Tuesday, January 29, 2013

News from Heaven, by Jennifer Haigh

Bakerton, Pennsylvania is the quintessential Appalachian coal mining town.  Throughout the decades of the 20th century, the town, and her people, have undergone tremendous changes.  This collection of short stories  tells the stories of the townspeople throughout the years; many of the stories and the people are interconnected, in the way that people in small towns tend to be.

Everything about this book made me absolutely love it.  First off, I adore reading stories about realistic and relatable characters, and the characters in this book feel like my very own neighbors.  I particularly love that people and families show up in multiple stories, giving the reader a more robust picture of the characters and their family dynamics.  There was not a single story in this book that was not fantastic, a rare trait with short story compendiums.

Secondly, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Western PA setting of these stories, due to living in Western PA myself.  The small town I live in once had its booming heyday, also thanks to coal, and it has changed so much through the years, I can really relate to the setting of Bakerton; it feels like the world right outside my door.  However, I suspect I could love anywhere and still relate to Bakerton, since the author paints such a vivid portrait.

The plots of the stories themselves are so human, so real, so heartbreaking in many cases.  Yet even the melancholy stories are tinted with hope, something I adored about this book.  Fans of short stories will appreciate the book, as well as fans of historical fiction.  

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.  There will also be a podcast discussion on February 4th, 2013, which will then be archived, and you can listen here.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Sighs Too Deep For Words, by William Jack Sibley

While he was in prison, Lester had a long distance pen pal relationship with a woman named Laurel.  Upon his release from prison, Lester seeks out Laurel convinced she is the love of his life.  Imagine his surprise when he finds the woman of his dreams is actually a closeted gay pastor.  With this discovered, Lester is forced to evaluate what he truly wants out of life, and how he starts over now that he is on the outside.  Starting over in a small town, and interacting with the people in town, changes the way Lester views the world.

I absolutely fell in love with this book.  The story is so multifaceted; there are a lot of characters, and each character is embroiled in their own love- related turmoil.  All these characters orbit around Lester, who is the main character of the story.  I adored Lester as a character; he really defied the expectations of a convicted felon.  Lester has a child-like innocence, it is a little difficult to imagine him surviving in prison.  It is fun watching Lester discovered the world.  The vast cast of supporting characters are equally engaging, and well developed.

While many of the characters in the book are gay, and gay relationships are emphasized, an equal number of the relationships are heterosexual.  To me, the theme of the book is much more centered on love than on sexuality.  I found a lot of the emotional interactions in the book to be really beautiful.  I thought the writing showed a tremendous amount of depth and heart, and the story was truly original.  The book really makes your rethink what it means to "love thy neighbor", and I think the book had several examples of really good, Christian characters who were supportive of the idea of being able to love whomever you want.

The book certainly has a strong emphasis on homosexual relationships, so be aware of that going in.  However, I think readers who really love romance books, real romance books and not soft core erotica, will like this book.  

I received a review copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Cold Case Morphs, by Barbara Silkstone

Morphs are people who wear full body morph suits, often as a way to escape their problems, and feel comfortable being their true selves.  A group of Morphs open a detective agency, specializing in cold cases, and their first case is as cold as they come.  While investigating a potential haunted house, Fedora and her fellow Morphs stumble onto a missing Hollywood director, a possible serial killer, and maybe, just maybe, true love.

Let's be honest up front, the idea of functioning in your everyday life while constantly wearing a Morph suit is a little, well, wacky.  So it stands to reason that a book about Morphs will also be a bit wacky, and it it is.  But it is wacky in a wonderful way.  Because many of the characters are wearing Morph suits, we learn very little about their physical appearance.  This forces us as readers to focus on their actions and personality traits in order to form opinions of them; in my mind, I bet these opinions are far more accurate than if we were to allowed to be influenced by physical appearance.  And in some ways, the mystery of these people in Morph suits is a little sexy.

