Monday, December 30, 2013

The Best and Worst of 2013

GOODBYE 2013, HELLO 2014

It's that time of year already. All I can think about is where did the year go? Where am I at life and career-wise? Grad school is tough, but I'm in a better groove than I was last year. I'm hoping to graduate next fall, but it's looking more like next spring. I don't have that full-time book publishing job yet, but I have the next best thing....a paid internship in children's publishing!!!

I hope to reach my reading goals by the time this post goes live. I set a goal of 60 books and I am currently stuck at 59. I'm about to go out of town, so I have to write this post a little early. I should finish at least one or two more books before the clock strikes midnight on January 1st!!

There are so many books I did not get to. Some days I want to read every book out there. Obviously that is not possible!! But of the books I read, some I read were great and some were not so great......

(Note not every book on this list was released in 2013, but I just happened to read them in 2013)

Top 13 books of 2013

1. Parlor Games by Maryka Biaggio -- Love, love, love, loved this book. Historical fiction inspired by a real-life female con artist? I was all in on this story. May Dugas was not a con artist, she was just misunderstood and misguided!!

2. Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson -- More historical fiction!! Sensing a pattern here? This one takes place during World War II. It was an emotional read. How do you find the strength to go on after a heart-breaking betrayal? Read the book to find out!

3. Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvany -- Jodi Picoult is my favorite writer, but Amy Hatvany could soon supplant her. Amy Hatvany is equally adept at capturing the complex nature of families. Read this book!!

4. Broken CJ Lyons -- I've never read a book by CJ Lyons before, but I will again. Broken is her YA debut. I was able to figure out the mystery/thriller angle in this book, but the suspense was well-played.

5. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty -- As I said in my review, it's very easy to guess the secret in The Husband's Secret. I was on the fence with this book because it was so easy to guess the secret. But by the end I chose a side and was glad I stuck it out with this book.

6. A Trick of the Light by Lois Metzger -- This was a refreshing take on the teenage perspective. The main
character is a teenage boy suffering from anorexia. The
little voice in this boy's head is trying to drag him down. But his family is fighting to save him. Who will he listen to?

7. The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes -- More historical fiction!! A World War I painting of a woman long forgotten by her country stirs up controversy for a young widow.

8. And Then I Found You by Patti Callahan Henry -- Katie is haunted by a decision she made in the past. Soon her past will catch up with her future!! Another great family drama!!

9. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline -- I learned about a controversial piece of U.S. history. From the late 1850s to the 1920s, orphaned children in overcrowded cities were put on trains to be "adopted" in cities throughout the U.S. The adoptions were more like indentured servitude.

10. A Far Piece to Canaan by Sam Halpern -- A
story of friendship that's reminiscent of the movie Stand By Me!!

11. Friday's Harbor by Diane Hammond -- My first foray into animal fiction was a great one.

12. The Dogs of WInter by Bobbie Pyron -- A young boy is forced to fend for himself and his dogs on the cold streets of Moscow. Reading the book, you might think the streets were the perfect place for him but this sweet, innocent boy really needed guidance and supervision.

13. The Banks of Certain Rivers by Jon Harrison -- The life and reputation of a single father changes in an instant. How can he solve his problems before he loses everything?

Honorable mention:  The Book of Someday by Dianne Dixon,  The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski,  Dizzy by Arthur Wooten,  The Language of Sisters by Amy Hatvany, and Dancing to the Flute by Manisha Jolie Amin

The not-so good books of 2013

1. Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas -- I did not finish this book. It was torture to get through. This women seemed more like a self-absorbed jerk than a sociopath.

2. In Darkness by Nick Lake -- I actually did not review this one on my blog. I had to read it for one of my classes. I did not like it. The main character in this book was a teenage gang member. At times I felt sorry for him, but by the end I didn't like him at all.

3. The Doll by Taylor Stevens -- Although this is a thriller, I felt like I was reading an episode of Scandal. I know I'll take some hits for saying this, but I don't watch Scandal because I can't take the frenetic pace of the show. I don't like slow plot lines in my books, but I also don't like books that move too fast. The plot lines in The Doll were too fast for my taste.

4. However Long the Night by Aimee Molloy -- If this were a long-form journalism piece in the New Yorker, I would have felt differently about this. But it just didn't read like a biography to me.

5. Dark Tide by Elizabeth Haynes -- There were no thrills or suspense in this one for me. The ending was such a big letdown.

6. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter -- I know a lot of people like this one, but it wasn't that great to me. I think this would work better as a movie than a book.

What books were on your list?? 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Please welcome C.J. Lyons

Today C.J. Lyons, the author of several adult books, is stopping by my blog to talk about her YA debut Broken!!
Here is the question I asked: I wondering if you could talk about the switch from writing for adults to teenagers. Did you have to change your writing style in anyway? Are there certain things creatively that you can/can't write about for teens?
CJ: I’ve always loved reading YA and everyone kept telling me that as a pediatrician, I should write it. But honestly, I never found a story that I thought was worthy of my kids—my patients—until BROKEN. Writing for kids is tons
tougher than writing for adults. Most grownups read for entertainment, but kids read for so much more. They want to vicariously experience the world and the choices they’ll be expected to make as adults as well as learn who they are and how they can fit into that larger universe once they’re the ones in charge.

