Wednesday, October 19, 2016

My take on: Girl Unbroken

If I ever met the Calcaterra siblings, I would want to give them a big hug. Girl Unbroken is the story of a horrific and abusive childhood, written by Regina Calcaterra and Rosie Maloney. This is the followup to Regina's book, Etched in Sand.

Girl Unbroken is Rosie's story.

The Calcaterrra siblings, Cherie, Camille, Regina, Norm, and Rosie, were saddled with the worst mother ever. Cookie Calcaterra gave birth to five children, but that doesn't make her a mother. She was in and out of her children's lives. She was known as "Hurricane Cookie," and that's a very accurate description. Cookie drank heavily, she stole from everyone, she wrote bad checks, and worst of all she took her anger out on her kids. Rosie was often on the receiving end of Cookie's rages.

Rosie and her siblings were split off into different foster homes. Rosie and Norm were able to stay together, but at a price. They bounced between dangerous foster homes and their equally dangerous mother. As a child, Rosie held tight to her belief that her sisters would save her. Unlike Cookie, Rosie knew her sisters loved her and worried about her. While in foster care, Rosie and Norm were allowed brief visits with their sisters, but Cookie thwarted them at every turn. To the outside world, Cookie put on a show and portrayed the part of a doting mother. She fooled social workers. Rosie even started to believe her mother cared about her. After complaining about the physical and emotional abuse they suffered at their last foster home, Cookie kidnapped Rosie and Norm -- eventually obtaining legal custody. Rescuing her children from the horrors of foster care was Cookie's way of showing how much she loved them. But that "love" was short lived.

Moving from one man to the next, and one seedy Long Island hotel to the next, Cookie and her kids eventually settled in a small Idaho town. Cookie latched onto a lecherous farmer named Clyde. All the while, Rosie continued to bear the brunt of Cookie's anger. Every bad thing that happened to Cookie was her children's fault, especially Rosie. Beaten physically and emotionally into submission, Rosie was forced to work the farm day and night. Norm had farm chores, but nowhere near the extent of Rosie. When she wasn't working the farm, Rosie buried herself in extracurricular activities and sleepovers with friends. She did anything and everything to avoid going home, even to the point of physical exhaustion. How would this cycle ever end? Who was going to help them? Attempts for escape, for freedom, for normalcy were always destroyed by Cookie.

I admire Regina and Rosie for being able to go back to that dark place in their childhoods. The foster care system failed this family big time. Even in the present day, the foster care system is still failing children. This is one book and one story, but hopefully it opens some eyes. This was an engaging but hard book to read. This is a story of survival and a very worthy read.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy from the publisher (William Morrow) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.

Friday, October 7, 2016

My take on: When the Moon Was Ours

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore was like nothing I've ever read before. I'm not even sure I understood everything. One of my main reading goals this year was to step outside of my comfort zone. Leave the contemporary reading world that I'm often stuck in and branch out to other genres. This book had a little bit of everything. Fantasy, magical realism, and a transgender boy as a main character. I was definitely intrigued.

Miel is different. As a little girl, Miel was discovered in the town's water tower. Her mother's dead, the river took her away. Her brother is dead, the river took him away. Right away people in town could tell Miel wasn't like them. There's something magical about Miel, literally and figuratively. Roses, beautiful and mysterious roses grow out of Miel's arm. Why and how did this start? Do the roses have some mystical powers? Maybe. Now a teenager, Miel doesn't find anything special about the roses or herself. The roses have caused Miel nothing but physical and emotional pain. The mean girls at school, the Bonner sisters, Ivy, Chloe, Lian, and Peyton, are also making Miel's life a nightmare. Not only are the Bonner sisters bullies, they happen to be witches. They each want one of Miel's roses. For what purpose? They won't tell, but they are willing to hurt not just Miel but the most important person in her life.

Sam was the first person to connect with Miel. He found her in the water tower. Over the years, Sam and Miel became friends. As teenagers, they're becoming more than just friends. Sam understands Miel better than anyone. Even better than Aracely, the friendly neighborhood witch. Aracely took in Miel when no one else would. But even Aracely has trouble cracking Miel's shell. The same applies to Sam. He's hiding who he really is, not from Miel but from himself. Sam used to be Samira. The hows and whys Sam came to life are an interesting cultural odyssey. Sam isn't sure who he is or who he wants to be. One day Sam was supposed to go back to his old body. Back to Samira. But it's frightening to admit he wants to stay just as he is. Who will like him? Who will love him? Will Miel love him?

This book had so much potential. The writing is rather poetic. But perhaps a little too poetic for my tastes. The story was hard for me to follow. It was hard to know what was real and what wasn't. There's long passages full of metaphors. To truly understand it, this seems like the type of book that needs to be read twice. Despite my problems with it, I think this is a worthy read.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received an e-galley from the publisher (St. Martin's Griffin) in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

My take on: Behind Closed Doors

What goes on behind closed doors? You never really know. Publicly, people let you see what you want them to see. It's behind closed doors where everyone lets their hair down, where everyone can be themselves.

In her debut novel, Behind Closed Doors, B. A. Paris explores the seemingly perfect marriage of Jack and Grace Angel.

