Friday, September 28, 2012

Blogfest 2012 Giveaway- Amazon Giftcard and Books!

For several years now, I have participated in an annual blogfest, where tons of blogs come together and give away great prizes.  This year will be no exception.  Each blog will have its own giveaways and own rules, so make sure you check them all out.

But before you do, let's talk about my giveaway.  I am giving away a prize package consisting of a $15 Amazon giftcard and a mystery box of books from the books I have read and reviewed on this blog.  The giveaway is open to US Residents only.  All one needs to do to enter is complete the form below.  Additional entries may be obtained by following me on several social media sites, spreading word of this giveaway on social media, and finding my reviews helpful.  Giveaway ends September 30th at 11:59 EST.  See form for complete details.

Here are links to my various social media sites:
My Amazon Profile

To enter simply fill out the form below!

Make sure to visit the next blogs on the list!

The Tales of Dexter, Nora, and Chloe 
Tall Tales from a Small Town 
Midnight Thrillers 
Notorious Spinks Talks Books 
Mochas, Mysteries and More

And be sure to see the main Blogfest site and list of all blogs participating at A Journey of Books.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Red Serpent Trilogy, by Rishabh Jain and Delson Armstrong

 Not only are vampires real, they have taken over Earth and driven the humans away.  Alex, born to a human mother and a vampire father, is Chosen One of prophecy, the one who can destroy vampires forever.  But to Vampires, he is the Falsifier, the one who will hasten the second coming of the vampire god.  Will Alex be able to come to terms with the warring factions of his ancestry?  If forced to choose a side, which will he chose?

I will start off by saying that the author of this book is very young to be undertaking writing a published book.  I give him a lot of credit for pursing his creativity.  However, I think his youth is quite apparent in his writing.  First off, the book starts with an historical introduction to the story that accomplishes setting the scene and developing the story world.  But it reads like an encyclopedia entry, and for me, it simply felt like cheating.  I want the scene to be set within the context of the story, not through an introduction presented in outline form.  Similarly, I found the characters to lack a lot of development.  I felt that the whole story was presented at arms' length, never allowing the reader to get close, and really care about the characters.

The story develops at a very fast pace.  Part of the reason this happens is the author tells us a lot of the action, as opposed to showing it to us.  Again, this keeps the story distant, and made me feel as if I were reading a book report of a lengthier, more substantial book.  I just found it very hard to get into.  

I thought this was a creative spin on vampirism, pairing it with Christian apocalyptic themes and creating its own mythology.  And  I think the story shows a lot of promise, as does the author.  I just want to see more depth in the story, the characters, and allowing the scene to be set naturally within the context of the story itself.  Fans of sci fi will probably like it, as it has a lot of sci fi elements, as opposed to paranormal ones traditionally associated with vampires.  

I received a review copy courtesy of Tribute Book Tours, in return for my honest review.  The rest of the tour can be viewed here.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Asleep Without Dreaming, by Barbara Forte Abate

Willa's life is far from stable.  Her father left, and her mother is a train wreck on a good day.  So, when Willa and her mother leave their home and head for California, Willa knows no good will come of it.  So it is no surprise that instead of heading to California, Willa and her mother Stella end up in a tiny town that is currently being terrorized by an escaped convict who is setting fires.  The pair ends up staying in a tiny motel for the summer, and Willa develops a complicated relationship with a local boy.

This book was really complex.  First and foremost, with a setting of a deserted motel and a criminal named Norman Hitchcock, I can only assume that this book is making a small homage to the film Psycho, which I thought was a fantastic little tidbit.

I really loved Willa's character.  My heart literally broke for her, she deserved so much better than Stella as a mom.  Stella is an absolute mess, and a monster of a woman.  Her behavior is less than a step away from abuse.  Yet, she certainly is a memorable character, and one that clearly raised a strong emotional reaction.  

I liked the concept of the town building up a the idea of the monster of Norman Hitchcock, all while ignoring the real monsters living in their own community.  I think we see this so much today, on both small and large scales.  People will ignore the monster in their backyard in order to chase the monster that is an outsider.  I felt the hysteria of the town was conveyed well, and while I was able to guess some of the plot twists, the majority of them were a surprise to me.

