Saturday, March 31, 2012

My take on: Heft

It's not everyday you read a book that starts off like this, " The first thing you must know about me is that I am colossally fat." Right off the bat the character of Arthur Opp in Heft by Liz Moore has your attention. He's confessing his shortcomings to his pen pal Charlene Keller. He wants her on his side. He's been lying for years about his weight not just to Charlene but to himself. Arthur has become a recluse, choosing to let the world go on without him.

A once promising career as a college professor is over. A somewhat innocent teacher-student relationship with Charlene tainted his career as a professor. Rather than face the music, Arthur abandoned his profession. He would rather hole up in his house eating, ordering stuff online and watching television. Letters between him and Charlene were the only bright spot in Arthur's life. As long as he has those letter he knows somebody cared. The letters allowed him to create a fantasy life, rather than facing the truth. But the truth is about to smack Arthur in the face when Charlene suggests him as a mentor for her son Kel. The fantasy life as the cultured and well-travelled college professor are over if Kel and Charlene get to see how Arthur really lives. He has to actually look in the mirror and acknowledge his problems. He is desperate for companionship, but at what costs?

Maybe Arthur is finally ready to face the music? It isn't always best to be alone. Arthur confesses his shortcomings to Charlene in a letter. He even hires a spunky maid, Yolanda, to clean up his house. Yolanda not only helps clean up his house, she helps clean up his life. Opening up to Yolanda was a brave act on Arthur's part. He let Yolanda see him at his most vulnerable. He's ashamed of how badly his life has turned out, but hiring Yolanda was also a cry for help. They become friends. He actually looks forward to her visits. What would his life be like without Yolanda? Perhaps he would still be a recluse.

What about Charlene? Her letters were full of joy, but it turns out she was also living a lie. By the time Kel was old enough to fend for himself, Charlene was an alcoholic. Her husband left, her parents are gone, and all she has left is Kel. But rather than embrace what she had, Charlene destroyed her life. Kel becomes the parent. He makes sure the electricity and heat are paid. It's hard to focus on being a kid when you have to grow up so fast. Kel grew up in Yonkers but goes to school in a wealthy neighborhood. The kids at his school don't have his problems. They don't worry about where their gas or food money is coming from. College isn't in doubt for his friends. It's a different story for Kel. His grades aren't great but he excels at baseball. He dreams of playing professional baseball.

The story alternates between Arthur and Kel's point of view. They are both scared in their own way. Arthur is afraid of rejection from the outside world. Kel seems afraid of the future or he doesn't want to think about the future. A crisis with his mother forces Kel to face the future. You feel sympathetic towards both characters. Kel is very confused and sometimes he lashes out, like most teenagers. You're pulling for both of them to do better. It has to get better for them. I wonder if a sequel is planned because ending left me wanting for more.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.) in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

My take on: Being Lara

Everyone is different in their own way. Sometimes it's our personality that makes us different. Sometimes it's how we live. What we eat. It can be so many things. Being different makes us who we are. Growing up, being different wasn't always a good thing for Lara Reid. Despite her parents always making her feel like she was special, Lara always knew something was different about her. Being Lara by Lola Jaye is an emotional journey into adoption and what makes a family.

Born Omolara in Nigeria, Lara was adopted by a white British couple, Pat and Barry. When we first meet Lara, it is her 30th birthday. She has a successful career, close friend, Sandi, and a boyfriend. But all of that just isn't enough. Her boyfriend Tyler is deeply in love with her, but Lara won't let him in. She's just waiting for the moment when Tyler has had enough. She doesn't want him to love her because eventually the relationship will end. Her birth mother left her. Growing up, Lara always felt if she said or did the wrong thing her parents would send her back to Nigeria. At any moment the people in her life can pack up and leave. To me, it seems like such an irrational fear but I'm not adopted. I found it hard to relate to her character. She has this whole "woe is me attitude." Millions of people are adopted but not everyone has those fears.

At her 30th birthday party, Lara is frozen with fear when a strange woman crashes her party. She doesn't know this woman personally, but Lara knows at some point in time they did know each other. The woman is her birth mother Yomi. This is where the story shifts. We learn about Yomi and Pat's youth. To me, this is their book and not Lara's as the title would suggest. Yomi wanted to follow her heart and marry for love. But her parents' influence forced her to marry for convenience. Being the fourth wife of a wealthy Chief wasn't her dream life, but it helped her parents out financially. When she became pregnant, Yomi wanted better for her child. Leaving Omolara at an orphanage was out of love. Her child's safety was at risk from the other wives who didn't like Yomi's presence. She had to let everyone else believe that Omolara was dead. It was painful, but for the best. Maybe one day she could get her back.

Pat and Yomi's lives seemed to mirror each other. Pat did marry for love, but she didn't have a supportive family. When Pat achieved a little bit of success as a singer, her brothers were ready to pump her for money. If she doesn't give them money, that must mean Pat doesn't love her family. She must be better than them. It was the total opposite. Pat just wanted love and support from her family, but eventually she came to realize she wouldn't get it. Even when Pat and Barry adopted Lara, there was no happy reaction from them. It was, "how can you bring this child into the family?"

