Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 is so over, let's look forward to 2016 !!

It's that time of year. A time when everyone begins to reflect on the past year. What have we accomplished and what haven't we accomplished? I personally finished a big goal, getting my Masters degree. I don't say that to brag. It's really just a fancy piece of paper. I was never wrapped up in getting another degree. My end goal was to get a new job, and if I happened to graduate that was just extra icing on the cake. 

Now, I have lots of extra free time. Free time that I'm often not sure what to do with. I had grand visions of using that time to catch up on my reading. It didn't happen. While I was in school, I spent every weekend chained to my desk and my laptop. At work, I look at words for most of the day. When the end of the day comes and it's time to wind down, I don't always want to look at more words. That's why I read the least amount of books, than I have in four years. My initial goal for 2015 was 40 books, but I lowered that to 30. I only read 27 books, I wish I could have read more. Some days I just did not want to read. I did not want to post anything on my blog. I continued to buy more books, but have read very few of them. Some days I really feel bad for slacking on my reading. 

I think I'm getting over my reading lull. Like many book bloggers, I want to do better in 2016. I know I will do better. I'm aiming high for 2016, with a goal of reading 75 books. It's an ambitious goal. I might not make it. The number isn't that important. What's important is that I have fun doing it.

Before I get to my reading resolutions for 2016, lets look back at 2015. I don't feel I read enough to do a best and worst books list. Instead, I focused on the best books I did read and tropes/cliches I'm tired of hearing about. 
Best books of 2015
(Please note, not all of these books were published in 2015. I just happened to read them in 2015)

1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: I love, love historical fiction. This one is set during World War II. Two sisters are put to the test. Risking not just their freedom, but their lives.

2. Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid: What if fate gave you a chance to see yourself on two completely different paths?

3. The Martian by Andy Weir: Never thought I'd like a sci-fi book, but I did. It was funny all the way to the end, and so was the movie!
4. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins: This one started out slow, but I loved it by the end. I have high hopes for the movie!

5. Evergreen Springs by RaeAnne Thayne: A sweet holiday romance!

6. Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan: I did not review this on my blog. This was an office book club pick. This one mixes music and magic. It's the story of how one harmonica played a pivotal role in the lives of three children.

7. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: I read the whole series (did not review on the blog). I read all three books and watched the movies in preparation for the final movie. The first book is my favorite. I feel this one set the tone for the rest of the series.

8. George by Alex Gino: Another office book club pick (did not review on the blog). A little girl desperately wants to play the lead role in the school production of Charlotte's Web. But she's afraid to tell anyone. Why? This little girl was born a boy. I highly recommend it.

Tropes/Cliches I'm tired of hearing!!

"It's just like Gone Girl" "For fans of Gillian Flynn" "For fans of Gone Girl" "For fans of.......": No, no, no, no. Why can't books just stand on their own? Why constantly compare them to blockbuster books and authors? 

Love triangles in young adult books: While I loved The Hunger Games series, I was tired of the whole Peeta or Gale business. This trope seems to be in soooooooooo many YA books. It's time to retire it.

Print vs. digital: My personal opinion, print is not dead. But digital hasn't completely taken over either. Every year there is an argument that publishers should increase their digital initiatives, along with 20 more stories that print is the better option. Enough already!

Reading resolutions for 2016!
(other than the first one, the rest are listed in no particular order)

Read more of my own books: As in I must read more of the books I made the effort to search for and purchase. I spend hundreds of dollars every year on books, but I rarely read my own books. I put review books above my own TBR pile. That stops in 2016. Fifty percent of the books I read in 2016 have to be my own. That is one resolution I have to keep. How bad have I been at reading my own books? Take a look below:

2015: 5 out 27 books (18.5%) I read were my own
2014: 3 out of 37 books (8.1%) I read were my own
2013: 3 out of 60 books (5%) I read were my own
2012: 0 out of 76 books I read were my own

I suppose the silver lining here is that each year since 2012 I've read more of my own books. But still those numbers are abysmal. I vow to change that in 2016. I will still accept review books, but reading books I purchased will take priority.

Buy less books: This is a hard one. Continuing to buy books that I don't read is just not sustainable financially. I need more money in my wallet and buying books is a BIG drain on my wallet. For Christmas I did buy more books, but only with the gift cards I received. I think that's a good policy. Only buy books on special occasions (birthdays/holidays). This is really going to hurt. :(

Read more fantasy/sci-fi books: I need to step out of my comfort zone, and this is the genre I read the least. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin is at the top of my list (just ordered it online with a gift card). I heard her speak at a book event, and she really piqued my interest in fantasy books. 

Read more period: As I stated earlier, 27 books, in my opinion, is just such a small number. I have to do better.

Less social media, more reading: I don't post a lot on social media, except on those occasions when I like to snark on red carpet fashion (the Golden Globes are calling my name). I do waste far too much time on Twitter, scrolling through nonsense posts. It's such a time suck! Time to change that.

Read more e-books: I have several hundreds books on my Kindle and have read less than 10 of them.

Listen to an audiobook: I've had my Kindle for a couple of years and have yet to take advantage of the free audiobook that comes with it. I think it would be great to get a different perspective on reading. 

Read more non-fiction: I did not read a single non-fiction book in 2015. Dead Wake by Erik Larson is at the top of the list. Of course I bought it months ago, and it's been collecting dust.

Read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: I know the exact place I bought this, Penn Books (before it closed). I bought it three years ago. This is so sad. I don't have any desire to watch the TV show, but I feel out of the reading loop with this series. 

Read the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin: Now, I'm not a regular viewer of the show outside of short clips and I'm not a die hard fan waiting for the next book. But I feel this is another series that's required reading.

Read more Harry Potter books: I don't know how long ago I bought the hardcover box set, but I was still at my old job when I did. I haven't worked at my old job in more than four years. In that time, I have only read the first book. I don't remember a lot about the first book. So I know I have to hit the reset button and start from the beginning. When it was happening, Harry Potter mania was lost on me. I was in high school when the books started coming out and I just didn't get all the hype over a book. Now that I work in children's publishing, Harry Potter is a regular topic of conversation. I can't really relate, and the only way that's going to change is if I understand the hype.

That's it for resolutions. Here's to a successful 2016 all around!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My take on: Mastered

"Go assure Evangeline's roommates that she is perfectly all right, but she won't be be coming home tonight, or any other night for that matter. Inform them that she's moving in with me and will be in contact with them in the next day or two and will explain everything to them then." Pg. 79


Maya Banks isn't afraid to let her characters be bold and in control. Her latest book, Mastered, is no exception.

