Friday, June 28, 2013

My take on: The Doll

I've never read a book by Taylor Stevens. I would compare the latest book in the Vanessa Michael Munroe series, The Doll, to watching an episode of Scandal. What do I mean by that? If I'm ever going to like Scandal I have to watch all the episodes or in this case read all the books from the beginning to really get what is going on. I know something really thrilling is happening and I kept reading until the end, but I need to go back to the beginning to truly understand these characters.

Taylor Stevens gets straight to the action in The Doll. Vanessa Michael Munroe has a particular knack for hunting down people. She can understand and speak various languages. And...she can kill you without a weapon. I liken her to a female Jason Bourne with a little Macgyver mixed in. No matter the amount of danger, Munroe is always looking for ways to outsmart or overpower her opponent. A person with skills like that is extremely valuable. The Doll Maker, who makes his living in human sex trafficking, is in dire need of Munroe's skills. But there's no way she would come willing for a man like him. The only way to snare Munroe in his elaborate scheme is to kidnap her. But Miles Bradford, her lover, and the rest of the team at the Capstone Security Consulting firm are determined to find Munroe.

I was engrossed in the story, but I felt like I was missing something. Once again I have to reference Scandal, a show that I've seen two episodes of. The show is very fast-paced and while I was interested in the episodes, I felt like I was missing something. In The Doll, the characters have quirks, language, and relationships that I don't quite understand. The central plot was very sinister and strange at the same time. The Doll Maker forces Munroe to transport Neeva Eckridge, a missing Hollywood starlet, to a very demanding client. If she doesn't, Logan, someone very dear to Munroe's heart, will die. Munroe knows that this assignment is morally wrong, but another life is at stake. Sound creepy? It is.

Neeva isn't exactly a willing participant. Neeva's captors have done everything under the sun to break her spirit. Starvation, sexual and emotional humiliation, and physical abuse have pushed Neeva to her wits end. But there is still a little fire in her, a flame that not even Munroe can put out quickly. This trip to Neeva's next tormentor is no easy feat for Munroe. Any little bit of kindness on Munroe's part is challenged by Neeva. It's hard for Neeva to believe that Munroe isn't her enemy. I think these were some of the best scenes in the book. Both women can to see another side of the other person. Munroe can totally understand how Neeva feels, but she can't fail at this assignment. The Doll Maker has already demonstrated his power over Munroe.

There are two other books in the series, and I definitely have to read them. I don't really get why Munroe is the way she is. I think my experience with this book would have been different if I had read the previous books. Overall, it was an exciting, dark, and gritty thriller.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Random House) at the request of Wunderkind PR

Saturday, June 22, 2013

My take on: A Trick of The Light

Sometimes that little voice in the back of your mind is wrong. It can make you do things you don't want to. But sometimes that voice is so strong, you have to listen to it. Sometimes listening to that voice will cause more harm than good, leaving you struggling internally.

In just a few short chapters of A Trick of The Light, author Lois Metzger pulls you into the tortured mind of 15-year-old Mike Welles.

Mike always does the right things. He gets good grades. He plays on his high school baseball team. He has a great relationship with his best friend Tamio. He has a crush on the new girl Valerie. It sounds like he has all his ducks in a row, but he doesn't. His home life isn't so neat and orderly. His mom, who makes a living as a professional organizer, is a woman in transition. She spends more time at home in bed than working with her clients. When Mike's dad isn't at work, he's spending his time at the gym or locked in his office at home. Mike tries his best to get some control at home, but it isn't easy. Any attempt Mike makes at father-son bonding time is rebuffed. His mother would rather wallow in her own sorrow. No one at home is paying any attention to Mike. No one except that little voice in his head. That voice is constantly talking to Mike. That voice wants him to take action. That voice wants him to do something extreme. If he listens to that voice, what are the consequences?

To talk about this book further, I have to reveal a major plot point. You can call it a spoiler, but I disagree. The actual narrator of this book isn't Mike, it's anorexia. Mike is struggling to ignore that voice, but anorexia can and will take over. It took me a few chapters to understand who or what was narrating the book. I think this a rather unique way to bring light to a rarely told story. I've seen plenty of television and print stories discussing eating disorders, but 99 percent of time they were about women. It's refreshing to read a different perspective on such a complex health issue.

