Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Saving Ruth, by Zoe Fishman

Ruth is home for the summer after her first year of college, and she thinks everyone seems fixated on her weight.  Sure, she has lost that teenage body fat, but she is hardly thin, at least not in her own mind.  In reality, Ruth is skin and bones.  It causes her family to be distant, particularly her brother David.  She and David work at the local pool as lifeguards, and when a child nearly drowns on their watch, both of them have their eyes opened to the truth about the world in which they live, and the struggles they both are having.

This book was completely captivating.  I thought the character development was superb.  I really related to Ruth, despite the fact that she is a Jewish girl living in the South, and I am a Catholic girl living in the East.  Ruth's struggles with weight, body image, and low self esteem are so common among young girls that I think a lot of readers will see something of themselves in Ruth.  It was interesting to see the situation primarily through her eyes, then having it juxtaposed against the observations of others; this really gave the reader a good idea of how skewed her perceptions of her body are.  I was shocked to learn what David's secret was; I honestly thought it was going to be something completely different, and I still feel like maybe his story was not completely told.

There are a lot of themes going on in this book.  At it's heart, it is a coming of age story, but there is a strong theme of wanting to belong, or fit in.  Ruth and David are Jews living in the South, not completely fitting in.  Racial tensions at the local pool are high, with the whites feeling that black children do not fit in.  Ruth and David both, as individuals, feel they do not fit in to the roles placed upon them.

This book is a wonderful read for the summer.  It flowes quite nicely, and despite dealing with heavy subject matter is a nice quick read.  I think the book will appeal to adult readers, as well as the more mature young adult readers.

I received a review copy of the book courtesy of TLC Book Tours.  View the rest of the tour here, and hear an interview with the author on June 12th, 7pm ET at the Book Club Girl on air show.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sound of the Heart, by Genevieve Graham

Dougal MacDonnell, never was there a more Scottish name, nor was there so fierce a Highlander.  Having lost his family during a battle against the English, Dougal determines to never forgive the English dogs.  For years he is happy and content, having found his soul mate, Glenna, in the most unexpected of places.  But when Glenna is shipped to the English Colonies as an indentured servant, Dougal will stop at nothing to find her.  Even if it means aligning himself with the English Army.

Have you ever read a book that creates its own music in your mind?  That is what this book did for me.  It was if the story had its own soundtrack that played along as I read, a dreamy, romantic, passionate soundtrack.  Genevieve has once again created an intensely romantic story, with characters that you cannot help but adore.  Dougal is a man who just never quits, never gives up; what woman does not want a man who will travel the world to win her back?  He is an intense character, a paradox of a fierce warrior, yet so tender and loving when it comes to Glenna.

And Glenna, well, if ever there were a twist of a character, this girl is it.  She is certainly no shrinking violet.  In the book, she states that if she must be a flower, she would consider herself a thistle.  Never was a more accurate comparison made.  But she is not prickly with Dougal; on the contrary, their love is full of softness and emotion.

The storyworld created is so vivid.  While I am not terribly familiar with Scottish history or culture, I was still able to follow the story easily, and get pulled into the setting.  I loved reading the dialogue, imagining a thick brogue in my mind, and how can you not imagine smoldering warrior in a kilt?

The writing is solid, presenting both Dougal and Glenna's points of view.  I must say, I much preferred Dougal's, as it really allowed us to see that paradox between his brawn and his heart.  The concepts of secrets plays a role in the story, with both main characters keeping a secret from each other, and the revelations of which help the fall deeply in love.

The book is sure to appeal to lovers of historical fiction and of course romance novels.  I found the book totally swoonworthy, and I would take Dougal MacDonnell over Christian Grey any day of the week.

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

 View the rest of the tour here and enter to win a signed copy during a giveaway ending May 31, 2012. a Rafflecopter giveaway 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Thicker Than Blood, by Shalini Boland

Madison and Alex are in love, despite the fact that she is a young girl who just inherited a fortune, and he is a centuries old vampire.  But when Madison is kidnapped by ancient enemies of Alex and his vampiric kin, their safe and comfortable world is turned upside down.  Alex and crew must return to a place they hate, the place where they were made, and confront their past.  In the midst of this, the mysterious and ancient tale of Aelia unfolds, until we learn how she factors into Madison and Alex's lives.