Funny thing is, once I began BROKEN and found my YA voice (very different than my adult thrillers’ narrative voice), I realized I could be much more emotionally honest than with my adult work—which also meant I could tell edgier stories. After finishing BROKEN, I now have ideas for more YA thrillers and can’t wait to write them!
Unlike my adult thrillers, I actually find that I can go deeper and darker emotionally with YA, which is a lot of fun—just goes to show that you can still have the thriller pacing and adrenalin rush without it all being car chases and explosions.
I don’t think there’s anything off limits for YA—it’s all in how you handle the topic. After all, teens are pretty smart, they see the same things on TV and online that adults do, so what’s important isn’t to try to hide topics from them but to empower teens to understand and make good choices.
For instance, I just turned in DAMAGED, my second YA Thriller, and this one was so hard to write! It deals with two kids, Jesse and Miranda, being black mailed by a cyber-predator using capping (screen capture images) and how they find the courage to stand up to him (with the help of their parents). They go through hell and some of the things that happen to them were so painful to write that I was weeping as I typed—but then I was crying again when I wrote the ending as they rose above it all and triumphed.

About CJ:
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of twenty-one novels, former pediatric ER doctor CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart.
Winner of the International Thriller Writers’ coveted Thriller Award, CJ has been called a "master within the genre" (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as "breathtakingly fast-paced" and "riveting" (Publishers Weekly) with "characters with beating hearts and three dimensions" (Newsday).
Learn more about CJ's Thrillers with Heart at

My take on: Broken

I've never read a book by CJ Lyons before, but I know I will again. I knew she wrote adult thrillers and her latest, Broken, is her YA debut. I went into this book with a certain expectation and was completely surprised by the ending.

What was the surprise? I can't tell you without spoiling the book!! However, I can tell you all what I loved about the book before the ending.

Fifteen-year-old Scarlet Killian is finally getting the chance to be a normal teenager. After years spent battling a rare heart ailment, Scarlet is battling her toughest challenge -- high school. Her mother (technically she is her step-mother but in every way that counts she is her mom)  has dedicated her life to keeping Scarlet alive, almost to the point of obsession. Her father loves her, but spends most of his time working. They've done all they can to keep Scarlet in a cocoon. But Scarlet desperately wants out. No more home-schooling, no more pills, no more hospitals, no more special diets, and no longer feeling like a freak. Scarlet thinks high school will be the answer to all her problems. The social cliques, the jocks, the nerds, the cheerleaders, the freaks, and the bullies are more than enough to deal with for normal teenagers...and Scarlet wants to be a part of it. Scarlet's parents have given in, but only for a week. If Scarlet can make it through the seven days without a setback, she just might have a shot at being a normal teenager.

Seven days is a long time in Scarlet's world. One moment she could be feeling just fine, the next her heart could skip more than a couple of beats, and worst of all her heart could kill her.

On the first day of school Scarlet makes friends and enemies. Nessa, Celina, Jordan, and Tony are Scarlet's closest allies. They confide in each other and they stand up for each other, which is a good thing. Mitch, a football jock, makes it his mission to torment Scarlet. I just wanted to punch Mitch. He constantly mocks Scarlet's heart condition. I found that to be a stretch of the imagination. I know times have changed drastically since I was in high school. Bullying has gotten worse and more high-tech since my time. But it's so hard for me to accept that teenagers would make mock someone with a deadly illness.

It doesn't get any easier for Scarlet considering her mother is the school nurse. Scarlet always has to have her guard up at school. Her mother could come out of nowhere at any moment. She doesn't mean to embarrass Scarlet, but it always seems to happen. She's afraid to let go of Scarlet. So much of her time has been spent trying to keep Scarlet alive, she doesn't really know how to let her live. Scarlet's mom would rather keep her daughter in a protective bubble, than let her grow up. Scarlet never got to go through that awkward teenage stage. Scarlet never got to develop social skills. Essentially, Scarlet never got to be Scarlet.

High school awakens a rebellious streak in Scarlet. She can defy her mother in little ways and still have a chance at becoming a normal teenager. That rebellious streak leads to Scarlet discovering a long-buried family secret. Just one of the many twists to this book. Plot-wise, Scarlet's struggles with high school would have been enough for me. The twists just made for a more complex and enjoyable read. I can't say more without giving away too much. But I will say that you should read this book!!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received an e-ARC from the publisher (Sourcebooks) in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

My take on: Lies You Wanted to Hear

Sometimes it helps to hear a lie instead of the truth. It hurts to hear the truth. Sometimes it makes you feel better to be in denial. Eventually you start to believe the lies told to you. You start telling your own lies, and you begin to believe those too. What happens when those lies catch up to you? Will your world totally collapse? Will you have the strength to pick up the pieces?

All of that and more is going on in Lies You Wanted to Hear by James Whitefield Thomson.

Matt was a man who lived by rules and reason. He stays inside the lines. But after a blind date with the free-spirited Lucy, Matt is immediately smitten. Lucy is wild. Lucy is outspoken. Lucy doesn't take life too seriously. Lucy is the opposite of Matt. Reading the book, I thought he should just run from her. Lucy is still pining away for her on-again off-again boyfriend Griffin. Matt is more of a distraction for Lucy than actual boyfriend material. Matt is the man you take home to meet your parents. Griffin is the man you sneak around with in the backseats of cars and seedy motel rooms. But Lucy doesn't want to hurt Matt. She can't find reasons to end their relationship. She keeps telling herself that one day the sparks will fly. One day Lucy will wonder what her life was like without Matt -- that is until Griffin comes back.