So why start with that quote? Because, in my opinion, that quote is the biggest WTF moment of the book. A wide-eyed, country girl comes to the big city (New York). She works her butt off working late-night shifts at a seedy bar. All to send money home to her parents. She never takes a moment for herself, which is a big attraction to a brooding and domineering millionaire playboy. After knowing each other for less than 24 hours, this man is convinced this wide-eyed girl is his next conquest.....his next submissive. It sounds insane that a person would want to "own" and "control" a relationship with another human being. But that is the world Drake Donovan lives in, and if Evangeline wants to be part of it she has to...submit. Yes this book is full of sex and passion (and a little BDSM).

Evangeline was recently dumped by her weasel of a boyfriend. Her friends hatch a plan for revenge. Send Evangeline, dressed to the nines, to the ultra-exclusive hot club in the neighborhood and let her weasel of a boyfriend see what he's missing. It sounds like a good plan, but things go bad quickly. Drake, the club owner, sends his beefy bodyguards to rescue Evangeline before she gets in over her head. One hot scene later between Drake and Evangeline and an instant connection is formed.

If you've read my reviews in the past, I'm not a fan of insta-love or in this case insta-lust. I wanted a little more buildup. A little more tension. A little more resistance on Evangeline's part before giving into Drake. A few fleeting moments of passion, and Drake is ready to literally possess Evangeline. He will take care of all of her financial needs now and in the future, all she has to do is give him what he wants. Does that make her a prostitute? No, but what could a man like Drake get out of this relationship? How long could an arrangement like this last? Who would get bored first? Or will they fall in love? Can a relationship built on domination and submission have a future?

This book isn't all sex all the time, there are some sweet moments. Drake doesn't like things that go against his plan. He likes control. Evangeline often resists or questions that control, even little things. After a whirlwind shopping spree, all at Drake's expense, Evangeline decides to return the favor by cooking dinner for him. Sounds simple, sounds nice. But for Drake, that's an action that goes against his plan. In his mind, Evangeline is woman who deserves to wined and dined. She doesn't need to wait on him. Drake gets over his initial angst, and devours the meal she cooked. A few moments of small talk over a meal offer a small glimmer into what a "normal" relationship between these two could look like. I found it to be a sweet moment. 

As a character, Evangeline is a person you would want in your corner. Although she's very naive, she will defend her family and friends down to her last breath. Drake is a bit of an enigma. He solves a lot of his problems with money, power, and sex. What kind of life is that without some balance? Evangeline is that balance. She could be the missing link to his life and vice versa, if they both want it. This is book one in a series, and given how it ended I will have to come back for book two. Drake and Evangeline are not done after just one book.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from Sullivan and Partners in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

My take on: Evergreen Springs

I rarely read holiday-themed books. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever read a holiday book. It takes a lot to soften my cynical heart and mind.....but I think RaeAnne Thayne did that with her book Evergreen Springs.

Evergreen Springs is the third book in Thayne's Haven Point series, but I didn't know that until I finished. This can totally be read as a standalone. For my first entry into the series, I smiled. I laughed. Some moments even made me go, "Awww!" If you believe in love and second chances, this book will definitely warm your heart.

Reformed town bad boy Cole Barrett is starting over. Cole, a former sex-crazed cowboy, is honing his skills as a horse trainer in the hopes that it will bring the family ranch back to prominence. Following the recent death of his ex-wife, Sharla, Cole is thrust into single parenthood. He's now raising his know-it-all, brooding, 8-year-old daughter, Jazmyn, and 6-year-old son, Ty. Sharla moved the kids around a lot and rarely let Cole see them. How does Cole reassure two grieving children that he's not going anywhere? How does he let them know that they're safe? If Cole tells Jazmyn to sit down, she stands up. He goes left, she goes right. One moment Jazmyn wants one thing and the next she wants another. Sounds like typical child behavior. But for Jazmyn she just can't let her father win. She can't trust him just yet. But Ty is just the opposite. He's the sweetest, most agreeable child a parent could want. Cole's estranged father, Stanford, is back in the picture. But a father-son reunion is just not in the cards right now. Cole has his hands full.

To make matters worse, Cole's pregnant sister, Tricia, has come to town. She's expecting twins and fleeing from a husband whom she's says doesn't want children. The stress lands Tricia in the hospital, where she will stay until it's time to deliver her children. To top it off, Christmas is just a few weeks away. Can Cole give his children the Christmas experience their childhood has been sorely lacking?

With all of that on his plate, Cole certainly doesn't have time for love. Right? Wrong? Love finds him when he's not even looking for it.

As fate would have it, the beautiful Dr. Devin Shaw is on call when Tricia is admitted to the hospital. Tricia and Devin are old friends, and as one of the town's most-respected doctors she is compelled to help not just her patient but her patient's family. Tricia lets Devin know all about Cole's struggles as a single parent. Of course Devin lends a helping hand. Several in the town rally around Cole and his children, cooking up meals that can last for weeks. Devin chips in with babysitting. Cole can't understand it. Why is the town helping him? Why is Devin helping him? Does she have an ulterior motive? Nope. These are just two lonely people who belong together, only they don't know it.

Devin brings out the best in Cole and his children. She knows when to be patient. She knows when to push. But she doesn't know how to guard her heart. She doesn't know how not to fall in love with this family. If Devin and Cole can just learn how to let the other in, everything will fall into place.

This wasn't an insta-love connection. It was slow and steady, which I loved. I hate it when characters are immediately attracted to each other. Books like that are just not believable. I believed in these characters. I rooted for these characters. I'm sure other readers will too!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from Little Bird Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

My take on: The Last September

Charlie Moss has been murdered. His mentally ill brother, Eli, is a suspect. Charlie has a calming presence and he could always find a solution for Eli's unpredictable behavior. Charlie was the protector, especially when it came to his brother. Was Eli finally tired of his brother? What was the final straw? It's a mystery. Charlie's wife, Brett, and his young daughter, Sarah, are left to pick up the pieces. 

Sounds like a murder mystery doesn't? But The Last September by Nina de Gramont is about about so much more. This book is about the years of friendship and love between Brett, Eli, and Charlie. It's about the love a brother has for a brother. It's about the love Brett and Charlie had for each other. Charlie's murder is just a small piece of a much larger emotional puzzle that Brett must solve. Before she can move on, Brett has to figure out how their lives got to this point?

The book starts out in the present day. Charlie, Brett, and Sarah are living in his father's cottage on Cape Cod. They are struggling financially. Their marriage appears to be shaky. They don't need Eli and his erratic behavior. But Eli is coming to the house. Brett draws a line in the sand and refuses to put their daughter or herself in harm's way. She spends the night with a friend, and returns alone to the house. What she discovers is shocking. Eli is confused and covered in blood. What has happened? A stunned Brett finds Charlie's bloodied body. There's only one conclusion right? Eli must have done it? It's not so simple, and that's when the book shifts back to the past.

