Saturday, February 11, 2017

Freeks by Amanda Hocking

When I saw the review pitch for Freeks by Amanda Hocking, the cover sold me immediately. It's a beautiful cover. I thought there has to be an intriguing story within those pages.

Roaming from town to town, Mara has never had the chance to be a normal teenager. Her family isn't "normal" by society's standards. Mara's family is a traveling carnival, complete with a strongman, a woman who can create fire, a man with incredible healing powers, and a psychic -- who just happens to be Mara's mother. Gideon, the carnival leader, can read minds. Just about everyone at the carnival has special or supernatural abilities. Everyone except Mara. Or perhaps she hasn't reached her potential yet?

At age 18, Mara is on the cusp of adulthood, and all she wants is a life that doesn't revolve around the carnival. She longs for simple things. She longs for things most people take for granted, like sleeping in a home that doesn't have wheels. Maybe even having friends. Maybe having a boyfriend. She gets a chance at all of that when the carnival stops in the small town of Caudry. Mara is never in a town long enough to put down roots, so a one-week stay in Caudry won't change that. Or will it?

While everyone else at the carnival is settling in at camp, Mara takes the time to explore the town. She meets a handsome local boy named Gabe. There's an instant connection, which I wasn't a big fan of. Mara certainly deserves a chance at normalcy and happiness. I like parts of their relationship, but it moved a little too quickly for my tastes. But what came through really well was Mara's sense of trepidation. She wants to open up to Gabe about her life at the carnival but is fearful of rejection. Most people perceive carnival people or carnies as freaks. What if Gabe is no different?

Mara doesn't have a lot of time to worry about Gabe. Why? Something or someone is stalking the carnival. Something dark and scary is after them. It comes out at night. It doesn't have a face. It moves quickly. It attacks quickly. People are disappearing. People are getting seriously injured. The local police are no help. Mara and her family have no choice but to help themselves. No one is allowed to walk alone at night. Everyone has to look out for each other.

The mystery surrounding the attacks is definitely intriguing. There's not a lot of clues as to what is going on. For me, that made for a compulsive read. At first, I thought perhaps a human force was behind everything. But as I got deeper and deeper into the book, it was clear something supernatural was at work. Overall, I like the writing and plot but I felt the ending was a little rushed. About 30-40 pages from the end, I was wondering where the resolution was. What was going to happen? I think this is supposed to be a standalone book, but I think this book deserves a sequel. There was more story to tell. Fingers crossed!

Rating: Give it a try

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

Saturday, January 21, 2017

My take on: The Library at Mount Char

An odd woman who wears sweaters, with bicycle shorts and rain boots. A knife-wielding, tutu-wearing psycho who walks around with blood caked on his skin. A woman who can resurrect the dead. A woman who has died and been resurrected so many times, she's a few sandwiches short of a picnic. A seemingly normal man gets caught in the mix, and he even manages to befriend a lion along the way. All of them at the mercy of a mysterious Library.

Confused? I certainly was the first time I tried to read The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins. Early last year I tried to read this book, but I only made it to page 54.

The first time around nothing made sense. I couldn't understand the timeline. I couldn't understand the plot. At the time, I was trying to break out of my comfort zone. I wanted to read more fantasy books. I thought I made a mistake with this one. But...I was wrong.

I gave the book a second chance, and I was pleasantly surprised. I will admit I struggled to get through the first 50 pages, then the next 50 pages. After that the pacing picked up and the book finally started to make sense.

All of the odd characters made for a fascinating story. Carolyn, the odd woman in the bicycle shorts, truly marches to the beat of her own drum. She comes off as crazy, but Carolyn is actually very smart. She always has a plan. Plans that aren't always clear at the outset, but by the end of the book I realized Carolyn was the master of the long con. She gets everyone to do what she planned all along, including unsuspecting Steve, an ordinary ex-con turned plumber. She recruits him for a robbery. She's vague on the details. Tempted by the taste of money, a reluctant Steve goes along with Carolyn. When things go wrong, Steve is left alone to take the fall.