There were times I had trouble following the timeline. All three women narrate the book, but some chapters go back and forth between the past and present. Never fear, there a lot of good things in this book. You can learn a lot about Nigerian culture and food. The book made me hungry at some points. It's also refreshing to see a fiction book tackle the subject of interracial adoption.

I connected more to Pat and Yomi's characters than Lara. The book spends more time on her mothers. I found Lara to be on the whiny side, while her mothers were full of strength. Despite decades apart, Yomi still sought out her daughter. She could be rejected but still took the chance to let Omolara know she loved her. Despite all the stares in public and family rejection, Pat was always happiest being Lara's mother.

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

Sunday, March 25, 2012

To go or not to go that is the question?

What is my dilemma? What am I conflicted about? I started blogging in April of 2010 and by May I was searching for some direction with my blog. How do I make it better? How long/short should I make my posts? How can I get a publisher's attention? I started doing internet research on the subject. Eventually I came across the web site for the Book Blogger Convention. I thought, "Great! I can get a little help." As soon as I had the money, I signed up. Imagine my surprise when I learned my registration fee also included a pass to attend BookExpo America. I was only able to attend one day of BEA, but it was great.

Attending both conventions was a bit of sensory overload, but it was very eye-opening and educational. When the time came to register for the 2011 convention, I jumped at the opportunity. This time I submitted my request for vacation in January even though the convention wasn't until May. I wanted the full experience this time.

Now, what about this year? 2012 is different for me in many ways. I am currently unemployed. A lot of the money I have set aside is for graduate school and a planned vacation in the summer. Does it make sense for me to register for a convention I might not be able to attend? What if I get job? That also might derail my vacation later this year (but I'll cross that bridge if I get to it). I'm planning to go to Africa this summer, and that's an opportunity I can't pass up.

But back to the conference. A couple of days ago I decided to register for the Book Blogger Convention. Imagine my surprise when I found out the name had been changed. It is now the BEA Bloggers Conference. When did that happen? Reed Exhibitions purchased the convention from Trish Collins of Hey Lady! Whatcha  Readin? and Michelle Franz of Galleysmith. I know a lot of work goes into planning a convention like this. It can be overwhelming and perhaps that was the motivation in selling the convention.

I have a few gripes about this change. Branding it the "BEA Bloggers Conference," makes it more about BEA than about us. I believe the original intent for the convention was a way for bloggers to unite and gain knowledge from each other. Now it seems like we're being branded. Is the new conference marketing us or are they marketing to us?

The list of panels is up on the web site, but the panelists themselves aren't bloggers!! Of the panelists that are listed, most of them are authors. Now that's not a bad thing. It's great to be able to interact with authors. The keynote speaker is author Jennifer Weiner, and I am a big fan of hers. Follow her on Twitter, trust me you will laugh. She's one of the main reasons I'm on the fence about attending. I would like to hear what she has to say, plus I wonder if she would sign my books. As great as the interaction would be, more bloggers should be included on the panels. After all is the conference about us or them?

Also the cost to attend both conventions has gone up. To attend the "Bloggers Conference" alone is relatively cheap at $79. But if you want to attend the "Bloggers Conference" and all three days of BEA it's $235. That's nearly double what it cost to attend last year. I live in New York, so I don't have the extra costs that out of town bloggers have. Now, I am speaking only for myself but that's more than I can afford. If I do go it will probably be just for the "Bloggers Conference" and one day of BEA.

The changes are all the buzz in the blogosphere. Jeff at The Reading Ape is proposing A Book Blogger Unconference. Basically, a cheaper option that is just for bloggers. It sounds intriguing. I'm unsure of which way to go. If you want to learn how to cultivate relationships with publishers and authors, I think the "BEA Bloggers Conference" is for you. If want you want camaraderie amongst your peers, the Unconference is for you. What is right for me? I don't know yet. Whatever I choose I'm sure it will be a good experience. Anything that involves a love for books can't be bad!!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My take on: The Earthquake Machine

After reading The Earthquake Machine by Mary Pauline Lowry I was a little stumped about what to say. There was so much going on, so I'll just start with the covers. The one on the left was the original cover. It left me thinking, "how does this cover go with the material?" A young girl named Rhonda goes on a journey of self-discovery to Mexico after the death of her mother. That little doll, which is supposed to be a piece of Mexican folk art, on the cover scared me a little. While these pieces of art, called alibrijes, play a big role in the book, this is Rhonda's story. The new cover seems to fit the story much better. When I see the cover on the right, I think of a girl who isn't afraid to take chances. A girl who likes to try new things. But is she confused? Happy? Sad? Does she even know who she is yet?

Rhonda's mother was plagued by years of mental illness. Her pharmacist father was no help either. He was content to have his wife doped up on medication, while he continued his affair with his mistress. Rhonda was left to her own devices. While Rhonda had several friends her own age, the family gardener Jesus was her main confidant. She marveled at his ability to make alibrijes. It's something she would like to learn. Her parents aren't teaching her anything worthy, so why not learn from a stranger? 

