Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Please welcome Bill Hayes !!

Please welcome Bill Hayes co-author of
Triumphs and Tragedies: A Story of Wealth and Addiction

Establishing a Sense of Place

Triumphs and Tragedies: A True Story of Wealth and Addiction is the sensory-stunning life story of philanthropist Karl McMillen. Writing it was, for me, another amazing exercise in dissecting a life in a way that not even the extraordinary person who lived it had ever envisioned.
And that is an artistic windfall that offers the ultimate in satisfaction for a writer.
My writing/editing partner, Jennifer Thomas, and I have been extremely fortunate in presenting the stories of people who have defined life in ways far beyond the mainstream. We have looked into the eyes and souls of a founder of the Black Panthers; a former leader of the Hells Angels; an imprisoned victim of international corruption; one of radio’s most legendary personalities; young women who have fought back against dark societal odds; and now, in Triumphs, a multimillionaire who has waged a war against the drug demons that stole his sons. One thing common to all these individuals is that it has been hard for them to look objectively at their lives from the inside out.
These people lived these lives. Chronology, organization, exposition, even facts weren’t exactly top priority during gun battles, solitary confinement, rotting in a foreign jail, stowing away on the Beatles’ airplane, or—in Karl’s case— aiding and abetting one son as he faced life imprisonment and pulling the plug on another when he OD’d on drugs.
Even in hindsight—often decades later—it’s difficult for such people to sort things out objectively through their emotions and tears and laughter and humbleness and the passage of time. And that’s fine.
That’s our job.
When you work in nonfiction, you don’t have to create as much as you have to interpret. You have to open your eyes as wide as they’ll go, and your mind even wider. You take whatever or whoever you’re writing about and you place it or them into the world as a whole, giving it its place and the reason for writing about this subject. You load the cannon for the impact.
In Triumphs and Tragedies, we took the always-sinister subject of hard drug addiction—the frightening force that began its dismantling of Karl McMillen’s family in the 1960s—and we gave it its place. We showed how the slime and evil of needles in veins finds a place far removed from inner-city back alleys. And, jumping to the other side of the tracks, how it finds a place apart from rockers and movie stars who make headlines when their bodies are found. Karl’s story exemplifies how this horror finds a place somewhere in the middle, too—a place among the other wealthy, the ones who aren’t seen on television and movie screens or on the cover of People.
It finds a place where such choices are made as: An Ivy League education or another hit of crank? Inherit the most successful business of its kind or spend another few years in a state prison? Follow the sun and surf around the world or let a once-perfect athletic body atrophy in anesthetized agony?
What drug addiction did to the family of Karl McMillen is so chilling because it is so relatable. Most of us don’t find ourselves hanging out behind skid-row dumpsters or in the company of woozy untouchable stars. But we do drive down streets and find ourselves in upscale neighborhoods where the homes look ideal. Spotless and shameless. With doors that open to beautiful views and allow in the most beautiful people.

Triumphs and Tragedies: A True Story of Wealth and Addiction is a disturbing and compelling chronicle of just where those portals can really lead.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My take on: Traveling Light

I've watched dozens of episodes of Hoarders, and with each one I wondered how people got to that point. How can a person be so attached to stuff? So much so that it can destroy their family? Of course, I'm one to talk I own more than 500 books!! But I don't need an organizer or 1-800-GOT-JUNK trunk to sort it. I promise. The reason I'm saying this is because I recently finished Traveling Light by Andrea Thalasinos. Hoarding plays a central role in the book, and that was a huge selling point for me. All I saw was the word "hoarding," and I was sold.

Paula Makaikis feels stuck. She has a great job as the director of the Center for Immigrant Studies at NYU. But lately it's been hard to focus on work. All she can think about is the huge problem she has at home. Her husband Roger is good at hiding things. Most people see him as a successful scientist. But only Paula knows the real Roger and the secrets he's hiding. Everyday Paula returns home she is confronted with a mountain of boxes, furniture, books, and magazines. She didn't start this mess, but she wishes she could end it. The house belongs to Roger. She should have seen the signs when they were dating. They always went out. They always went to her apartment. That's not weird is it? Paula found a way to rationalize things even after they got married. After two failed marriages, Roger was the first to make her feel special. Besides he will clear out the house someday right? As soon as Roger gets on a good sleep schedule, Paula won't have to sleep on the couch anymore. One day they will be like other married couples. One day Paula won't have to hide the truth from her family and friends.

But a chance encounter offers Paula a chance to come out of hiding.