All in all, I found the book captivating and dramatic.  I found the ending brave, and the right ending for such a complex story.

I received a review copy courtesy of the author in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The History of a Suicide, by Jill Bialosky

Jill's younger sister Kim committed suicide at the young age of 21. Jill has spent years trying to not only cope with her loss, but also make sense of her sister's decision.  Jill talks about going through her sister's writing, as well as police reports from Kim's death, to try to piece together the full picture.  Through her journey, Jill learns about herself as well as her sister.

This book was intense, for mostly personal reason's.  Before we were ever married, we lost a member of my  husband's family to suicide, which is what really drew me to this book initially.  This book certainly sparked a lot of emotions and conversation among my book club.  The book raises a lot of questions about mental health from a family systems perspective.  There were a lot of literary references, which I mostly greatly appreciated, and will certainly appeal to many readers.  However, readers not as familiar with the works and authors discussed will not get as much out of them.  

The thing that struck me as endlessly frustrating was the great casual tone to so much of the topics covered.  Marital strife of Kim's parents, Kim's drug use, and both Kim and Jill having teenage abortions are mentioned in such casual manner, yet never delved into in terms of the possible impact of these things on Kim's mental state.  It felt shocking to me that Kim's family seemingly knew she was deeply troubled, taking drugs, in an abusing relationship, yet did very little (at least as described by Jill) to step in.  

The writing could have been a little tighter for my taste, as the style seems to shift between poetry, prose, and objective factual writing.  It seems a bit like a stream of consciousness and for me it made it difficult to read.  All in all the book was interesting, but difficult to read.

This book is from my personal library.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

How to Find the Right One and Make It Last, by Charles A. Johnson

Most people want to find someone with whom they can share their lives.  There are some very clear dos and don'ts when it comes to dating.  In this book you will find clear cut dating strategies, as well as real world examples of strategies in use.

I read this book out of sheer curiosity; I wanted to see what a male's perspective on dating would look like.  Turns out it looks pretty much exactly as I expected.  A lot of the advice given in this book is fairly sound, and common sense.  Don't be late, don't neglect your hygiene, treat your date with respect, use your manners.  These are the kinds of lessons most of us learned in childhood and high school.  However, I found a lot of the information to be a bit dated.  Only a few short pages were devoted to online dating, yet I think the internet, online dating sites, and social media have greatly changed the way dating looks and happens in the 21st century.  Whether people want to admit it or not, new times call for new rules.

I also felt that the book contradicted itself several times, particularly when discussing how women should approach dating.  It states several times that it does not matter how much someone weighs or how someone looks, but it mentions several times that women should try to lose weight and spruce themselves up when looking for a date.  One part, in particular, stated that men rarely complain about a woman having a large behind or chest, so a woman should focus on "creating definition between the two".  I find this to be contradictory, and somewhat demeaning.  

I think that this book does provide some sound advice, but more for those daters who are in their 30s or older.  I think this book would not be useful to younger people looking for dating advice.  And personally, all this book did was make me extra thankful that I never have to worry about dating ever again.

I received a review copy courtesy of Tribute Book Blog Tours, in exchange for my honest review.  Find the rest of the tour here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Sickened, by Julie Gregory

As a child, Julie was always sickly.  Years and years were spent trying to determine what specific heart problems she had that made her childhood so awful.  After suffering various types of abuse for years, Julie leaves her family as a young adult and strives to find wholeness.  It is as an adult that she learns of Munchausen by Proxy, and realizes everything she thought she knew about her life was a lie.

This book made me nauseated when I read it, but I am very glad I read it.  The book details the incredibly disturbing childhood of a girl trapped in a dysfunctional family.  All I could think as I read it was that this situation was completely bonkers, and this girl is lucky to have survived.  I am going on the assumption that this is a true memoir, but there have been claims that this entire story has been falsified.  Many times memoirs of severely abused children draw fire for being false.  Perhaps they are false, or perhaps we want to think they are, because we cannot believe such monsters exist in the world.  But these monsters do exist.  As of right now, I am not sure there is enough conclusive evidence to determine the truth or lack thereof in terms of Julie's story.