As her mother descended further into madness, Rhonda's father was no help. He led a disturbed woman to believe that suicide was the answer. What about Rhonda? He wants out of the marriage so bad he's willing to sacrifice Rhonda's chance at a normal and happy life. Despite Rhonda uneasy home life, deep down she wants her mother in her life. At 14, Rhonda hasn't learned everything she needs to know about life and how to be a woman. Her life is just starting, but her father is willing to put his own happiness above his family's.

After her mother's death, Rhonda is unsure of what do with herself. Jesus has been deported, leaving Rhonda without her most trusted ally. A camping trip with her best friends and their fathers offers Rhonda the opportunity to swim across the river into Mexico. If she can find Jesus, maybe she can find happiness with his family. Rhonda gets the idea that dressing up as a boy and shedding her old persona will guide her through life. As a boy named Angel she can create a new life and truly discover who she is. She even refuses to eat, fearing that added weight will add unwanted "womanly" curves. She doesn't want those curves but she ends up discovering her sexuality and what it means in society. She even uses sex to get what she wants, which I wasn't a big fan of. There are other ways to "find" yourself. As Angel/Rhonda goes further in her journey her life is constantly put in danger. She begins wondering if there is a god, and if there is does he/she exist for everyone? What is god's plan for her? There is no easy answer to her problems.

Some passages felt a little long. I kept waiting for Angel to find her answers. How much has to happen to you before you finally get it? I guess I should be taking her age into account. You don't know everything as a teenager, but Rhonda made the adult decision to be on her own. And speaking of age, I would recommend this to mature young adults and adults. There is some language and sexual situations that just aren't for everyone. While I didn't like everything in this book, it is definitely unique. I don't think I've ever read anything like it.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received an e-galley from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Welcome Mary Pauline Lowry

Please welcome Mary Pauline Lowry, author of The Earthquake Machine. Ms. Lowry is here to give the lowdown on her book.

Top 10 Reasons Why
The Earthquake Machine
Will Rock Your World

      You’ll blush when you find out what an earthquake machine is.

It proves that women can be amazing criminals.

It’ll take you from Austin to Big Bend National Park, to the desert and jungles of Mexico, to Oaxaca and Mexico City.

      The Huffington Post says, “Lowry has created a story that belongs on bookshelves next to other fine literature. The Earthquake Machine moves Lowry into an elite group of young female writers who know that the feminist movement is about more than equal pay for equal work and that a girl has a right to be a grrrlllll, if she chooses.
      One prudish reviewer declared The Earthquake Machine “worse than smut.”
      It chronicles the sexual coming-of-age of a 14 year old runaway.

      You’ll learn what it’s like to be alone and tripping on peyote in the middle of the jungle at night.

      The Queen of Teen Fiction says, “The writing is fantastic and the story is completely unique and unforgettable.

      It’s about a girl who leaves behind the world she knows to go on a fantastical journey through Mexico.

      It’s all about Girl Power!

The Earthquake Machine

The book every girl should read,
and every girl’s parents hope she’ll never read.

The Earthquake Machine tells the story of 14 year-old Rhonda. On the outside, everything looks perfect in Rhonda’s world, but at home Rhonda has to deal with a manipulative father who keeps her mentally ill mother hooked on pharmaceuticals. The only reliable person in Rhonda’s life is her family’s Mexican yardman, Jesús. But when the INS deports Jesús back to his home state of Oaxaca, Rhonda is left alone with her increasingly painful family situation.

Determined to find her friend Jésus, Rhonda seizes an opportunity to run away during a camping trip with friends to Big Bend National Park. She swims to the Mexican side of the Rio Grande and makes her way to the border town of Milagros, Mexico. There a peyote- addled bartender convinces her she won’t be safe traveling alone into the country’s interior. So with the bartender’s help, Rhonda cuts her hair and assumes the identity of a Mexican boy named Angel. She then sets off on a burro across the desert to look for Jesús. Thus begins a wild adventure that fulfills the longing of readers eager for a brave and brazen female protagonist.

Mary Pauline Lowry has worked as a forest firefighter, screenwriter, open water lifeguard, construction worker, and advocate in the movement to end violence against women. Due to no fault of her sweet parents, at 15 she ran away from home and made it all the way to Matamoros, Mexico. She believes girls should make art, have adventures, and read books that show them the way.

Friday, March 23, 2012

My take on: Gossip

Ever read a book and thought, "It's ok, but not great." That's what I was thinking as I was nearing the end of Gossip by  Beth Gutcheon. ... But then you get to the end, and you're opinion TOTALLY changes. You start thinking deeper about everything you just read.

Gossip, what does it really mean? I always thought it was a rumor spread by a bunch of spiteful and nosy people. I still think that, but the original meaning was talk between two people who are the godparents of the same child. Interesting right? How did this word get so far away from it's original intent? Gossip these days can make or break your career, destroy friendships, destroy families, or (like all of these hack reality stars) it can make you famous. In the case of this book, it can cloud your judgment.

Loviah "Lovie" French has always been stuck in the middle. As the owner of a small dress shop, Lovie is privy to a lot of secrets and gossip.Who is marrying who? Who is cheating with who? Who is getting a divorce? The list could go on. People feel they can talk to Lovie. They know Lovie will keep their secret. They know she won't pass judgment. There are times when Lovie wants to say more during these exchanges. If they're bashing one of her friends, Lovie is tempted to speak up but sometimes it just isn't worth it to get in a fight over gossip. When it's her turn and she needs a shoulder to lean on, Lovie turns to her long-time lover, Gil, who also happens to be married. In private, Gil and Lovie can be themselves in private but in public they have to tone it down, otherwise people might spread "gossip."