Paula's best friend Celeste, who is a social worker, needs her help translating for a dying Greek man. He tells her of his beloved dog Fotis, who was taken away from him. Paula has never given thought to adopting a pet. Where would she put it? Roger certainly wouldn't like it. Roger is allergic pets and to change. But change is just what Paula needs. Fotis is coming into her life at just the right time. Paula finally takes a break from her marriage and career, and hits the open road with Fotis. What was supposed to be a trip to visit her former college advisor turns into something more for Paula. While at a rest stop in Minnesota, Paula sees a help-wanted sign for a wildlife clinic. Of course she gets the job, embarking on a new phase in her life.

It was a wonderful read. Whether you have a hoarder in your life or not, I'm certain people can see themselves in Paula. Her problems were no different from the average person. Adopting Fotis was Paula's therapy. If Fotis didn't come into her life, would Paula have had the strength to change her life? Why continue to deny her own happiness just for Roger's sake? She has a right to be happy, healthy, and comfortable. Overall, it was engaging story with quirky, emotional, and funny characters.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from Authors on the Web as part of a blog tour.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Please welcome Andrea Thalasinos!!

Please welcome Andrea Thalasinos, author of Traveling Light. Hoarding plays a big role in this book, Thalasinos made that the focus of her post. My review of Traveling Light will be posted on Wednesday. 

Ten years ago after reading a student research paper on hoarding, I was struck by the corrosive effect this form of mental illness can have on families and loved ones.  I was so moved by the paper that I was left with the sense that someday this would become the foundation piece for a character in one of my novels, (Traveling Light, 2013, Forge/Macmillan).  I’d always encouraged students to pick a topic that had a “charge” to it, meaning enough interest and “juice” to propel them through writing a 15 page, double-spaced research paper complete with MLA.  At the time, little did I know how seriously one of my students would take it. 
           Apparently my student’s mother was a hoarder.  “Stuff” had driven off the woman’s husband and two daughters since the growing hoard had (literally) pushed family members out of the house.   Her mother’s mountain of Christmas decorations, doll collections, unopened mail and packages, plus boxes filled with sundry items packed the house, leaving nowhere to sit, sleep or eat.  Clothes with price tags were piled to the ceiling, filling hallways, staircases and common living areas.  As she interviewed her mother, (I encourage primary, case-study research) it dawned on her that her mother’s “stuff” was more important than the well-being and happiness of those who loved her.   The record of my student’s anguish came through the pages despite her trying to keep the project objective, as well a sociology research paper should be.  
         This experience taught me that material for writing can come from anywhere (the old “Bloom Where You’re Planted” adage) and that students are a wealth of life experience.  Such information and ideas can trigger storylines, character formation and dialog.  The old wisdom of Write What You Know can also apply to People Whom You’ve Known. 
             The premier of the popular TV show, “Hoarders” sparked memories of that student’s paper. I too watched in abject horror at the conditions in which these individuals lived.  I was even more riveted by the hoarders reactions to their families’ grief, anger and pain.  Just like my student’s paper so many years ago, it became clear that “stuff” had taken on a proportion more important than the physical and emotional well-being of loved ones.  I found family reactions, in some cases, even more compelling than the squalor, the packed rooms, and the filth.   And it was at this juncture point that I knew I had to develop “stuff” as a character. 
             In the case of Traveling Light, Roger’s “stuff” takes on the guise of his lover, consuming his affection and devotion as it edges Paula (the main character) out of her husband’s bed and life.   It’s at this juncture point that Paula is faced with the realization that she must act.  And while it might be too late for Roger and her marriage, Paula has to decide if she’s got “juice” enough to make one more run for it to save her own life.

Friday, July 19, 2013

My take on: Girls I Know

Sometimes it takes a tragedy to wake a person up. In Girls I Know by Douglas Trevor, 29-year-old Walt Steadman is used to routine. He gets up, puts his clothes on, takes the subway, buys a copy of the Boston Globe, and plants himself at a table in his favorite diner. He's more than just a customer of the Early Bird Cafe, he is a friend to the owners Natalie and John Bittles and a mentor to the waitress Flora. But a horrible act of violence will turn Walt's life upside down.

Walt is a man without a plan. The former Harvard graduate student abandoned his dissertation, instead he spends his days reading poetry and working a series of dead-end jobs. He's used to living in his own bubble. Ginger Newtown, a rich, spoiled and reckless 20-year-old Harvard undergrad, forces Walt out of his bubble. As a building superintendent, Walt is used to the tenants ignoring him. But Ginger doesn't ignore him. She's bold and outspoken. She isn't afraid of entering his space. She isn't afraid to ask him questions. Sometimes she lacks a filter. She doesn't always know how far is too far. Unlike Walt, Ginger has big plans for her life. She wants to write a book, called Girls I Know, about women of all ages, racial and social backgrounds about how they get through life. Walt knows Ginger has good in her heart, but thinks she's biting off more than she can chew with the book.

