Monday, January 27, 2014

Please welcome Kathryn Craft!!

Today Kathryn Craft, author of The Art of Falling is stopping by the blog!!

How has dance impacted your life?

Dance ignited my passion. I leapt into the world feet first and ready for action. When my nose wasn’t in a novel I was skipping across chalked patterns, diving from springboards, slicing hills with my skis, flipping over high jumps—then trying to do any or all of it on the balance beam. But nothing set me aflame like the dance class I discovered when I was sixteen. The complexities of coordinating the body’s 640 muscles and 206 bones to express myself made me feel powerful in a whole new way.

Dance was a defiant act. When my mother dropped me off at college, and I hugged her goodbye with tears in my eyes, she said, “You can major in anything you want—as long as it isn’t dance.” Looking back, I see that my mother may have feared the change dance had made within me. At the time her power play made me so angry that I didn’t even tell her that the college I’d chosen didn’t have a dance major. I majored in biology, minored in dance, and let her sweat it out.

Dance encouraged my sense of contribution. Board positions I held in the college dance company prepared me for similar work in the dance and literary communities. Until then I’d done what I needed to excel academically—but no more. Dance inspired me to give of myself above and beyond what was required.

Dance, although a wordless medium, allowed me to find my voice. Choreographing changed my world. I was no longer executing learned materials, but seeking out the resources necessary to develop a theme, order my thoughts, and create something—from nothing more than bodies moving through space—that had never before existed.

Dance led me to writing criticism. Our connection to dance is as primal at our earliest experiences of being bounced in our mother’s arms while listening to her heartbeat. Not everyone has a way to speak about the way viewing a performance stirs them. Lending words to movement was my honor for nineteen years.

My writing led me to fiction. I had already stopped dancing for six years when tragedy befell my family, and my husband committed suicide. Yet I remembered how to seek out the resources necessary to develop a theme, how to order my thoughts, and create something that had never before existed. Through story, I knew I could find my way back to hope.

These days I dance on the page. My words take on rhythms that charge both the page with the pop and crackle of what it means to come fully alive. The Art of Falling only exists because I, like Penelope Sparrow, once honored my love for movement enough to risk setting my foot upon the stage. Penny and I would like to invite our readers to the dance.

My take on: The Art of Falling

If you only know how to do one thing, what do you do when that is taken from you? Who are you without your craft? Is your life missing something? Will you ever be able to move on? Are you ready to face reality? Those were several of the questions that came into play in The Art of Falling by Kathryn Craft.

That cover is pretty dramatic isn't it? That girl is literally falling. But falling into or out of what? Is there a sense of desperation in that girl's life? Is life that out of control for that girl? I had to find out. That cover is really what sold me on the book, I knew there had to be a good/intriguing story behind it.

Penelope "Penny" Sparrow was raised to be a dancer. Her mother drilled into her that dance was the way to go. As she grew older, Penny pushed her body to its limits. When the book opens Penny is in the hospital. Her body is literally bruised and broken. She's alive, but every movement hurts. She doesn't know how she got there. But some new friends will help her to remember and to rebuild her life.

Angela, her hospital roommate, and Marty, a local baker, help put the pieces of Penny's life back together. Marty fills a gap in Penny's memory that she would rather forget. He is the one who found her. She literally landed on his car after a 14-story fall. Was she pushed? Did she fall? Or did she jump? As the book progresses, I was leaning more and more to Penny jumping. Her life before the fall sounded like torture. In my mind, she tortured herself for her craft.

To be a dancer you have to be disciplined. Penny seemed too disciplined. Her mother raised her to be a dancer, and seemed to be living vicariously through her daughter. She needed to be in her daughter's life in every way, so much so that Penny broke free. She broke free of her mother's home, unhealthy eating habits, and her neediness. Penny pushed her body to the brink dancing for her charismatic choreographer Dmitri. A line was certainly crossed between the two, leading to Penny living with him. She wants to impress him. She wants bigger parts in his productions -- no matter the cost.

Maybe it's a stereotype, but Penny seemed like a typical dancer. She restricted her calories almost to the point of obsession. Her relationship with her mother is strained. To me, Penny wasn't very likeable. I wondered if she even liked herself. Maybe that is the problem. Without dancing what kind of person is she really? Did her obsession with body image and dancing with Dmitri push her over the edge?