Lovie's best friend Dinah Wainwright has made a career out of writing about the rich and famous people of New York. Her personality is very in your face. She loves to talk. She wants to be your friend. She has two sons, but to hear her speak you would think Dinah has only one child. RJ is settled in his life with a wife and kids, but Nicky is the one she worries the most about. She wants badly to see him succeed.

Avis Metcalf is the total opposite of Dinah. Avis is quieter and more reserved. She's more obsessed with her career than forming a bond with her only daughter, Grace. But Avis' friendship with Lovie is extremely strong. It is put to the test when Grace and Nicky get married. Lovie is like the middle man. It must be daunting to people who are really in this situation. You have to watch what you say around one friend. What one friend might find funny, the other won't. It doesn't help matters when Grace and Nicky's marriage takes a drastic turn. I can't say what it is (read the book to find out), but I will say I wasn't expecting it. Towards the end of the book I was in totally shock. I'm thinking, "did she just write that?"

 If I'm going to judge a book by it's cover, I was expecting a light, chick-lit story. By the end, it was very thought-provoking. It doesn't hurt you to spread gossip, but what about the person you're talking about? Did you ruin their life? How will it effect that person's career? Their family? What satisfaction do you get by talking about a person? This book was a little slow to start, but by the end it was a very worthy read.

Rating: Superb

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

Monday, March 19, 2012

It's Monday, what's on the cover? -- update

It's been awhile since I've done one of these posts, but I've been a little preoccupied. Lets start off with some good news. I was accepted to grad school. I was beginning to think I wouldn't get in (long story). I was even preparing myself to apply to a different school. But, I've been on a high ever since. Next step is applying for financial aid. I'm excited, but also apprehensive because it's been seven-plus years since I've written a college-level paper!!

On to the business at hand. The first book up on the list is Gossip by Beth Gutcheon. Those look like ladies who lunch right? Rich ladies who spend their days at the gym, shopping, and spreading gossip. Definitely take that cover at face value because so far I'm reading a lot about rich women who have nothing better to do than gossip.

I'm assuming that's author Jill Conner Browne on the cover of Fat is the New 30. She looks extremely festive. I'm willing to bet she knows how to throw a good party. Is she the queen of her family or does she just think she's queen? I'm not sure yet. This book is departure for me. It's a collection of essays, detailing Browne's funny spin on her life. Look for a review on April 3.

I'm not sure what to make of the cover for The Earthquake Machine by Mary Pauline Lowry. I'm not sure what to make of the book either. The book is just as wacky as the cover. A young girl has lost her mother and to make matters worse she has an absentee father. While on a camping trip this young girl hatches a plan to find the former family gardener in Mexico. Sounds intriguing, but I'm a little confused by the book. I'm not far enough along to form an opinion. But I'm getting a little freaked out every time I look at the cover. Is that wacky looking thing trying to scare me?

Now how about this cover? This morning I got an e-mail about an updated cover for The Earthquake Machine. This one is much much better than the original. Now I feel like the cover matches the content. Looking at the new cover conjures up images of a confused young girl. What does everyone else think?

The cover of The House of the Wind by Titania Hardie makes me think of the Secret Garden. The cover looks rather whimsical to me and upbeat. Not sure if you could call the book upbeat. A young woman is rebounding from the death of her fiance. The book switches back forth between the present day and mid-1300s Tuscany.

Heft by Liz Moore has a rather interesting plot. A former professor becomes a recluse and balloons to 400 pounds. He forms a pen-pal relationship with a former student. Both of them are lying to each about about who they really are. The "heft" of those problems must be weighing on both of them.

Who is that young girl on the cover of Being Lara by Lola Jaye? Is she happy? Is she sad? Where are her parents? The cover has an air of innocence. This young girl hasn't even started her life, what could be her problem? The title character in this book has always known she was different. She was adopted, and grew up believing that something in her life is missing? But what? Look for a review on March 28. Stay tuned!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

My take on: Unscripted

Every day you can find a reality show on TV. I think the market is over-saturated with them. I have to roll my eyes at shows like The Bachelor. It's not real. I don't understand the motivation to going on a reality show. Fame must be the motive. But what about the people behind the scenes? What is their motivation? I wonder about that sometimes. Like who are the geniuses that brought us "Joe Millionaire" and "Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire?" Unscripted by Natalie Aaron and Marla Schwartz takes us behind the scenes of reality TV.

Abby Edwards is very cynical when it comes to love. Finding her next job and relationships with her friends are what's important, romance is not part of the equation. Her job as a producer on the dating show Matchmaker is about to end. Where is her next gig going to come from? Is this type of career what she really wants? Splicing together footage is the easy part of the job. Playing therapist/pastor/mom/dad/aunt/uncle/shoulder to cry on for the babies on her reality show are the hard part. Either the contestants come to her or the network forces her to deal with their petty problems. But even that wears on Abby. How many times can you watch a grown man or woman act like a baby?