Morph suits aside, the story at the heart of this novella is really quite normal.  A dash of mystery, some humor, romance, paranormal activity, and a few homages to some great 80s movies.  What is not to like?  I really liked the central mystery of the story.  I thought it was well developed and had many layers for such a quick read.  I liked the tie in a past story by the same author that involved Morphs, and I like the open ending that allows for more mystery Morph stories in the future.

Do not let the uniqueness of Morphs scare you off from this book; the story is so engaging, by the end, the Morphs seem like any other character, and though the story is unusual because of the Morphs, I think it is all the better for it.  I hope to see more Morph stories in the future!

I received a review copy of this book courtesy of the author in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Chocolate Covered Baloney, by KD McCrite

April Grace is back, and still dealing with the woes of a preteen girl.  Her older sister is acting funny, her baby brother is the center of attention, and April has a sense that big changes are coming now that she is in junior high.  And this biggest change of call comes calling in the form of a long lost family member!

This is the second book I have read in the April Grace series, and I find myself relating to April Grace so much.  Because the books are set in the 80s, in a rural area, April Grace's life shares similarities to my own life as a preteen, so I really find myself relating to her as a character.  I think she continues to be richly developed, and it is nice to see her maturing a little.  She is in that odd space between little girl and young lady, and I think so many tweens will relate to her.

I liked the story development as well.  It involves a little bit of a mystery (what is her sister up to??) as well as a conflict in the form of the long lost family member.  This means the story is engaging to the reader.  Also even though this is a book from a series, it functions fine as a stand alone story, something I always appreciate.  

I find these books to be great for middle grades readers, particularly young girls.  While the books are marketed as Christian fiction, the Christian aspect is subtle, and mostly, it is just a nice, clean book for middle grades readers to which they will be able to relate.

I received a review copy courtesy of BookSneeze in exchange for my honest review.

I review for BookSneeze®

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Abandoned Edge of Avalon, by Eden Tyler

Alexis has spent her entire lift feeling different from everyone else.  She has odd dreams and can read her best friend's mind, only making her seem that much stranger.  So when it is revealed that Alexis is not human, but is instead a fairy, things actually start to make sense.  She learns that she has a very important destiny to accomplish in the land of Avalon; for all intents and purposes, her life is just now beginning.

I have had this book on my kindle for two years now; it was originally offered as a free download.  Imagine my surprise to learn that by the time I got around to reading it,  it is now completely out of print, and being re-imagined as a young adult book.  I can say quite confidently that this was a good idea.  This book, as it stood in its original printing, seemed a but juvenile.  Despite the fact that the characters were meant to be in their mid 20s, they all acted and talked like teenagers, which left the book hollow.  There really was not enough character development, and it seemed like once she learned she was a fairy, Alexis' character underwent rapid, unexplained changes anyway.  In fact, I found her rapidly developed revulsion for humans the most unbelievable thing about the book.  When the book involves real life fairies, and the character development is the LEAST believable part, that is kind of a problem.

In terms of the story, I do not think it is a bad story, just nothing special.  A young person finds they are special or have special abilities, and must perform some act of bravery to save their kind.  Along the way said young person meets their soul-mate and swaps some blood.  It is like Twilight, True Blood, and Harry Potter are having a literary threesome.  Again, that is not necessarily a bad thing, but as it was originally intended, for adult readers, I do not think there is enough that is unique to the story to engage readers at a deep level.  I do think, however, that this story could work very well in a form altered for young adult readers.

This book is from my personal library.  All opinions are honest and original.

The ABCs of Freezer Cooking, by K.M. Logan

Freezer cooking is an incredible way to save yourself time, and often money, by cooking large portions or multiple meals at once, and storing in your freezer for later use.  Many people have misconceptions about freezer cooking, such as you must make 30 different meals to cook for a month, or you must have an extra freezer to store the extra food.  In this concise volume, you learn truths, tips, and tricks to how freezer cooking can change life as you know it.