Despite their own problems, Angela and Marty provide a much-needed and calming influence for Penny. Angela is battling cystic fibrosis, but will fight at all costs to keep air flowing through her lungs. Marty is mourning the loss of his wife, but finds solace in his bakery. They were a good contrast for Penny's character. Even with their private battles, Angela and Marty were examples of what a normal life could look like. It didn't seem like Penny ever had a sense of normality.

I might not have always liked Penny's character, but I came to understand her by the end. There was a definite wave of emotions in this book. Funny, happy, sad, and endearing are the words I would use to describe this book.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received an e-ARC from the publisher (Sourcebooks) as part of a blog tour.

Please welcome Eric Linder!!

Here is a guest post from Eric Linder, author of Hospice Voices.

As a new hospice volunteer, you like to think your first visit to a new patient and their family will be greeted with a rousing chorus of “thank God you’re here.” But as might be expected, each family reacted a bit differently when I arrived. Or rather, each member of each family reacted a bit differently. Sometimes, the patients were enthusiastic and sometimes, it took a while longer for them to feel comfortable with me.

My first patient, Bob Zimmerman, couldn’t wait for me to start visiting him and we immediately bonded over our shared eye problems (we were both blind in one eye) and international travel (we’d both recently been to Ukraine).  On the other hand, the fact that her son was anxious for our visits to begin held no weight with Little One, a 94-year-old Mono Indian. She was very skeptical and kept pushing me off. “Now’s not a good time,” she’d say whenever I called. Only later did I learn the reason. A reason that became one of the most commented upon and popular chapters in my book, “Little One’s Big Secret.” While Howard Cooper’s daughter, Cricket, was all in favor of hospice supporting her father, she steadfastly refused it for herself, even though she was undergoing chemo for the latter stages of cancer. I never pushed her on this issue, as Cricket was rarely far from “Dan,” her beloved Dan Wesson long-barrel 44-mag, with which she was a crack shot.

When I first approached the families with the idea that I might write a book about my experiences, I was worried they might not be supportive or sign the necessary releases. Some of them were surprised to learn I was an attorney. Often, attorneys aren’t exactly held in high esteem, and some of my patients and their families had “gotten the shaft” from attorneys. But it all worked out very smoothly. The families have been the book’s biggest supporters and their response has been unanimous and unqualified: everyone was delighted at the prospect of having their story told.

My take on: Hospice Voices

I love all kinds of fiction and I have just as much affection for non-fiction -- perhaps even more. With fiction, I use my imagination to bring characters to life. With non-fiction, I'm fascinated how other people live, work, love, socialize, etc. I think all non-fiction gives you a different perspective on life. 

When I got the pitch for Hospice Voices, by Eric Lindner, I was intrigued. I know some of my family members have been in hospice care, but I can't say that I know much about hospice care. How does one cope being around people who are near death? Given the subject matter, I assumed this would be a sad sad book but I was wrong. Eric Lindner's book doesn't dwell on death, instead it celebrates the lives of the people he met.

When he starts out, Eric is given a hefty list of dos and don'ts. He's a stranger coming into the homes of others, so of course there are a lot of rules.

"Don't expect your patient to conform to your standards/expectations. Don't interrupt when the patient is sharing. And, last but not least, don't assume you know what their needs/feelings are." Pg. 6

How do you balance what you think is right for the patient with the patient's wishes? Or do you always follow the rules? For the most part, Eric Lindner seemed to follow the rules. He listened to his patients. He engaged in funny banter with them. He got to know their family members. He even tried to knock something off their bucket lists. Anything to make them more comfortable as death drew near. With Bob Zimmerman, Eric was able to find common ground on their mutual travels abroad. Towards the end of his life, Bob had simple needs. Chemotherapy treatments diminished his sense of taste. Before the end he really wanted to have some pancakes. Eric did get him his pancakes. It was one of several sweet moments between the two of them.

