Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Exiles, by Allison Lynn

Nate and Emily are striking out on a grand adventure.  They are leaving the rat race of Manhattan and starting a new life with their infant son in Newport, Rhode Island.  But the adventure gets off to a rocky start when the couple stops to get the keys to their new home, and their car, full of all their belongings, is stolen.  Over one long weekend, the couple is faced to come to terms with both the impact of their pasts and the trajectory of their future.

I was so excited to read this book when I read its description.  The idea of a couple being exiled from their new life seemed intriguing.  But I really felt like the story falls short.  The premise and concept are both solid, it is the execution that I struggled with.  I never felt like I got to know Nate or Emily.  They were just not as developed as I would have liked.  As a result, it was difficult for me to feel any empathy for them or their situation.  The part of the story that did make me empathize, however, was Nate's family history, and the hereditary disease he may be facing.

I did not care for Emily, or her substory.  I found her actions to be selfish, and I just could not believe, based on what little information we had about her, that she would have done the foolish thing she did.  The book is fairly short, but for me it was a slow read, and I struggled to keep my attention focused.  Fans of contemporary literature may appreciate this book more than I did.  For me, it was just lacking in a certain richness and depth.

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, July 30, 2013

The Widows of Braxton County, by Jess McConky

Is it really possible that the sins of a father are visited upon his sons?  Can ghosts really exist?  Kate and Joseph are off to begin their new life as newlyweds, on Joseph's family farm.  Upon arrival, Kate realizes that the life she was promised is not quite the reality she faces.  Family secrets, jealousy, violence, this is what awaits Kate.  Will she be able to rise above it?

I found this multi-generational tale quite intriguing.  I quite like the idea of land having memory and spirit, affecting all the generations to come until the wrong has been righted.  I felt like both the back story and the main plot were very well conceived and executed.  There was the perfect blend of mystery, thrills, and honest to goodness ghost story to keep me glued to the book.

I really connected with Kate as a character.  She hopes for a better life for herself, and winds up fighting for any life at all.  Some readers may see Kate as weak, choosing to stay in an unhealthy environment.  However, I think this is common, particularly for women living in a strange place with absolutely no support system.  I, personally, found Kate to be a strong character, fighting for what is right.  

All in all, I thought this was a captivating, well written book.  It will appeal to fans of thrillers and mysteries.

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, July 29, 2013

Late Lights, by Kara Weiss

Very rarely does one person's story unfold without affecting the stories of others.  As children, Monty, BJ, and Erin saw themselves as equals; as they grew and evolved, each child took their own path, illuminating the differences between the three.  Yet no matter where they go and what they choose, they all still seem to have  a bearing on each other.

I am really quite a fan of short story collections where the characters and stories are interwoven.  This book is yet another example of why this style appeals to me.  We get to see the characters from different angles and points of view, which allows us to have a clearer image.  We get to see this trio of characters interact in different ways and with different combinations of people, and we find that each, in some way, is wounded.  Each, in some way, is abused or unloved, and feels less than the others.  They cannot seem to notice that their feelings of inadequacy is probably their greatest uniting factor.

I really thought the characters were well developed.  They each have their own stories to tell, and by breaking them up into short story form, we get intimate flashes of each character.  I particularly loved that, while reading, I had no preconceived notions of the appearance of the characters (for the most part; Monty's enthnicity is described, as is BJs hair), which to me meant these characters could be, and in many ways are, all of us.

This is a very quick read, but it is intensely emotional, with a lot of stuff below the surface.  Even though you will get through it quickly, you will need a little time to digest it.  Fans of short stories, particularly interwoven collections, 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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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Dead is Just a Dream, by Marlene Perez

Life is never dull in Nightshade.  In the most recent story of the "Dead is" series, people in town are suffering from poor sleep, specifically, people are having nightmares.  And several people are turning up dead.  No one seems to be able to figure out who is responsible for the madness, but with several new faces in town, suspects are plentiful.  It is up to Jessica, and her fellow verago warriors, to keep the town safe.

This series continues to be one of my favorite young adult series.  I like that the books are short reads, but even being short, the are compelling.  The writing is clean cut, not a lot of fluff, and always related to the story.  And the story is smart.  The author continues to create truly frightening situations of out everyday life.  The books are just scary enough for the intended age group, in my opinion.

I also like that this series build upon the established cast of characters.  We continue to learn more about the tried and true characters, like Jessica, and watch them grow.  Yet there are always new characters and story arcs added to the books to keep things fresh.  I was worried that I would have forgotten a lot of the details of the previous story, but because the characters are so well established, they all came back to me quickly.