I have been doing freezer cooking for over 2 years now.  I never really set out to do it, it just sort of happened.  I am not a fan of eating leftovers for many days in a row, yet I only know how to cook in large quantities.  When you are cooking for 2, these two facts can lead to a lot of waste; my solution was to cook a meal, use half immediately, and immediately freeze the other half.  Before I knew it, I was well on my way to doing regular freezer cooking.  I have done several big cooking days, where I prepare many meals or crockpot ready meals for freezing, but never have a done an entire month in advance, since that seems to daunting.  This book really made me think that it is a realistic goal to work toward now.

Using each letter as a short section on a specific tip or aspect, this book succinctly breaks down the how to's of freezer cooking.  You learn the benefits, the realities, shopping and preparation tips, and different ways to make freezer cooking work for your family.  And one section even includes some great meal ideas and recipes.  The book is a great introduction to the concept of freezer cooking, and the benefits.  The concepts are geared toward people with very basic cooking skills, no need to be a master chef to find this useful.  However, more experienced cooks may find that most of the information covered in the book is not new material to them.  Personally, like I said, I have been doing freezer cooking for 2 years, and I still found the book helpful, simply because her style is different from mine, and she uses some different techniques that I may be able to incorporate. 

In short, this book is an "introduction" to the concept of freezer cooking, so make sure you have the right expectations.  It is not a cookbook, or a menu planner, and it is basic information geared toward first time or new freezer cooks.  The book is pretty clear in it's subtitle that it is an introduction, so do not expect advanced techniques here, or discount the value of the information to those who are just starting out to freezer cooking.

This book is from my personal library; all opinions are honest and original.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Tell, by Hester Kaplan

Owen and Mira have only been married for a few years, and are still trying to find the rhythm of daily married life.  But any semblance of normality is disrupted when Wilton, an aging television actor, moves in next door.  Mira immediately takes a shine to Wilton, spending lots of time with him, and accompanying them to a nearby casino.  Wilton is trying to reunite with his adult daughter, and tries to enlist Owen's help, which only drives Owen and Mira further apart.

I am really torn about this book.  On the one hand, the book is full of some really memorable and well developed characters.  I most found myself drawn to Owen as a character.  I felt I could see his point of view.  I felt like I did not trust Wilton, and I am still not convinced his motives were completely pure.  It seems to me that Wilton was using Mira as a substitute for his daughter.  I think Wilton also sees some of his own flaws in Owen, and in turn tries to punish Owen.

I thought the writing was really lovely in this book, but I struggled, somewhat, with staying engaged in the storyline.  I felt the story lagging in a few places, particularly in the beginning.  I felt like there was not enough explanation regarding the relationship between Mira and Wilton, and I have to admit, I was a little confused as to why it was not discussed more.  Still, I did really enjoy the book, and I think a lot of fans of modern literary novels will enjoy it as well.

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

Monday, January 14, 2013

Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson

By some miracle, Chicago has been chosen as the site for the 1893 World's Fair.  There is much work to be done, in very little time.  In the midst of the creation of the site for the fair, H.H. Holmes finds his prey.  Whether he is scamming people and businesses for money and goods, creating a murder hotel, or plotting the demise of yet another innocent, it can be guaranteed that Holmes is leaving a stain on the White City.

I really really wanted to love this book.  And I was pretty certain I would.  I am familiar with the case of H.H. Holmes, and find it fascinating.  And I love examining stories within their historical context.  And yet, I could not quite get into this book.  The book alternated between chapters regarding the fair preparation and chapters regarding Holmes' nefarious deeds.  I found the chapters about the fair and all the politics surrounding it to be incredibly boring, and I was really disappointed by it.  It was well researched and well written, just, for me, not at all interesting.