I was familiar with Munchaisen by Proxy, having learned about it in abnormal psychology classes in college and graduate school.  For a while in the 1990's, it seemed like this was a hot new diagnosis, with many a made for t.v. movie cropping up.  But this is the first time I have ever heard an actual account of someone having lived through this situation (at least claiming to have anyway).  I found it fascinating and disturbing.  Like spectators at a car wreck craning their necks to survey the carnage, I simply could not look away.

In terms of the writing, I found for the most part the book progressed in a logical manner.  However, there were times that I could not keep the timeline straight, as Julie may have been talking about her 11th year, and mentioned a memory from her teen years.  It did get a little muddy at times, and I found the end of the book to lack closure.  I think that the portion of the book detailing Julie's life with her parents is captivating, but when she leaves home, the book takes a different tone, and it just seemed a little off.

All in all, I was captivated by the book.  I am unsure what is worse, believing that someone would do these terrible things to their child (and I know that many people do) or believing that someone would make it all up to sell a book.  

I borrowed this book from a friend.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Whipping Boy, by Deborah Henry

The setting is Ireland in the late 1950's, and Marian, a Catholic, is in love with Ben, a Jew.  She finds herself pregnant out of wedlock, and decides to go away to have her child at a Mothers' home, then give him up for adoption.  Over ten years later, Marian and Ben are married with a daughter, but Marian cannot forget her first child.  Consumed with guilt, Marian locates her son, but getting the picture perfect family is not as easy as she anticipates.

This was a difficult novel for me to read.  I think the story itself is important and has the potential to be quite powerful.  Several generations of women found themselves in Marian's situation, and were never allowed to talk about it or heal from it, so I think this story will touch many.  I am appalled at the treatment both Marian and her son receive at the various institutions in which they spend time, but I have no doubt that this book paints an accurate picture of the horrors in such places.

I struggled with the book because it seemed so reserved.  The story moves quickly at first, and is a little too cerebral for me.  I would have liked to have seen the book be more emotional, so as to hook the reader from the very beginning.  The story certainly has the potential to do that, but the writing kept me at arm's length.  I actually disliked Marian as a character; I wanted to empathize with her, but just could not.  She comes across rather hysterical in the book, and I found myself resenting the way she shut out Ben and their daughter.  I also felt she took very little responsibility for the part she played in the way her own life turned out.  

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in return for an honest review.  You can see the rest of the tour here.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Midwife of Hope River, by Patricia Harman

Patience Murphy is a midwife in Appalachia in the 1930's, but before this, she has lived a much different life, under the name Elizabeth Snyder.  She was a showgirl, a mother to be, a wife, a rebel.  Her path has led her to a small rural area of West Virginia, where she attends the births of families, rich and poor, struggling with the changes in the world and the economy.  Through it all, Patience dreads the day when her life as Elizabeth will catch up to her.

I thought this book was, in a word, stunning.  I absolutely loved everything about this story.  First of all, the setting was simply fascinating to me, having lived in or near many of the places mentioned.  I loved hearing about Pittsburgh in the 1920s and 1930s, truly fascinating stuff.  And having grown up in the Appalachian foothills, the culture described in this book is so familiar to me, despite the setting being decades before I was ever born.  And the story itself, the life and trials of a midwife in those times, it was simply fascinating.

I loved Patience.  I thought her character was so warmly and richly developed.  We learn her back-story as we go, but it is done so seamlessly that you feel as if you have always known her.  While she is far from perfect (and well aware of that fact), she is a very endearing character, and you really touched my heart.  I love the wonder and awe she has about life and death, despite having seen so many births.  She made me, as a reader, really consider the miracle of childbirth, particularly as it was decades ago.