Another time Eric was torn between what seemed like the right thing to do and what he had been taught to do. The medication for one patient hadn't been prepared for the day, and it would have been hours before a nurse or family member came to the house. This was a boundary that Eric had been taught not to cross. She might not need the medication but it would give her peace of mind just to know that it was there. Eric prepared her medication, and I can't say I wouldn't have done the same. His superiors disagreed with that decision. There weren't any major reprimands for this decision, but it left me a little curious. Isn't making the patient feel comfortable or at ease part of hospice care? I guess it's hard to know your place as a hospice volunteer. What sounds reasonable to you could actually be wrong. 

I think a book like this can teach a lot of people about compassion and humility. You think you know a lot about people and society at large, but everything changes when people are at the end of their lives. You have to know when to speak and when not to. When to act and when not to. If you find the right balance, you can help someone find a little slice of happiness at end of their life.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book as part of a blog tour with Premier Virtual Author Tours

My take on: The In-Between Hour

The In-Between Hour by Barbara Claypole White took some time to wrap my head around. After losing his young son a popular author has to pretend he is still alive. Huh? Why? Why would you torture yourself like that? Or, as I found with this book, are you pretending for some altruistic reason?

On the outside, author Will Shepard has a life most would envy. He's written a series of bestselling books. He has a team of PR professionals managing his career. He has more money than most people. But at his core, Will is a lost soul. His son Freddie died in a car crash, unfortunately at the hands of his disturbed mother. The drive Will once had is gone. He doesn't have the strength to start writing a new adventure in his Agent Dodd series. But he does have to rewrite history when it comes to his aging father Jacob.

Jacob is a proud man. Providing for his family and living off the land in the woods of North Carolina are what brought him joy. Over time life had a cruel way of working out. His beloved wife is dead, Will is living the life in fancy schmancy New York City, and Jacob is left to convalesce in a nursing home. The only trump card he has amongst his fellow residents is bragging about his grandson. He brags about all the wonderful trips Freddie and his mother are on. Old age has robbed Jacob of many things, including the memory of Will telling him that Freddie was dead. Instead of trying to drum the truth into his father, Will continues to let his father live a lie. But each day the lie gets bigger and bigger. In Will's mind, this is for his father's benefit. No matter how much it hurts to pretend Freddie is still alive, Will can't bring himself to break an old man's heart. But new friendships are making it harder and harder for Will to keep up with this lie.

Holistic veterinarian Hannah Linden always tries to see the good in every situation. Her own life is shaky but she still finds a way to be positive. Six years ago, her husband realized he was gay and  decided to end their marriage. Her sons Galen and Liam each have their own set of problems. Drugs are a common problem for both, but Galen is in serious need of help. Galen is suffering from depression and is recovering from a suicide attempt. Hannah wants and needs to take care of everyone else but herself. Enter her sex-crazed friend Poppy, and Will and Jacob.

Poppy is the free-spirited friend that everyone needs. In the book, she made more sense than some of the more strait-laced folks. As a former volunteer at the nursing home, Poppy could see that the structure of that place was physically and emotionally draining for Jacob. It's was Poppy's suggestion for Will to rent Hannah's cabin. Being out in the forest could bring Jacob back to life. Will just sees it as a stopgap to finding another nursing home for his father. Despite Jacob feeling like himself for the first time in years, all Will sees is an old man. Will seems himself as the parent and his father as the child. Only Will knows best.

I guess "The In-Between Hour" is really an appropriate title. Will, Hannah, and Jacob are all in transition or are in between happiness and sadness. With each page I kept waiting for Hannah and Will to be totally honest not just with each other but with themselves. They are both in deep denial. Will thinks he is the only one who knows what's best for his father. Hannah thinks finding the silver lining in everything can help Galen recover. They are both attracted to each other, but deny it at every turn. The book was a definite page-turner. A heart-warming page-turner. It's one of those books to curl up with on a rainy day!!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the author as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

My take on: I'll Take Care of You

Every time I watch an episode of Snapped or 48 Hours I am stunned at the overwhelming stupidity and lack of humanity displayed by people who think they can get away with murder. Nanette Johnston Packard and Eric Naposki are prime examples. Both of them are responsible for the murder of millionaire Bill McLaughlin. It took 15 years before either of them saw the inside of the courtroom. Fortunately both of them are where they belong -- in prison. Caitlin Rother details the case in her latest book I'll Take Care You.