The chapters about Holmes were much more engaging.  Again, the research and writing were solid.  I am not sure why I preferred those chapters so much more, other than the fact that it was a topic with which I was already familiar, and in which I had a long standing interest.  I was not aware, prior to reading it, that the book was comprised of what in all actuality is two different stories that were only slightly related, so I think, in general, the book was simply not what I expected it to be.  Had I gone into it with different expectations, I may have enjoyed it more.

The book will most likely appeal to fans of history, criminology, and creative nonfiction.  I have heard wonderful things about this author, so I am definitely willing to give him another shot.

This book is from my personal library.  All opinions are honest and original.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Doing Max Vinyl, by Frederick Lee Brooke

Max Vinyl seems to have it all, a successful business, financial stability, an entire fleet of hot cars, and an even hotter girlfriend.  But Max made the mistake of finding that girlfriend from his employees.  When she loses her job for trying to expose corruption in the business, she dumps Max, and proceeds to make his life hell.  Add into this mix other bumbling employees who mess with the wrong veteran, and you have the makings of a nightmare for good old Max.

The best word I can use to explain this story is multifaceted.  There are so many layers to this plot, it was hard for me to sum it up in one paragraph, without giving spoilers or confusing people.  First off, let me describe the interesting and complex characters the author has created.  Of course, we have good old Max, who is a total slimeball, but you just cannot help to kind of like him.  He is amazingly unaware of his own weaknesses, which makes him such an easy plaything for his ex, Tris.  Tris was a little more complex; although she seems to delight in making Max's life miserable, I think she really did care for him, and is angry at herself for that.  The bumbling employees may just be my favorite characters, and their substory the best part of this book.  They are also the reason we get to meet the book's heroine, Annie.  I really liked Annie, and wish we saw a little more of her in the book.

As I said, the plot has many layers.  You have Max's business, which is a big scam, as well as his various relationships, stolen merchandise, shakedowns, breakups, messy divorces, accidental homicides.  See, there really is so much going on.  Which made for a fantastically complex and interesting book.  Not one time did the story lag, not one time did the multiple storylines get confusing, and not one time was the writing predictable.

I cannot say enough great thinks about this book.  Instead, I will simply say, read it for yourself.

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

Friday, January 11, 2013

The House on the Corner, by Michael Rains

All Chester intended to do was avoid cleaning the hall bathroom.  So when his mom asked him to run an errand, he jumped at the change.  However, the errand, a simple trip to his uncle's house, turns into a wild adventure.  Absolutely nothing is as it seems, humanity is at risk, and somehow, saltines, cookies, and soda may be the salvation of us all.

This book is, um, well, nonsense.  And not in a good way.  It makes so little sense, I am not even sure where to start.  There are a ton of characters, most of the spouting odd or silly thoughts.  It made it extremely difficult to really get to know anything about any of the characters.  In fact, it was hard for me to even keep the characters straight.

As best I could tell, there was some plot for evil to overtake mankind, and some great force promised protection.  Seems like a very very heavily veiled allegory for Christianity.  With the nonsensical manner of the story makes it seem as if the story is geared toward middle grades readers.  And maybe the story will appeal to young readers.  For me personally, despite the fact it was a short read, I found it to be a waste of time.

I received a review copy of this book courtesy of BookSneeze, in exchange for my honest review.

  I review for BookSneeze®

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Chocolate Money, by Ashley Prentice Norton

Bettina is the daughter of chocolate heiress Babs Ballentyne.  Life with Babs is unconventional, to say the least.  She is overtly sexual, and has sexually explicit conversations with her preteen daughter.  She pushes the lines of decorum and good taste.  She uses men as toys in the game of life.  So why, then, is Babs so shocked when, as a teenager, Bettina ends up doing the same exact thing?