What was the point of all of this? What was Carolyn's endgame? It's almost too complicated to explain! The short version, Carolyn and her oddball siblings, including tutu-wearing David, are desperately searching for Father, the leader and patriarch of the Library. He's gone missing.  Father's children, including Carolyn specialize in one category or catalog. Carolyn is a master of languages. David is a master at murder and mayhem. Jennifer can resurrect the dead, which is good because Margaret spends a lot of time with the dead. Together the contents of the Library have the power to control the world. If Father isn't found soon, control of the Library could fall into the wrong hands.  Power like that is almost too hard to resist.

Carolyn, David, Jennifer, Margaret, and the other offspring of the Library are powerful people. They often interact and live with people in the "normal" world. But even with all their power, they're missing a sensitivity chip or at least an awareness of how weird their behavior is. They know nothing of personal hygiene and walk around smelling really bad. They don't realize their clothing or lack of clothing is strange. Steve almost can't take all of the oddball behavior, but soon it all makes sense to him. It makes so much sense, that Steve becomes dear friends with a lion named Naga.

None of this sounds like it should go together, but it does. I'm not even sure I'm doing this book justice. There's so much going on, it could take a full-page in the New York Times to explain it. Overall, this is a BIZARRE, but darkly funny book.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book as part of Penguin RandomHouse's Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

My take on: Big Little Lies

Shortly after the ball dropped in Times Square, closing the door on 2016 I spent the early morning hours of 2017 finishing Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. Why? Because like a bag of potato chips this book was truly addicting. I couldn't just stop at one page.

This is a tragic, but darkly funny story about three mothers. All of them have problems. All of them lie to themselves on how to fix those problems. But at the end of the day, their tight friendship and the love they have for one another is what saves them.

It all started with trivia night. What was supposed to be a night of fun for the parents of Pirriwee Public School ended in a murder investigation. To understand how we got to this point, the author takes us back six months, to kindergarten orientation day.

Battle lines are quickly drawn on that day. Young single mom Jane and her five-year-old son, Ziggy, have just moved to the area. Jane and Ziggy are basically nomads, constantly moving and never putting down roots. But maybe this place will be different? Ziggy can make new friends. Maybe Jane can make some new friends? Fellow moms Madeline and Celeste immediately take Jane under their wings. Madeline becomes like a big sister to Jane, helping her with everything from school projects, to parenting advice, to life advice. It all comes in handy when Ziggy gets branded as a violent bully by Renata Klein, the queen bee mother of the kindergarten class. Renata's daughter, Amabella, accuses Ziggy of choking her. Ziggy denies the accusation, and Jane believes her son. Madeline and Celeste also believe Ziggy. Aligning themselves with Jane is tantamount to starting World War III. But Madeline doesn't care, she can't stand Renata anyway.

Madeline is a woman not to be messed with. She lives and dies for her family and her friends. But she is also funny, witty, and charismatic. She's also a fixer. She wants to fix everything and everyone. However, she struggles to fix her own family. She's devoted to her husband, Ed, and children, Abigail, Fred, and Chloe. But Madeline sees her ex-husband, Nathan, and his new wife, Bonnie, as threats. Bonnie is the cool one, she's a yoga teacher, a free spirit, compassionate about the environment and the world at large. Bonnie is everything that Madeline is not, which is very appealing to the impressionable Abigail. Despite her father being absent for most of her life, Abigail wants to spend more time with Nathan and Bonnie. Madeline tries to be OK with this. She tells Abigail what she wants to hear, but internally Madeline is a mess.

Celeste is also a mess, but no one can tell. Celeste is good at hiding her problems. She's also an expert at lying about her problems. She lets the outside world see what they want to see. Celeste always presents herself as the perfect wife to Perry, and the perfect mother to her twins, Josh and Max. The air of perfection is nothing but a facade. Every time Perry returns from one of his frequent business trips he gives his wife a beautiful gift. He's full of regret and remorse, but not for his absences -- for his behavior. Whenever Celeste "disrespects" her husband he hits her. He never hits her face, but everywhere else. And Celeste has gotten good at hiding her bruises. Each time it happens, Celeste makes excuses for Perry. If Celeste hadn't aggravated Perry, it wouldn't happen. If Celeste would just stop talking, it wouldn't happen. There's always a reason why it could have stopped. There's never a reason to leave, but there's always a reason to stay. She has physical freedom, but not the emotional freedom or fortitude to leave Perry.