Her friends are an interesting bunch, especially her closest friend and roommate Zoe. Zoe has found love, but for her it has an expiration date if her boyfriend, Jeff, doesn't propose. Even when she gets the proposal it was forced. Zoe wants marriage and family, but only if her husband has a sizable bank account. Jeff has a "good" job, but as soon as he takes a job with a lower salary there is trouble in paradise. It doesn't matter if the job makes him happy and could lead to an even better opportunity. All that matters is that Zoe might not be able to fulfill her dream of a big house, children, and life as a housewife. I found Zoe to be extremely selfish and self-centered. I'm surprised Abby and Zoe were friends. Abby doesn't care about appearances the way Zoe does.

Abby's life is thrown for a loop when she goes to work alongside Will, a handsome producer. She's not sure how this will work since the last time Abby saw Will she mistook him for a lowly production assistant. But it goes better than expected as Will comes to respect her ideas. Abby starts feeling butterflies whenever he is around, but does Will feel the same. Her jaded views about love keep Abby from acting on her feelings.

The relationship Abby has with herself is at the heart of the book. When her friendship with Zoe hits a rough patch, Abby is forced to look at her own life. Is she really happy? What will it take to make her happy? Is fantasizing about Will just a quick fix? The sooner Abby can answer those questions, the sooner she can be happy. The book also delves into the ugly side of reality TV. We get a very vivid picture of all the backstabbing, power struggles, and manipulation that goes on. Abby does more than her fair share of work, but someone with more power is always standing by to take credit. In the end, I wish some of the romance elements had been explored more. The ending, while very hopeful, leaves you wanting more of Abby's story. The way the book ended, life was just beginning for Abby.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received an e-copy from the authors in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, March 16, 2012

My take on: Redwood Bend

Driving down a long stretch of road you never know what is around the next corner. Could be just another driver running errands, which I'm more inclined to believe. Someone looking for an escape just like you or it could be the love of your life. In Redwood Bend by Robyn Carr one of her characters found more than she bargained for.

Before I go on a little disclaimer, if you haven't read  Hidden Summit STOP reading now. This is an ongoing series and if you haven't read the previous book it might spoil some things for you. But if that doesn't matter you, by all means continue reading.

After a long period of turmoil, Katie Malone and her twin boys, Mitch and Andy, are on their way to Virgin River. Her brother Connor is waiting to spoil his nephews and protect his little sister. Connor has always been a guiding force in Katie's life. After the death of Katie's husband, Connor was there. After months apart from each other, Katie is ready to build a new life in Virgin River. But along the way there Katie was thrown for a loop. After a flat tire Katie crosses paths with former bad boy Dylan Childress. The attraction is instant, but both of them want to deny it. Katie has her hands full trying to raise her boys. She has to get her life together. She has to find a job, a home, and a school for the boys. Romance is very low on the totem pole. When it comes to commitment, Dylan is a little gun shy. As a former child star with absentee parents, Dylan doesn't know what a healthy romantic relationship is. His movie-star grandmother took control of him before Dylan went off the deep end. He's used to a simple life and uncomplicated relationships. A widow with two kids doesn't exactly sound like Dylan's cup of tea. Or does it?

Of course it does, but Katie plays hard to get. Dylan thinks he doesn't want a relationship. He makes sure Katie knows that he's attracted, but he is just passing through Virgin River. Both of them have no illusions about this "relationship." They're both very clear that it's just a fling. A relationship with attachments isn't always easy. You could be perfectly clear about your intentions, but the other person becomes more attached than they should. In this case it's Katie. It sounds very cliche that the woman in the relationship becomes attached and even falls in love. But it does happen a lot. When the time comes for Dylan to leave, Katie puts on a brave front but misses him so much it hurts. Dylan doesn't know why he can't go back to his life. Katie is under his skin. He stayed on in Virgin River to look for ways to grow his failing airline business when Hollywood comes calling again. Getting back into the business could help grow his business, but it could also corrupt his soul again. Katie doesn't want a superstar, she just wants someone to love her and her boys.

I wasn't a fan of the romantic setup. It didn't seem very realistic to have any instant attraction to a man you met on a chance encounter. Also every man in this book is portrayed as the hero. When are the women going to take over as heroes in romance novels? Katie has her moments in this book, but overwhelming the men take charge. Connor is the stubborn, neanderthal who will protect his sister at all costs. He can't be rational when it comes to Katie's love life. He acts first and thinks later. Dylan even gets his chance to be the hero towards the end of the book, but I'm going to stop before I spoil too much on that front. If you're a fan of the Virgin River Series, than this is right up your alley.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Harlequin) at the request of the author's publicist (Little Bird Publicity)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My take on: Losing Clementine

The cover of Losing Clementine by Ashley Ream sold me before I knew what the book was about. That's a woman teetering on the edge. Was she pushed to the brink by someone or something? Did she commit a crime? Did she just lose a family member? Is she distraught over this crappy economy? There are so many reasons why this woman is under distress. The potential answers to those questions drew me in. But outside sources have nothing to do with Clementine Pritchard's problems. The war inside her head leads Clementine to believe that suicide is the answer.