I have read a lot of stories involving dysfunctional mother-daughter relationships, but this one took the cake.I have very mixed feelings about this book.  On the one hand, the story is certainly compelling, but on the other hand, a lot about this book truly disgusted me.  The sexual nature of this book is one of pure shock value, and really weakened the book overall.  While the sex itself was somewhat central to the story, the gross language describing it was unnecessary, particularly in the beginning of the book being narrated by 10-11 year old Bettina.  Hearing sexually explicit things (including the see you next Tuesday word) coming out of the mouth of a preteen in relation to her mother is gross and disturbing.  And frankly, I find that aspect of the story to be child abuse and reason enough for Babs to have lost custody of Bettina.  But I digress.

I actually liked the plotline surrounding Babs' affair and its effect on Bettina.  There were some twists thrown in that I was not expecting, and I think that is what kept me going with this book.  The part of the book where Bettina is a teenger was a bit tamer.

I was drawn to the Mommy Dearest comparison regarding this book.  This book does not measure up to Mommy Dearest.  Joan Crawford would have never acted as trashy as Babs Ballentyne.  Some people may really love this book and its salacious nature, but it really was not for me.

This book is from my personal library; all opinions are honest and original.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Cinders & Sapphires, by Leila Rasheed

Although Rose is the daughter of a staff person at Somerton, she has always been treated like one of the daughters of Lord Westlake.  She grew up with Ada and Georgianna, and is excited for their return to the estate.  When they do return, she is given the position of the girls' ladies maid, and over time learns that there are many secrets at Somerton, everyone has secrets.  Even Rose.

I went into this book knowing it was inspired by Downton Abbey, but geared more toward young adult readers.  I was fairly sure I would like it, and my hunch proved correct.  There are several storylines going on at once, it seems like each character almost, has their own story going, so the book sets up the series well, foreshadowing future installments covering these different character arcs.  The plot did seem a tiny bit busy, with a lot of characters who were introduced and not well developed.  I found this to be the particular case among the characters composing the staff of the estate.  Most of the family characters are pretty well developed, and clearly the focus of most of the action.

I felt the book was a quick read.  The writing is clean, the action is swift, and the storyworld is vivid.  It helps that I am a Downton fan, and was able to glean a lot from the story based on what I saw on that show.  There is an extraordinarily gossipy nature to the story, which I owe to the fact that it is geared toward young adults.  And I do not necessarily think that gossipy nature is a bad thing; it certainly kept things interesting and kept me engaged as a reader.

I think we will see a movement in young adult literature, away from Twilight inspired books, to more Downton inspired books, and I see this as a positive change.  As with any fiction inspired by popular movies or television, some efforts will be superior to others.  I find this to be on the high quality end of the spectrum, and am fascinated to see the series unfold.

I received a review copy courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Death of Bees, by Lisa O'Donnell

Marnie and her younger sister Nelly are hiding a huge secret: both of their parents are dead and buried in the garden.  They attempt to maintain some semblance of a normal life, well, normal for them, to avoid getting picked up by social services.  Soon Marnie will be old enough to be Nelly's legal guardian, so hopefully they can hold it together.  Quickly, they attract the attention of their neighbor, Lennie, who decides to take the girls under his wing.  Their lives become intertwined in the most amazing version of a family.

This book is more than just a little disturbing.  These young girls are living in squalor with drug addicts for parents, parents who are so negligent that when they go missing (in reality they are dead) barely anyone notices.  Marnie is wrapped up in a world of drugs, and sex with adult men, while Nelly seems to be dealing with something akin to autism.  All in all, not a pretty picture.  And yet, this books is oddly captivating.

The characters are really memorable.  Marnie and Nelly could not be more different, but because of these differences, each girl lends a unique voice to the story.  I love that we hear the story from both girls, as well as from Lennie, because I felt this provided the reader with a more accurate picture.  

I really liked the examination of the concept of family throughout this story.  Lennie was more family to the girls than they had ever experienced.  They form a ragtag, misfit family, and prove that love can take all shapes and sizes.  In the midst of darkness, ugliness, and chaos, light and love can be found.  The story is gritty, and parts of it are literally painful to read, but I am so glad I stuck with this book.