The friendship between Eli, Brett, and Charlie began in college. Eli and Brett were friends before Charlie ever came into the picture. Brett was the person Eli could be vulnerable with. Boyfriends came and went, but Eli was always there. A short chance encounter with Charlie, and Brett knew she was in love. It wasn't quite the same for Charlie. A devastated Brett moves on and gets engaged to another man, Ladd. But Charlie was never far from Brett's heart and mind. The same could be said for Eli. His descent into madness changed his friendship with Brett. The closeness is gone, but deep down Brett has always cared for Eli.

Ladd loves his fiancee, but he knows that Charlie has a hold over Brett. He's been burned by Charlie before. Ladd is just waiting for it to happen again. Of course it happens again. Brett feels extremely guilty for breaking Ladd's heart, but she has to follow her own heart. She follows it to Charlie. What if she didn't? It's a question that haunts Brett. What if she had stayed with Ladd? Wouldn't Charlie still be alive? Did her past choices ultimately kill Charlie? She can't think like that.

Brett never would have experienced such a deep love or motherhood if she hadn't chosen Charlie. Her life, while hard, was better with him in it. Charlie wouldn't have felt like himself if he couldn't help his brother. As long as Charlie was in his life, Eli was comfortable in his own madness. My take from this book, everyone is responsible for their own choices, including Charlie and Eli. Everything happened for a reason.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Algonquin Books). The Last September is the fall selection for She Reads.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

My take on: Then No One Can Have Her

TV shows like Snapped, 48 Hours, Lockup, and just about anything on Investigation ID are extremely addicting for me. True-crime novels are right up my alley. Although, I must confess that books by the late Ann Rule were always at the top of my list. But.....Caitlin Rother has become one of my favorites too.

Rother's latest book, Then No One Can Have Her, is a deep dive into the July 2008 murder of Carol Kennedy, a divorced mother of two. The obvious suspect was her ex-husband Steven DeMocker.

Why him? Isn't that a little too easy? Sometimes the most obvious answer is the correct one. I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying that Steve DeMocker is a murder. This book is a detailed, well-researched account of the events leading up to Carol's murder and the years after that it took to bring him to trial.

Some parts of this book were so hard, and at the same time so infuriating to read. Carol was bludgeoned to death. The details were stomach-churning. This woman suffered in her final moments. The infuriating part was Steve's behavior after the fact. His narcissism comes through loud and clear in the book. There wasn't a whole lot of empathy on his part, even for his own daughters Katie and Charlotte. He showed no emotion while his grieving daughters eulogized their mother. Steve's own speech at the funeral was not about Carol but himself. His "alibi" was also just a little too convenient, a sudden bike ride on the night of the murder. A bike ride on a trail which no one saw him. A bike ride that resulted in scratches on his body. A bike ride that was suspiciously near Carol's home. A bike ride that resulted in a flat tire. A bike ride in which his cellphone was mysteriously turned off for several hours. 

There's so much that pointed to Steve's guilt. He owned a set of golf clubs, which were consistent with the suspected murder weapon. Yet it would take years before a trial got underway. Changes in Steve's defense team and changes behind the bench led to delay after delay. Where's good old Steve these days? I think everyone can guess.

Where do people like Steve DeMocker come from? Why do they do what they do? What gives them the right to be judge, jury, and executioner over innocent people? It's hard to know or even comprehend. But writers, like Caitlin Rother, are doing a good job to bring light to these cases. This one is worth a read.

Rating: Give it a try

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

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Martian: The book vs. the movie

Ok, The Martian by Andy Weir has been out for more than a year. The movie The Martian has been out for a little more than two weeks.

Why am I saying this?

Because I don't know how to talk about both without some spoilers. Sooooooooooo if you haven't read the book or seen the movie, I suggest you come back later.

Here comes a really big picture of the book, just in case.

Still here? Ok, lets dive in. I think most people know the basic story. After a disastrous sandstorm, the Ares 3 crew must abort their mission on Mars. In the race to get to the ship and off the surface of Mars, astronaut Mark Watney is hit by flying debris and presumed dead. Commander Lewis doesn't want to leave Mars without Watney, but has to make the difficult decision to do so. The Ares 3 crew lifts off the surface of Mars and heads back to Hermes, the ship that will take them back to Earth.

Of course Watney isn't dead. Just knocked out. He's left to fend for himself. The communications equipment is damaged, how will he contact Mission Control? How can he stretch his food to last until the next Ares crew comes in four years? How long before he loses his mind listening to Commander Lewis' endless supply of disco music? That last one is source of comic relief throughout the book and the movie.

I don't normally read science fiction, but I jumped on the bandwagon after reading so many good reviews. I have to say this is one of the funniest books I've read in a long time.

How can you not like a book when the first line is this, "I'm pretty much f*****."

Use your imagination on that last word.

There is a lot to like about this book. The fighting and funny banter at Mission Control as they try to work out a plan to save Watney. Commander Lewis getting over her guilt about leaving Watney behind. But.....this does read like a first book. Andy Weir self-published this book before signing a deal with Crown (an imprint at Penguin Random House). This could have used just a little bit more editing. The prose is very straightforward, but it's also awkward at times. It's very heavy on the science. I appreciate Andy Weir's need to be authentic, but it got a little boring at times.

Which now brings me to the movie. I LOVED the movie. Probably a little bit more than I liked the book. It's not as heavy on the science, the balance was just right. Occasionally, Matt Damon annoys me with his politics but I think he was the perfect choice to play Mark Watney. He portrayed Mark with the right amount of dry humor and vulnerability. The movie is pretty faithful to the book. Some of the lines are straight from the book. There are some slight tweaks to the movie. After regaining contact with Mission Control, Mark never loses it. Which is weird to me because that was a major plot point in the latter half of the book. Mark's trip to the Ares 4 ascent vehicle is drama-free, no sandstorm to avoid, no craters, no overturning of the rover. Commander Lewis takes control of Watney's rescue at the end. I won't tell you how, but if you've read the book you know what I mean. Overall, this is a book worth reading and a movie worth watching.

Book rating: Superb
Movie rating: O.M.G. !!!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My take on: Liar Temptress Soldier Spy

Narrative non-fiction is usually a tough one for me. I've given it a try many times only to not finish. Thankfully, that's not the case here. Liar Temptress Soldier Spy by Karen Abbott is the tale of four women, each of whom played a pivotal role in the Civil War.

Teenager Belle Boyd boldly shot a Union soldier, eventually becoming a spy for the Confederate army.

Emma Edmonds became a master of disguise, enlisting as a Union soldier named Frank Thompson.

Widowed Rose O'Neal Greenhow was a well-connected Southerner who used her own daughter to deliver messages to the Confederate army.

Elizabeth Van Lew is so repulsed by slavery, she's become a staunch abolitionist--even against the beliefs of her some of her family members.

