Friday, May 31, 2013

The Spiral Arm, by Peter Boland

To say Earth is over crowded is putting it mildly; there is no more space on the planet.  A new planet has been located where humans can live, but a battle is being waged there between humans and an alien race.  Each year new Marine cadets are sent to the new planet, Kepler, to continue the battle.  Wren Harper is about the least likely candidate, yet she finds herself being sent to Kepler, totally unprepared.

I never thought I would be a fan of dystopian fiction, but when it is as well done as this, I really do love it.  The problem with many dystopian writers is that the setting can get a little too bleak.  In this book, the dystopian society is brought about because of abundance; we solve our energy crises, and population skyrockets.  The world is running out of room.  This is a scenario I can actually imagine happening, and therefore I am immediately drawn into the story.  I can imagine what the story world would be like.  I can relate to the characters.

I love that the story focuses on someone most people would consider a loser.  Wren is an underdog, which makes me what to see her succeed.  I think she is a lot stronger than she realizes, and the readers have insight to Wren's power.  I am excited to see where this series will go, and to watch Wren develop as a character.

I liked she short novella format to the book.  It is set up in sort of an episode form.  I think it really translates well.  Young adults will be hooked by the short serial nature, as it mimics many teen dramas on television.  I am a fan of  serial novellas, and am happy to see more of them being written.  I am pretty excited to see where this series will go.

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

Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Perfume Collector, by Kathleen Tessaro

Grace is shocked to learn that she has received an inheritance from a mysterious stranger.  She travels from her home in London to Paris, where she meets with the lawyer in charge of the estate.  Determined to learn why this strange woman willed her everything, Grace goes down a rabbit hole of sorts, leading her to an abandoned perfume shop, where she learns about the intimacy of scent, and discovers her true self.

I adored this book so much.  This is the second book I have read that deals with perfumery and scent, and I have to say I am amazed at how sensual this topic can be.  I was completely drawn in by the detailed descriptions of scents in the book.  The writing is luxurious and intriguing, and I was unable to put the book down.  Despite the fact that the book is well over 400 pages, I read it in less than a day, because the story is just that engaging.  Although I have never been to Paris, I felt immediately transported there as Grace explored the city.

I really enjoyed Grace as a character.  I felt like she developed well throughout the story, and found that several times, she surprised me, and I love when a character can do that.  I also really enjoyed the dual timelines, winding together the story of Eva and Grace across the decades.  I felt like the timelines were well written, unfolding at an equal pace, until they would inevitably cross.  

Many of the scents in the book are described as having an initial essence, with contrasting or enhancing tones underneath.  That is also a good description of the book.  Initially, we are presented with the story, but underneath there is an eroticism and sensuality that has very little to do with sex, and much more to do with understanding the very basic nature of people and the world they live in.

This is a book that really stays with you.  Fans of contemporary literature will enjoy the book.

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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Thursday, May 23, 2013

In the Garden of Stone, by Susan Tekulve

When Emma was 16, a train car of coal was dumped onto her family's home.  A local man helps dig her out, and clean her up.  The two eventually marry, and have a son.  Several generations of this family endure hardship and poverty, throughout the Great Depression, World War II, and years of great change for the country.

I was really torn about this book.  On the one hand, the writing is really beautiful.  The book contains dozens of the snapshot type scenes that are so lovingly described.  The very words on the pages are touching, and delicate.  The characters are all living in poverty and hardship, and their situations are described with such beauty that it is truly moving.

On the other hand, I felt very little connection to the characters or the story.  Because we are talking about multiple generations over a span of more than 40 years, I felt like the story was disjointed.  Several years pass between chapters, and I am the kind of reader that wants to have those gaps filled in.  It felt like watching a serialized show and missing several episodes.  I feel like I would have enjoyed the book a lot more if it had focused on less characters over a more specific period of time.  As it was written, I just had a lot of difficulty connecting to anything more than the lyrical nature of the words themselves.

Fans of multigenerational stories will enjoy this book, as will fans of southern or Appalachian literature.