I received a review copy of this book courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  View the rest of the tour here.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Chanel Bonfire, by Wendy Lawless

Wendy always knew her mother was not like most mothers, nor did Wendy and her sister Robin have a typical childhood.  After their parents divorced, the girls lived with their mother, and had summer visits with their father.  Mother flitted from man to man, some of the men trying to be nurturing the girls, but all of the men eventually leaving.  In a sort of temper tantrum, their mother took the girls to London to live for several years, and then returned to the US to try to set up some semblance of a posh life.  Throughout the years, their mother's behavior rides like a roller coaster, often going off the rails.

When reading a memoir about emotional abuse, it is difficult to truly say you enjoy the book.  I mean, how can anyone enjoy reading about a child being manipulated, deceived, and abused?  That being said, I will say that I found this book to be an amazing and honest example of how some children survive abuse that does not leave a visible scar, but they are abused nonetheless.

I found Wendy's narrative easy to connect to, and found myself empathizing with her a lot as I read.  I really rooted for Wendy to be happy and successful, and breathed a sigh of relief each time Wendy found a new source of emotional support.  I cannot imagine what it was like to grow up in her reality, but Wendy paints a raw and honest picture of that reality.  While it is difficult to see Wendy's mother as anything short of a monster, the book also does a fair job pointing out that her behavior is a result of mental illness.

Parts of the book are funny, but mostly I found it heartbreaking.  Even while the girls were living a life of luxury, there was nothing about their lives that I envied.  I think this book is a powerful example of what can happen when you break free of abuse.  The book will definitely resonate with adult survivors of abuse, as well as fans of memoirs in general.

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

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Kiss the Morning Star, by Elissa Janine Hoole

Still dealing with her mother's tragic death, Anna sets off on a road trip with her best friend, Kat.  The girls follow their wanderlust, under the guidance of a book by Jack Kerouac, searching for life and proof of God's love.  Along the way, Anna confronts her fears, her emotions, her relationship with her father, and her entire concept of love.

This is your typical road trip story, only involving teen girls.  I am not sure many parents would allow their teenagers to take a road trip like this, but given that Anna's father is mired in mourning, I am willing to suspend disbelief on that detail.  In general, I found the characters of Anna and Kat to be a little flat and boring.  I never really felt like we learned much about them, nor do I feel like their characters were really pushed to confront themselves, or each other.  The questions and situations the girls encounter are pretty standard; religion, sexuality, drug use, love. And I felt in terms of those issues, this book really did not bring anything new to the table.

One thing I did actually like about this story was the exploration of love, romance, and sexuality in a way that was not limited to gender or conventional labels.  In a world where we are so quick to pigeonhole someone as gay, straight, or bisexual, it was refreshing to see a young adult book that indicates those labels do not matter quite so much, and love matters so much more.

I think a lot of young adults will like this book, and it will certainly appeal to readers with wanderlust of their own.  If you like road trip stories, this is a great book for you, I personally just found it a little boring.

I received a review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine program, in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Hafren, by Craig Dressler

When Hafren is invaded, two youths, Shuh and Ufh, set off to warn the different people in different areas of the land.  Along the way, the encounter various forms of evil, and learn how to overcome these evils.  It is a journey, not only through their own land, but into themselves as well.  Faith and friendship help get them succeed in their mission.

From the moment I started reading this short tale, I could not help but be reminded of the Lord of the Rings. The story, to me, has a very similar feel to it.  It is clearly a fantasy tale, involving friends, focusing around an important journey.  Not a lot of time is spent on exposition, instead starting the story literally in the middle of an action scene.  For adult readers, this might seem abrupt, and in a longer novel I think this would be an important aspect of the story to develop.  However, for younger readers, this might not seem as important.  We never really learn a lot about Shuh and Ufh as characters, with the story instead focusing on the journey. Again, in a longer novel, I think further character development would be necessary, but for the purposes of this story, it seems to be a non issue.