In this book, anorexia is very strong. Mike did all he could to ignore anorexia, but his parents' impending divorce was the final breaking point. Amber, the strange girl at school, has all the answers for Mike. She knows what to eat, when to eat, how to eat, how to hide food, and how to deceive not just the doctors but his own parents.

"Mike goes to the mirror. He feels better. He can see muscle and taut skin. He thinks about his body, the structure of it, how each part is splendidly connected to the next; it is a work of art, like sculpture; it possesses power and energy. Your mind is soaring!" Pg. 80

What he sees in the mirror and what is reality are two different things. A once healthy kid turns into a moody rail-thin kid. Is the person he used to be gone forever? You begin to wonder. Everything about Amber and anorexia that was once strange suddenly makes sense. Exercising to the point of exhaustion makes sense. Eating five bites at dinner and hiding the rest makes sense. Lying to his family and friends makes sense. There's nothing wrong with him. Everyone else has a problem. Anorexia was right. Anorexia is making him feel better and happier than ever before.

The book does an excellent job of portraying how a disease can completely control a person. Mike is young and impressionable. Who does he listen to? His friends? His parents? Anorexia? Anorexia wants control of not just his body, but his mind. It's a powerful story, told in just a scant 189 pages. I actually wish it were longer. I don't think Mike's story is finished. There has to be more to the story. Overall, this a frightening and brutally honest portrayal of a devastating illness.

Rating: Superb

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

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

My take on: A Far Piece to Canaan

Sam Halpern is more than that cantankerous old man quoted in his son's book Sh*t My Dad Says. Sam Halpern is a really good writer. Inspired by his own childhood in Kentucky, A Far Piece to Canaan is a story of friendship and one man's attempt to reconcile with his past.

Retired professor Samuel Zelinsky is a man in transition. His wife Nora has died of cancer. But before her death Samuel promised her he would return to his childhood home. The book alternates between the past and present, which in this case takes some getting used to. Samuel, the child of sharecroppers, came of age in 1945 rural Kentucky. His language back then is extremely different from the man he is now. If you're not used to reading slang, like me, it can take some time to get into the narrative. But once I did, I was completely absorbed in the story.

Growing up, Samuel developed a deep friendship with Fred Mulligan. Their characters reminded me of the phrase, "boys will be boys." They have fun living and working on the farm. They also go to places where they shouldn't and they see things that they shouldn't. In their minds, loyalty is more important than ratting out a friend. That sounds like teenagers everywhere. They act first and think about the consequences later. But when one of their lives is put in danger, they have to tell the truth.

I know other bloggers have said what I'm about to say, but it's worth repeating. This immediately reminded me of the movie Stand By Me, which is based on Stephen King's The Body. Stand By Me is one of those movies I can watch over and over, and A Far Piece of Canaan falls into that same category. I could read this again and again. This book reminds you of the power of friendship and how it can shape your entire life.

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, June 17, 2013

My take on: The Lavender Garden

Emilie de la Martinières has spent a lifetime distancing herself from her family legacy. She never wanted anything to do with the social mores of the French aristocracy. More than anything Emilie wanted to be loved by her parents. When her father was alive and not absorbed in his own hobbies, including his beloved rare book collection, he showed Emilie as much love and affection as he could. Her mother, however, was a different story. Emilie's mother was more interested in spending money and showing off her wealth. 

Now that both of her parents are dead, Emilie will have to return to her childhood home, a large chateau on the South of France. She will have to face her past. And...Emilie will uncover family secrets, including a connection to a young woman sent into Paris as a spy during World War II. All of this blends together in Lucinda Riley's latest novel The Lavender Garden.

Emilie struck me as a cold, but at times naive and vulnerable woman. When the book opens, her mother has just died but Emilie shows very little emotion. I thought she might be in shock. Maybe she was bottling up her feelings, and she was just about to burst. But that didn't happen. I guess it's hard to feel a deep sadness when you grow up with inattentive parents. I found her to be a bit naive and vulnerable when she met Sebastian Carruthers, a man with connections to Emilie's father. Sebastian is very eager and willing to help Emilie with sorting out her mother's estate. I found myself questioning his intentions. Does he have an ulterior motive? Does he really care about Emilie? When they fall in love and get married, I'm still questioning his character. He just seems too good to be true.

