind of gross, and for me it was a huge let down.

I received this book as part of the Amazon Vine review program

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The One, by RJ Smith

Born in the segregated South, into poverty, nothing came easy to James Brown.  Everything he got, he got through hard work and industry.  The son of a turpentine man, Brown started out as a shoe shine boy, ended up in a juvenile correction facility, was a skilled athlete, and full of soul.  Brown drew musical influence from the performers on the chitlin circuit, only to go on to dominate the music industry for years.  He influenced numerous musical genres and continues to serve as inspiration to performers today.

Let me start by saying that I personally have never been a fan of funk or soul music.  I think that had I grown up in the era of their inception, I actually would love the music.  So, in all honesty, I knew very little about James Brown going into this book.  Many of the songs mentioned were unfamiliar to me.  So, this book was really an introduction to the Godfather of Soul.  And what a comprehensive introduction it was.

I felt like the book did a great job of establishing Brown's humble upbringings.  I was pulled in at the very start, learning about his childhood.  Being unfamiliar with the musical history of the South, I was fascinated to read about the wealth of talent to come from Georgia.  I loved hearing how James Brown met Little Richard.

Similarly, I was really enthralled to read about the impact of the Civil Rights Movement on Brown.  It was fascinating to learn the impact of the ever chancing sociopolitical situation, and how Brown both affected it and was affected by it.  However, the middle section of the book was very heavy handed with details about the music, changes in band line up, and the ever elusive "One".  To a music aficionado, or a huge Brown fan, I am sure this section of the book is interesting, but to me, I was a little lost.  It really slowed down my reading during the middle portion of the book.

The last portion of the book covered the only part of Brown's life with which I was familiar, from the 1980's on.  I remembered a lot of the stories discussed, so again this part was really fascinating to me.  The book overall paints a truly fascinating portrait of James Brown, not all of which is positive.  It made me deeply respect James Brown and all his musical contributions.

I received a review copy of this book courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


I know I am a few days late, I have neglected this due to the holiday, but I am happy to announce that the winner of the ARC of Illusion, by Frank Peretti, is...


Congrats Tara, I mailed it out today.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Puzzlebook: 20 Easter Puzzle Quizzes, by the Grabarchuk Family

This Kindle book is filled with interactive color puzzles specifically designed for the Easter season.  Fully interactive, selecting the correct answer will take you to the solution page, while the wrong answer will send you to a page prompting you to try again.  Puzzles start off easy and increase in difficulty as the book progresses.

This was a much different kind of book for me to review.  While my husband is the real puzzle lover in the family, I enjoy a good puzzle or trial of logic now and then, so I thought this would be a good book to try.  This was my first encounter with an interactive Kindle book.  Since I do not have a Kindle Fire, and my Kindle is in black and white, I first tried the book on my Kindle for PC.  It was really fun, until I encountered a technical issue.  Due to the text per line and text size setting on my application, I encountered a few puzzles where the answer selection choices were spread across two pages, and the ones on the second page did not respond to clicking.  This is easily rectified by switching to a smaller font size, so that all answers appear on the same page.  The parameters for best viewing are listing at the end of the table of contents, so be sure you pay attention and set the text accordingly!  I also tried the book in my iPhone Kindle application, and it worked perfectly.

Technical parameters aside, I really enjoyed this book.  The puzzles were unique, quite different from the same old same old you find in many puzzle books.  Some were easy, some I found a little challenging.  Which is exactly what the book promises.  This would be a perfect ebook to give as a gift to a game lover, or an older child who has outgrown an Easter basket.

This was my first encounter with an interactive Kindle book, and I must say I found it really intriguing.  In a world where everything is becoming more tech savvy and interactive, I found this to be a cool alternative to standard paper and pencil puzzles.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Until Next Time, by Amy Lignor

Emily is an angel, and Matt is her warrior counterpart.  They have been tasked with the mission to go to Earth and inhabit human shells.  Emily inhabits Liz, while Matt inhabits Daniel.  Their path on Earth is complex and painful for both of them.  When Liz befriends two strangers who show up in her pup, she encounters human evil like she has never known before.  What will this earthly situation mean for Emily and Matt?

I thought that the storyline and idea behind this book was unique and amazing.  Emily and Matt are powerful and memorable characters, and I particularly enjoyed the scenes in which they interact with other heavenly figures.  It made for a unique view of the Christian figures I knew so well.  However, the whole execution of the descent to Earth to become Liz and Daniel seemed a little clumsy.  I found it a bit difficult to follow.  The concept of Emily's soulmate being Matt, but her being in love with someone else seemed like it did not make sense to me.  I think that this will provide a convoluted concept of love to young adult readers.

I think that this series would have been better served with the introductory book thoroughly explaining Emily and Matt's heavenly lives, their creation, and the concept behind their purpose as an angel/warrior pair.  Then, at the end of that first book, the would be preparing for their first descent to Earth.  I think this would have made the concept much less confusing.

Despite the confusing action at times, I did enjoy the book.  I found it hard to put down, and I was really drawn to the Emily/Liz character.  As the book closes, it made me really want to learn what happens next in Emily's story, so clearly the book succeeded in pulling me in.  The book is appropriate for young adults, it is fairly clean, and will definitely appeal to fans of romance.

I received a review copy courtesy of the publisher.  See the rest of the tour schedule here.