Slowly, Ginger is throwing Walt's life off track. He doesn't want to like her. She's everything Walt isn't. She's driven. She's young. She's ready to conquer the world. Ginger forces him to take a hard look at his own life. But he isn't quite sure what to do about it. But what was supposed to be a routine day at the Early Bird Cafe, changes Walt's life forever. A violent former employee of the cafe returns to exact revenge, shooting Natalie, John, and Flora to death. Miraculously, Walt survives the shooting. But he's left to ponder, what next? He's not the only one in limbo. Eleven-year-old Mercedes, the Bittles' daughter, has literally lost her voice and her identity. The world Mercedes knew is gone. Now, she has to live with her grandmother and attend a school where other kids make fun of her. Just like Walt, life just isn't the same for Mercedes. Both of them end up leaning on each other. They work together to find their voices again. They work together to find their purpose in life again.

I found myself feeling both sad and frustrated by Walt. I wanted him to get motivated. I wanted him to stop letting life pass him by. But after the shooting, he's scared and worried someone is after him. I wanted to like Ginger, but I didn't. She was cold and a bit snobbish. Mercedes is a character you can root for. Despite all of the bullying at school, she doesn't want to give them any power by reacting. Some moron took her parents away, but it was a situation she had no control over. But something she can control is her voice. She doesn't have to speak until she is ready. Overall, this was a very intellectual, but page-turning read.

Rating: Superb

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

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

My take on: Sweet Salt Air

Sweet Salt Air by Barbara Delinsky is one of those books that I want to read curled up by the fireplace. Her writing reminds me a lot of Kristin Hannah and Patti Callahan Henry. All three authors write about characters and stories you can relate to -- love, family, and friendship. This is my first go-round with Barbara Delinsky, but I know I'll be back for more.

Growing up, Charlotte Evans and Nicole Carlysle were the best of friends. They spent many summers on Quinnipeague, a small island off the coast of Maine. So close they were like sisters. But now they're adults and after 10 years of semi-estrangement they are reuniting. Nicole, who has made a name for herself as a blogger, is working on a cookbook full of the recipes and sights of Quinnipeague. In the last 10 years, Charlotte has become a jet-setting travel writer. A painful secret has kept her from returning to the island. Not even the death of Nicole's father could bring her back. She has kept in touch with Nicole via e-mail, but it's been years since they saw each other in person. But when Nicole asks for help with the cookbook and cleaning out the family home, Charlotte knows it's time to go back. I wish Nicole had been just a little mad at Charlotte. No matter how big the secret or how much it can hurt, who doesn't show up for the funeral of their best friend's father? Nicole seemed to make excuses for Charlotte.

Nicole is going through a lot in her own life. She's struggling to save her husband Julian and their marriage. Julian is a renowned surgeon, who is now stricken with Multiple Sclerosis. He's afraid to let anyone -- outside of Nicole and his doctors -- know about his diagnosis. He can't let his image suffer. Nicole wants to do more for him. In my opinion, his character is like a lot of men -- he's afraid to show vulnerability.

Of course no book like this would be complete without a little romance. Leo Cole is the town bad boy. You know he's just right for Charlotte. They both have their issues to deal with, so why not deal with them together?!?!? I found myself rooting for them.

Overall, I liken this book to reuniting with an old friend or a long-lost love. You might have some struggles along the way, but in the end you're glad you went through the journey.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (St. Martin's Press) at the request of Wunderkind PR

Friday, July 12, 2013

My take on: Big Girl Panties

I loved and I hated Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich. Why? As a piece of fiction, I absolutely loved it. It was witty, sexy, and smart. But after finishing it, I've had some to time to think about the overall book. I'm not sure I liked the overall message.

Holly Brennan is still reeling from the death of her husband Bruce. In the year since his death, she's been hiding from the world. She's hiding from the pain. She only ventures out when she has to. Holly has also lost herself in food, resulting in a large weight gain. The extra pounds have made everything harder, including flying. The moment Logan Montgomery spots Holly coming towards him on the plane, he starts praying she will sit next to someone else. Logan, personal trainer to the world's top athletes, doesn't want to sit next to the "fat chick." He's used to socializing and dating with a certain type. Looks matter in his world. A person like Holly would never fit into Logan's world. Holly knows it too, but soon these two find themselves needing each other in more ways than one.

After chatting throughout the whole plane ride, both of them are pleasantly surprised. Why? They actually like each other. Logan wants to help her. He has to help her. Holly could be his greatest challenge. Holly decides to go for it, and begins working out with Logan. Their relationship isn't restricted to just the gym. When Holly is on the verge of a big eating binge, she calls Logan. To his surprise and hers, he comes over. Logan realizes Holly isn't just his client but his friend. Slowly, Holly works his way into his life and heart. Holly starts hanging out with Logan and his best friends Chase, a star baseball player, and his wife Amanda. Everyone can see there is more than friendship going on between Logan and Holly. But both of them are afraid to admit their feelings. But of course they give into each other, there would be no point to the book if they didn't.