Sebastian's connection to the Martinières is told through the eyes of Jacques, a long-time employee of the family. The story he tells is captivating. The contemporary part of the book is engaging, but I love reading about past history. In this case, you get an insight into life in World War II Paris during the Nazi occupation. Constance Carruthers, Sebastian's grandmother, was a British office clerk, but her fluency in French proved to be a useful asset during the war. She was sent into France undercover, but the mission goes sour leaving Constance searching for a safe haven. That safe haven was provided by Emilie's father. This part of the book felt like a bit of a thriller. You get invested in Constance and her well-being. She's young but was willing to put her life on the line.

I'm not always a fan of dual narratives, but I think it works here. It has the right blend of history, family drama, and complex relationships. If you like historical fiction, you should give this one a try.

Rating: Superb

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

In the spirit of honesty, I have to tell you all something. Currently I'm an editorial intern for Atria. I accepted this book for review before I applied for the internship. I spoke with the editor and publicist of this book, and both gave their approval for my review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

My take on: The Banks of Certain Rivers

After reading just a couple of pages of The Banks of Certain Rivers, I was totally captivated by the writing of Jon Harrison.

In an instant, life as you know it can change. What if the person you loved the most was suddenly taken from you? Physically they're alive, but in every way that counts the person you once knew is gone forever. Would you have the strength to move on? If you did move on, would you be consumed by guilt? At what point do you allow yourself to be happy again?

A freak accident leaves the wife of Neil Kazenzakis in a permanent vegetative state. He is left to raise their son Christopher alone. He has a network of family and friends to help him, but they can't fill the void left by Wendy. He finds some comfort in alcohol and prescription pills. He would rather numb the pain than actually feel it. It's hard to get over someone you've been in love with since the ninth grade.

Neil has always done things right. Upon discovering Wendy was pregnant, Neil gave up the chance at a promising career in Japan. Instead he stayed in their small Michigan town, he became a teacher and did everything he could to provide for his family, becoming a popular teacher and track coach. He did everything by the book. E-mails Neil writes to Wendy offer a unique look into their relationship. Neil knows Wendy will never see his words, but it's therapeutic to get his feelings out. He can still connect with her. In his own way, he can still confide in her. When Neil finally starts to heal, life hits him hard again. Is this a sign? Is someone or something trying to prevent him from being happy?

Neil has a lot on his plate. Not only is he a single father, but he also has to look after his mother-in-law Carol, who is descending into dementia. Lauren, one of Carol's nurses, develops a special bond with Neil. They're both in at a crossroads in their life. Lauren is just coming out of a bad relationship and Neil is wondering if he deserves a fresh start. Secret dinners, stolen kisses, and late-night sleepovers give Neil some hope at a happy life. But what about Wendy? Wendy's mind is long gone, but what if there is some part of her that is angry? What if there is some part of her that can still feel? What about Christopher? Will his relationship with Lauren hurt Chris? He has to tell Chris the truth some time. But when is the right time? Will it ever be the right time? Just when Neil thinks the timing is right, his professional career is sent into a tailspin. A devastating accusation puts not just his career in jeopardy, but his freedom. How much can one person take?

I love reading books about the family dynamic. The majority of similar books I've read were told from a female perspective, but it's refreshing to get a different point of view. A story like this would make a great movie. This was an engaging and emotional roller coaster.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received an e-book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My take on: The Perfume Collector

Why have I not read a book by Kathleen Tessaro before? I was immediately pulled into The Perfume Collector.

The life of newlywed Grace Monroe is in a state of flux. She's having trouble fitting into the 1950s London social scene. She doesn't know the right thing to say or do. She wants a life that isn't all about her husband. Grace is thinking about getting a job, but her friend Mallory tries to dissuade her. Grace isn't supposed to want anything for herself. She is supposed to attend society parties, look pretty on her husband's arm, and start a family. Is something wrong with Grace because she wants more out of life? I guess it was during this time period.