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, but I absolutely loved this second installment of the Marchwood Vampires.  Shalini Boland does a phenomenal job of weaving ancient backstory with contemporary plotlines.  As with the first book, my favorite parts of this book were the tales of old, the backstory set in the first millennium.  I found that ancient storyworld to be rich and vividly created by the author.  I could smell the dust of the Byzantine empire as I read.  I loved getting a little more insight into the lineage of these vampires.

With the contemporary storyline, there are some shades of Twilight now and then, and I do not think that is a bad thing.  In terms of vampire romantic fiction, there certainly is a formula that works, and putting the human damsel in distress works.  But Madison is, in my opinion, a much stronger character than Bella Swan (who I find to be a bit of a simpering, emo bore).  She does not sit around waiting to be rescued, she takes matters into her own hands.  Sure, she loves Alex, but he is not her whole world, her whole identity.  She is her own woman, and I just love that.

I liked that the book ends on a bit of a question, it really hooks readers in and makes them anticipate book 3.  I also liked some of the character twists and red herrings throughout the book.  They certainly threw me for a loop, and give a lot of dimension to the story.

All in all, a great sequel book in a promising series.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author.

Monday, May 14, 2012

In My Father's County, by Saima Wahab

Saima was born in Afghanistan, at a time of great strife, particularly for Afghan women.  Her father was taken prisoner by the KGB, forcing Saima, her mother, and her siblings to eventually flee to Pakistan.  After several years, the family decides to send all three children to America, to live with their uncles there, and obtain an American education.  Saima, always aware she never wanted to be a traditional Afghan woman, struggles to reconcile the parts of her that identify as American with the parts of her that identify as Afghan.  After many years in the states, she decides the answer lies back in Afghanistan, where she returns as an interpreter.

This was, hands down, one of the most incredible memoirs I have ever read.  Saima Wahab is an incredibly fascinating woman.  She very eloquently, and honestly, tells her story of life as an outsider.  She is outside her own culture from the start, determined to never live the docile and subservient life of a traditional Afghan woman.  Yet her Afghan and Pashtun upbringing cause her to also be an outsider within American culture.  

So often Americans identify what they deem as problems within other countries and cultures, and rush in to try to "fix" things.  They discount the etiquette of these cultures, and end up doing more harm than good many times.  This book is an interesting glimpse of the Pashtun culture, and how delicate the interactions between Pashtuns and Americans can be.  Saima undertakes a great services that honors both her cultures (American and Pashtun), by trying to facilitate better understanding and communication.  The Pashtun culture seems so foreign to me, and in some ways backwards, but this book helped me have a greater understanding.

My heart broke for Saima throughout the book.  She clearly was struggling, probably still is actually, with her cultural identity.  It is apparent that she greatly dislikes the way women are treated within Pashtun culture, yet she respects them as ancient traditions, and in some ways, defends them quite fiercely.  She is a complex woman,  and it is easy to see why she struggles with male-female interactions.  I felt like the book gave me a real, honest sense of her struggle, and while it was emotionally difficult to read, it really enriched my experience of the book.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours.  View the rest of the tour here.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Puzzlebook Trilogy, by the Grabarchuk Family

Do you like logic puzzles?  Want to find an interactive ebook to use with your kids?  Going on a long trip with only your iphone to entertain you?  Well, if you answered yes to these questions, this trilogy is probably going to be perfect for you.  This interactive book contains over 300 puzzles at various levels of difficulty.

My husband in a big puzzle person; often we pore over game magazines when on trips or on rainy weekends.  He is the perfect demographic for there books.  I am not as much of a puzzle person, but I still enjoyed these puzzles.  The trilogy is well designed, with the puzzles being in rich color.  That means this book is probably best on a kindle Fire, computer, or iPhone/iPad.  These puzzles would not be as fun without the color.  I chose to use my iPhone for this, since using the computer means I have to adjust my settings to make sure the pages display correctly.  

All in all, this delivers a good interactive experience.  The trilogy is broken down into the individual volumes, with each new volume starting with a pictoral table of contents of sorts.  The only thing that was difficult on the iPhone is that, even with the typeface at its lowest setting, some of the puzzle answer selections are at the bottom of the page, and it overlapped with the menu of the kindle application; similarly, I occasionally saw the next puzzle's solution as opposed to returning to the puzzle I had just solved, because the selection buttons overlapped with the application menu area.  

My advice for people purchasing this trilogy is to take your time going through it.  For the purposes of the review, I went from start to finish in one sitting, and found that the puzzles can feel a bit repetitive if you do that, stealing some of the fun from the process.  Savor this trilogy over a week or so, and I think it will increase your enjoyment.