Throughout the whole book, there is an air of mystery and intrigue. It's a compulsive read. With each chapter, we get closer and closer to the deadly trivia night. Everyone's lives reaches a crescendo on that night. Everyone has grown and become a better person leading up to that night. Life and especially death are not funny topics, but Liane Moriarty made them funny and heartwarming at the same time. I can't wait until the miniseries. I hope HBO sticks close to the book!

Rating: O.M.G.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Bye bye 2016!!!

We made it! The final days of 2016 are finally coming to a close. My life was actually pretty stable, despite the lack of extra money in my wallet. However, I would wager the world at large is ready to put 2016 in the rearview mirror.

I personally was stunned that the orange terror will now be in the Oval Office. So much so that I had to walk away from newspapers, news, and all forms of social media for two weeks. Leading up to the election, I had absorbed so much media that I had to take a break. Instead, I turned to my favorite form of entertainment -- BOOKS!

Books are a great way to distract from reality. A great way to enter worlds different from your own. Last year, I vowed to read more. I set a goal of 75 books, but halfway through the year I knew I wasn't going to hit that mark. It was a nice try. Then, I decided to lower my goal to 40 books. I thought that was more attainable. But........I came up short. I topped out at 34 books. Still more than last year. I read only 27 books last year. So I'm glad I was able to read just a little bit more. There were some books that I started and didn't finish because I just wasn't into them. Although, there were a lot of books I was into. So read on......

Best books of 2016
(Please note, not all of these books were published in 2016. I just happened to read them in 2016)
1. If You Left by Ashley Prentice Norton: A great read on the toll mental illness can take on marriage and family.
2. Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson: A lyrical coming of age story about a teenage girl trying to find her place in life. 

3. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley: The only two survivors of a deadly plane crash have to navigate the aftermath.

4. One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid: Some people only get one true love. What if fate gives you a chance at two? What would you do?

5. All the Winters After by Seré Prince Halverson: A family used to running from their problems finally have to face them.
6. The Edge of Lost by Kristina McMorris: A young immigrant tries to make it in America, but at a cost.
7. The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel: I'm still not sure how to describe this book, but it's the most unique story I read all year. 
8. Noah's Wife by Lindsay Starck: A modern-day take on the biblical story of Noah.
9. Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: My first foray with a vampire fantasy novel.  
10. Girl Unbroken by Regina Calcaterra and Rosie Maloney: One woman's story of her odyssey through foster care and an erratic mother.
11. Gaining Visibility by Pamela Hearon: A sweet romance to end my reading year.
The not so good books of 2016
(Please note, not all of these books were published in 2016. I just happened to read them in 2016)
1. Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris: This was just bad, borderline tragedy porn. The plot just didn't make a lot of sense to me. It went to the extreme for seemingly no reason.
2. The Sun in Your Eyes by Deborah Shapiro: This was just boring!
3. The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi: I wanted to like this. A young girl cursed with a deadly horoscope. It certainly got my attention, but writing was just overly descriptive -- borderline overkill.
4. The Summer of Me by Angela Benson: This book had an overly spiritual and uplifting message, but that message was very heavy-handed.
5. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel: After all the hype surrounding this book, I had high hopes and was disappointed.
How did I do with reading resolutions in 2016?
No so good. I read 34 books for a total of 10,948 pages. I wanted at least 50 percent of the books I read to be books I purchased. But I only read five of my own books -- the same amount as last year. That's a big fail on my part. I can only aim to do better in 2016. Instead of 50 percent, how about just doubling the amount? So I only read five of my own books in 2016, I need to read at least 10 of my own books in 2017. That sounds doable. :)

Lets take a look at my other resolutions from 2016:

--Buy less books: That's one I did a good job of sticking to. I only bought books on special occasions: my birthday, the office book fair, and Christmas. I think I can do it again in 2017.