Of course life takes a turn for Grace, otherwise what would be the point of the book? Grace's husband isn't the man she thought he was. Her husband cheated on her, and she finds out in a very embarrassing way. She's questioning everything in her life. An inheritance from Eva d'Orsey, a complete stranger, in Paris offers Grace the chance to get away from it all. But why would a stranger leave Grace anything? It's an interesting premise. There has to be something special about Grace.

We get to learn about Eva as well. Her narrative spans several cities, and several decades, from 1920s New York, to Monte Carlo, Paris, and London. She came from nothing, working her way up from chambermaid to perfumer. Her story was an engaging trip for the senses. How one makes perfume is a fascinating story. If you've read M.J. Rose's reincarnationist series, you know what I'm talking about. The descriptions in this book are very vivid. Grace finds her strength by going on this quest for answers. She doesn't know right away why Eva chose her, but their personalities are very similar. In a way, there were ahead of their time. Both of them go against the norm. They go against society's standards for women. If you're a fan of historical fiction, this is the book for you.

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, June 10, 2013

My take on: Lucky Bastard

As fictional characters go, Lucky O'Toole knows Vegas. If you need an upgrade on your hotel room at the Babylon, she can help. If you need a good table at the hottest restaurant, she can help. If you need tickets to the hottest show on the strip, she can help. And....if you need help clearing yourself of murder, she can help with that, too. The newly appointed vice president of Customer Relations for the Babylon hotel is back for another adventure in Lucky Bastard by Deborah Coonts.

A young woman's body is found splayed across a Ferrari in the Babylon's on-site car dealership. The method of murder? A fancy shoe, with the heel planted in the victim's neck. That would shock most people, but for Lucky it's just another at the Babylon. The victim was discovered by Paxton Dane, a one-time suitor for Lucky's affections. The plot thickens when Paxton reveals the victim is his estranged wife Sylvie. Hmmmmmmmmm??? Did he do it? It seems mighty suspicious. Certainly my mind went straight to him, but that's just too convenient. In books like this, it's hardly ever the first suspect thrown in our direction. You have to peel back the layers to get at the truth, something Lucky O'Toole is an expert at.

Although, Lucky is reluctant to believe anything that comes out of Paxton's mouth. Lucky's own life is in a state of flux. She's still reeling from her breakup with Teddie, who is now a big-time singer. She's unsure if a new relationship with Jean-Charles, a drop-dead gorgeous chef, is worth the investment. Her mother, Mona, is pregnant and hormonal. Her father, the Big Boss, is still flexing his muscle around the hotel. Lucky hardly ever has time for herself. Sleep is a luxury for mortals. With each new book in the series, Lucky just seems superhuman. Nothing seems to faze her. One moment she is investigating a murder with Detective Romeo and the next she is helping a guest arrested for solicitation....of his own wife. Yeah I had to laugh at that last one. A lot of strange things go on in Vegas.

Of course Sylvie's murder is part of a much larger conspiracy, involving robbery and high-stakes poker. It took me a while to figure out the conspiracy. A lot of the characters have a language that seems native to Las Vegas. They have their own lingo. They have their own metaphors. I found myself wondering what everyone is talking about. Lucky is a good character, but sometimes her banter, fast talking, and one-liners can wear thin. I prefer the moments when Lucky can slow down and take a breath. Those are the moments when she appears less like a superhero and more like a vulnerable woman going through the motions.

In my opinion, the book ends with a major cliffhanger. Deborah Coonts definitely left me wanting more from this series. I have to know what happens next. If you want to know what I'm talking about, you're going to have to read the book!!

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from JKS Communications as part of a blog tour.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

BEA Part 2: Let's walk the floor !!

I think I had a 20-page list of all the things I wanted to do at BookExpo America, but of course I didn't make it to all of them. The bulk of my agenda was taken up by author signings. I think I made it to a total of four or five panels. Why? It can take 30-60 minutes just to get off one line. Some people were a little more aggressive than I was. I understand getting to a signing 20 minutes before..........but I hear people were lining up for Richelle Mead an hour and a half prior. Say what?!?!?!?! Although, I think the in-booth signings and the autograph area signings were 100% more organized than last year. Less line skipping, less confusion, and designated waiting areas made this year's experience much better.