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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The Cottage at Glass Beach, by Heather Barbieri

Nora's life is in crisis.  Her high profile politician husband has been cheating on her, and the scandal has rocked Nora's world.  She flees the public life in Boston, to the small island where she grew up.  Here she confronts the ghosts of her past, including the mysterious disappearance of her mother Maeve when Nora was just a child.

I absolutely loved this book, for a lot of different reasons.  First of, the writing and storytelling are so vivid, there were times when I thought I actually was at the beach.  Honestly, for anyone who has ever really connected with the ocean, this book will put you right back in that moment.  The writing is delicious, really it is, with such intimate descriptions of the scenes.  The author does an excellent job of setting the scene and creating the story world of Burke's Island.  I wanted to be there, on the beach.

I also really liked the plot.  A common complaint among other reviewers of the book is that the story lacked a satisfactory conclusion.  However, I see this as a strength of the book.  Divorce and loss of all kinds usually does lack a satisfactory conclusion, so for me, this made the book all the more believable.  I feel like Nora's story is still developing, she is still growing, so how could we possibly expect to know where she ends up?  She is still getting there.  I also like the mythological quality to the story, drawing on a lot of celtic lore.  The lack of certainty makes it feel all the more magical and mythological.  

I feel like this book is a perfect summer read.  I can imagine many a reader sitting on their own patch of beach following Nora's journey.  And for those of us who cannot make it to the beach this summer, this book is the next best thing.

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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Monday, May 20, 2013

Doctor Who: Dreams of Empire, by Justin Richards

The second incarnation of the Doctor, along with his companions Victoria and Jamie, have traveled to an asteroid, which functions as a prison for the Haddron Empire.  While learning about the political environment and the reason the prison exists, the Doctor discovers a murderer is skulking around the prison, trying to gain access to the high profile prisoner.

This book was a whole new experience for me.  I have, historically, never been a fan of science fiction, aliens, all that jazz.  However, I recently fell in love with the modernized Doctor Who series, which has made me rethink the sci-fi genre.  I decided to give this book a shot.  It involves the "second" Doctor, from the original show.  His appearance was during the 1960's, and, having not watched the original series, I was totally unfamiliar with this Doctor, his appearance, his personality, his quirks, and his companions.  Yet, as soon as I jumped into this book, I realized, at his heart, the Doctor is the Doctor, regardless of his incarnation.

The book has a lot of political overtones, and very focused on strategy (with the recurring chess theme).  The action is fast paced, the dialog well written, and very imaginative.  While this story may seem different from the "original" feel of the series, with the modern continuation of the series, I felt like this story felt true to the heart of the show.  I could easily imagine the 9th, 10th, or 11th Doctors playing out this story, so to me, that means it fits well within the mythology of the show.  I think fans of the show should give this book a real chance.

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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Blood Money, by Erika Mitchell

For years now, Azzam has been spying on his boss for the CIA.  Azzam works for a company that, on the surface, appears to just be an international conglomerate, but in reality, the company is redirecting funds to terrorist operations around the world.  Azzam hates the fact that the company is responsible for the loss of innocent life, so he becomes an informant.  When his boss begins to suspect there is a traitor in the company, Azzam flees London for America, inadvertently putting innocent lives at risk himself.

Typically, books involving espionage and terrorism are just not my thing, but this book really captured me from the start.  I think these types of books hit a little close to home, and make readers think about all the hidden terrorist cells around the world; it is a little scary.  But this book is well written.  I particularly enjoyed the character of Azzam.  I liked that the "good guy" is a Muslim born in Iraq.  It makes the reader really think about how there are good people as well as bad people in all religions and ethnicities.  I also like the complexity shown in the character of Shah (one of the "bad guys").  

The only thing that was slightly niggling to me was the dialogue surrounding the police intervention; it seemed a little naive to me.  At one point the cops even refer to the terrorists as "the bad guys".  I cannot imagine a cop in a large city like Seattle would use that terminology.  But that is a minor detail, overall I really enjoyed the book.  The story was fast paced, and kept me engaged from the start.  Fans of action, spy novels, and thrillers will enjoy this book.