Griffin has a psychological and emotional hold over Lucy. There is a place inside her heart that Matt can never reach. But life has a funny way of working out. A surprise pregnancy forces Lucy to make a choice. A choice between a safe and secure life with Matt or a drug-fueled and unstable one with Griffin. For the sake of her unborn child, Lucy chooses Matt. But was it the right choice? Lucy tries to convince herself that the life of a suburban housewife was the right choice. She loves her children, Sarah and Nathan, but still feels disconnected from them and from Matt. Why can't she be like other mothers? A bout of depression nearly ruins her marriage. She resents Matt and his cheerful disposition. She hates him for always being the responsible one in the marriage. It's like she's looking for a reason to leave him. She's looking for a reason to leave her safe and secure life.

Of course Griffin comes back to stir the pot. Their affair offers Lucy a way out of the marriage. But at what cost? Divorce and custody proceedings bring Matt to his breaking point. He makes a very desperate choice.


If you're still reading, don't say I didn't warn you. Some reviews I've seen tell of this next plot point. To me it's a bit of a spoiler, so I decided to put in a little warning.

Matt decides to kidnap the kids and change their identities. He's telling himself that it's for the sake of the kids. But is that the truth? In his mind he's protecting the kids. He's taking them away from an irresponsible parent. He's taking them away from her dangerous boyfriend. He's not punishing Lucy. This is what Lucy deserves. He had the right to do this.

The book is told from Lucy and Matt's perspective. Each person believes they are the wronged party. Sometimes they fail to see the part they played in the demise of their relationship. Lucy was certainly an absent-minded parent, but does that mean she deserves the ultimate punishment of having her children taken away? I went back-and-forth with this book. One moment I'm on Matt's side and the next I'm on Lucy's. Who is right here? Neither one of them. They could only see what was being done to them. Sometimes this felt like the TV movie of the week, but it was an emotional and engaging read.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received an e-galley from the publisher (Sourcebooks) in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

My take on: Once We Were Brothers

Imagine looking at the face of the person you once trusted with your life. Then imagine looking at that person and not recognizing who they are. The person you once loved like family betrays you in the worst possible way. Years later you find the strength to go on, but that betrayal still cuts you to the bone. One day you want to see that person pay for their crimes not just against you and your family, but against humanity. But bringing that person to justice could be the hardest fight of your life.

In Ronald H. Balson's thoroughly engrossing novel Once We Were Brothers, Ben Solomon makes it his life's mission to bring Elliot Rosenzweig to justice for his crimes as a Nazi officer.

Now living in Chicago, 83-year-old Ben should be enjoying his retirement. His beloved wife, Hannah, is gone physically, but he still holds onto to the memories of her. He even speaks to her. It might seem strange to some, but Ben often finds strength and inspiration in these conversations. That's how Ben knows the journey he is about to embark on is the right one.

Growing up in the small town of Zamosc, Poland, family was important. Ben has never forgotten Otto Piatek, the man he once considered a brother. The man Ben's father raised as his own after being abandoned by his parents. The man he once shared a room with. The man he once played with. But with the threat of war, that man slowly changed and ultimately became known as "The Butcher of Zamosc." Ben's own father convinced Otto to join Hitler's army, believing that the man he considered to be family could find a way to protect them. Initially he did, but slowly Otto changed. His help waned. A once kind and sympathetic person turned into a cold, ruthless, and brutal killer. Ben could never forget his actions and he could never forget his face.

"...we must remain diligent and relentlessly pursue men like Piatek. Evil is contagious. Much like a pathogen, it must be snuffed out at the source." -- Pg. 139

It's easy to say that the war has ended, but for some the memory will never end.

The war is long over but the memories of the past are never far from Ben's consciousness. When he spots a man who looks exactly like Otto Piatek on television, Ben is determined to bring him to justice. The man he once knew is now known as Elliot Rosenzweig, an influential and wealthy Chicago businessman. Ben wants the world to know the kind of man Elliot really is. But how? His initial attempts to bring attention to his cause are met with resistance and Ben just looks like a crazy old man. A crazy old man that attorney Catherine Lockhart can't ignore. Catherine is rebuilding her career and getting bogged down with a dog of a lawsuit isn't what she needs right now. But there is something about Ben. She wants to believe him. Believing in him gives Catherine more confidence within.

This is a thoroughly engrossing story. I'm such a sucker for World War II fiction. When Ben tells his story, Catherine is transported back to wartime Poland right along with him -- and so was I. There is just the right mix of suspense and heart-breaking emotion. As a character, Ben is the strongest. No matter the obstacle he refused to give up. Living under Nazi rule, he always found a way to protect his family. In the face of brutal torture in a prison camp, he found a way to survive. Faced with endless legal battles and actual physical danger at the hands of Otto/Elliot, Ben still wouldn't give up. He could not be bought. Unlike Otto, there was no price that could be paid for Ben's soul. He has to keep going, until "The Butcher of Zamosc" is brought to justice. Catherine draws her strength from Ben and her friend Liam, a private investigator. Every time Catherine doubts herself and her abilities as a lawyer, Ben and Liam are there to reassure her.

At times this was hard to read. I wanted to look away, but I kept going because I was totally captivated by this moving and emotional story.

Rating: O.M.G. !!!

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

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

My take on: Friday's Harbor

Nearly 20 years ago, I went on one of many family trips to Orlando, Florida. I went to Disney World, Universal Studios, and Sea World. For some dumb reason I thought it would be a good idea to sit in the first row at Sea World. I thought it would be cool to be splashed by Shamu (or maybe it was one of his descendants). My 11-year-old brain didn't think about the consequences. STUPID!!! I walked around for the rest of the day wet, with stringy hairy, and dry skin due to the saltwater. Why am I bringing any of this up? Reading Friday's Harbor by Diane Hammond brought back the memory!