We meet Clementine 30 days before her planned suicide. She has stopped taking all the medication to treat her manic depression. She feels free and more clear-headed than ever before. She never felt like herself on the medication. But why is suicide the answer? If she feels better without the medication, why not try that route for a while? Clementine doesn't believe those moments of clarity will last. The low moments outweigh the highs, and she is tired of trying to fix her brain.

She's a successful artist, but even that isn't satisfying for Clementine. She fired her assistant Jenny and is content to let her career fall by the wayside. Her ex-husband Richard still cares about her, but Clementine seems tired of relying on him to clean up her messes. She lets the people that care about her believe she is dying of cancer. The truth is too hard to confess because someone might talk Clementine out of suicide. Clementine only feels comfortable spilling her secrets to her cat Chuckles. The cat is her best friend. Clementine is sure Chuckles is the only one who will miss her. She's done being a burden to everyone else.

Her life is in disarray, but Clementine is sure suicide will be much easier. Her plan is neat and orderly. She gets all her important papers together, sells her furniture, and puts Clementine up for adoption. She trots down to Mexico with Richard in tow to buy drugs to aid her plan. Richard is clueless to her real motives, but can't resist helping Clementine. They will always be tied.

Clementine is so witty and intelligent, it's sad that she thinks suicide is the answer. She can match wits with everybody, even a fellow artist she believes is copying her work. She can also be very blunt. She wonders how good her shrink can be if he's willing to have sex with her (Clementine was also quick to point out how bad the sex was). Not everything is upbeat, Clementine goes through some extreme highs and lows in the 30 days prior to her planned suicide. She tries to find her estranged father, and when they do find each other the experience isn't what Clementine hoped for. The reunion leads to a long-buried secret. The ending, which feels a little rushed, is open to interpretation. Clementine's head is so full of noise, she can't see how much she is loved and will be missed. Suicide is nothing to joke about, but Ream finds a way to make her character engaging and funny. What could easily be a morbid book, is rather witty and worth reading.

Rating: Superb

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

Monday, March 12, 2012

My take on: Outside the Lines

It isn't often that the end of a book makes me want to cry. I wanted to give the characters in Outside the Lines by Amy Hatvany a hug. I was hooked from the very beginning.

Eden West is a successful chef. She has a lot more than most people. Close friends, her own home, a loving brother and a mother and step-father who adore her. But there is a hole in Eden's heart. A hole that can only be filled by her long-lost father David, whose deep descent into mental illness separated him from his daughter. Eden has long believed that her father, who is now homeless, stopped caring about her when she was a child. Their once strong bond was broken by David's suicide attempt, which Eden unfortunately witnessed.

David's mind was in constant turmoil. He wanted to be a good husband to Eden's mother Lydia, but lived in constant fear that he couldn't measure up to his wife's standards. Getting a job and providing for his family by society's standards were impossible. He was an artist, trying to be normal only stifled his creativity. Doctors, medication, and hospitalization worked in short spurts, but eventually he would let the voices in his head take over. Lethargy and constant depression while medicated was no way to live for David. In addition to his art, Eden was the one bright spot in David's life. He could feel a little more like himself around Eden. She wouldn't judge him the way Lydia would. Eden kept his secrets. They could bond together cooking a meal, leading to Eden's love affair with food. But Eden begins taking on more guilt and responsibility than any child should. In her mind, she has to make sure her father feels good, is taking his medication, and continues to paint. She's more like a parent than a child. If she doesn't keep track of him maybe he won't love her anymore. Maybe he will leave the family. If she tries too hard, he might even come to resent Eden.

Now that Eden is in her thirties, she wants to let go of the pain he caused. She wants him back in her life. The search leads Eden to a homeless shelter, run by Jack, a man whom she is instantly smitten with. Volunteering at the shelter is a way for Eden to not only search for her father, but to bring a little joy to her life. Cooking and interacting with people who appreciate it makes Eden feel good about her life, a feel she doesn't get working for her corporate clients.A romantic relationship with Jack doesn't hurt either!

The book is very thought provoking.  Eden's heart is in the right place, but is she really thinking about what would happen if they reunite? She's caught up in how his presence will improve her life. She's not really thinking about her father's life. He attempted suicide because he was in so much pain. Living according to society's standards just wasn't for him. Eden believes once they reunite her father will want to be medicated. Is sacrificing his happiness worth it just so Eden can be happy? Can you really force a person to live the life you want? Once Eden accepts her father's imperfections, maybe she can truly be happy. As the book title suggests, what is wrong with living outside the lines?

Rating: O.M.G. !!!

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

Friday, March 9, 2012

My take on: Pure

The only word that comes to mind after reading Pure by Julianna Baggott is WEIRD. Sometimes it was hard to believe what I was reading. The world has gone haywire in this book. It's a dystopian/post-apocalyptic world. If it ever gets made into a movie it would be a sight to see. A young girl with a doll head where her hand used to be. A young man with birds constantly fluttering on his back. A soldier who can never get rid of his brother because their bodies are fused together. A young man who makes a painful sacrifice just so he can see his mother again.