The Civil War was not America at it's finest. I find books on this time period to be dry and boring. But Karen Abbott manages to make this topic interesting with a hint of mystery. I found Emma's story the most compelling. I'm not trying to be mean, but she didn't look overly feminine or overly masculine. I can see how she managed to fool people. Imagine trying to keep a secret like that. President Lincoln put out the call for volunteers. Emma felt it was not just her patriotic duty but her religious duty to serve. She believed in helping others. No mission was too big or too small, even becoming a Pinkerton spy.

This whole book reads like fiction. Each chapter you want to know more. Each chapter you want to know how these women inserted themselves into history. At the time, they were doing things that went against what was considered normal for women. Rather than being ladies of leisure, they become ladies of espionage. Rather than waiting for the men to come home from war, they jumped into the fray. Rose openly hide coded messages in her home, clothing, and many other places. Even in prison, still found a way to spy on her Union captors--using her daughter as a courier. Elizabeth built a large network of spies, even planting a former slave, who could read, at the Southern White House. She proved to be a valuable piece, relaying information from top secret documents. Each woman played a part. Whether they were right or wrong, each of these women were very passionate about their causes and that shines through in Karen Abbott's engrossing narrative.

Rating: Superb

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

Monday, August 31, 2015

My take on: The Girl on The Train

Ok, this is take two for this review. Blogger was going through some growing pains last night. I worked on my post for more than an hour, saved several times, hit post.....only to lose everything I had written. I just didn't feel like starting from scratch last night. I'm giving it another go today.

Onto the business at hand!

I jumped on the bandwagon. I read another popular book that is setting the publishing world on fire. The last time I read a popular book, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, I was deeply disappointed. I loved the movie adaptation of Gone Girl, but I hated the book. I thought the same thing would happen with The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. While the movie won't be out for at least another year, I was pleasantly surprised by the book.

After reading more than half of the book, I was debating giving up on it. Why? This is a book full of unreliable characters. But ..... as a whole this was a good book.

Rachel Watson is the girl on the train. Everyday Rachel rides the early morning train. Everyday she rides the train to escape from reality. Everyday she rides the train past her old neighborhood. Everyday she rides the train she is reminded of her failed marriage, and of her ex-husband's new life. But everyday she rides the train, Rachel gets a glimpse into the lives of a young couple. A young couple she doesn't know, but wishes she could. In her head, this young couple is happy. Their names are "Jess" and "Jason." Rachel lives vicariously through this young couple. But one day "Jess" shatters the fantasy. She has an affair. How can "Jess" do this to "Jason?" Weeks later things take a turn for the worse when "Jess" disappears. Did Jason have something to do with it? No, that can't be. The man "Jess" was having an affair with has to be at fault! Rachel has to go to the police. She has to tell the police what she saw. But will they believe her? Highly unlikely. Why? Rachel is a hopeless alcoholic.

When she's not riding the train, Rachel is drowning herself in alcohol. She's been fired from job. Her roommate/landlord is on the verge of evicting Rachel. Her ex-husband, Tom, and his new wife, Anna, think Rachel is a pathetic, drunk, stalker. When Rachel is coherent enough, she phones Tom constantly and shows up at his home, frightening Anna. The deck is stacked heavily against Rachel. Who would believe anything she says? I certainly didn't. I found Rachel to be extremely annoying and whiny. I wanted her to just grow a backbone. Every chapter was just more of the same. Every time I thought she got her act together, Rachel would just get drunk all over again.

Fortunately the book offers more than just Rachel's perspective. We also get to hear from Anna and Megan Hipwell a.k.a "Jess." Anna isn't the greatest character. She had an affair with a married man, leading to the end of Tom and Rachel's marriage. She's in constant fear of Rachel, but I didn't really care. Morally, Anna just didn't have a leg to stand on. Megan on the other hand, was a slightly interesting character. We learn that Megan and her husband, Scott a.k.a. "Jason," have a troubled marriage. Scott thinks therapy for Megan will save their marriage. It works and it doesn't work, if that makes sense. Megan was hiding big secrets, she lets some of those out. She feels better about herself but not her marriage. She doesn't know what to do with her life. When she disappears, suspicion falls on Scott. But reading the book, you know that's just too easy. 

Rachel alone almost made me give up on this book. But I kept going. I wanted to know what happened to Megan. There had to be more to the story. None of the characters has any redeeming qualities, but there was just enough to hold my attention. If you're struggling with this one, keep reading. The ending will be worth it. Hopefully, the movie will be even better!

Rating: As a whole, Superb! The first 60-70 percent, Meh.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Mini review: The Nightingale

According to my Goodreads account, I started reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah on January 19 and finished on August 10. Seven months to finish a book? It shouldn't take that long. But I made the mistake of starting this book the week before my final semester of grad school. Once school started, reading for pleasure took a backseat.

Although.....I did manage to finish other books because of blog tours. I picked up The Nightingale, put it down, picked it up, put it down, picked up, put it down. It's not because I didn't like the book. From January until the end of April, my free time was scarce. After that, I was catching up on sleep and the mountain of shows on my DVR! But I was determined to finish this book. It takes place during World War II and I love historical fiction.

Two sisters, one conservative and controlled the other a free spirit who won't be contained. At the height of the war, both will be put the test, risking not just their freedom but their lives. Viann's husband, Antoine, is a soldier, fighting against the Germans trying to take over France. In Antoine's absence, Viann has to be both a mother and a father to their daughter, Sophie. She doesn't have time to deal with her wayward sister, Isabelle. The Nazi's are overtaking the small town of Carriveau. Food is scarce. The town is in shambles. Not a good time for Isabelle to get kicked out of yet another school, or to bring her ideas of a "Free France" to town.

Viann is forced to house a Nazi soldier in her home. It's the only way Viann can keep her home and her family safe. Isabelle disagrees. Isabelle wants to do more than just sit back and live according to the rules set by the Nazis. There has to be a way to fight back. But fighting back can put her life at risk. She has to leave Viann and Sophie. She has to help others. Neither sister believes in what the other is doing. Both sisters believe that the other is wrong. Neither sister wants to back down.

While this is a fictional story, The Nightingale is based in reality. It's well-researched. The book shows that Isabelle is more than just a wayward, fly-by-the-moment woman. She has a good heart. Viann is stronger than she realizes. She does whatever it takes to hold her family together. It's a story of love and family and the ties that hold us together. Definitely a book worth reading!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (St. Martin's Press) in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Mini hiatus!

I know.....I have not posted in a while. I was away on vacation. But I'm back now and will start posting reviews again this weekend.

What reviews are coming up?

Yes, I have jumped on the bandwagon. I'm reading The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Halfway through the book, this is falling in the Gone Girl category. What do I mean? I'm not liking the book. Rachel, the main narrator, is getting on my nerves. But....I hear this is going to be made into a movie. Like Gone Girl, I think this will make a better movie. I have a little more than 100 pages left. If the ending knocks my sock off, I might change my mind but I don't have high hopes.