Since I spent 90% of my time standing in various lines, my BEA story will be told in photos. Enjoy!!

I swear that is Jim Carrey signing autographs. I just happened to be walking by. There were a lot of security guards shouting, "One picture and move!" Way to suck the cool vibes out of the atmosphere. I had to be quick and that blurry photo is the result.

Suzanne Young, left, and Cat Patrick were very, very nice. I have to read their book Just Like Fate soon. Now, my favorite part of every BEA recap....the books!!

The Valley of Amazement is Amy Tan's first book in about eight years, so I can't wait to read it. The Returned by Jason Mott is one of the buzz books. The concept, previously deceased people returning to their families, sounds great.

I had to stalk the Penguin booth to get an ARC of Terry McMillan's next book. I kept missing the giveaway times. I lucked out on the last day of BEA.

Joshilyn Jackson is one of my favorite authors. I was a little starstruck when I met her. She writes southern fiction.

Somebody Up There Hates You by Hollis Seamon is being compared to The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

It's safe to say it was really hard for me to restrain myself!!

More books. I thought about doing a video, but I think that would have taken too much time.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

BEA Part 1: Blogger Conference and a Cosmo Party !!

I will start off with a compliment. Last year, BEA Bloggers Conference was a bit of a mixed bag. This's still a work in progress but I think it was a vast improvement over 2012. For starters, this year's speaker, Will Schwalbe, spoke about things that were relevant to book blogging. The only problem, I had heard several of his talking points before. He was a guest speaker in one of my classes last semester, but that doesn't mean I didn't find value in his speech.

A few key quotes from his speech:

"If the book wins we all win."
"Success is not numbers."
"We all make mistakes."
"We're all in the end of your life book club. You never know what your last read will be."

Those are good tips, whether you're a book blogger or not. If you get into book blogging to become rich, you will be disappointed. Most people, myself included, do it for the love of books. If you share your thoughts with others, the book will certainly win. That last quote resonated with me the most. Regardless of your situation, every book you read could be your last. We don't know what the future holds. Will Schwalbe's last book, The End of Your Life Book Club, is a memoir of his mother's death from pancreatic cancer. Will and his mother had a deep love for books, and that's what the book is all about.

In my opinion, the breakout panels were hit-and-miss. This is the second year that Reed Exhibitions is running the blogger part of the convention, and they still haven't found the right balance. The first two panels were about the latest adult and YA books. I split my time between the two of them. Honestly, I don't think the buzz panels were necessary. There are buzz panels during BookExpo America, and I felt that was the place for them. The buzz panels felt like a marketing tool. A conference about blogging should stick to blogging-related topics. It's great to learn about upcoming books, but that information and more is available during the overall conference. 

"Your opinion matters, your voice is as valid as anyone else's"  -- The best quote from the Adult Book Blogging panel. I started off in the YA Book Blogging panel, but no offense to the speakers they were kind of boring. The adult speakers (Jim C. Hines, Mandi of Smexy Books, Rebecca of The Book Lady's Blog, and Sarah of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books) were far more engaging and funny. Most of them were romance book bloggers, but a lot of what they said could be applied to everyone. Be engaging on Twitter, be bold enough to try something new, and if it resonates with only one or two people that's great.

I had high hopes for the Ethics luncheon, but that was hit-and-miss, too. A lot of the panel focused on FTC regulations. The panel was very dry and bordered on a college lecture. I know that wasn't the intent, but the panel was full of lawyers. Perhaps one lawyer and two bloggers would have been better. It's good to know about FTC regulations, but I thought the panel would focus more on the moral issues that some bloggers face. Where do you draw the line with authors on social media? Is there such a thing as being too mean in your reviews? 

The last two panels I attended Taking Your Presence Offline and Extending the Reach of Your Blog Online were pretty good. Lots of useful tips, like donating your unused books, partner with your local indie book store to start a book club, make use of Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Vine, and Stumble Upon. Although, it seemed like all of the panels were focused towards newbie bloggers. I skipped out on the closing keynote by Randi Zuckerberg, but from what I heard I didn't miss anything. I wanted to attend the Adult Editors buzz panel, now that panel is geared towards all attendees of BEA. I stayed for about 20 minutes because I had to make my way towards the Hearst Tower for the Cosmo Red Hot Reads party. Cosmo magazine and Harlequin are partnering in a new e-book imprint. Their launching the imprint with bestselling author Sylvia Day.