On December 15, 1994 Kevin McLaughlin made a call that no son should every have to make. He had to call 911 after finding his father's bloody body in their home. Bill McLaughlin had been shot multiple times. Who did it? Why? Early speculation centered on one of Bill's former business partners and.....his much younger live-in girlfriend Nanette. Soon the investigation would center on Nanette and Eric Naposki, one of her many boyfriends she had on the side. While police were certain of Nanette and Eric's guilt, the case stalled for more than a decade. Both of them got to move on. Both of them dated other people. Both of them had more children. Both of them got to enjoy their lives for more than a decade -- something they denied to Bill McLaughlin and his children Kim, Jenny, and Kevin.

The book is as detailed as possible when it comes to Nanette's background. Nanette was a bit of a mystery -- even to the people who knew her. She told lies on top of lies, on top of lies, on top of lies. Her educational background, career, and family life were nothing but a farce. Reading the book, she just sounds like a fictional character. She let people think she was a great mother, when in reality she let her ex-husband have custody of her older children. Her children seemed more like props. They served their purpose only when necessary. She let people think she was a great businesswoman, when in reality she helped herself to Bill's money before and after his death. I don't get the mystique of con artists like her. What do people see in people like her? I don't know that I got the answer from the book. I just felt sad and angry that a person like this can exert so much power over other people. She didn't people the trigger, but she got Eric Naposki to do it.

With fiction I can get over the evil deeds that people do. It's so different with non-fiction. This really happened. A man lost his life because of the greed of others. If not for some advances in ballistics technology, who knows if this case would have gone to trial. It was a cold case for more than a decade.

I really was drawn into this story. I read most of this book during my commute to work. I sacrificed my morning naps on the train because I was so engrossed in the story, and I think that's the mark of good writing!! If you're a fan of true-crime books, than this is one for you.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Kensington Publishing Corp.) at the request of the author as part of a blog tour.

Monday, January 6, 2014

My take on: The Scribe

"If Theresa had been feebleminded or sickly, she might have understood the decision. Bet she was an attractive young woman -- perhaps a little skinny for the tastes of Frankish boys -- but with wide hips and generous breasts, not to mention a full set of teeth, as white as they come. Anyone else in her position would have sought a good husband to knock her up and keep her. But no, Theresa had to throw away her youth, shut away in some old priests' workshop..." Pg. 2

Only two pages in and I already liked Theresa. In 799 Theresa is a rare woman. She can read and and she can write. Her father, Gorgias, taught his daughter everything he knew. Instead of accepting society's norms, Theresa fought against them. She's gearing up for a big test, a test not just of her skills as a parchment maker but a test of her mental strength. The men in the town don't make it easy for a woman like Theresa. The road to her big test is full of obstacles.

Gorgias has recently been tasked with translating an important document. It sounded like the type of document someone would kill for. While taking his daughter to her test, Gorgias is violently attacked. A copy of the document he was working on has been stolen. Is it a coincidence? What is so important about this document? Is it worth killing someone? There is a definite air of mystery about this document. Should Theresa postpone her test? Or should she continue? Of course she continues!! The start of the test itself was rather grotesque!! I had to stop eating while I was reading that part. You'll have to read the book to know what I'm talking about!!

A devastating fire tears Theresa and her family apart. She is blamed for everything, despite a lack of evidence. Just a few words and it's enough to sully Theresa's character. She is forced to live as a fugitive. She has to rely on strangers and on the skills that her father taught her. Alcuin, a monk, comes to Theresa's aid, helping her in her quest to become a scribe. Alcuin also has ties to King Charlemagne. Perhaps Theresa can use this to her advantage! Is there some connection between her father and King Charlemagne? Did he hire her father to write this mysterious document? If Theresa can unravel the mystery, perhaps she can reunite her family.

Garrido's research and attention to to detail is evident throughout the book. The societal norms and political and religious strife of the times comes through. At 500+ pages the book is bit too long for my tastes. But as a lover of historical fiction, Garrido definitely held my attention throughout.