I finished The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah two weeks ago. and it was great. But my review might be short. I started it in January....when I was still in grad school. So, I put it down, picked it up, put it down, picked it up, read other books. You get the picture. But I was determined to finished The Nightingale. My memory of the book from start to finish might be a little fuzzy, that's why my review will be short.

Time to step out of my comfort zone! I'm reading a graphic novel, Blankets by Craig Thompson. As an intern for a children's publisher, I did read a short one. But Blankets is the first graphic novel I'm reading on my own.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Time for a giveaway!!

It's summertime! It's time to stock up on some great books!

Make sure to put The Idea of Love by Patti Callahan Henry on your reading list. Thanks to Sullivan and Partners, I have one finished copy available for giveaway. This is open to U.S. and Canada residents only. Simply leave a comment below and that's it! One winner will be selected at random on July 31. Happy reading!

Book description:
The Idea of Love is a duplicitous and compelling story of love lost and found in unexpected places and is praised by New York Times bestselling author Dorothea Benton Frank as "so wonderful I wish I had written it myself...This is a huge winner--no lie!"
A Nicholas Sparks-esque screenwriter lacking inspiration in the wake of his divorce, Blake is desperately in search of a love story beautiful enough to translate into big screen success. Disguising himself as a travel writer, he treks down the east coast to sleepy southern Watersend in search of a love story he can borrow. When he speaks with the young and beautiful Ella Flynn, he's convinced he has his screenplay: Ella's beloved husband died saving her life. It's the perfect love story for his audiences...and it's also a lie. 

Reeling from the shock of her very much alive husband's affair, Ella is lost. When she speaks to Blake and dismisses him as a stranger she'll never see again, she creates the life she wants and paints herself as a successful wedding dress designer recovering from her saintly husband's sacrificial death.

Drawn to each other's lies and grappling with their flawed understandings of love, Ella and Blake's chance meeting gradually leads to more encounters and a larger web of deceit. As Blake and Ella bind themselves tighter with the lies they tell, the inevitable unraveling of their stories will end as neither imagined.
Patti Callahan Henry is a New York Times bestselling storyteller of eleven books, including The Stories We Tell, Between the Tides, and Driftwood Summer. Patti lives in Mountain Brook, Alabama with her husband and three children, where she is crafting her next story.

Friday, July 24, 2015

My take on: Orphan #8

Imagine yourself as a scared 4-year-old girl.

Your mother is dead.

Your father abandoned you and your brother.

You and your sibling are sent to separate orphanages.

Unfortunately, one of the "orphanages" is really just a front for a doctor to turn young kids into human guinea pigs.

You survive the horrors of the orphanage.

You become an adult.

As fate would have it, you cross paths with your tormentor. If given the chance, would you take a shot at revenge? Or would you learn to forgive? Nurse Rachel Rabinowitz is faced with that tough decision in Orphan #8 by Kim van Alkemade.

It's beyond disgusting to think doctors would use children for their medical experiments, but it happened. The Hebrew Orphan Asylum opened in the late 1800s and closed in 1941. Author Kim van Alkemade used the real-life experiences to create an engrossing piece of fiction.

In an instant, Rachel Rabinowitz and her brother, Sam, lose everything. Their parents, Visha and Harry, were once a happy couple. Harry paints himself as a family man, but when his lies are exposed they have deadly consequences. Rachel is deeply attached to her parents. She's deeply attached to Sam. The family knows how to calm her down. The family knows how to show her love. What will happen when all of that is taken away. A social worker tried her best to to keep the kids together, but to no avail. The orphanage Rachel is sent to is nothing but a sham. Each child that comes in is just another test subject, yet the outside world doesn't know what's really going on.

Rachel went in healthy, but came out scarred physically, mentally, and emotionally. When she ages out of the home, and is reunited with Sam at another orphanage, Rachel's life isn't much better. As an adult, she seems to have it together. She becomes a nurse, working at a rest home. As fate would have it, Dr. Mildred Solomon -- the leader of all the experiments -- ends up as one of Rachel's patients. At first glance, Rachel isn't sure who the doctor is but can't shake the feeling that she knows this person. When she knows for sure, Rachel is faced with a tough choice. Revenge? Or forgiveness?

The book alternates between the past and present. The book slows down a little, when veering off to Rachel's love life. The book still would have been good without it. Some parts were hard to read. Some parts made me mad. My modern brain can't fathom incidents like this. But I'm a fan of historical fiction, so of course I kept going. It's an emotional roller coaster, but it's worth it. Start reading!

Rating: Superb

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Please welcome Alexandra Burt !!

 Today Alexandra Burt, author of Remember Mia, is stopping by for a guest post, writing about her fascination with memories and their importance.                                                            
                                               On Forgetting: by Alexandra Burt

    Insomnia haunts me at night. Some people count sheep, others read, but I choose to summon the past; in my mind I visit my childhood room again—a small recessed bookshelf, underneath a crooked stack of board games, a record player and my beloved collection of fairy tale vinyl’s, psychedelic pink and red wallpaper with oval interlaced shapes.

     Fascinated with memories, I have always been able to recall glimmers, mere match strikes in the dark, illuminating the world for a short moment in time. I told my mother once that I remembered my crib—sideways in front of a large window, facing away from the door—and that my world was bathed in shades of pastel colors and fuzzy edges, and grown-ups leaning over me, making silly faces. I have memories of my great-grandfather sitting in a wingback chair by the window. According to his headstone he died days after my first birthday.

     No way, says science. There is ‘childhood insomnia,’ and the gist of it is that we can’t remember much, if anything, from before the age of three. The older we get, the hazier memories become and by the age of ten very few of them remain. On one hand my mother confirmed the crib story, on the other hand I have to agree that there’s so much that goes into memories in order for them to survive—seasons, days of the week, physical locations, relations to the people around us—that I couldn’t have grasped at such a young age. But how is it that I so vividly recall the old springy couch covered in a knobby fabric, and my father lifting me unto my great-grandfather’s lap where I cried with fear?

     Memories are at the very center of my writing and I have often wondered why that is, especially because my stories are not so much a conscious decision as they are subject to organic development. As I plotted Remember Mia—a story of a mother who is unable to explain her daughter’s disappearance—I decided to take it to the highest level of suspense and the ultimate eraser of all memory; amnesia. The mother holds the key to what happened to her baby but she doesn’t know whether she is responsible. With the help of a psychiatrist she attempts to solve the puzzle that is her missing daughter.

     But what about my own memories? I refuse to believe that they are imagined, after all, wouldn’t I lose part of myself? I prefer to be a curator of sorts, tending to them, so they remain. Maybe our entire life is nothing but a kaleidoscope of isolated moments: finger painting, hanging upside down from monkey bars, and scratchy tights on Sunday mornings. Science is one thing, my persistent mind another. And tonight, after the house goes quiet and dark, like the mother in Remember Mia, I will descend, once again, down into the mine and bring up sparkly jewels that are my past.