Recently, I watched the documentary Blackfish, which is about Tilikum -- a whale in captivity at Sea World. The documentary and this book left me with such a deep respect for killer whales. The documentary certainly painted the dark side of killer whales. Friday's Harbor did the same thing, for me, but in a softer and more playful manner.

In this book, Viernes a.k.a Friday is slowly dying in his small pool in Bogota, Colombia. He's a big creature, but utterly alone. The dolphins attack him. His dorsal fin has folded over. His skin is full of lesions. The rich, eccentric, but kind-hearted Ivy Levy makes it her mission to help Friday. Her nephew Truman, is the new director of a zoo in a small town in Washington state. With significant financial help from Aunt Ivy, Truman gives Friday a new home and a chance at a prolonged life. Gabriel Jump leads a team of trainers, including Truman's girlfriend Neva, to nurse Friday back to health. There is a lot of excitement surrounding the whale's arrival. Excitement leads to more people waiting to buy tickets and of course more ticket sales mean more revenue. It should be a win-win for the zoo and the town, but nothing is ever easy.

A rather odd woman named Libertine Adagio feels a connection to Friday. In fact, she feels a connection to all animals. I know a whale isn't an animal, but for these purposes indulge me! Some people see Libertine as an animal psychic, but she sees herself as an animal communicator. She can tell if the animal is happy or sad. She goes where she is called to. Friday is calling her. To start, Truman, Gabriel, and Neva think Libertine is a little bit wackadoo!! I thought the same thing. She has a sweet demeanor. Despite her strong convictions, she is also rather shy. Ivy is immediately drawn to Libertine. Perhaps one oddball can attract another! It is Ivy who convinces Truman and Gabriel to let Libertine volunteer at the zoo. It's then that I began to wonder if that was Libertine's plan all along. As nice as she seems, Libertine also associates with some more extreme animal rights activists. Is taking the volunteer job part of a larger scheme to sabotage the zoo? It's hard to come to that conclusion. Libertine hates seeing animals in captivity, but she comes to see that is what's best for Friday. He's not in danger; Friday is in fact thriving.

I'm pretty sure this is my first foray into animal fiction, and I definitely want to take another trip. Friday's Harbor is actually the sequel to Hannah's Dream, but I don't think you need to know too much about the first book to read this one. Although this is a work of fiction, the author never fails to remind readers that one can never underestimate a killer whale. A once sullen Friday, slowly becomes more playful and rebellious. Diane Hammond shows how one must respect this beautiful creature, but in a humorous and heartwarming way.

Rating: Superb

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

Monday, November 4, 2013

My take on: The Girl You Left Behind

Sometimes I'm a bad, bad blogger. I should have finished The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes sooner!!

At the height of World War I, a small French town is under the tight control of German soldiers. There is little food to go around. There is little information about the war. One woman, Sophie Lefevre, is determined to go on. She and her sister, Helene, run a small hotel and restaurant. They do the best they can to shield their children from the horrors of the war. Sophie's husband Edouard is off fighting in the war for France. Sophie knows she will see him again. All she has to hold onto is the portrait Edouard painted of her. Everyday she stares at the painting, wondering if she will ever be that girl again. The girl in that picture didn't have to fear German soldiers. The girl in that picture didn't have to worry where her next meal was coming from. The girl in that picture was happier and prettier. The girl in that picture is gone.

A German soldier also admires Sophie and the painting. He admires the girl she used to be. He forces Sophie and Helene to cook for his men, in exchange the family gets the uneaten scraps. His admiration leads to late-night talks with Sophie. She comes to see a softer side of a man that is supposedly evil. Maybe he can help her see Edouard again. Maybe Sophie is naive to believe this man can help her. But in times like this what is left but hope? In my opinion, this is where the mystery comes in. I wanted to be hopeful for Sophie, but I was also waiting for the other shoe to drop. When and how is her hope going to be shattered? Will she go to a prison camp like so many others in the town? Sophie's storyline alone is so engrossing and sad.

Before there is any resolution to Sophie's story, the present-day angle takes over. Liv Halston has an equally sad story to tell. Her husband David died suddenly four years ago. She spends her days holed up in the glass house he built. Occasionally copy-writing jobs and some charity work breakup the monotony of Liv's life. When she's alone in her bedroom, she stares up at the one thing she could never part with -- a painting. Yes that painting! Sophie's painting has changed hands multiple times and is now known as The Girl You Left Behind. In a twist of fate, Liv takes a chance on a renewed friendship and a chance on love. Mo, a rather eccentric waitress, comes back into Liv's life at just the right time. Mo is funny and messy -- just what Liv needs. Mo also becomes an accidentally roommate, one who isn't afraid confront Liv.

The handsome Paul McCafferty is immediately smitten by Liv. It's finally Ok for Liv to be happy again. But fate will intervene. Paul just happens to work for a company that hunts down stolen artwork. Want to take a guess on what his latest assignment is? I found that part to be just a little too convenient. He didn't intentionally fall in love with Liv. He didn't intentionally cozy up to her in order to get the painting back. But the author certainly intended for this to happen, which I found to be a little weird. Other than that plot point, I didn't have any problems with this book.

Ultimately, Liv feels betrayed by Paul. How can someone take away a painting that Liv has owned for years? A legal battle ensues over the painting. It's hard to understand an attachment to a thing, but Liv certainly has one. She seems attached to Sophie. She sees something in Sophie that no else does. She doesn't know everything about Sophie, but Liv feels a deep connection to the girl in the painting. Both women were left behind. Both women are clinging to the lives they used to lead. No matter the obstacles, both women are determined to find some peace.