The book is marketed as Christian Fantasy Fiction, so it was not surprising to me that there was heavy emphasis on God and Jesus.  What I did find unusual is that in a book where everything else was fantasy, the Christian aspect was quite literal, spelling out the literal gospel message.  I personally think this would have worked better as an allegory, as we traditionally see in fantasy books, like the aforementioned Lord of the Rings, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  It just seemed a little odd that a fictional world, totally unrelated to reality, would worship the literal Christian God.  

All in all, the story is a good example of the battle between good and evil.  It would be most appropriate for middle grades readers, due to its short length.  Also, the lack of detailed exposition and character development would leave many adult readers frustrated and unable to fully engage in what is, at its heart, a very good story.

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

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Patient Ecstasy of Fraulein Braun, by Lavonne Mueller

Eva Braun is in love with the most powerful man in Germany, and to Adolph, Germany comes first.  Adolph will never love her as he loves Germany, and she accepts this.  She pines for him in a way that is almost religious in nature, and succumbs to his every wish, no matter how perverse.  For her loyalty, she is rewarded with a wedding, followed by her own death.

Given that I went into this book knowing it was about Adolph Hitler and Eva Braun, and the fact that is is marketed as a "disturbing erotic look" at their story, I am not sure what I expected.  What I got was a disgusting book.  I am not sure how much of the behavior of the historical figures in the book is accurate, but it was filthy.  The extreme kinks of Hitler and the ridiculously promiscuous behavior of the wife of a high ranking officer are so extreme, it made me a bit nauseated. 

The historical aspect of the book is fascinating, focusing on the last days in Hitler's bunker, the panic and paranoia that was running rampant among the ranks, and the fall of the perfect Nazi kingdom.  Make no mistake, the writing is solid, and engaging.  But the subject matter is a bit appalling.  I am sure there is a market for it, after all, I read it (in hindsight, I wish I had not).  I really just do not care to know how Hitler got his rocks off, though I am sure some people would love to know.

What got me most was the unabashed nature of the book.  There was never any hint that Hitler's actions were even slightly wrong, let alone as morally reprehensible as we all know them to be.  And the blind fervor with which these people believed in Hitler, to the point they would murder their own children and commit suicide?  I have a hard time fathoming that; I would hoping this book would make me understand, and all it did was make me ask more questions.

I received a review copy of this book courtesy of NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

The 90 Day Rule, by Diane Nelson

Jess never expected her life to be undergoing such major changes at her age.  After many years playing the dutiful and supportive wife, she finds herself on her own upon the discovery of her husband's infidelity.  She takes up residence with her daughter, who is away at college.  Immediately Jess is tossed into the world of university life, graduate school, basketball, and, surprisingly, love.

I am always tickled to see strong female characters representing women not typically featured in literature, so I really love the character of Jess.  She is so... normal.  Middle aged, not insect thin, and starting over in life, Jess looks like more women than most of the barbie doll characters served up in chick lit or romance books. I think Jess, as a character, gives hope to women who are in similar life situations; women do not need to put up with bad relationships, nor do they need to act like life is over, even when a twenty some year marriage may be.

I like the story a lot.  It is light, and fast paced, so it is pretty easy to get sucked into the story.  I sat down to start it, and before I knew it I was 70 pages in.  It is a completely unique kind of romance story, one that looks more like real life than most others I have read.  It is sexy without being smutty, something I always appreciate.  And I love that a middle aged woman, with an adult child, can still be portrayed as being sexy.  

I think the book will appeal to fans of chick lit, and romance readers with open minds.  The characters may not be a tiny blond with a heaving bosom and a man with long flowing locks, but they still heat up the page.