--Read more sci-fi/fantasy books: This one was difficult. I would say this is a work in progress. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin was at the top of my list. I gave it 150 pages, but I couldn't give it anymore. I just didn't understand it. It's not a good sign if I have to keep reading the appendix to understand your book. But I think I will give this another shot in 2017. I did get out of my contemporary bubble in 2016. That's progress.

--Less social media: This is something I still struggle with. The election results did force me to pull away from all forms of media in general. But getting off Twitter is still hard. Perhaps taking the app off my phone would help!

--Read more e-books: Of the 34 books I read, three were e-books. I really prefer print to digital, and that's not going to change anytime soon.

--Listen to an audiobook: EPIC FAIL. Not a single book I read was audio. I got nothing on how to change this one.

--Read more non-fiction: I didn't get to Dead Wake by Erik Larson, yet. But I did read six non-fiction books, compared to zero in 2015.

--Read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: Nope, not yet.

--Start the Song of Ice and Fire Series: So-so, I'm 200 pages into A Game of Thrones. I like it, but it's going to take a while to get through such a thick book.

--Read more Harry Potter books: I re-read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. But this time I read the illustrated edition. I think having pictures helped. I definitely have a greater appreciation for book 1 than I did the first time around. Next up is the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Reading resolutions for 2017

Keep a reading journal: When I first started blogging, I did take notes on the books I was reading. But at some point I stopped. Looking back, I think my reviews were more in depth and easier to write because I took notes. I had words to look at when I was writing my reviews. When I stopped, it was hard to remember my thoughts. I read multiple books at the same time, and sometimes I have to re-read passages to jog my memory. I have already started my reading journal, and I will keep it up for a full year. 
Try for 50: I would love to get back to the years when I could read 60+, but I'm not there yet. Fifty seems like a good number.

Finish the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer: I did read Cinder this year. I started Scarlet, but had to put it down. I was reading too many books at the time and something had to give. 

Read a book I assume I will hate: I watch a lot of videos on YouTube. So many book bloggers on YouTube seem to love Twilight, but I do a major eyeroll whenever I hear that. I've read a few passages of Twilight, and they've all been bad. But maybe I'm wrong.

I think that's it for resolutions. If I have too many, I think I'm going to overextend myself. What are your resolutions?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

My take on: Gaining Visibility

Ending my year of reviews with an uplifting read, Gaining Visibility by Pamela Hearon.

Julia Berkwith is at a crossroads. Her daughter, Melissa, has moved to Alaska to be with her boyfriend. Her ex-husband, Frank, has moved to Hawaii to be with a much younger woman. Everyone has moved on except Julia. She deserves a life of her own. She has a lot to celebrate. She's a breast cancer survivor. But in a twisted way, surviving cancer also led to the end of her marriage. Frank couldn't or wouldn't play the part of the supportive husband. In a way, Julia became invisible to Frank. He no longer saw the woman he married. All he could see were the scars of cancer.

However, Julia's mother-in-law and close confidant, Hettie, is determined to get her daughter-in-law back into the dating game. Maybe more than dating....just straight sex works too. Yes, Hettie wants Julia to forget about her no-good son, Frank. Hettie wants Julia to get back into the saddle. Yes, Hettie is one sassy lady. But Julia has other ideas. Rather than wallow at the loss of her marriage, Julia is taking a dream trip to Italy. She's going to eat, she's going to hike a famous trail, and just take in the beauty of Italy. Love is the last thing on Julia's mind. But fate and love are about to enter Julia's life.

While in Italy, a freak injury lands Julia literally in the hands of a handsome Italian god named Vitale. Yes, he's drop dead gorgeous. But he can't possibly be interested in Julia. Can he? Maybe there is a physical attraction, but it's probably just lust. At least that's what Julia keeps telling herself. Vitale is in his thirties and Julia is in her forties. He speaks in broken English, there's often a lot lost in translation between them. He even gives her a new name, Julietta. Yet these two find they have a lot in common. They both have a love of art, and Vitale just happens to be a talented artist. Both have suffered great losses. At times, both of them suffer from a lack of confidence. Julia refuses to believe or to see that a younger man could love her and her scars. Vitale refuses to believe or to see that he doesn't have to fix everything and everyone. Both of them need to open their eyes and show just a hint of vulnerability.