I connected more with Sophie's character. Sophie did more with less. She didn't let the opinions of others bring her down. I found Liv to be just a bit annoying and I thought she whined just a little bit too much. Jojo Moyes did a great job of blending a historical narrative with a present-day narrative. It also has just the right blend of romance and mystery. Overall, this was well-written and at times heart-breaking. After reading this, I have to read Jojo Moyes' last book Me Before You !!

Rating: Superb

Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Penguin). The Girl You Left Behind is also the October book club selection for She Reads.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

DNF: Confessions of a Sociopath

Happy Halloween!! I know it's been a while since I posted. Sorry!! Sometimes school and other obligations take up my attention. I'm always reading though!!

On to the business at hand!! This isn't a review of a horror book, but I was a bit scared by this woman's thought process.

I had high hopes for Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas. The title alone caught my attention. I was also intrigued by the cover. Who is the person behind the mask? This is a memoir by a diagnosed sociopath. I'll confess, I don't really know the definition for sociopath. It's a term that I hear tossed about on TV a lot. After attempting to read this book, I think the term sociopath is taken rather lightly in popular culture.

On the surface, M.E. Thomas (not her real name by the way) admits that she is a rather ordinary person. She's not a criminal. She probably looks just like everyone else. She is religious. She is an attorney and a professor of law. She goes about her day just like everybody else. But she's not like most people, she lacks traits and emotions that most of us take for granted. She lacks a conscious. She lacks empathy. She's a huge manipulator. She enjoys risky behavior. She comes across as a social person, but is anti-social at heart. She has had dreams of killing people. She is also rather full of herself. Honestly, that sounds like a lot of people and most of them are probably on Wall Street!! But this woman did go to a psychologist and was diagnosed as a sociopath.

I could not get through the whole book. When I read a memoir, I want to feel some empathy for the writer or at least to be more knowledgeable about the person than I was before. It's hard to feel empathy for a person who doesn't feel it herself. M.E. Thomas is very self-aware and honest in her writing. I think it is very brave of her to subject herself to scrutiny. But as honest as I find her writing, I also find it to be very narcissistic.

"I think I am pretty realistic about my intelligence. I am probably smarter than you, dear reader, but I know that in the rare instance this will not be true. I accept that there are many more kinds of intelligence than just raw brainpower (which of course I have in spades), but I do not necessarily respect them all." Pgs. 14-15

That quote is very early in the book, but I still gave it a chance. I kept on reading for about 90 more pages. There just reached a point when I couldn't take it anymore. I hate to stop reading a book, but the author was making me angry. I know I have to remember, she is not an ordinary person. It's hard to read a book by a person who comes across as unlikeable. The book also includes a lot of medical research and terminology in the book. The book feels very clinical in its approach, even when it comes to her childhood. I just could not get into the book. After a while it felt like a chore to read this book. Maybe in a few months I can try again, but for right now I have to walk away from it.

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Random House)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

My take on: The Wedding Gift

A young girl born into slavery wants more out of life. She wants to walk without being watched. She wants to earn a living without being watched. She wants to go beyond the gates of the plantation without fear of being whipped. She wants to be free mentally, emotionally, and physically. This girl, Sarah Campbell, is a dreamer.

Theodora Allen, the wife of Cornelius, is also a bit of a dreamer. She dreams of days spent playing with her future grandchildren. She wants a closer relationship with her sons. She wants a respectable husband for her daughter, Clarissa. Most of all, she dreams of the day when her opinions will matter. A day when her husband, the master of a large plantation, will listen to her speak rather than beating her into submission.

Author Marlen Suyapa Bodden transports readers back to 1850s Alabama in The Wedding Gift. It was a time when slavery was a way of life in the South, but it was also a time of shame in the North. Free men and women and white Southerners who spoke against slavery did so at their own risk. In their own way, Sarah and Theodora were risk takers; Sarah for believing that slavery won't rule her life forever and Theodora for finding her voice amongst strong-willed men.

Despite her circumstances, Sarah was a very inquisitive child. She asked questions when others wouldn't. She wants to know why her mother, Emmeline, goes to Master Allen's room at night? Sarah wants to know why their family, including her sister Belle, can't be free? Why can't she learn to read like Clarissa? Why do the other slaves make fun of Sarah's fair skin? And why does Sarah look so much like Clarissa? Reading a book like this in 2013, it's hard to imagine that this was a way life. I can't imagine someone trying to limit not just my ability to learn but my freedom.

If not for the kindness of Theodora, Sarah would never have blossomed into an intelligent young woman. Theodora allowed Sarah to sit in during Clarissa's lessons. It was at great personal risk to herself, but Theodora could see it made Sarah and Clarissa happy. So what if Sarah became smarter? Theodora was just too kind-hearted to say no. The ability to read and write were very powerful weapons during slavery. It's a weapon that Sarah uses to her advantage. Even when Clarissa gets married and Sarah is forced to go with her to a new plantation, Sarah knows her intelligence will pay off. Clarissa's marriage was one of convenience and shame, not a marriage out of love or passion. Sarah doesn't pass judgment on Clarissa, instead she's methodically plotting her physical and mental escape from the Allen family.

By the time I reached the last chapter, I wasn't that enamored with this book. In some parts, I felt the pacing was slow. But when I got to the last two pages, I had to completely change my mind. There is a HUGE plot twist within the last two pages. I'm not going to give it away, but the last two pages totally changed my mind about the book. The writer asks readers not to judge the characters through the eyes of today, but through the past. If you were in the position of these characters, certainly you would have acted just like them. You would do anything to survive. You would do anything to make sure those who betrayed you paid for their actions. By the end, I saw Sarah's character in a different light. She's no longer this sweet and determined person. She morphed into a young woman with a severe mean streak. I didn't know if I should be sympathetic toward her character, or to hate her.