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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Thursday, May 16, 2013

I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag, by Jennifer Gilbert

Jennifer had her whole life ahead of her, and she was determined to take New York by storm.  When she is the victim of a vicious attack, her life is altered forever.  She finds a way to move forward, but never really deals with the full impact of the attack.  As time goes on, she becomes a successful businesswoman, and slowly begins allowing herself to heal, and accept love into her life.

Wow.  This book is incredible.  I cannot believe how raw, honest, and brave this author is through this entire book.  There are parts of this book that are really difficult to read, and uncomfortable, but I think this book is so important.  I think this book is inspiring, and empowering to victims of all kinds of traumatic events.

I have seen several reviews that are critical of the book, simply because the author has gone on to live a successful life.  It makes me sad to see that people want to see victims continue to be caught in a cycle of violence and victimization.  I, instead, praise this woman for working hard, being successful, and seeking happiness.  I think that the book does a great job of showing the lasting impact of violent crimes on the victims.  It discusses her fear, how the trauma impacted her at even a sensory level, the effect of the trial, and the lasting impact of the crime, even years later.

Regardless of the author's high level of success and wealth, the fact of the matter is she suffered through a horrible ordeal.  It took real courage to share her story.  Fans of memoirs will appreciate this book.  I, for one, could not put it down.

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

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Monday, May 13, 2013

The Time of My Life, by Cecelia Ahern

Lucy is a bit of a mess.  She is hung up on her ex, driving a hunk of junk, living in a flat the size of a postage stamp, and in a mediocre job.  And she constantly lies to everyone, about everything.  So, when Lucy receives an invitation from the personification of her life, of course she tries to weasel out of it.  But, Lucy's Life must be dealt with, as she soon finds out.

This book was just a little too much for me.  The concept, that one's life is personified and perpetually audited or manipulated by that person was just a little too cutesy for me.  The writing style in the book (at nearly 500 pages) was a little too wordy for me.  Lucy as a character was a little too wacky for me.  The substories going on were a little too many for me.  In short, this book, for me, was just too much of nothing.

I did not like Lucy as a character; it is hard for me to like anyone who lies so much.  And though the story was set up for her to redeem herself, I never did find her redeemable.  For me, the thing that saved the book was the character of Lucy's Life.  While I disliked the concept of the personification of a life, the actual character is warm, and charming, and perhaps the most likable thing about the book.  All I could think, as I read it, was that if this book were ever made into a movie, I think David Tennant (of Doctor Who fame) would be the perfect selection for Lucy's Life.  He was who I pictured the entire time I read the book.  And that is what made finishing the book bearable.  And just a note, I would totally watch a movie version of this, particularly if David Tennant did play Lucy's Life.  I can see this being a very cute movie.

Fans of very light chick lit will probably like this book much more than I did.  I can see how it would be a light, funny read, but it just did not connect with me.

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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Sunday, May 12, 2013

We'll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down, by Rachael Hanel

Growing up the daughter of a gravedigger, Rachael was surrounded by death.  She literally grew up in cemeteries  to her, it was normal to ride her bike among the graves, help remove old flowers, and see the people's lives memorialized in granite.  As she gets older, she starts to become curious about the stories of the people in those graves, trying to process the impact their deaths have caused.  When her own father dies, Rachael is shocked at how unprepared she was to deal with death on a personal level.

I was instantly drawn to this book.  As a child, I too spent a lot of time playing in our local cemetery.  My grandmother had a lot of family members buried there, and it was the original site of our parish's church, so we often spent time in the cemetery talking about the history of our family and town.  As a result, death was not ever anything that scared me, cemeteries were never creepy.  To this day, I am fascinated by the history and tales contained in graveyards.