I received a review copy of this book courtesy of the author.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Century of Wisdom, by Caroline Stoessinger

At 108 years old, Alice Herz-Sommer is the oldest living Holocaust survivor.  She prefers to not talk much about those days, her time in Theresienstadt, because it fills her with sadness.  But having lived over a century, Alice has seen much more than just the Holocaust.  She has lived in several countries, has met amazing people, and lived an exceptional life.

For a long time, I have been fascinated by survivor stories.  What gives someone the will to survive over someone else?  I thought that, given the title of this book, I would learn a new perspective on survivorship.  But the book does not touch much on the Holocaust in all actuality.  Clearly having survived the concentration camp affected every aspect of Alice's life, but we never hear a whole lot about her experiences there.  I understand and respect this, but still, as a reader, I found it disappointing.

My biggest complaint about this book is that the writing is choppy and the book's organization is very scattered.  There are unexplained time jumps that took me a while to figure out.  The book just did not flow very well, and I had a very difficult time reading it.  Alice's stories themselves seem quite fascinating, but the author really writes in a way that, to me, was very dry.  Having a musician write someone else's memoir would be like having me finish a symphony.  Technically, it could be done, but it is not going to be the most brilliant thing composed.

The concept of the book is a good one, I simply found the execution lacking.

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

Monday, May 7, 2012

Family Matters, by Kathleen McKenna

Izzy is flying high; she is crazy in love with her artist husband, and she just landed a weekend anchor position for the station where she works.  But a bit of on air cheek has sent her spiraling into the dark world of the Mansion family.  Her remarks on Susan Atkins being imprisoned while dying from cancer caught the attention of the murderess and her lawyer husband.  Wanting to cash in on the fame of interviewing one of Manson's minions, Izzy begins communicating with Atkins.  Suddenly, eerie things begin happening to Izzy, and the only explanation is that Atkins is somehow haunting her.  But how, and more importantly, why?

As if the Manson family was not a creepy enough topic, Kathleen McKenna has readers changing their bloomers with the paranormal spin she puts on the tale.  First off, with a topic as emotionally charged as the Manson murders, it would be easy for an author to slip into camp with a fictionalized account.  But McKenna does a brilliant job of keeping the story pretty simple.  The historical background serves as a solid foundation, but the author builds a rich, decadent, mansion of a story on top of that solid foundation.  I thought the plot twists and turns were smart, and clever, and while I had some inkling of the general direction, the specifics kept me on the edge of my seat.

As always, McKenna gives us a well developed cast of characters.  I was so intrigued by Izzy as a character, and found myself wondering about her sanity and her humanity at times.  Izzy is a flawed woman, no doubt, that that is what makes her such a realistic character.  My heart broke for her a little, once the scarieness of the tale passed, and it started beating again.  I also liked the somewhat ambiguous ending.  We are never really sure what the truth of the matter is. 

McKenna is a brilliant storyteller, and once again, I find myself fascinated with the tales that serve as her inspiration.  I spent a day or two watching videos of Manson family members after reading this book.  And each time I watched Susan Atkins speak, I could not help but think that much of this book might not be fiction.  If you want a good scare, this book clearly delivers.  It will appeal to those who like modern historical fiction, paranormal fiction, or those like me who are just have a morbid curiosity.

I received a review copy of this book courtesy of the author.

Friday, May 4, 2012

How to Create: An Epic Life, by Emily Levenson

For most people, the biggest roadblock to living a truly epic live is yourself.  You are programmed to fear mistakes and failures, to the point where that fear completely hinders you and causes you to never attempt to achieve your heart's desire.  But if ever, for one tiny moment, you felt like you were meant for something bigger, richer, more fulfilling, you will never be the person you want to be unless you try to live an epic life. 

Many times, the information in self help books can be, at its base, common sense.  But see, we people, we are stubborn, and often good at not practicing what we preach.  So while I may have all the common sense in the world to tell someone else how to reach their goals, it takes a pretty amazing person to make me see the light about me achieving my own goals.  I am not at all surprised that Emily Levenson was the perfect amazing person to succeed.  No surprise really, because many of us in the Pittsburgh area and social media community have know for some time that Emily was pretty epic herself.  