I definitely recommend reading it!! When you do, tell me what you think of the ending!!

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book at BookExpo America

Monday, October 14, 2013

My take on: Extracted

I'm not even sure how to start this review. Some books are just so far out of my comfort zone, that I'm not sure what to say about them. Extracted by Sherry D. Ficklin and Tyler H. Jolley is one of those books. It's not a bad book, it's just different from what I normally read.

Looking at the cover, I thought this was a science fiction or steampunk novel. There is definitely a story there, and an air of mystery.

The Tesla Institute trains a special group of young adults called Rifters. They're trained in the art of time travel. They protect the time stream. I seriously wanted to write that they're protecting "the space time continuum." While I was reading this, I couldn't help but think about the movie series Back to the Future. Where was Marty with the DeLorean? As you can see, I don't read too many books about time travel. In this book, traveling back and forth to different time periods is the norm. Some students have fantasies of altering some moments (ex: the sinking of the Titanic) in history, but they are warned against it. Changing history could put the entire universe in jeopardy. Plus, you don't want to run into a younger version of yourself in the time stream like Marty McFly. See why I kept thinking of Back to the Future!!! The Hollows, a rival faction of time travelers, are doing just that. Members of the Hollows don't care if they are messing with time. All they want is to find Tesla and take control of the time stream.

Lex, a member of the Hollows, and Ember, a Rifter, are tied together, but they don't know how. Ember is constantly haunted by nightmares. Could they be nightmares from her past? Are they a glimpse into her future? She's strong when she needs to be, but the nightmares can be crippling. Lex is forced into enemy territory when his girlfriend, Stein, dies during a mission. To get her back, Lex has to steal the Dox, which can allow time travelers to re-enter their own timeline.

I'll be honest, I had to re-read some parts. I just wanted to make sure I didn't miss something. I'm so used to contemporary stories; it just takes me some time to understand  more complex plots. What wasn't complex is the character interaction, which was great. Ember is surrounded by a great group of friends. Ethan is overly confident, but Ember isn't afraid to banter back and forth with him. Her friend Kara can be a little maddening, but she is a true friend to Ember. Lex has the same level of camaraderie with Stein and Nobel, so it makes sense he is willing to into enemy territory for his girlfriend. Overall, this is a fun and engaging read. It's also good that I stepped outside of my comfort zone, otherwise I would be cutting myself off from some very worthy books!!

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book at BookExpo America as part of a blog tour with the publisher (Spencer Hill Press)

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Day in the Life of author Angela Correll

Please welcome Angela Correll author of Grounded. 

My favorite time to write is early in the morning when my mind is clear and fresh, like a white palette ready for color. With a steaming mug of coffee and a laptop, I settle into a big comfy chair and prop my feet on the ottoman.  I put words down with little worry about how it flows. That will come later during the revisions.
Most of the time, I know the general direction, but that could change as I let it take it’s own organic shape, depending on the characters and how they tell their stories.  I don’t always know what’s coming and sometimes it’s a surprise!
          Around two or three hours is about my limit unless I am pushing through to finish a section. Then I leave it until the next morning and allow it to
simmer, just like a pot of vegetable soup. The next morning I read over the previous work and see what needs to be added or taken away, like tasting the soup to see if it needs a pinch of something.
But the actual writing is only a part of the process. Just as important are chunks of time to think. Long walks, bathtub soaks, and driving trips give me time to percolate the story and let characters develop their own personalities. Sometimes this is where the plot takes an unexpected turn or some piece of the symbolism fits together.  For type A personalities, this part is hard to carve out because we want to produce something on the laptop screen, but the value is exponential.
Another part is observation. I write about a farming community in Kentucky, so I need to know when the Walnut trees bloom in the spring and when the leaves fall in the autumn. Weaving in the season with what is happening in the setting is important for giving a sense of place.  I pay close attention to my surroundings when I am writing about a particular season so I can bring the reader and all of his or her senses into this area at a certain time.
Observing people is also a key aspect.  I am in an area where dialect is rich and colorful and colloquialisms are as plentiful as the bluegrass. Listening to how people pronounce words, the cadence of their speech, facial expressions and body language is part of my job if I want to write something true to the place.
After all these things go in to make a manuscript, then the revisions begin. Sometimes characters get dropped or sidelined to tighten the story, or maybe a subplot is changed to fit the theme better. Being open to these changes is imperative to making the story better. Sometimes I can see this myself but many times it takes multiple outside readers to weigh in and when I see a consistent theme, I take the advice to heart.  The revisions take as long as it takes. And even then, your publisher will have more to make. The story is not done until it is finally in print and on the bookshelf.
A day in the life of a writer might be filled with any of the above parts, but I would be remiss if I missed one of the most important: Marketing.
For those of us who are introverts, we have a rich inner life but the thought of going out there and having to sell something is like being forced to go into the barnyard with a flogging rooster. Actually, that might be preferable. But it’s part of the whole package, and even more so these days as publishers are slimming down their publicity departments to the bare bones.
But even that part can be fun. Getting to meet readers who want to talk about the book and the characters, listening to folks who desire to write and don’t know how to get started, and being inspired for the next book by the urgings from readers.
           Every day can be different, but this is one writer who is happy to be on the journey.