Much like Rachael, that early exposure did nothing to prepare me for the impact of the death of people I know and loved.  In fact, it is now, as an adult, that I find myself frightened by death.  Because of this, I was really able to connect, on  a deep level, to Rachael.  When she recounted her father's death, my heart broke for her.  And I must admit, I was quite surprised at the impact it had on her family; clearly he was the linchpin holding them all together.

The writing in this book is incredibly honest.  Some readers might find it a bit maudlin, but I just found it to be genuine.  Rachael had a unique experience growing up the daughter of a gravedigger, so it only seemed to make sense, to me, that her story be equally unique.  Fans of memoirs will certainly be interested in this book, as would anyone involved or connected to the mortuary business.  And it certainly will hit home with anyone who ever rode a bike or flew a kite or had a picnic in a cemetery.

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

Friday, May 10, 2013

Club Monstrosity, by Jesse Petersen

All the movie monsters of old- Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, Werewolves, Invisible Man, Mummy, etc- are alive and well, and living in Manhattan.  Well, they were alive and well, until someone started murdering them according to their legendary movie demise.  The monsters all attend a support group together, and when members start turning up missing, the group bands together to save each other.  Led by Natalie, a Frankenstein's Monster, the group figures out who is harming them, why, and how to stop further losses among their ranks.

I love when authors take classic literary characters, ideas, and themes, and reboot them, provided they do it well.  And I was quite pleased with the way this author crafted the story using so many classic monster tales.  While all the main characters had their original monster identities, they also had fresh twists on those identities, allowing us to get to know them as characters, and individuals, instead of just the same old monsters we know.  I really loved the humanity in all of these characters; it made me, as a reader, really care about them, and want to see them protected.

I thought the storyline was smart, a great combination of old lore with new styling.  I am tickled that the monsters all live in Manhattan; if there is one city where a bunch of monsters would fit it, that would be the place.  The book has something for everyone; classic gothic literature, paranormal romance, mystery thrills.  That all adds up to mass appeal.  From what I understand, this is the first in a series, and I really look forward to further installments.  This book was well written, and highly entertaining.

I received a review copy courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope, by Rhonda Riley

As a teenager, Evelyn takes over her aunt's farm.  One day, she pulls a mysterious person from the mud, thinking it a wounded soldier.  The person begins healing at a rapid pace, and takes on Evelyn's own image, and is called Addie.  A strong bond is created, and eventually Addie transforms into a man, now called Adam.  Adam and Evelyn marry, and begin a lifelong love affair.  When heartache and tragedy threaten their happiness, the family flees to Florida, in the hopes of finding peace once again.

What a unique, captivating novel this is.  I cannot believe, with the sophistication of the writing, that this is a debut novel.  Obviously, this is a tremendous love story, but to me it is so much more.  In an age where we are debating the rights of same sex couples, and transgendered individuals, this book kind of hammers home the point that, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, everyone is entitled to a life filled with love and happiness.  

I felt like the characters were incredibly developed.  I immediately connected to Evelyn, and felt like she and Adam made a complete, perfect picture.  While they connect passionately on a physical level, their love is about so much more than just sexuality.  To me, this is a story about soul mates.  It is impossible to not be totally enamored with Adam.  

I thought the writing was simply delicious, and really pulled in all your senses.  I absolutely could not put this book down, and although it is over 400 pages, I finished it in less than a day.  Fans of fantasy, romance, and contemporary literature will all appreciate this groundbreaking story.

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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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Pain, Parties, Work, by Elizabeth Winder

During the summer of 1953, Sylvia Plath spent a month in New York City, as a guest editor at Mademoiselle.  The month ended up being a pivotal point in Sylvia's life, and affected her mental state in ways she never imagined.  She saw this as an opportunity to meet people, socialize, and drink in the sites of Manhattan.  Instead, she ended up overworked, exhausted, and disenchanted with the city.  In this book, we see an entirely different side of Sylvia.