This book is from my personal library, all opinions are honest and original.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What Happened to My Sister, by Elizabeth Flock

Carrie is such a lonely child, she has invented a younger sister named Emma.  For a while those around her indulged the fantasy, but now that Carrie and her mother have moved to a new town, Emma is a taboo topic.   For Carrie, though, Emma seems so real, so she mourns the loss of her, silently and secretly.  When Carrie meets Cricket, another girl who knows what it is like to lose a sister, the two bond instantly.  Cricket and her mother Honor become a sort of substitute family for Carrie, and she becomes a substitute for their lost loved one as well.  Together, they discover some shocking information about Carrie's family.

This book had a bit of a slow start to me.  I did not realize that it was a follow up book to a previous story, Emma and Me.  While the book functions as a stand alone novel, I would hedge a bet that a lot of Carrie's character development happened in the previous book, which made it so difficult for me to jump in.  When the narrative changes from Carrie to Honor a few chapters in, I was pretty confused at first, because it was initially unclear how the two stories were related.  Once the young girls meet, however, the stories converge, and the book really takes off.

I actually liked the juxtaposition of the narratives of Honor and Carrie.  Carrie is the daughter Honor lost, and Honor is the mother Carrie never had.  From pretty much the first page, I totally despised Carrie's actual  mother.  I had a strong negative reaction to her as a character, she is nothing more than an abusive monster.  Abuse is a big theme in this book, as are the concept of being wounded in some way and creating your own reality.

When I started the book, having to slog through the first few chapters, I thought for sure I would hate this book.  I am certainly happy I stuck it out, because it ended up being a pretty good story.  I am interested in now reading the first book.  The plot is a little predictable, but it did surprise me in the end.  Fans of dramatic fiction should definitely give this book a try.

I received a review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine program, in exchange for my honest review.

The One I Left Behind, by Jennifer McMahon

During the summer of her 13th year, Reggie's town is stalked by a serial killer dubbed Neptune.  He kidnaps women, cuts off their right hand and delivers it to the police, then 5 days later, he kills them and leaves their body in public.  As if this were not terrifying enough, it turns out his final victim is Reggie's mother, Vera.  The only difference is Vera's body is never found.  Twenty-five years later, Vera turns up alive, and Reggie is forced to deal with the life she fled so many years ago.  When Reggie's childhood friend turns up missing, her hand sent to the police, it seems Neptune has returned also.  Will Reggie be able to save her friend, her mother, and herself from their own private versions of hell?

Holy crap.  This book.  When I first picked up this book to read it, I looked at its 400+ pages and thought, this is going to take a while.  WRONG.  I plowed through this book like nobody's business.  McMahon has a way of writing the flows so well, and the action moves so swiftly, that before you know it, you are halfway done.  Once I got started, I found this book impossible to put down.  At its very core, this story is a mystery.  Who is Neptune, and why did he let Vera live?  And we do learn who Neptune is, but not before we first discover the truth about pretty much everything in Reggie's life.  We begin the story with one reality, and end it with a completely different one.

The plot of the book is incredibly complex, but never confusing.  I attribute this to the very vivid characters developed throughout the story.  Vera and Reggie are two of the most interesting characters I have encountered in a long time.  Many of the characters in the book are multifaceted, and you only learn their stories by continuing to read.  This also drives the reader forward.  I was so riveted by this story, I finished it in less than 24 hours.  I went to bed late, and woke up early, mostly because I had such a burning desire to find out the fate of Reggie and Vera.  

McMahon has an uncanny ability to create a new type of mythology in modern literature.  She creates dark and twisted fairy tale stories, where the monsters are all too real.  While her stories are dramatic, they are never over the top, and they seem to always leave you wondering about the existence of a certain kind of magic in the world.  Perhaps not magic in the traditional sense, and maybe not the pretty and wholesome magic you may think, but magic nonetheless.  I look forward to exploring more books by McMahon, she is certainly an author worthy of your must read list.  The book will appeal to fans of mystery and drama, and while there are some dark aspects to the story,  think it would appeal to and be appropriate for older teen readers, as well as adults.  

I received a review copy courtesy of TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.  See the rest of the tour here.

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