This particular story focuses on those small things that people are scared of, whether they are the everyday fears or the extremes.  To me, that is one of the scariest types of plots a book can have.  All in all, another well done book in this series.

I received a review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine program.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Big Girl Panties, by Stephanie Evanovich

Holly was never a thin girl, and after dealing with the death of her husband, she has put on more weight than ever.  When she bumps into Logan, a personal trainer, on an airplane, they strike up a camaraderie, and he offers to train her.  After months of hard work, Holly has transformed, blossomed.  Will Logan notice the change, and will love blossom as well?

I wanted to like this book, really I did.  I wanted it to be a story about a normal sized woman owning her looks and finding the love she deserves.  Sadly, it was not exactly what I wanted.  When Holly is introduced to us, the first impression we get of her is a big, fat, mess.  I think this is the impression a lot of people have of overweight people, even overweight people who are meticulously groomed and well put together.  So, right away, the author feeds into fat stereotypes.  Holly was never worthy of love, and only settled on her husband, because that is what a fat girl is supposed to do.  She is supposed to feel grateful for any attention thrown her way.  Which is also why Holly jumps at the chance for a handsome man to become her trainer. Logan is, in short, a pig.  In fact, the book is pretty full of misogyny that is thinly veiled as sexy fetishism.  

There is a lot of sex in this story.  I am hardly what I would call a prude, but I am not a huge fan of words like "moist mound" and "throbbing member" in a romance book.  A talented writer can do much better than the standard Harlequin novel fare.  Between the language and the spanking, this is like a watered down version of the 50 Shades books.  

I am really not sure who the target audience is here.  Not feminists, that is for sure.  And not anyone comfortable with their body, since all the women (no matter what they weigh) in the book are incredibly insecure about their looks.  

The book is a fast easy read, and at times fun and playful.  But in the end, my heart hurt for every woman who has ever felt like Holly.

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


Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Hunt for Hitler's Warship, by Patrick Bishop

Hitler's mightiest ship, the Tirpitz, is a force to be reckoned with.  It was thought to be unsinkable, and was widely feared due to its size and the fact that no one seemed to be able to take the beast out.  For months the Allied forces sought to find and destroy this ship.

This book is not what I would call a bit of light reading.  This is a serious historical odyssey.  I am highly fascinated by World War II, so I thought I was well prepared for this book.  I was not prepared.  This book is an intensive study in serious mid-century naval history.  The book was really fascinating, but more than once I found myself in over my head.  And I was never so happy to be in over my head.  The amount of research that went into this book was truly mind blowing.

While the book will obviously appeal to serious scholars of naval history or of World War II in general, it still was a great read for even a casual history fan like myself.  Because it pushed me.  It forced me to think of things I never would have considered (tactically), and taught be about an entirely new aspect of World War II.  The book is so well written, it captures you from the very beginning.  

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 Chalice, by Nancy Bilyeau

It is the height of the Reformation.  Monasteries and priories are being closed, churches being stripped, and heretics being condemned.  Former novice Joanna Stafford and the other sisters from the Dartford priory are trying to make sense of their new lives.  The struggle for power between church and state has put many Catholics in danger.  Prophecy has stated that this grim situation can be rectified, and it may turn out that Joanna is the only one who can rectify it.

Life during the reign of Henry the VIII seems to have been unsettling, at best.  Particularly for a Catholic.  As a sometimes fan of historical fiction, and somewhat of an Anglophile, I really expected this book to knock my socks off, as the previous book by this author did.  And while I found this book to be good, and enjoyed reading it, it fell a bit short of my expectations.  While there was not a ton of character development of main characters, much of that was done in the previous book, so that did not bother me too much.  I still felt like I had a good handle on who the characters were and their motivations.  For me, the plot seemed a bit muddled and meandering.  For some reason, I just was not as hooked as I was by the prior book.

The historical nature of the book is really interesting, and I think the book was really well researched.  I liked the perspective of life during the Reformation from a Catholic perspective.  I imagine it felt very much as if the world was ending.  We often talk about how terrible the world is now, violent and angry, but really I think the world was just as violent and angry in the 16th century, as this book illustrates.  

All in all, the book was a good read.  Solid writing, interesting plot, fresh perspective.  I just expected a tiny bit more is all.