Powerful detonations have left two kinds of people in the world, the Pures, who live "blissfully" inside a dome, and those who live outside the dome. Outside the dome people are scarred physically and emotionally for life. Outside the dome people live in constant fear and with a sense of hopelessness. No one believes the world will get any better. Pressia, 16, doesn't remember life before the detonations. She's at an age where she should be enjoying life instead Pressia is trying to avoid getting picked up by the resistance. She has a doll head fused to one of her hands as a constant reminder of life since the detonations. She lives amidst the rubble in a barbershop with her grandfather. Pressia's grandfather is her only link to the past. He can remind her of the past. They have a strong bond. They're in danger of being separated. To Pressia, life inside the dome has to be better.

To Partridge, life outside the dome has to be better. His father is the ruler of the dome. People are told how to live, where to live, what to eat, permission has to be granted before you can reproduce. Internally Partridge has always felt differently. Unlike Pressia, Partridge can remember life before the detonations. His mother, whom he has been led to believe is dead, is constantly on his mind. Perhaps if his mother was in his life, Partridge would feel differently. But he feels lonely and incomplete. His father is distant. His brother Sedge "killed" himself. After his father drops the hint that Partridge's mother is still alive, he wants out of the dome. Once out of the dome, Partridge is thrown for a loop. Life outside the dome isn't what he hoped. It's every man for himself outside the dome. The grass isn't always greener on the other side.

Partridge and Pressia eventually band together on a journey to find his mother. They get more out of this trip than they bargained for. They're not fast friends. It takes a while before they trust each other. Does Pressia have an ulterior motive for helping Partridge? Does Partridge have an ulterior motive for accepting Pressia's help? But over time, they learn things about each other.  Pressia is a strong and she is a survivor. Partridge draws on an inner strength that he didn't know he had.

Along this journey there is A LOT OF WEIRDNESS!! Dusts, yes that kind of dust, that kill people. A society of women, whose bodies are fused with their children, that forces people to sacrifice a part of their body in exchange for protection. Soldiers who will hunt people for sport. Sometimes I was staring at this book with my eyes wide open. I couldn't believe what I was reading. Did that just happen? Did she really just write that? Is this really a YA book? That last question I'm unsure. Yes there are young characters, but some parts seem very adult to me. It's a very complex plot, and I probably have to read it again to understand it better. Normally a book like this isn't my cup of tea, but it was an interesting journey.

Rating: Give it a try

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

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My take on: Wanted Women

Until a few months ago, I had never heard of Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Aafia Siddiqui, two Muslim woman juxtaposed in a biography by Deborah Scroggins. Ali, who was born in Somalia, grew to reject her Muslim upbringing as an adult. Siddiqui, who was born in Pakistan, embraced her Muslim upbringing, but from my point of view took it to the extreme. Wanted Women: Faith, Lies & The War on Terror: The Lives of Ayaan Hirsi Ali & Aafia Siddiqui delves into the lives and similarities of these women. I didn't see any concrete similarities between the two. They're both women, they were both raised as Muslims and they are both polarizing figures. But they took very, very, very different paths in their lives.

Ali came of age when Somalia was at war, leading her to seek and gain refugee status in Kenya. But living and working there was not enough, she aspired to have a new life in the Netherlands. Ali eventually became a prominent politician in Holland. How and why Ali came to live in Holland seem to be in dispute. She says she went there to escape an arranged marriage and possible death by an honor killing. Her former husband tells a different story, claiming Ali used him to gain entry into Holland. Her own family says Ali's claims weren't true. What's Ali's defense? It's not totally clear because she refused to speak with Scroggins for this book. But in several media reports, Ali gave conflicting accounts of her past. I didn't know what to believe here, but perhaps Ali's own books offer an explanation.

Ali used her political career to make several attacks against Islam. To her, Islam suppressed women's rights. She wanted women to reject Islam and embrace Western ways. She even went so far as to call the prophet Muhammad a pedophile. Everyone has the right to speak their mind, but sometimes you really have to think before you speak. Making an inflammatory claim like that is just asking for trouble. I was just stunned how she couldn't see that. Her radical views led to her needing bodyguards. Her own family distanced itself from her claims.

Siddiqui is on the other side of the spectrum. She was born in Pakistan, but college-educated in the U.S. She married and had three children. Her husband, Amjad, became a doctor. Outwardly, people might assume she was pursuing the "American" dream but that was not the case. Siddiqui embraced Islam way more than her husband wanted. She believes Jewish people are the cause for the problems of the world. She believed in violent action to bring about change. Her husband tried to play along, thinking she wasn't serious. Her views eventually tore them apart. There didn't seem to be any chance at reasoning with her. Everyone who is isn't Muslim is somehow the enemy.

After her divorce, the U.S. alleges Siddiqui was in contact with the mastermind behind 9/11, eventually marrying a relative of his. The U.S. also alleges she helped plan another attack, one that never came to fruition. I say "alleges" because based on what I've read I'm not sure what to believe. In the years following 9/11, Siddiqui was either in hiding or in a secret prison. Nobody knows for sure or they just aren't telling. She magically appeared again in 2008 after outcry from her family, the media, and Pakistani officials. It just seemed to be a little too convenient. She was captured by Pakistani officials and then tried to kill U.S. military officers, but she was the only one battered, bruised and had a gunshot wound. It just didn't add up for me.