A handsome lawyer named Jack meets Grace, great. Jack meets and completely embraces Grace's sister, Millie, who has Down Syndrome, great. Jack and Grace have a whirlwind romance, great. Jack and Grace get engaged, great. Once Millie finishes school, Jack insists she move in with them, great. An accident prevents Millie from taking part in the wedding, but Jack and Grace still get married. That's when things become not so great.

Once they're married, that's when things take a turn for the worse. Jack is no longer the perfect man, who is hopelessly in love. Jack reveals himself to be a total psycho, wackadoo. Why is he this way? What is his plan for Grace? Why did he marry Grace? I can't tell you. I can't say much more without giving away the whole plot. But I will say the journey through Jack and Grace's marriage was a frustrating, yet compulsive read. What frustrated me? Both of the main characters. Jack's personality and motivations seemed a little random. It was completely out of left field, but I suppose that's the point. While they were dating, Jack said and did everything that Grace wanted to hear. He gave her no reason to suspect him of anything suspicious. But you never really know someone until you're alone with them -- alone behind closed doors. Grace was equally frustrating. It seemed like there were so many opportunities for her to break away from Jack. I get that psychological and emotional abuse can turn a person into a prisoner literally and figuratively, but there was a moment very early on for Grace to leave. A moment when most reasonable and rational people would have gotten the heck out of dodge.

Despite my frustrations with this book, my favorite character has to be Millie. It took some time, but she saw through Jack. Millie was the most rational and lovable character in the entire book. Most of Grace and Jack's friends, with the exception of Esther, aren't very perceptive. Esther knows something isn't quite right about this marriage but doesn't know what to do about it. Only Millie makes it known her disdain for Jack, and she does it in an amusing way. Overall, this was addictive read. Give it a try!

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (St. Martin's Press) in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, September 23, 2016

My take on: Marrow: A Love Story

Marrow: A Love Story is author Elizabeth Lesser's emotional journey through her sister Maggie's cancer treatments, from start to finish. A bone marrow transplant is Maggie's best chance at survival. And Elizabeth is a perfect match. Before embarking on a medical bone marrow transplant, both sisters agree to go on a "soul" marrow transplant. If both of them are emotionally healthy, then physical health will follow.

This is a glimpse into their childhood. This is a glimpse into their relationship as sisters. Their relationships with their quirky, bookish parents. A glimpse into their relationships with their other sisters, and what it was like to grow up with four girls in the house! A glimpse into their marriages, divorces, careers, their children. It's a glimpse into their life, and ultimately the end of Maggie's life.

I thought this was an interesting concept. Getting rid of the emotional baggage can only lead to a better life. While they were on this "soul" journey, Maggie did more living and enjoying the moment than she ever had. The majority of this book is told from Elizabeth's perspective, with little notes from Maggie's personal journal -- even funny little nuggets of Maggie wanting to be an eggplant in her next life.

This is very engaging and very well-written, but...I wasn't necessarily a fan of the author's approach in telling this story. One moment this book is about a deep love a sister has for her sibling. Those moments feel very genuine, very real, very relatable. But at other times, the author focuses on how to lead a better life, a best life. There is nothing wrong with books like that, but in this book that approach feels very clinical. Is this a memoir? Or is this a self-help book? I felt like this book was caught between two worlds. The book was a little disjointed for my taste, but overall I think this will inspire many, including myself, to appreciate what you have!

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.

Friday, September 16, 2016

My take on: Letters From Paris

Claire Broussard doesn't know what to do with her life. She's never felt quite right with her choices. She's triumphed over tragedy, surviving a trauma that took her mother's life. Rising up from her small Louisiana hometown, going to a "fancy" college and getting a good job in Chicago. But none of it's been satisfying. Now, with the death of her beloved grandmother aka "Mammaw," Claire doesn't have the solution to it all. But Mammaw had an idea, go to Paris!

Claire's journey to the City of Lights is at the heart of Letters From Paris by Juliet Blackwell.

Shortly before Mammaw's death, Claire gave up her job and her life in Chicago. Leaving behind a boyfriend and a lucrative career. Upon her return to Louisiana, Claire discovers a long-forgotten piece of artwork in the attic. The sculpture was long ago broken into several pieces, but Claire can't stop thinking of the beautiful woman's face. Claire's great-grandfather bought the sculpture in Paris during World War II. Who was this woman? What's her story? This beautiful woman is only known as "L'Inconnue" or "The Unknown Woman." Maybe Claire should just let it go. Forget about unearthing the history behind this sculpture. Mammaw didn't think so. In their final conversation, Mammaw encouraged Claire to go to Paris. At first she sees this as the ranting of a dying woman but Claire decides she has nothing else to lose.

As the story shifts to Paris, the author tells us who the mystery woman was. Alternating chapters between the past and the present, we learn that the woman forever immortalized in sculpture was Sabine. A young, impressionable, and vulnerable woman. Desperate for money, Sabine became the muse and model for a violent artist. He preyed upon her innocence and often beat her into submission. Sabine wants to find her own voice, but is unsure how.