My take on: Almost True Confessions

An amateur sleuth with a knack for spotting grammatical errors? It might sound strange, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading about copy editor Miranda "Rannie" Bookman and her adventures in Almost True Confessions by Jane O'Connor.

This is the second in a series, but I don't think you need to read the first book to understand this one. Why did I enjoy the book? As a former newspaper copy editor and as someone trying to get into book publishing, I totally get her humor. If I see a mistake in a newspaper article or book, I just want to fix it. I'm sure I've made plenty of grammar mistakes on this blog, but I do my best to limit them. In the book, Rannie cringes at the sight or sound of improper grammar. All I could do was laugh. Like all copy editors, she has her quirks. She only works with a certain kind of pencil. She also has a deep addiction to peanut butter and jelly!!

Rannie is just a single mother trying to scrape by as a freelance copy editor. She used to rub elbows with all the top editors and authors at publishing house Simon & Schuster. A BIG-TIME error on the cover of an anniversary edition of the Nancy Drew classic The Secret of the Old Clock, led to Rannie's downfall. Just imagine the word "clock" without the "l." It's not the best word to have on a children's classic! But Ellen Donahoe, an editor at Simon & Schuster, is still on Rannie's side. They're good friends. Ellen also supplies Rannie with a steady diet of freelance work. Rannie's latest assignment is to edit the manuscript of the reclusive Ret Sullivan, an author known for her high-profile biographies. Ret was horribly disfigured after Mike Bellettra, an actor and the subject of one of her biographies, attacked her. One hundred-year-old, socialite, and philanthropist Charlotte Cummings is the latest target of Ret's prose.

Before Rannie can even get started, Ret is murdered. Is it just a coincidence? Is there something hidden in the manuscript? Another murder shortly after Ret's is just too much for Rannie. The second victim was very close to Rannie. She can't stay out of the investigation. Her boyfriend, Tim, also a former cop, warns Rannie at every turn to stay out of it. She's a copy editor, not a detective. I felt like the murders were secondary. The real action, charm, and intrigue is within Rannie's own life. Her daughter, Alice, is away at college and her son, Nate, is almost out of the house. Tim is the steady voice of reason. Her mother-in-law, Mary, provides plenty of comic relief with her gaggle of semi-intoxicated, rich friends. Rannie's mother, Harriet, is in town after a horrible but funny experience with online dating.

Can a copy editor truly double as an amateur sleuth? In real life, I don't think so. But I was engrossed in this fictional world. I don't think Rannie set out to uncover a murder plot. She keeps getting pulled back in. The clues present themselves at odd times and places. A suspect is offered up pretty quickly, but I had my doubts about that person. It seemed a little too easy and too convenient. I was disappointed in the ending. It felt a little abrupt. Everything gets wrapped up in just a few pages. I'm not always a fan of that. Overall, it's a light and easy read. I could see myself reading another book in the series.

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, October 4, 2013

My take on: January First

It's hard to put into words my thoughts on January First by Michael Schofield. I can't help but feel sorry for January "Jani" Schofield, her brother, Bodhi, and her parents Michael and Susan. At just age six, Jani was diagnosed with schizophrenia. It took months and months of violent outbursts, hallucinations, and suicide attempts before Jani was given a definitive diagnosis. The path to get there was long and fraught with hopelessness.

I've seen a lot about this family on various television shows, but I think those programs only scratched the surface. I think the book goes much deeper than a television show can. The book is solely from Michael Schofield's perspective. I definitely felt like I was in his head. I could totally understand why he and his wife felt like giving up. Jani's violence was just so unpredictable. A cry or a whimper from her little brother was enough to set her off. If she didn't get to hit or throw something at Bodhi, Jani just couldn't rest. She has to hit him or her mind can't rest. When her parents tried to protect their infant son, Jani is quick to hit them -- violently.

Jani lives in her own world -- Calalini. She has a lot of friends in that world, something she lacked in the real world. Rats, cats, dogs, and whatever else Jani's mind could conjure live in this world. It's very real to Jani, but getting her to live in the real world was an enormous challenge for her parents. Their efforts to get help seem like an indictment on the mental health profession in this country. Her parents got a first-hand look at the lack of treatment for children as young as Jani. Diagnosing her with such a severe mental illness seemed to be the last thing doctors wanted to do. It had to be autism. Maybe it was ADHD. Maybe it was anxiety. It just can't be schizophrenia, despite a history of it on both sides of the family.

I could tell how much Michael and Susan loved their daughter. It seemed like Jani was a little closer to Michael than Susan. I don't think it's unusual for a child to cling more to one parent over the other. In this case, I think Michael's deep attachment left him with the inability to be objective. Michael got to go work, while Susan was left at home with two young children. Sometimes I felt like he was blaming his wife for things and that he was playing the role of martyr. She has two parents who worry about her, but in reading this book sometimes it felt like one. With this book, there is only one perspective to follow. I really wish they had written the book together. I'm sure there is a reason why they didn't. How men and women see things can often be totally different. Based on this book, Susan was definitely at her breaking point but she also seemed more rational. I hate to play a certain card, but I have to. Michael Schofield suffers from depression and at the time of Jani's diagnosis was on medication. Could his own mental health issues cloud his judgment? He had his own history with hospitalization and did not want his daughter to fall down the same path. If Michael and Susan could keep her behavior under control, perhaps Jani's will get better. I don't know, but it would have been nice to have Susan's opinion contrasted with Michael's.