For a while now I have been working on making some changes in my life, and doing it better than I had in past attempts.  Perhaps I just wanted it more this time, I thought.  Now that I have read this book, I realize I was already starting to take the steps to make this next year of my life truly epic.

The book, in less than fifty pages, teaches 12 simple concepts to help you on the road to epicness.   The author explains each concept from a theoretical perspective, then shows practical application for each concept, often with a bit of homework attached.  The homework serves a real purpose, pushing the reader to do things that may be a bit uncomfortable.  It helps test how badly you want to achieve your goals.

While the book is short, each concept is really rich, and can have some real emotional impact.  For the purposes of review, I read the book in one sitting, and allowed myself to reflect for a day before reviewing.  For actual practical use, it is probably wise to read and apply one concept at a time, either weekly or monthly.  One a month would take a year, but over that year, tremendous growth can happen.  I can see this book as being a fantastic therapy tool in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy.  I plan on re-reading the book at a slower pace, either weekly or bi-weekly, to really digest each of the 12 concepts.

I think this book will really speak to those seeking motivation and change in their life.  Emily's voice is frank and caring, in a way that will impact many readers.

I received a review copy of the book courtesy of the author.

This ebook can be purchased on Emily Levenson's Website.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Time and Again, by Deborah Heal

When Abby volunteered to be a tutor over her summer break from college, she had no idea what she would get into.  Abby ends up living with Merrideth, a sullen preteen dealing with being a child of divorce, and Pat, her well meaning but largely absent mother.  Merrideth is resistant to Abby, and spends most of her time complaining that she misses living in the city.  When Abby and Merrideth learn that the house they are in is full of history, and that this history can play out in real time on a program on Merrideth's computer, the girls form a very unique and powerful bond.

Let me start off by saying this book had a very unique premise to me, sort of a "Back to the Future" meets virtual reality, with a little dash of "Seventh Heaven" thrown in.  I loved the idea of this book being focused on several generations of women.  Abby and Merrideth are wonderfully developed characters, and I loved watching them bond over the history behind the house and its previous inhabitants.  I though Merrideth was a fairly accurate representation of a sullen tween girl with a tense family life.  I actually felt a lot of sympathy toward Pat's character, what little we saw of her.  I think there is more to her story.

I felt like this book had two distinct storyworlds, one in the present, and one in the past, and both were developed in rich detail.  The historical aspects of the story were particularly fascinating to me, and I really loved learning the backstory to the house and town.  I liked how real historical facts were woven into that backstory as well.  I was a little confused about the technical aspects behind the computer program, and whether or not it was a program or internet based; the plot could have been just a bit tighter and more clear regarding the program, but I do understand that the writing may have been intentionally ambiguous in order to build mystery.

There is a definite Christian flavor to the book, without being preachy or over the top.  Abby's character is a Christian, though she has her flaws, and there are some scenes where biblical principles are discussed, but I think that the book still has secular appeal.  The book is actually appropriate for both young adult and adult readers.  All in all, I found this an engaging, entertaining read, and I hope that there are more stories to follow.

I received a review copy of the book courtesy of the author.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Red Herring, by J.D. Bowen

A change in political leadership had Calvin Stamps angry and suffering from a string of bad luck.  But would that be enough to cause him to go on a killing spree?  Someone is clearly framing him, but who, and why? That is what Jon Archer has to find out.  The shadowy man behind the killings will not stop until he gets all the way to the President, and Archer and his team are scrambling to stop the bloodshed.  Will they prevail?  And will they learn who put the shadowy man up to it?

When a book is titled Red Herring, you know for sure that you are going to be led down a path of mystery, suspense, and confusion, ending with an AH HA moment as the story reveals the truth.  This book delivers all that and more.  Once again, Bowen gives us a fast paced, thrilling story.  The story really takes of from the first page of the book and the action never stops.  You have a couple of different story aspects going on at once, and the juxtaposition of scenes makes the story race along.  Before I realized it, I had read the whole book cover to cover.  I was definitely pulled into the story.

I like that as the Jon Archer series continues, we get to see more and more of his personality.  We got to see some glimpses of his romantic life, as well as his interactions with his staff, that make him a more well rounded character.  Action packed books rarely have characters the reader cares about, they focus more on the action, but not with the Jon Archer books.  I love that not only is the story well developed, so are the characters.

All in all, I am calling this another win for J.D. Bowen.  Anyone who can make this Jane Austen lover into a Jon Archer fan has got to be talented.

I received a review book courtesy of the author.