I absolutely loved this book.  My first experience of Sylvia Plath was in a college literature class, where we studied some of her poetry.  Like many who experience her in a literary sense, I always thought Plath was so dark, and melancholy.  And while there is no denying that, later in life, she was both of those things, this book gave me a chance to see a lighter side of Sylvia, buoyant with hope and vitality.  She was barely an adult when she went to New York, but she was mature beyond her years.

I really loved that this book showed the readers Sylvia from other people's perspectives.  Many of the other women who were guest editors that summer were interviewed for the book, not only about their own experience, but also about their views of Sylvia.  I really enjoyed getting such a robust portrait of Sylvia.  There was something slightly decadent about this book, like a guilty pleasure.  I felt very wrapped up in the story, completed transported to mid-century Manhattan.

I think fans of Plath will really love this book, as it gives such a different view of her.  But I also think that fans of biographies in general will appreciate this book.

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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Monday, May 6, 2013

Once Upon A Gypsy Moon, by Michael Hurley

After over two decades of marriage, and the raising of children, Michael finds his life in total upheaval.  Dealing with a divorce, and in many ways total failure in his life, Michael plans a trip to Nassau on his boat, the Gypsy Moon.  This book details his trip and his journey to find his true self.

I really struggled with this book.  I first started reading it months ago, and had to walk away after thirty pages or so.  I really struggled with the author's writing style.  The author is very poetic, and while it is most likely intended to be sensitive and romantic, I found the writing style overly florid and somewhat pompous.  I am all for injecting a little bit of poeticism into writing, but I felt like this writing was just too much.  I also struggled with his narrative style.  Things were so out of order, bouncing all around his life's timeline, that I had trouble keeping the chronology straight.  

The story is basically that of a man undergoing a midlife crisis.  He has an affair, gets a divorce, and sails a boat to tropical locations.  While I am not interested in sailing, the sailing aspect of the book was really the only thing that interested me.  The book is all about this man searching for his true self, but I never really felt like we, as the readers, got to see who his true self was.  

I think readers who normally like highly reflective memoirs will enjoy the book.  Similarly, readers interested in sailing will find that aspect of the book interesting.   For me, I just was left unfulfilled.

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

Friday, May 3, 2013

Ring of Secrets, by Roseanna M. White

It is America in the 1770s, and Winter Reeves is leading a double life.  She appears to be a member of an aristocratic family, loyal to England, and intellectually vapid.  In reality, she is a Patriot, loyal to George Washington's cause, and a highly intelligent spy.  As Winter attempts to aid the cause, she gets tangled in a web of intrigue, romance, and danger.  The only thing holding her afloat is her faith.

This is one of those books that has something for everyone; historical context, romance, intrigue, danger, and  faith.  It sounds like a bit of a hodge podge, but this author totally makes it work.  Having read some other books about Revolutionary War espionage, I have to say, the book is incredibly well researched from a historical perspective.  Knowing this author, I would have expected nothing less.  I was fascinated with the techniques used to pass secret messages.  In the context of today's electrical encryption and such, it may seem rudimentary, but in historical context, these spy methods were quite ingenious.  I felt like the historical aspects of the story were woven into the plot seamlessly.  The history did not overshadow the story; instead, it perfectly enhanced it.

I adored Winter as a character.  I loved her fierce spirit, and the tremendous loyalty she possessed.  It always makes me happy to see a female protagonist who is strong and independant, without being harsh and cold.  That is exactly what I saw in Winter.  And while part of her story does involve romance, she always stays true to herself, and her beliefs.  

This is a work of Christian fiction, but the faith aspect is subtle.  There are many mentions of God, and Providence, as Winter prays throughout the book.  There are also discussions of various religious beliefs at that time in history.  Rather than using the book as a bullhorn for preaching faith, however, the author chose to use it as an example of a person using faith to guide their life.  I think it is beautiful.  And because it is a Christian book, there are no issues with explicit language, sexuality, or blatant violence.  The book is totally suitable for adults, as well as for older teen readers.  And because it covers many genre's, it has real potential for mass appeal.  

Yet another brilliant book by this author.

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