     After all, we are, in a way, just the sum of our memories.

Monday, July 20, 2015

My take on: Remember Mia

Like Gone Girl and eventually The Girl on The Train, Remember Mia by Alexandra Burt seems like a story destined for the big screen.

Why do I say this?

It's a page-turning mystery.

A young woman wakes up in a hospital after a horrendous car accident. She has no memory of the accident. Even worse, she doesn't know what's happened to her infant daughter. Was Mia kidnapped? Is Mia dead? Will this young mother every be able to remember what happened to Mia?

If 27-year-old Estelle Paradise were a real person, I would just want to shake her until I could knock some sense into her. Most people would be rejoicing when they become a parent. But seven-month-old Mia is anything but a joy to Estelle. Mia is an annoying, crying thing that is zapping all of Estelle's time and energy. Her husband, Jack, is never around and when he is he just wishes Estelle would snap out of her funky mood. No one can see what an annoying, crying thing Mia is except for Estelle. There are moments when she wishes she could silence Mia forever. Maybe by taking that pair of scissors and piercing her soft skull? It sounds so morbid, but Estelle actually has these thoughts. I cringed reading those parts, and it wasn't easy controlling my facial expressions while reading this on the train!

The day Mia disappears is a baffling one. All of her bottles, diapers, and clothes are completely gone from the apartment. There is no evidence that a baby was ever in Estelle's apartment. What happened to Mia? Estelle doesn't act like a grief-stricken mom. She doesn't call her mother right away. She doesn't call the police right away. Somehow she ends up in a car accident, miles and miles away from her home. Was she trying to hide something? Was she trying to run away from something?

Each chapter offers a deeper insight into Estelle's psyche. One moment she comes across as just an overwhelmed mother. The next moment she comes across as a total psycho. A large chunk of the book takes place in a psychiatric hospital -- Estelle's last hope at recapturing her lost memories. Every fragment is key to solving a larger puzzle. Everything has a meaning. Every little piece is key to the overall memory. Estelle has to want to remember. She has to want to remember Mia. I was entertained from start to finish. This wasn't an easy puzzle to solve. Many times I thought, it's too easy for everything to be Estelle's fault. What about Jack? How could he not be involved in this? It would be very easy for him to blame the crazy wife for Mia's disappearance. But maybe Jack isn't the source of all this evil. Maybe Estelle is really crazy? Maybe some mysterious person is at fault? What happened to Mia and who was responsible? I can't tell you that, you will just have to read it! Anyway you slice it, this was a thrilling read from end to end!

Rating: Superb

Notes: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Berkley) in exchange for an honest review. Come back tomorrow for a guest post by author Alexandra Burt!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

My take on: Maybe in Another Life

Some days everything is going great. Some days everything is going bad. From a professional perspective, I haven't had the greatest week. A summer Friday was a welcome respite. I put that extra free time toward finishing the last half of Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

I have to say reading this book was a great way to end the week! I went into this book expecting a light summer beach read, but I got more than I bargained for. A refreshing, thought-provoking, and enjoyable read.

Do you believe in fate? What if your whole life, your happiness, your successes, your failures, your heartaches, your triumphs hinged on a single choice? Do you believe in the possibility that there is more than one version of yourself out there? One version of yourself goes toward point A and the other goes toward point B. Both points of your life go in different directions, but somehow everything is connected and life is just as it should be.

For Hannah Martin, her life is a mess. At 29, she has no real career to speak of. No major achievements in her life. Her parents and little sister, Sarah, have long since relocated to London. Hannah could have gone with them but chose to stay behind in Los Angeles to finish high school, living with her best friend, Gabby, and her parents. Gabby Hudson has been the one constant in her life. Gabby has been there for the good and the bad. Even when Hannah broke up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan. No matter what Hannah has done in her life, she has always thought about what could have been with Ethan. Would her life have been better if they were married with a family? Would her life have been worse? After college, Hannah has bounced from job to job and city to city. Now after a tumultuous affair with a married man, Hannah is returning to Los Angeles. She's returning to her roots in hopes of getting her life back on track.

To celebrate her return, Gabby and her husband, Mark, take Hannah for a night on the town. As luck or fate would have it they run into Ethan. All of the old feelings come rushing back. At the end of the evening, Hannah has to make a choice. Does she wander the streets of L.A. reminiscing with Ethan and potentially spend the night with him? Or does she go home with Gabby and Mark? Neither choice is without consequences. In alternating chapters, author Taylor Jenkins Reid explores both scenarios.

At first, I thought Hannah's decision not to go with Ethan was wrong. But as each chapter went along, I started to change my mind. If she and Ethan were meant to be together, life would have found a way to bring them together much sooner. Maybe she's meant to forge her own path and meet new people. Maybe Ethan is meant to forge his own path and meet new people. Maybe they are better off as friends. Then on the other hand, Hannah does go home with Ethan. They pick up where they left off, but a life-altering circumstance could derail their chance at happiness.

Which path is better for Hannah? There is no right or wrong answer here and I believe that's the whole point of the book. Both decisions come with good and bad outcomes. Whether one chooses point A or point B, life will always end up just as it should. After reading this book, I have to search through my piles of books for Taylor Jenkins Reid's first book, Forever Interrupted. I know I have it, but I have yet to read it. Clearly I missing out on very good author!

Rating: O.M.G.!!!

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

Monday, June 29, 2015

My take on: Prayers for the Stolen

"Now we make you ugly, my mother said. She whistled. Her mouth was so close she sprayed my neck with her whistle-spit. I could smell beer. In the mirror I watched her move the piece of charcoal across my face. It's a nasty life, she whispered. It's my first memory. She held an old cracked mirror to my face. I must have been about five years old. The crack made my face look as if it had been broken into two pieces. The best thing you can be in Mexico is an ugly girl." Pg. 1

A somber tone is set almost immediately in Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement. Ladydi Garcia Martinez and her mother live their lives in fear.

Fear of the drug dealers and corrupt police who rule over the mountains of Guerrero, Mexico. Fear that Ladydi could be kidnapped at any moment and sold into sexual slavery. The sounds of an approaching vehicle are a signal to run and hide. If you're lucky you can be born ugly. Nobody wants the ugly girl. But if you're a pretty girl, like Ladydi, you run and hide. Ladydi often spends hours hidden in a hole in the backyard. When that's not enough, Ladydi and her friends dress and act like boys. Nobody wants a boy either. A little charcoal on their teeth and boyish clothes on their bodies do little to calm their fears, but it's better than nothing.