There is something so personal, and comforting, in the way this book was written, that I often forgot it was fiction, and not the diary of an actual historical person.  The book really captivated me.  There were no tricks or gimmicks, no overly flowery prose, just honest to goodness great story telling.  This was a tremendous debut novel, written with so much heart; as a reader, I could not help but feel so connected to this story, simply because of the storyteller's voice.

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours.  See the rest of the tour here.  The author is also doing a physical book tour, and you can view that schedule here.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Gold Magic, by John Booth

His entire life, Paul has suffered mysterious illnesses.  During his most recent hospitalization, he meets Sarah, and realizes he has telepathic abilities.  When he realizes he is reading the thoughts of a terrorist planning a mass attack, Paul enlists Sarah's help in tracking down the terrorist and trying to stop the attack.  Clearly, something dark is afoot.  In the midst of the whole situation, it becomes apparent that Paul has an unusual connection to the Grange family.

This third installment of the Magic series is so much different from the first two, in my opinion.  We still have wonderful well developed characters, great storytelling, and tongue in cheek humor, the nature of the story is slightly different.  There are definite elements of espionage and political drama with in this story, and less emphasis on the supernatural.

Paul and Sarah are quite charming, as far as characters go.  I feel like the seem quite genuine, and imperfect, and that is what makes them so interesting to me.  I really loved their interactions, and the portrait of their blossoming relationship.  I found myself rooting for them.  In general, the characters are vivid and engaging, even the nasty ones.

The only thing I missed from this book was more interaction with the Grange children and the Dees.  They are not totally absent, but it takes quite some time before the story is connected to them.  Because I love them so much, I found msyself wishing for more of them.  In fact, I want another story, one starring the Dees, and focusing more on the Source, because I think there are still stories to be told there.

All in all, another great story.  It is interesting to see the story go in such a different direction, and it just goes to show Booth's versatility as an author.

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

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

On the Island, by Tracey Garvis Graves

Anna plans to spend her summer tutoring a teenage boy named T.J., to help him catch up to his peers after battling cancer.  The family, and in turn Anna, will be spending the summer in the Maldives.  As Anna and T.J. travel to their destination, tragedy strikes, and they crash, and end up stranded on an uninhabited island.  After a few days, it becomes clear that no rescue is going to happen, at least not anytime soon, so Anna and T.J. are forced to survive in the only ways they know how.

I went into this book skeptical.  The back cover makes it pretty obvious that a romance is going to develop between Anna and T.J., yet when we first meet him he is around 16, and she is 30.  This seems so unlikely, despite all the reports of student teacher relationships in the past few years.  I was convinced that this storyline would seem unbelievable, and in some ways, it still is, but somehow, it sort of works.  And I so not know why.

Anna and T.J. are not terribly well developed as far as characters go, though I will say the chapters in T.J.'s voice are surprisingly more convincing than those in Anna's voice.  The author nails the voice of a sexually charged teenage boy.  The story moves quickly, covering an extensive chronology in a relatively small number of pages, so I never got bored by the story, despite the fact that nothing action packed really happens once they reach the island.  There are a few minor crises, which are conveniently and quickly resolved (often in ways not terribly believable).  And the last third of the book deals with what happens when the characters form a romantic attachment.  In many ways, it feels as if the writing is expository, right up until the last few pages.

I cannot explain it.  The book is not terribly deep, and the writing is good but not great.  And yet I found myself hooked, and I think a lot of romance fans will find the same happens to them.

I received a review copy courtesy of the publisher.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Sharp: A Memoir, by David Fitzpatrick

David came from a family that was rife with mental health issues.  Several family members on both the paternal and maternal sides have suffered from mental illnesses.  David seems to be headed for a life of promise, until, in his twenties, he begins self mutilating.  Over the next two decades, he will struggle with serious debilitating mental illness, with dozens of hospitalizations, and months of residential treatment.

Reader, be forewarned, this is an intense book.  Never have I read anything so raw, and heartbreakingly honest.  We watch a young, attractive, intelligent, and immensely talented young man literally waste years of his life trapped in the prison of mental illness.  The picture David paints of those years is bleak, full of blood, excrement, darkness, and pain.  The intensity of this book literally sucked energy from me.  As engaging as this book was, I had read it over an extended period of time.  To have read it all at once would have been overwhelming.