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, July 16, 2013

The Curiosity, by Stephen Kiernan

Dr. Kate Philo is on a mission with a research team to find life preserved in ice, with the hopes of reanimating it.  The team hopes, if they are lucky, to find small fish, maybe even a mammal.  When the team finds a man in the ice, the research project reaches a fever pitch.  The man, Jeremiah Rice, is removed from the ice, reanimated, and thrust into a time and place he never imagined.  Kate helps Jeremiah navigate this strange new world, and finds herself deeply connected to him.

I was really enchanted by this book.  I thought the storyline was really unique and inventive.  I loved the idea of a man from another time visiting our world, and this certainly is a fresh spin on the time traveler idea.  I thought Jeremiah was a wonderful character.  My heart really broke for him, being thrust into a world without any control over his own life, knowing no one, and not even understanding the very basics of his environment.  The whole scenario calls into question the idea of man versus science, and man playing God.  With all the controversy over things like stem cell research and cloning in the past few decades, I found this to be a pertinent topic for literary exploration.

The book is not without its flaws, however.  The science behind the storyline seems flawed.  Yes, I realize a reader needs to suspend disbelief for a book like this, but the story pushes it a bit far without good solid sounding theory to back it up, in my opinion.  Also, I found Kate a bit stiff as a character.  She just did not connect with me that well.  I found myself much more interested in some of the smaller, supporting characters.  

Despite the flaws, I think the book is really well written.  It certainly captured me, and help my attention.  I think this is a great book for people who swear they hate science fiction but have never really given it a chance because they think it is all like Star Trek.  This is sci-fi for people who like emotional, romantic stories.

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, July 11, 2013

Zinsky the Obscure, by Ilan Mochari

Ariel Zinsky thinks he is unlike most men his age.  A thirty year old bachelor still scarred from an abusive childhood, Ariel has trouble having healthy relationships with women, and pours all his blood, sweat, and tears into his dream of creating a publication centered on the annual NFL draft.  While everyone else around him seems to be growing up and moving on, Ariel is stuck in the same patterns he has had since he went through puberty.

I really found myself strangely compelled by this book, and by the main character of Ariel.  Throughout the narrative, Ariel feels isolated, and unlike other men his age, but I think, in reality, his experience of adolescence melting into adulthood is pretty common among men.  I can imagine a lot of twenty and thirty something males reading this and thinking it sounds just like them.  While, at times, the subject matter may come across as juvenile (there is a lot, and I mean A LOT of talk about masturbation), I think instead the book is honest and starkly realistic of how life is for many lonely, wounded, socially awkward people.  

The thing that struck me about this book is how smart the writing is.  There are clearly a lot of allusions throughout the text to The Great Gatsby, as well as several other classic literary works, but there is also a blending of pop culture and modernity with those classical ideals.  The result is really fascinating.  Well read readers will appreciate the hidden nuances in the text.  Sure, there are things throughout the book that may make the reader a little squirmy and uncomfortable, but I see this as a strength of the writing.  This book is deep, and left me looking at my generation in a much different way.

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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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Until the Twelfth of Never, by Bella Stumbo

Betty Broderick was fairly well known among the movers and shakers of La Jolla in the late 1980's.  She quickly became well known on a national scale.  She endured a very public and extremely mess separation and divorce from her husband, Dan Broderick.  Because Dan was one of the top lawyers in San Diego, it was difficult for Betty to navigate the legal system; she often felt that Dan used his reputation in the legal community as a weapon.  Eventually, Betty took matters into her own hands, executing her ex-husband and his new wife.

I was fairly familiar with the general gist of Betty Broderick story.  I remember when it happened, when I was a kid, and I certainly remember watching the made for television movies that resulted.  So, I kind of knew what was in store going in to this book.  But turns out, I only knew a fraction of the story.

Because the book keeps a pretty neutral tone, I am not really sure where right and wrong is in this saga.  Clearly, Betty was wrong to commit murder.  But, from what I was able to gather, Dan did not exactly behave fairly during divorce proceedings.  And the fact that the division of property and custody battle dragged on so long was maddening.  The book goes into detail of the entire situation, and it became a bit tiresome to read about.  I can only imagine how weary one would get actually living that madness. 

It is hard to agree with the idea that Betty is not mentally ill.  It is hard to think anyone who behaved in the ways Betty behaved was not unstable in some manner.  In a lot of ways, I think the system really failed Betty Broderick; I do not think, however, that grave failure justified her actions.  The book covers the multi-year struggle in depth, and one can not help but feel a little heartbroken for everyone involved.