Rating: Give it a try

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

Friday, January 3, 2014

My take on: Beautiful Disaster and A Beautiful Wedding

Do opposites really attract? I would like to think so, but we all know that's not the case. Abby Abernathy and Travis Maddox are the definition of opposites. Abby is the good girl trying to escape her past. Travis is the tattooed campus lothario, with a fiery temper to match. They shouldn't be a couple, but against all odds they are. Author Jamie McGuire chronicles their story in Beautiful Disaster, Walking Disaster, and A Beautiful Wedding (novella). Although, ... the title of the latest book is a dead giveaway to the state of Travis and Abby's relationship. So if you haven't read any of these books, you might want to stop reading now!!

When I saw the pitch for A Beautiful Wedding, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to finally read Beautiful Disaster. You don't have to read the second book before reading A Beautiful Wedding, but it would help. In my case, it would have helped me to understand Travis a little better if I had read Walking Disaster.

Travis walks around campus without a care in the world. He spends his nights in the bowels of the campus, boxing in an underground fight ring. When Travis isn't earning money with his fists, he's charming the ladies around campus. Girls enter and leave his apartment through a revolving door. No romantic attachments for a boy like this. It would take a special girl to crack the rough exterior of Travis Maddox.

Abby Abernathy had no intention of attracting the attention of a man-child like Travis Maddox. He reminds her of everything she is running away from. Her father, Mick, is a disgraced gambler. Her life with him was a roller coaster ride. If she lets Travis into her life, Abby might never be the same. A silly bet, and I do mean silly, forces Travis and Abby to share an apartment together. I can stomach a silly college bet, but Travis' nickname for Abby is what really got on my nerves. Every couple of sentences he's calling her "Pigeon" or "Pidge." The first couple of reference are cute, but an entire book?!?!? Just call her "Abby" already!!

I did enjoy the banter between them. You know they're attracted to each other, but both fight against it. It's too hard to admit they are exactly what the other needs. What starts as a friendship, slowly blossoms into a turbulent, sweet, and dangerously co-dependent romance. How can it be all of those things? It's sweet that they can't imagine their lives without the other. It's sweet that they constantly worry about each other. However, they relationship reeks of co-dependency. Another guy looks at Abby or if she even thinks about breaking off the relationship, Travis is ready to fly off the handle. There is something seriously wrong with that. There's no explanation for this anger ... at least not in the two books I read. I will have to read Walking Disaster (it's been sitting on my shelf since BEA!! shhhh!!) soon.

The way Beautiful Disaster ends, you just know the story of Travis and Abby isn't finished. A Beautiful Wedding is all about their wedding and honeymoon. Travis and Abby go through all the normal emotions. Are they doing this for the right reasons? Is it the right time? Are they being impulsive? Are they too young? Is this all happening too fast? My take? No. No. Yes. Yes. And yes! If you've read Beautiful Disaster, then you know of the tragedy that happened in that book. Who gets married the same day as a deadly tragedy? Who? I'm all for love, but only for the right reasons. I love their relationship, but I also think its a cautionary tale for falling in love too hard and too fast.

"I thought about the first time I stood in front of Travis. He was sweaty, shirtless, and panting, and I was covered in Marek Young's blood. That was just six months ago, and now we're getting married. And I'm nineteen. I'm only nineteen. What the **** am I doing?" -- Pg. 42

I'm right there with you Abby!! What are you doing? Travis is all about honesty and Abby's motivations for marriage are rather dishonest. To understand what I'm talking about, you have to at least read Beautiful Disaster. But all my sniping aside, the wedding itself is quite beautiful! You can feel the depths of love and intimacy between Travis and Abby. There is A LOT of passion between them on their wedding night. If you're a prude, I suggest you skip those pages. By the end, I still felt like there was more to this story. I feel like there is more to Travis and Abby's story. Their lives have only just begun. I hope Jamie McGuire can give us one more book!

Beautiful Disaster rating: Give it a try
A Beautiful Wedding rating: Give it a try

Note: In the spirit of honesty, you should all know that I was a summer intern in the editorial department for the publisher (Atria Books) of these books. This did not influence my review. I received a copy of Beautiful Disaster during my internship. I received a copy of A Beautiful Wedding in exchange for an honest review.