Keeping in mind that much of David's story was written from memory or from journals of his youth, I have to wonder if those memories are at all colored by his illness.  While David explains that in the midst of his episodes of delusion, he is still cognizant of his situation and reality, I have to wonder, is there more to the story.  Particularly the stories involving his college friends.  I just felt like there was more to the story there, and it left me feeling really unsettled.

The honesty of this memoir struck me as particularly brave.  And it is that bravery that allowed David to be triumphant over his illness.  Not all mentally ill people are able to triumph, but perhaps, by hearing the rawness of David's story, other will be given hope, and mental health professionals will be given insight, so as to better help others.

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

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Monday, September 3, 2012

Of Time and Place, by B.R. Freemont

James lives in a future where the country has undergone a major energy crisis, and life is much different from today.  He spends many years working close to Washington policy makers to influence the way the crisis is handled, and spends a significant amount of time searching for meaning in his own life.  He spends time forming a lasting relationship with his former boss, and even more time seeking real love from various women.

Let me start by saying that for readers interested in economics, energy usage, and quasi dystopian futuristic literature, this book is probably a grand slam.  In the parameters of those genres, this book is well written.  And in general, I think that the author's writing style shows real talent and considerable promise.  However, this book just failed to hook me.

At over 500 pages, this book could use some trimming.  For example,  at one point the male protagonist goes on at length, for many pages, reciting a lecture he plans to give to a college class.  I saw absolutely no point to having this lecture, verbatim, in the story.  In fact, I felt that the entire scene did little, if anything, to advance the story.  Similarly, there are a lot of sex scenes in the book that seem unnecessary.  Now, I am no prude, but sex for sex sake does not need to happen in a book of this length.  The sex scenes should, but rarely do, have a significant impact on the story.  Instead, it makes the protagonist seem like a sleaze, and made him very unlikable to me.

I did not care for the main character.  I found him cold, particularly concerning the disappearance of his wife and child.  His story carries out on two timelines simultaneously, and while that method was carried out in a clear manner, I found very little of the action of the one timeline tying into the story of the second timeline in most cases, so it made the transitions seem a little forced, instead of flowing smoothly.

I think that this was an ok book, that has the potential to be a great book, if only some of the subplot was removed and the focus narrowed.  Better yet, get rid of the simultaneous timelines, and make this a series about James' life.  The heart of the story was fine, there was just too much extraneous noise for my taste.  

I received a review copy courtesy of Tribute Book Tours.  See the rest of the tour here.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Back to Bataan, by Jerome Charyn

Life is not easy for a scholarship student; Jack should know, as he attends a private school on scholarship.  Jack's father died in Bataan, and Jack itches to leave school to join the Army, returning to Bataan with MacArthur to avenge his father's death.  But, as I mentioned, life is not easy for a scholarship student.  His mother works all day, and Jack is left to deal with breakup of his romantic relationship on his own.  He attempts retaliation against the enemy now courting his girl, then runs off and joins a group of criminals.  Later  he helps the police catch those same criminals.

This book is so different from the past books I have read by Charyn, that I am at a bit of a loss.  First off, the book is intended for middle grades readers, but I think this is a bit to esoteric a book for that age group.  While the setting is wonderfully described, I doubt many readers in that age group would be familiar enough with World War II, and specifically Bataan, to fully appreciate the setting.  Similarly, the nature of the story would be hard for middle grades readers to grasp, in that there is no real resolution within the story, other than of Jack's romantic relationship.

I personally really liked Jack as a character, and felt a lot of empathy for him.  He clearly lacks a good male role model, we see that with his interactions with several of the adult male characters in the book.  Jack is always missing something, whether he realizes it or not, and spends a lot of time trying to capture whatever he is missing.  All in all, I found Jack, and his story, to be engaging, but I think the intended audience might have a harder time connecting.

I received a review copy courtesy of Tribute Books.