Holly lives out every former fat girl's dream, she gets the hot guy!! She loses weight. She will never be a size zero, nor does she aspire to. But...she's certainly turning a few heads, including Logan's. She starts to feel better about herself. She starts to come out of her shell. She even forces Logan out of his comfort zone. He starts to wonder how a relationship with Holly reflects upon him. Is everyone staring at them? What are they thinking? Is he somehow ashamed of Holly? Even Holly has her doubts. Is this relationship even real?

I was very engaged in the story. I was rooting for Holly and Logan. I was really loving the book right up until the last page. But then I had a little time to think about the book. Why did the fat girl need to be fixed before the hot guy could see her in a different light? Why is the hot guy the savior for the fat girl? For health reasons, certainly people who are overweight should change but they don't need to change for the sake of a relationship. If this were real life, a shallow guy like Logan wouldn't give Holly the time of day unless she lost weight. It seemed a little cliche that it takes a chubby girl to show a shallow guy the light.

As I said in the beginning, I loved and I hated this book. If that makes sense!! I didn't care for the overall message of the book, but it is a light, funny, and sassy story. Put your big girl panties on and give it a try!!

Rating: O.M.G. !!! (As a piece of fiction, I really did enjoy the writing) For it's message, I would have to give it a thumbs down.

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

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

My take on: Corrupt Practices

It's been a long time since I've read a legal thriller. After reading Corrupt Practices by Robert Rotstein, I have to say John Grisham has some competition.

Some legal thrillers can be very formulaic. You have a case and then you have to solve it before time runs out. Character depth is usually pretty weak. That isn't the case here. In this book, there is a complex case to be solve but there are so many layers to not just the case but the character themselves.

Parker Stern has a really bad case of stage fright. Following the suicide of his mentor, Harmon Cherry, Parker no longer has the confidence or the emotional fortitude to enter a courtroom. Instead, he spends his days at a local coffee shop owned by his former colleague and sometime lover Deanna Poulos. Life and the legal scene are passing him by, but a complex case and a formidable enemy will force Parker to face his fears.

Rich Baxter, another former colleague, is in desperate need of Parker's help. Rich is languishing in jail, charged with embezzling from The Church of the Sanctified Assembly. Parker hates the Assembly and everything they stand for. The church has ruined his childhood and his relationship with his mother. Even when his law partners took the Church on as a client, Parker refused to work or profit from any of their business. When Rich left the firm he took the Assembly's business with him. That was a relief for Parker. This church isn't your ordinary church, it borders on a cult. Your life isn't really your life anymore. You have to devote your time, money, energy, and your family to the Assembly. As far as Parker knew, Rich was a devoted member. What made him turn on his faith? Did he betray the Assembly? Or is the Assembly betraying him? According to Rich, he is being setup and the only person he can trust is Parker. Rich even believes that Harmon Cherry didn't commit suicide. Is this all a big conspiracy or the ramblings of a man facing a long prison sentence?

Before Parker can build a defense for his client, Rich allegedly commits suicide. I say allegedly because there's no point to the book without some doubt surrounding Rich's demise. His father is certain the Assembly will come after Rich's estate. Parker is in too deep now, he has to find out the truth. He enlists his class of law students to help him. Lovely Diamond, and yes that is the actual name of a character, one of Parker's students, works closely on the case. She even puts her career on the line for Parker. There is an interesting little side story there too, but you have to read the book to know what I'm talking about. The Assembly seems more like big brother than an actual religion. They have eyes and ears everywhere. They are determined to stop Parker, by legal and illegal means. With his safety in jeopardy, is this case really worth it?

What a thrilling debut by Robert Rotstein. I will definitely be reading the next Parker Stern adventure.

Review: Superb

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

Monday, July 1, 2013

Upcoming reads: The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

I read A LOT. I read every day. I am currently tackling a rather thick book in The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley. The Firebird is the July selection for She Reads. Normally, I would post my reviews for She Reads on the first Monday of the month, but I started the book a little late. It's more than 500 pages, and I'm hoping to be done by next week (fingers crossed!!). Instead I thought I post a little info about the book.

From the blurb:

Nicola Marter was born with a gift so rare and dangerous, she keeps it buried deep. When she encounters a desperate woman trying to sell a small wooden carving called "The Firebird," claiming it belonged to Russia's Empress Catherine, it's a problem. There's no proof.

But Nicola's held the object. She knows the woman is telling the truth.

It's very different from what I normally read. It sounds like it has some paranormal elements. I'm so used to contemporary stories, but once in a while it's good to get outside of that bubble. Stay tuned and happy reading!!