First I have to thank Sarah Burningham of Little Bird Publicity for getting me an invite to this party. Thank you, thank you Sarah. I got to mingle with other bloggers (Rachel of Parajunkee's View, Mandi of Smexy Books, and Sarah of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books) and take some pictures. I apologize in advance for the blurry photos!!

To this cute waiter, I apologize for cutting your head off. In this instance, I was more interested in the drinks on that tray!!

Sylvia Day, left, and Cosmo editor-in-chief Joanna Coles

Pretty gift bags!!

The view from the 44th floor!!

Pardon the glare!!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Butterfly Tears: An Interview with Co-Editors Wil Drouin and Jennifer Thomas

Today I'm taking part in a blog tour for Butterfly Tears: Stories of Entrapment to Empowerment. It's a very special book, and I'm glad I could take part in the tour. Here is a little bit about the book courtesy of JKS Communications....

From  Entrapment…
Abuse. Assault. Abandonment. Addiction. These are the histories of the young women in the inspiring book Butterfly Tears.
Some found themselves in gangs. Others in prison. Some remained trapped in the confines of an abusive family or a painful addiction. Society had given up on many of them.
But they hadn’t given up on themselves. These women were ready to take a different path. And Pathways to Independence was there to guide them.
…to Empowerment
Therapy. Mentorship. Education. Support. These are the bywords of this ground-breaking organization founded and led by Dave Bishop—a man who first had to conquer his own internal demons.
The butterfly symbology is derived from the famous parable The Story of the Butterfly about utilizing life’s struggles to emerge a stronger person. Butterfly Tears chronicles the stories of nine young women who faced that struggle head-on and, with the help of Pathways, emerged victorious.
These women’s incredible journeys from darkness into light will elicit both tears of sorrow and tears of joy.
Pathways’ motto is to focus on what’s right in the world: Caring people. Pathways’ all-volunteer network of therapists, doctors, mentors, and even mechanics provides the support these girls have never experienced—and allows them to flourish.
Hope. Freedom. Success. Independence. These are the gifts of Pathways.

And there is more...Here is an interview with Co-Editors Will Drouin and Jennifer Thomas

Jennifer, to create the book, you interviewed many the girls personally. How emotional was that?

A lot of tears were shed in the creation of this book. It was such an honor to meet with these women, and as their stories flowed, so did the waterworks. Actually, I think I got more upset than they did at times. Because they have lived their stories and they have done a lot of emotional healing through the Pathways program. An amazing amount. For them to even be able to talk about some of the horrors they suffered was astounding. And for me to learn of what occurred was devastating. Sometimes almost incomprehensible.

Editing the book was intense as well. I could only work on the stories for a certain period of time each day before the emotions became overwhelming. I cried a lot during that part too.

Did the book achieve its goals?

Jennifer: I like to think so! We are spreading awareness of Pathways. But more than that, so many women have told me how comforting it's been to read the stories and realize that they are not alone in their own trauma they have suffered. And how inspiring it was to learn that healing is possible. For me, the ultimate goal is to help and heal as many women as possible, both in and out of Pathways.

Wil: I am so, so proud of the book. I’m a perfectionist and I feel it came out as perfect as it can me. And personally, my own mission was accomplished. I wanted to make a last difference, and I feel this book’s impact has put me on my way to fulfilling my legacy.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

My take on: However Long the Night

"...things will become even more difficult for you. But always remember my words and never lose hope. ... However long the night, the sun will rise." -- Pg. 111

On October 20, 1974, Molly Melching arrived in Dakar, Senegal. Molly hadn't yet experienced life beyond her hometown of Danville, Illinois. She was thrilled at the opportunity to learn about Africa, the people, the language, and the culture. For the next six months she was supposed to be studying at the University of Dakar, all in pursuit of her master's degree in French studies. What was supposed to be a short-term trip, turned into decades of crusading for women's rights, proper healthcare, proper education, and empowerment. Molly Melching has an amazing life story, which is detailed in However Long the Night by journalist Aimee Molloy.