The men of the village are long gone, they've left their families for the chance at better jobs in Acapulco and in the United States. Women and children are left to fend for themselves. Ladydi's mother is constantly on edge. All she has to take the edge off is alcohol and a compulsive stealing habit. Ladydi is left to make excuses for her wacky mother's behavior, even when those actions lead to violence. When Ladydi finally gets out of Guerrero, by working for a wealthy family in Acapulco, she gets her first chance at love and at freedom. That little taste of freedom comes at a high price. What price? I can't tell you, you have to read the book!

The writing style can take some time to get used to. There are no quotes. The book reads like one long stream of consciousness, which can be hard to get used to. The first 2/3 of the book were thoroughly engrossing. I felt like I was in Ladydi's head. Unlike most teenagers, Ladydi doesn't allow herself to dream of some fantasy life. She just knows how to survive in the moment. The writer does a good job of shining a light some of the real-life fears women in Mexico are facing. Overall, this was a very good book but the last 20-25 pages fell a little flat for me. The story seems to get off track. Ladydi meets and interacts with characters that I just could not empathize with. This is a short, but thought-provoking novel worth reading.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy from Penguin Random House's Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

My take on: Hotel Moscow

Brooke Fielding made a choice most American women wouldn't -- journeying to Moscow after the fall of communism in September 1993. The 38-year-old investment banker is full of optimism about the future. As the child of Holocaust survivors, Brooke is anxious to see the place of her mother's birth. A city that rejected Brooke's mother because of her Jewish heritage. She hopes her optimism will instill an entrepreneurial spirit in the women of Russia. She hopes this trip will save her career, but it could come at a high price in Hotel Moscow by Talia Carner.

At first glance a group of American women traveling to Moscow to teach other women business skills sounds great and very altruistic. But once the trip is put into context it sounds very dumb and dangerous. Corruption is rampant everywhere. Everyone from police, to politicians, to the bus driver, and to the average Joe on the corner requires a bribe before they're willing to do anything. At first it's just a minor irritation to Brooke and her companions, but it quickly escalates to violence and intimidation.

The Russian women that Brooke bonds with seem to have an air of strength, but they're just putting on a good front. On the inside, they are full of fear and desperation. Svetlana, a young mother, is attacked on Brooke's first day in Russia. The only thing that gets Svetlana through the day, is her daughter, Natasha, waiting for her at the end of a tough day. Olga has worked hard for her government position, but everyday her corrupt boss strips away another piece of her soul.

At this time, women in general are seen as less than. They are less than men. They're opinions don't matter. This is a concept that Svetlana and Olga don't want to accept, but are often powerless to stop it. Brooke doesn't understand how everyone can just accept the rampant corruption. She wants to help end the powerlessness. She wants to help get rid of the threats and violence that Russian business owners often face. She wants to help foster a new economy. But of course no good deed goes unpunished. At the time, this is a society that is willing to spy on one another for the right price.

The book alternates between the Brooke, Svetlana, and Olga's perspective. Brooke is the main character, but I had a hard time connecting with her. Her approach to things felt a little clinical and not emotional. To connect with a character, I have to feel some sort of empathy and I just didn't for Brooke. She's the American swooping in and trying to save the day. I connected more with Svetlana and Olga. They have a story that I could get behind and root for. You want them to get away from this corrupt society. The pacing of the book overall was a little disjointed. Sometimes I had trouble following the narrative. But the story itself is very engaging and I would read another book by Talia Carner!

Rating: Give it a try

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

Sunday, May 31, 2015

My take on: The Daughter

Two successful parents, both of them doctors. Three beautiful children, one girl and twin boys, all of whom are seemingly happy and healthy teenagers. On the surface everything looks great. But a disappearance, quite possibly a kidnapping and murder, shatter that perfect image. It will leave one woman questioning everything and everyone in her life.

The Daughter by Jane Shemilt is a novel of secrets. Family secrets. Secrets that will ultimately destroy a family.

Jenny thinks everything in her family is just fine. She and her husband, Ted, both work a lot. But the kids don't notice right? They're both home in time for dinner and are both there in the morning for breakfast. So what if Jenny and Ted both disappear into their own worlds when they get home. They both take the time to ask the kids questions about their activities. Naomi, their 15-year-old daughter, is prepping for a part in the school play. Their sons, Theo and Ed, are equally occupied with school activities. Jenny and Ted seem to have the perfect family........that is until Naomi disappears.

As the days, weeks, months, and eventually a year pass, Jenny learns about the daughter she thought she knew. The signs were there, but Jenny just chose to let them go. The faint scent of smoke on Naomi came from someone else. The scent of alcohol on her breath is because Naomi was celebrating opening night. The coat Naomi was wearing wasn't to cover up a racy outfit, it was because it was cold. The high heels she's wearing is because Naomi is experimenting with fashion. There's an explanation for everything. But how does Jenny explain Naomi's pregnancy? The secret boyfriends? The cryptic messages in Naomi's diary? And lets not forget Ted! He has his own secrets. Secrets that Jenny chooses to be blind to.

The book alternates between the past and the present. With each chapter the book gets closer and closer to what happened to Naomi. Each day Naomi is missing, sends Jenny deeper and deeper into despair. That despair exposes her children's true feelings. Before and after Naomi disappeared, Jenny would find solace in her drawings and paintings. She saw those moments as therapeutic and as an escape, her kids saw them as rejection. Ed didn't feel Naomi was nurturing, Whenever he was sick, she thrust a bottle of pills at him. Rather than acknowledge Ted's infidelities, Jenny makes excuses for him. Rather than discuss Naomi's disappearance, Jenny would rather treat Theo and Ed as they though they were kids.

At its core, this book is about the destruction of a family. The family was already falling apart before Naomi's disappearance. Her disappearance was the straw that broke the camel's back. The family could no longer be in denial. So what did happen to Naomi? I'm not exactly sure. The ending felt a little ambiguous and that's what kept me from absolutely loving this book. I want an ending that gives me clarity. Despite my feelings about the ending, this was a solid debut novel by Jane Shemilt and I would read another book by her.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) in exchange for an honest review. The Daughter is one of the spring picks for She Reads.

Friday, May 29, 2015

My take on: The Secret Life of Violet Grant

A mysterious trunk could be Vivian Schuyler's ticket to success. This trunk is full of secrets from the past. This trunk could be the key to solving a murder!

Sounds intriguing doesn't it! The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams is compulsively readable.

Let's set the scene. Manhattan. 1964. The young Vivian Schuyler does the opposite of what her wealthy family expects from her. What? She's working ... for a living! Rather than trying to snag a wealthy husband and living out her days as a socialite, Vivian is working at a high-profile magazine. She's just a fact-checker, but she aspires to be a writer. She's looking for her big break -- a story that will skyrocket her career. Little does she know that big story lies within her own family.