We often see people on the street who are clearly suffering from some type of mental illness. At some point in their lives, they were just like Jani. Their parents were just like Jani's parents. Assuming there were signs in their childhood, imagine how different their lives could have been with proper medical care early on? This was definitely a brave book to write. Michael opened himself and his family up to criticism. Throughout the book the family often seemed alone and desperate for help. But in writing this book, he could also be saving other children like Jani. The book isn't perfect, but it is worth reading.

Rating: Give it a try

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

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My take on: The Husband's Secret

It's very easy to guess the secret in The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty, but it was very hard to tell if I was going to like the book. I went back and forth. There are three main plotlines, and early on I wasn't sure how they related. Now that I have finished the book, the best words to describe it are "emotional roller coaster!!"

I was hoping for more mystery surrounding the secret, but there wasn't any. The book is really about the impact of that secret. What if people know about the secret? Are you the same person? Was everything you knew about that person a lie? What about the people who don't know about the secret? Do they deserve to know? Will their lives be better or worse with that knowledge. The book is essentially asking, "What if....?"

Cecilia Fitzpatrick is constantly asking herself, "what if?" Her husband John-Paul is the one with the secret. Her husband left her a letter to be opened only upon his death. John-Paul isn't dead, but Cecilia finds the letter by accident. Initially, Cecilia isn't sure whether or not she should read the letter. John-Paul doesn't want her to. Cecilia doesn't want to, but the letter was just too peculiar to ignore. John-Paul's anxiety about the letter was just too hard to ignore. Once she reads the letter, her life goes into a tailspin. Cecilia is the "perfect" wife and mother to their three daughters Polly, Esther, and Isabel. Their lives are perfect. Cecilia makes sure her family has everything they need. Everything in their house has a place. She has the perfect job as a Tupperware saleswoman. Everything was just right until that letter and its secrets surfaced.

Another woman, Tess O'Leary knows her husband, Will's, secret. He's in love or at least think he's in love with her cousin Felicity. Nice cousin isn't she? Don't worry this little love triangle isn't a spoiler because it's revealed in the second chapter. By the end of the book this little tidbit of information does play a huge role in Tess and Will's future. If Will and Felicity hadn't confessed their feelings, would they have let Tess continue on in ignorance? What does Tess do with this knowledge? She runs away with their son, Liam. She runs away from their problems. She runs to her mother, Lucy. She runs away and very quickly embarks on a rather impulsive path.

Rachel Crowley doesn't have a secret, but one is being kept from her. Rachel's teenage daughter, Janie, was murdered in 1984 and her killer is out there somewhere. The killer is free. Will she ever know why Janie died? Will she ever have closure? Rachel's husband, Ed, died years ago. Her son, Rob, her daughter-in-law, Lauren, and her grandson, Jacob, are preparing to move away. Soon Rachel will be left alone with her thoughts. The thoughts of Janie and her murder have never gone away. She always wonders what kind of woman Janie could have become?

The book starts off a little slow, but I quickly found myself engrossed in the story. Initially, it might not seem like all of these stories relate to each other but they do. Everyone is at a stage in their lives when they are pondering, "what if?" Should you open Pandora's Box? Revealing the truth or learning of the truth doesn't always make your life better. Liane Moriarty certainly knows how to immerse her readers in an engaging and emotional story. I would definitely pick up a book by her again!!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Penguin) as part of the monthly book club selection with She Reads

Friday, September 20, 2013

My take on: Moonrise

Helen Honeycutt fell in love with Emmet Justice. They both have jobs in television. The newlyweds are off to spend their summer at Moonrise, a stately home in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Sounds beautiful and romantic doesn't? For most couples it would be, but Helen and Emmet aren't most couples. Why? No matter how hard she tries, Helen will always be living in the shadow of Emmet's first wife Rosalyn. And......someone or something is trying to push Helen out of the picture.

If you've read Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, then you will totally get all of the references in Cassandra King's new book Moonrise. I have not read Rebecca, but I don't think you need to.

Emmet and Rosalyn had a close-knit group of friends -- Tansy and Noel, Linc and Myna, and Kit. To some, especially Tansy, Helen is an outsider. Or as Tansy put it, Helen is "The Bride." Sounds soooooooooooooo rude. But Emmet's marriage was rather sudden and rather soon after Rosalyn's death. The book is told from three different perspectives, Helen, Tansy, and Willa, a caretaker for many of the homes in town. I felt like Helen is who we are supposed to root for. Willa comes across a little more neutral. From Willa's perspective, you learn about everyone. Unlike Tansy, Willa isn't quick to judge Helen. Tansy is a villian, and I don't normally like villians. But in this case, I found Tansy to be more interesting than Helen. Tansy turns into a little spy whenever Helen is around. She spies on Moonrise from her cabin. She looks for fault in every little thing that Helen does. In her mind, no one can measure up to Rosalyn.

Although Helen's character is supposed to be in her mid-forties, she comes off as a little naive. Helen sees Moonrise as an idyllic vacation home, but for Emmet it is a grim reminder of the past. Rosalyn loved that house, but he didn't. He's only keeping it so their daughter, Annie, can have a piece of her mother's past. Why can't Helen see that? Or why can't Emmet tell her that outright? Helen wants so badly to fit in, that she can't see when others are trying to manipulate her. It's a characteristic I wouldn't question in a younger character, but I wanted Helen to have just a little more backbone.

When one member of a very close group dies, how are the rest supposed to go on? That question is at the heart of the book. What do you do with the outsider? Do you tell the outsider your secrets? And in this case, will Helen be able to form new alliances and at what cost? Although I felt the book dragged in some spots, it's a very entertaining read.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from Maiden Lane Press as part of a blog tour with Authors on the Web