As an American and as a white woman, Molly was used to a certain level of freedom. Her family might not have always understood her choices, including interracial dating or moving to a foreign country, but at least she was allowed to make those choices. She didn't have to ask to permission to be herself. She didn't have to fear her parents forcing her into an arranged marriage. She didn't have to worry about her body being mutilated because of archaic cultural beliefs. What do I mean by that last one? Female genital cutting or female genital circumcision is a brutal and dangerous procedure, which is often performed without anaesthesia or proper surgical tools. The practice is deeply rooted in the cultural belief that women's sexuality is something that needs to stifled and controlled. That's something Molly, her organization Tostan, and the local women refused to accept.

I truly admire the work Molly Melching is doing, and I can see why journalist Aimee Molloy felt inspired to write about her. Because of Tostan and Molly's dedication women in Senegal have become empowered to take control of not just their lives but their bodies. But I think this is one of those instances where you have to separate the subject matter from the actual book. It's easy to be awed by Molly's accomplishments and forget about the writing style and the book's overall presentation. In my opinion, the book itself reads like a long magazine article. It feels like something you would read in the New Yorker. Each chapter is a long list of Molly's accomplishments, with some anecdotes mixed in. Using this style of writing robbed the book of some of the emotional depth I was looking for.

I wish Molly Melching had told her own story, and maybe use Aimee Molloy as a co-writer or ghostwriter.  Perhaps, Molly is the modest type and doesn't want to bring too much attention to herself. I just think this would have been a more powerful read if this had been in Molly's own words.

Rating: Give it a try (purely for the writing style) -- Superb (for Molly's dedication and for Aimee for bringing more attention to Tostan)

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

Monday, June 3, 2013

My take on: Murder As a Fine Art

Murder As a Fine Art by David Morrell is not for the squeamish. I read the first couple of chapters on the train, and had to restrain myself from crying out. The first few pages are extremely graphic.

A killer is stalking the streets of Victorian London. He beat and stabbed an entire family to death, including two children. A madman has to be behind this. A beggar. Or a drunkard perhaps? No upstanding person could have done this. People are afraid to go outside. Anyone who looks different is a suspect. People are quick to give into mob mentality and attack the first stranger they see. Who could be doing it? Some officials want the public to believe it's opium-obsessed writer Thomas De Quincey. His book Confessions of an Opium Eater contained graphic details of murder. Is he glorifying murder? Reading his book, one might think De Quincey has found some kind of beauty or art behind the act of murder. Did the killer find inspiration in De Quincey's work?

It's up to Inspector Ryan and his assistant Becker to find the killer. It's up to them to determine if De Quincey is a murderer or just a loony old man who is too dependent on laudanum? It's up to his daughter Emily to protect her father. 

It was unnerving to read how quickly the public and police officials could give into hysteria. No evidence is really needed, just point to the closest person and accuse him of murder. Even in 2013, it could still happen. In Victorian London, forensic science is in it's infancy. Inspector Ryan wants to use all the latest techniques. He wants to use evidence and not hysteria to find the killer. To me, the murders were all about hysteria. Mass killings create public outcry, no one trusts their neighbors or police, people arm themselves with weapons, and cities are on the brink of anarchy. Is that part of a master plan? Turn the public against each other so they will ignore the real problems around them. It's a brilliant plan.

David Morrell takes us inside the mind of the killer, Emily, and De Quincey. I liked reading the multiple perspectives. The killer wants people to see his actions as art, but it's hard to feel anything but disgust. He goes to great lengths to pose the bodies like art. Emily's perspective is very blunt, she has to be with De Quincey for a father. He talks about murder with enthusiasm and in great detail, but it's all part of his quirky personality. From Emily's perspective, you learn that De Quincey is an odd, but loving man. He would be lost without Emily. She would be lost without him. Her life is consumed with keeping him alive.