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

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Chocolates for Breakfast, by Pamela Moore

At the age of 15, Courtney begins to have an awakening.  She leaves her sheltered boarding school environment, and heads to Hollywood to live with her mother.  Quickly, she finds herself immersed in a world full of sex, and alcohol.  Eventually she and her mother move to New York, where Courtney pairs up with a boarding school chum and proceeds to live a life of debauchery.

I really, really had a difficult time with this book.  I realize, given that it was written in the 1950s, it was considered groundbreaking, and cutting edge, but to me it just seemed like a spoiled little girl's life.  Courtney is not at all a likable character, in my opinion.  She seems to think there is something sophisticated about swilling booze and seducing adult men, despite the fact that she is a child.  Today, all the men in this book would be considered sex offenders for having sex with a teenage girl.  Yet this book seems to try to glamorize that type of relationship, painting it as dreamy and romantic.  The amount of decadence in this book makes The Great Gatsby look like a boy scout manual.

The thing that really saved this book for me was the language.  It was written in a really gorgeous manner; despite the fact that I disliked the storyline, I loved the words that the author wrote.  I have no doubt that these were real issues that girls faced in those days, and face still, so it certainly is a relevant book.  Something about it just sort of rubbed me the wrong way, and I guess maybe that was the point of 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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Monday, July 8, 2013

White Out: The Secret Life of Heroin, by Michael W. Clune

Michael will never forget his first time, the first time he tried heroin.  Even if it was not the most pleasant experience at times, it is a memory that he has loved to the point of romanticizing it.  White is the color that overtakes his memories, all because of his draw to the whiteness of heroin.  He has tried to kick his addiction so many times, but he is always pulled back, the drug drawing him in with its siren song.

While I have never had any addictions of my own, I have know several addicts over the years, people dependent upon various substances or habits.  Addiction, to me, is very difficult to comprehend.  I am a bit of a control freak when it comes to my body and my life, so the idea of giving up control to something like drugs or alcohol is mystifying for me.  I read books like this one, seeking to understand just what it is that draws people into addiction, why people willingly give up control.  Books like this one are not easy, or pleasant to read, but to me, they are fascinating.  Call it morbid curiosity on my part.

I comment the author for being so frank with his account of life inside of heroin addiction.  There is nothing pretty about the picture he paints, nothing glamorous.  It has a sort of gallows humor quality, in that I found myself chuckling a lot of the time, but mostly to get past my own discomfort.  I think the fact that the author is such an intelligent man, yet still gets caught up in addiction, serves as a warning to us all, a moment of "there but by the grace of God go I", and that alone gives the book merit.

The writing is difficult to digest, as well it should be.  It does read a bit like a stream of consciousness most of the time, but I feel like that is probably an incredibly accurate portrayal of the way an addict's thoughts unravel while in the throes of the addiction.  This book is not a light read, it is dark, disturbing, and at times disgusting.  But it is a worthwhile read for anyone who wants an honest account of what addiction is like.

I received  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, July 2, 2013

The Illusion of Separateness, by Simon Van Booy

Sometimes, the world is an amazingly small place.  And sometimes, lives are more interconnected than we could ever imagine.  This novel follows a cast of characters that include an American couple that married during WWII, an elderly German soldier who was disfigured, a blind museum curator, a successful movie director, and worker at a retirement home.  These lives have histories that span the continents, yet somehow, small acts will bind them all together forever.

This book was simply beautiful.  Once I picked it up, I could not stop reading it, and finished in just a few hours.  I really thought it brilliant on so many levels.  The writing itself is so moving, the words tender and honest, poetic without being overly florid.  And the way the stories are woven together, past to present and back again, was like watching an intricate dance.  All the movements were lovely, but the overall essence of the piece is stunning and breathtaking.

I am a huge fan of literature set during the 1930s and 1940s, so the fact that much of this book takes root during that era was a real draw for me.  Yet as the story transports us back and forth between past and present, the thing that stuck with me the most is that human nature has changed so little over the course of time.  All people have choices to make in life, choices that impact countless others in ways unimaginable.  This book help cement in my mind the importance of those small, seemingly everyday moments.  The acts of kindness, or forgiveness, or bravery, which will change the course of history in countless ways.  I also liked the concept of interconnectedness, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.  There is just so much to love about this book, I wish I could better put it into words.  The best suggestion I can make is to simply read it for yourself.

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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