Regardless of what I believe, Siddiqui is serving 86 years in a U.S. Federal prison. I don't agree with her views, but the circumstances that brought her to a U.S. court just seem suspect. Could she have eventually done something harmful if she wasn't in custody? Probably. I'm just not a fan of the suspect methods used here. I believe the U.S. had her in custody for years and when their hands were forced, a case was fabricated. U.S. officials probably weren't sure how to use her. She wasn't going anywhere, just admit you have her in custody and find a legal way to use her as a source of information to prevent further attacks. It's cases like this that make people hate the U.S.

The book shows very well how faith can shape who you are. It is a well-researched and interesting read. Scroggins never interviewed either woman, but still manages to paint a vivid picture of both.

Rating: Superb

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

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

How about a Giveaway?

An Invisible Thread from UMBRASOLUTIONS on Vimeo.

Intrigued? Thanks to Authors on the Web, we have a copy of An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski. How about a little sneak peek of the book?

"'Excuse me lady, do you have any spare change?'
This was the first thing he said to me, on 56th street in New York City, right round the corner from Broadway, on a sunny September day.
And when I heard him, I didn’t really hear him. His words were part of the clatter, like a car horn or someone yelling for a cab. They were, you could say, just noise—the kind of nuisance New Yorkers learn to tune out. So I walked right by him, as if he wasn’t there.
But then, just a few yards past him, I stopped.
And then—and I still don’t know why I did this—I came back.
I came back and I looked at him and I realized he was a child. Earlier, out of the corner of my eye, I had noticed he was young. But now, looking at him, he was just a baby—tiny body, sticks for arms, big round eyes. He wore a burgundy sweatshirt that was smudged and frayed, and ratty burgundy sweatpants to match. He had scuffed white sneakers with untied laces, and his fingernails were dirty. But his eyes were bright and there was a general sweetness about him. He was, I would soon learn, 11 years old.
He stretched his palm towards me and he asked again: “Excuse me lady, do you have any spare change? I am hungry.”
What I said in response may have surprised him, but it really shocked me.
If you’re hungry, I said, I’ll take you to McDonalds and buy you lunch.
“Can I have a cheeseburger?” he asked.
Yes, I said.
“How about a Big Mac?”
That’s okay, too.
“How about a Diet Coke?”
Yes, that’s okay.
“Well, how about a thick chocolate shake and French fries?”
I told him he could have anything he wanted. And then I asked him if I could join him for lunch.
He thought about it for a second.
“Sure,” he finally said.
We had lunch together that day, at McDonalds.
And after that, we got together every Monday.
For the next 150 Mondays.
His name is Maurice, and he changed my life."

The giveaway is open to U.S. and Canada residents. There is no special form. Leave a comment on this post and a winner will be chosen at random by next Tuesday. All I ask is that you be a follower of my blog. Happy reading!!

Monday, March 5, 2012

It's Monday, what's on the cover?

It's been a while since I've done this. I'm still having laptop issues, so my posting will be infrequent. But, it's Monday, so what's on the cover. Lets start with Pure by Julianna Baggott. I wasn't sure what to make of this cover until I started reading it. Took a couple of looks before I realized that is a dome on the cover. I think the butterfly is either trying to get in or get out. Either way the world depicted in this book can't be good can it? Basically a big explosion has destroyed most of the world. Those lucky enough to be in the dome before the incident are called "Pures." If you were outside the dome and survived, some pretty freaky stuff is going on outside. I don't want to give it away yet.  I want to finish the book before I pass judgment, so stay tuned.

There is nothing freaky going on with Outside the Lines by Amy Hatvany. It's a contemporary story. It's a welcome change from all the weirdness in Pure. Nice snapshot on that cover. A young girl on the shoulders of her father. A time of innocence for both of them. The main character in this book is searching for her mentally ill father after years of estrangement. She wants to hold onto the good memories despite her mother wanting her to move on. I'm a sucker for family dramas.

Take that cover literally. The cover of Losing Clementine by Ashley Ream is very blunt. Clementine is planning her suicide. The book starts 30 days before her planned demise. I'm not finished with it, so I hope Clementine doesn't take her life. If I go by the cover, maybe Clementine is just teetering on the edge and is waiting for someone to pull her back. In the first few pages we learn Clementine has gone off her medication, and is thinking "clearly" for the first time in a long time. I really hope someone pulls her back before the end of the book.

Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron takes place in Africa. It's been a while since I read a book set in Africa. It's set in Rwanda during the uprising between the Hutus and the Tutsis. A young boy wants to use his gift for running to lift his family out of their violent community. The trail on the cover looks infinite. It sounds like a simple task to a young mind, but it's harder than he thinks.

Yes I'm reading a lot these days. I want to have a big selection because sometimes I don't want to read the same book every day. Unscripted by Natalie Aaron and Marla Schwartz isn't as serious as my other selections, but so far it's engrossing. Abby trying to work her way up the television ladder. It's not without bumps, some of them very funny. Judging from that cover, Abby is about to engage in a little romance!!