I liked the overall premise of the book. I almost rated this "Superb," but one thing annoyed me. A lot of the chapters open with a history lesson. It read like a textbook. The author explains some of the history of the time period. There's nothing wrong with teaching a little history, but it could have been done in a different way. Why not have a character explain things in a more subtle way? The way the book is now, it's clear the author is narrating and not a character. Those passages just feel awkward and they disrupt the flow of the book. Overall, it's a good murder mystery worth reading.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Hachette Book Group) as part of a blog tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Sunday, June 2, 2013

My take on: The Fate of Mercy Alban

Ever wonder what it's like to walk through a haunted house? I'm curious but I don't think I would ever do it, especially after reading The Fate of Mercy Alban by Wendy Webb. The book is a ghost story/murder mystery.

Grace Alban has been running from her childhood home for 20 years, but now fate is literally pulling her back. The Alban name and their stately home on Lake Superior holds a lot of weight with the local townspeople. The death of her mother, Adele, forces Grace to face her past. With her teenage daughter, Amity, in tow, Grace heads back to the stately and creepy Alban House. And.......Adele's death occurred under some rather mysterious circumstances. One moment Adele is nowhere to be found, and then her body magically appears on the grounds. That freaked me out. I kept waiting for a monster or some big animal to jump out.

When Grace and Amity return to Alban house, the creep factor goes up another notch. Rooms broken into, papers strewn about, and secret passageways in Alban House that are no longer secret. On the day of her death, Adele was about to spill the beans on some Alban family secrets. Could someone be sending the family a message? It's hard to believe there is some sinister being behind all of this. Author Wendy Webb paints such a vivid picture of Alban house, it's hard to believe there isn't something supernatural behind everything. It's like the house had eyes. Nothing is sacred in that house. None of the characters know what they can't or can't do in the home. It's not safe to be alone there. Slowly, Grace becomes afraid of her childhood home.

The book seems to veer off track when it goes away from Alban house. There is a little romance mixed in here. I don't think it was really necessary. How many people find romance when they return home for a funeral? It seemed a little implausible to me. Grace finds solace in the local minister. In times of grief, I understand turning to your faith. But I found it unnecessary for Grace to fall in love. Not every book has to have to romance.

I don't normally read books like this. I like my books to be based in reality. I'm always afraid that books like this will take too long to explain the mythology behind it. The pacing in this book is pretty good, but I felt the conclusion was a little rushed. I also had trouble following mythology behind the Alban family. I was constantly re-reading some passages. Also, for the most part I liked Grace's character but all too often she is throwing her weight around. What do I mean by that? Author Wendy Webb is constantly reminding her readers that the Albans are almost god-like in this town. The Albans have thrown money behind just about every institution and politician in town. Grace can command attention just because of her last name. That type of repetition was just too heavy-handed for my tastes.

Wendy Webb does a great job of setting the atmosphere and describing the Alban home, but at times I found the book to be a little confusing. If you've read the book, what do you think??

Rating: Give it a try

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

Saturday, June 1, 2013

BEA 2013: A story in photos !!

I will be doing a full recap of BookExpo America next week, but for now I will post a few photos. Enjoy!!

One of the queens of mystery, Sue Grafton signing W is for Wasted.

Look close enough and you can see Alice Hoffman (seated) signing books.

The line for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was massive. I did not get a ticket for his signing, but I was on the line next to his and snapped a quick picture.

O Magazine books editor Leigh Haber, left, speaking with Amy Tan. I managed to snag a copy of Amy Tan's next book The Valley of Amazement before this talk. I wanted to get her autograph, but I figured her line would be massive. 

I arrived 15 minutes before the Harlequin Teen Hour signing and the line was already long. I took a seat on the floor and chatted with my fellow book lovers.

Katie McGarry, author of Dare You To.

It's not the best photo, but this is Amanda Sun, author of Ink.

Can you guess who this is?

Me with Elizabeth Scott, author of Heartbeat. She had such a fun and bubbly personality!!

I saved the best for last!! That's my book haul just for Day 2 of BEA. can't see it but there is another stack behind the larger pile of books. That it is everything just from Day 2 alone. I have a bunch from Day 1 and BEA bloggers. I will try to film a video of my book haul next week. I still have one more day at BEA, and I will try to restrain myself. But boy is it hard to resist!! My room is swimming in books right now. But I like it that way!!