In present day Paris, Claire finds the workshop where the sculpture was originally made. The shop is a long-running family business, operated by the surly Armand and his cousin Giselle. Soon Claire finds herself working and living in the small shop, in exchange for information on "L'Inconnue." It sounds crazy. Even though her new "job" is meant to be short term, Claire begins to feel a connection not just to the shop but to Armand and Giselle. Underneath Armand's rough exterior, is a caring person. Armand and Claire learn not just how to work together but to respect each other.

The story starts out a little slow, but in the end this is a well-rounded and satisfying book. I liked the relationship between Armand and Claire the most. At first, Armand seems like a jerk. But he just believes in being direct. He doesn't have time to waste on foolishness. Claire learns to look past his surly demeanor. While others might be put off or scared of Armand, Claire is intrigued by him. She tells him stories about Louisiana. Stories about her family. Stories about her life. Sabine's story was just all around sad. You want Sabine to find her voice and break free. Chapter after chapter, I was thoroughly engrossed in this story. Read it, I'm sure you'll like it!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Berkley) in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Excerpt from The Devil's Work by Mark Edwards!!

 About The Devil's Work by Mark Edwards

It was the job she had dreamed of since childhood. But on her very first day, when an unnerving encounter drags up memories Sophie Greenwood would rather forget, she wonders if she has made a mistake. A fatal mistake.

What is her ambitious young assistant really up to? And what exactly happened to Sophie’s predecessor? When her husband and daughter are pulled into the nightmare, Sophie is forced to confront the darkest secrets she has carried for years.

As her life begins to fall apart at work and at home, Sophie must race to uncover the truth about her new job…before it kills her.

 Read on for an excerpt!!


I lie in bed, scratching at the cold wall, waiting for the sound of footsteps. I knew he would come today, that there was nothing I could do about it. All I could do was hope, pray, that today’s treatment would be psychological. A test. Questions. I can’t face anything else, not today. 

Not the hose. 

Not the belt. 

Here they come: the footsteps. Slow but steady. He comes into the bedroom and orders me to follow him. We go down one set of steps, then another, through the door and into the damp, frigid air of the basement. 

‘Take off your robe,’ he tells me. 

I try to protest but he picks up the belt so I undress as slowly as possible, clinging to every scrap of warmth until I’m naked, shivering, strapped into the chair. 

He wheels the metal trolley over, cursing the wheel that has recently started to squeak. On the surface of the trolley is a leather pouch. He unfolds it and I see what’s inside. Acupuncture needles, handles the colour of dried blood, their sharp tips shining in the artificial light. 

‘Please,’ I say. ‘Please.’ 

He takes the thickest needle from the pouch and moves towards me, licking his dry lips.

Excerpted from THE DEVIL'S WORK © Copyright 2016 by Mark Edwards. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

About Mark Edwards

Mark Edwards writes psychological thrillers in which scary things happen to ordinary people and is inspired by writers such as Stephen King, Ira Levin, Ruth Rendell and Linwood Barclay.

He is the author of three #1 bestsellers: Follow You Home (a finalist in the Goodreads Choice Awards 2015), The Magpies and Because She Loves Me, along with What You Wish Forand six novels co-written with Louise Voss. All of his books are inspired by real-life experiences.

Originally from the south coast of England, Mark now lives in the West Midlands with his wife, their three children and a ginger cat.

Twitter: @mredwards

Friday, September 9, 2016

My take on: Change Places With Me

"But a name was--well important. It gave you a place on earth that was yours alone." -- Pg. 129

I've said this before, but it bears repeating. I'm not sure what I just read. Change Places With Me by Lois Metzger was one of the more unique books I've read this year. Unique in a good way. I loved A Trick of the Light, also by Lois Metzger, and was intrigued by the premise of her latest book.

In Change Places With Me, there's something different about Rose. The people in her life are the same, but Rose is practically a new person. She used to have a different name, now she wants to be called "Rose." Why? She believes it's the perfect name to match her new outlook on life. After not caring about her appearance, Rose is now dressing to impress not just for her "friends" but for a cute boy named Nick. After years of grieving over the death of her father, Rose has finally learned to be nice to and have compassion for her stepmother, Evelyn. She's developing a friendship with her upstairs neighbor. She's building new "friendships." Her new friends happen to be some of the most popular girls in school. Girls who once hated Rose, but are now tolerating her. She's even reaching out to her estranged best friend, Kim.

Once a miserable teenager, Rose is now bursting with optimism. Anything and everything is possible. But....something might be wrong. Rose's bubble of optimism just might burst. Why? Rose is starting to have doubts herself. She's having trouble trusting her own thoughts and memories. Did something happen to Rose that she's trying to forget? Is her sudden optimism just a mask? A way of coping with pain? A way of coping with grief over her father's death?

This is a compulsive read. This is a short book, but it's not clear right away what the hook is. What's the meat of the story? It took me more than half the book to finally understand what was going on. I kept turning page after page because I wanted to know what's wrong with Rose. I can't say a lot about the second half of the book, I don't want to spoil it for people who haven't read it. I will say that this is an interesting perspective on how teenagers deal with grief and depression, and worth reading!

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
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