The mysterious trunk reveals the past of Violet Schuyler Grant, Vivian's aunt and the black sheep of the Schuyler family. Vivian's story starts in 1912, just before the height of World War I. In many ways, Violet was just like Vivian. Violet went to college, she wanted a career, and wanted to prove that she's just as intelligent as any man. Violet went to Europe, eventually studying physics at Oxford. She was on the right path, but ultimately it was a man, her husband Dr. Walter Grant, who damaged her physically and emotionally. Walter does everything he can to control Violet's life, all under the guise of his love for her. He decides when they go out and where. He decides when Violet can come around him. He decides when they have sex and how they have sex. He makes decisions for her reproductive health, not matter the cost to Vivian's emotional health.

Initially, Violet doesn't know any better. Walter is a man of stature. How can she rebel against him? When she finally gets that wakeup call, it's VERY eye-opening. Lets just say she catches Walter in a compromising position. Walter, being the scumbag that he is, doesn't even flinch when he's caught. But it awakens Violet. She starts thinking and acting differently, which ties back to the whole premise of this book. Who is Violet Grant? And.......did she murder her husband and run off with her lover? The answers could be in that trunk.

The book alternates between Vivian and Violet's perspective. Each woman's story was compelling. Although, I was drawn more to Violet's story. Vivian had a more modern approach to life and she had more choices. Would Violet have been a different person if she came of age in 1964 as opposed to 1912? Maybe. In some spots, the book felt like a thriller. I'm gobbling up each page trying to get to the next. Each chapter reveals another layer to each woman's story. This book kept me guessing and I would definitely read another book by Beatriz Williams!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Berkley) as part of a blog tour.

Monday, May 11, 2015

My take on: Miss and the Rosa Parks League

I'm finally done with grad school (pending my grade)! After several months spent fretting over that project it's finally done. I can dive back into all the TV I missed ....... and all of the books I put to the side!

I started Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell way back in late December. It took me until yesterday to finish. That's not because it was a bad or difficult book, it's because I was busy .... and I'm such a moody reader. I picked this up, put it down for weeks, picked it back up, finished other books, picked it back up, and put it down for weeks. It was a never-ending cycle until I finally decided it's time to finish.

This is a story set during the pre-Civil rights era in Delphi, Mississippi. Fate draws two women, Vida and Hazel, together. They have more in common than they would like to admit. To Vida, Hazel is a crazy, alcoholic, white woman who is throwing her life away. To Hazel, Vida is the crazy black woman who is paid by her husband, Floyd, to babysit her and her son, Johnny. Neither woman realizes how much pain the other has gone through.

Vida is mourning the loss of her son Nate. Vida's son paid the ultimate sacrifice -- his life -- all due to his father's ignorance and hatred. Vida was raped by the corrupt town sheriff, Billy Dean Brister, who also happens to be white. When he learns that Nate is his son, Billy Dean shot him rather than letting the whole town know he fathered a black child. Levi, the town's unofficial preacher and also Vida's father, tries to teach her that some good will come from all her pain. But when?

Hazel is also mourning the loss of her other son Davie. His death sent Hazel into a deep tailspin. She's spent her entire marriage to Floyd trying to fight in with the upper crust of society. But no one wants to let her into their circle. As Hazel drowns in alcohol, she can't see the damage it's doing to herself and her family. The only time Hazel truly feels free of her problems is behind the wheel. She can hit the open road and just lose herself in the beautiful scenery. But her freedom, literally and figuratively, is taken away after Davie's death. Rather than truly help his wife, Floyd lets her slowly vegetate. He hires Vida to "look" after Hazel a.k.a. shove pills down Hazel's throat.

Neither woman knows how to deal with their pain. How do they move? How can they move on? Johnny is the answer. Whether he meant to or not, he awakens both women. First his mother by convincing her that Vida is plotting against the family. But Vida is wise to their shenanigans. Slowly, both women forge an unlikely friendship that changes not just them, but the entire town. A suspicious disappearance turns race relations upside down. Perhaps Vida and Hazel, with a little help from some new friends, can fix everything.

At its core, this book is about Hazel and Vida's friendship. In the beginning, neither woman truly understood the struggles of the other. Hazel was often ignorant to the privileges she had as a white woman. Despite what others think about her drinking, Hazel can do things that Vida can't. In contrast, it took time for Vida to realize that Hazel isn't the enemy just because she's white. At 400+ pages, I often wondered where this book was going. Sometimes, I'm just so gung-ho for a fast-paced book. I was waiting for a big reveal, but it wasn't necessary there. This book was just right and well worth taking the time to read. I just had to go with the flow.

Rating: Superb

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

Friday, April 10, 2015

My take on: Orient

A storm is brewing in the small Long Island town of Orient. Strange things are happening. The corpse of a mutant-like animal has washed ashore. But it's easy to blame that on a nearby science lab. Who do you blame when people start dying? Were they murdered? Is there a killer among them? Is a local responsible? Or is it a newcomer?

Author Christopher Bollen has spun a gripping tale of culture clashes with murder as the backdrop. The murder mystery is certainly intriguing, but I was drawn in by the people in this town.

The year-round residents want to keep the new people out. The new people want to be accepted. The residents who split their time between the city and this wealthy little enclave are caught in the middle. Paul Benchley is caught in the middle. He's returned to Orient to clean up the family home and restore it to it's glory. However, Paul is not alone. He's got a moody young man with him named Mills. A busy-body like Pam Muldoon wonders what spell Mills has put on Paul. Maybe Paul has lost his marbles and can't see that's he's being hustled. Not likely! Paul feels sorry for this lost young man and knows he can help Mills get on the right track. Mills is in charge of cleaning out Paul's house, but wonders what will happen when he's worn out his welcome.

Beth Shepherd is another Orient native who is caught in the middle. She's come back to town with her artist husband, Gavril. She had dreams of becoming an artist herself, but will have to live vicariously through her husband. Beth isn't sure what to do with her life. She's stuck. To make matters worse, she's pregnant and reluctant to tell Gavril. Who can she turn to? One of her best friends, Magdalena is dead. Was it murder? Magdalena was old, and already had one foot in the grave. But Magdalena died soon after another mysterious death. A death that Magdalena was convinced was foul play. Beth wasn't sure she should believe the ravings of an old woman.

More people meet their demise -- under mysterious circumstances. Quickly, rumors begin swirling in this small town. Maybe an outsider is responsible for all the turmoil in town. Someone like Mills! It's too easy for it be Mills. He's an easy scapegoat. An unlikely alliance is formed between Beth and Mills. Both work to uncover the truth.

This book is a shade over 600 pages, but don't be scared by that. It's the perfect mix of literary fiction and mystery fiction. The character interaction not the murder plot grabbed me. Each chapter you learn a little more about Mills. In the beginning, he comes off as a moody teenager. But slowly his tough exterior begins to soften. At first I thought Beth was a little ditzy, but she's a smart cookie. This was a complex but engaging read.

Rating: Superb

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