Julia and Vitale both had a lot of ups and downs, but there is still hope out there. There is still hope for love and happiness, but only if they both see it. Julia and Vitale believe the world sees them one way, but in fact they've closed their eyes to the world. Their own perceptions are blinding Julia and Vitale to what's right in front of them -- each other. For me, this endearing romance was the perfect read to end the year.

Rating: Superb

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

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

My take on: Hidden Figures

History is filled with a number of untold or under-told stories. Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly, is no different. It's the story of the incredible black women who helped launch astronauts such as John Glenn and Neil Armstrong to outer space. They were known as "human computers," but they were so much more.

Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were mathematicians, teachers, mothers, and wives. They had to deal with sexism and racism at a time when Jim Crow laws were still the norm. But everyday they got to work doing what they loved and had a passion for.

During World War II, the men were at war and women were needed in the workplace. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), now known as NASA, put out the call for women to serve their country. Women could play a small or a big part in winning the war. Women like Dorothy Vaughn. Dorothy, a college grad, went down the path many educated black women did before her -- by becoming a teacher. But she struggled to provided for her family on a teacher's salary, leading her to work in a laundry during the summer breaks. She wanted more. When the opportunity to work for the NACA presented itself it was too good to pass up. The NACA paid more than twice her teacher's salary. The opportunity for more and the call to serve also brought Mary, Katherine, and Christine to the NACA.

While black women played an important role in space exploration and aviation, it didn't change their role in the boardroom or in society at large. To be recognized or noticed for their work, female computers at the NACA had to team up or work under their male counterparts. Many men got the credit for the hard work done by women. Bathrooms and cafeterias at the NACA were still segregated. Buses were still segregated. Schools were still segregated. Progress was coming just not enough and not fast enough.

This was an important story and it deserved to be told. But.....I didn't like the way it was told. This book was often difficult to follow. I wish the author had just focused on the stories of the four women, but this book was very broad in its scope. There's heavy details on mathematics, segregation, racism, and science. Single books could be written on those topics alone, and trying to mash them all together just didn't work for me. The book often drifts away from Dorothy, Mary, Katherine, and Christine and gets bogged down in reflecting on the ever changing civil rights era. There's nothing wrong with giving some background for context, but sometimes the societal changes dominated what should be at the heart of this book -- the women of the NACA.

Rating: Give it a try

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

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Cover Reveal: Until it Fades by K.A. Tucker


A sexy new romance about a small-town woman who saves the life of a mysterious man, and finds herself unexpectedly thrown into a whirlwind love affair, featuring bestselling author K. A. Tucker’s signature “well-constructed, pulse-pounding suspense” (USA TODAY).

Twenty-four-year-old truck stop waitress and single mother Catherine Wright has simple goals: to give her five-year-old daughter a happy life and to never again be the talk of the town in Balsam, Pennsylvania: population three thousand outside of tourist season.

And then one foggy night, on a lonely road back from another failed attempt at a relationship, Catherine saves a man’s life. It isn’t until after the police have arrived that Catherine realizes exactly who it is she has saved: Brett Madden, hockey icon and media darling.

Catherine has already had her fifteen minutes of fame and the last thing she wants is to have her past dragged back into the spotlight, only this time on a national stage. So she hides her identity. It works.

For a time.

But when she finds the man she saved standing on her doorstep, desperate to thank her, all that changes. What begins as an immediate friendship quickly turns into something neither of them expected. Something that Catherine isn’t sure she can handle; something that Catherine is afraid to trust.

Because how long can an extraordinary man like Brett be interested in an ordinary woman like Catherine…before the spark fades?

About K.A. Tucker:

K.A. Tucker writes captivating stories with an edge.

She is the USA Today bestselling author of 14 books, including Ten Tiny Breaths and Burying Water, and her latest Adult Suspense novel, He Will Be My Ruin. Her books have been featured in national publications including USA Today, Globe & Mail, Suspense Magazine, and Publisher's Weekly.

K.A. Tucker currently resides in a quaint town outside of Toronto with her husband, two beautiful girls, and a Chug.


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