Monday, October 29, 2012

Jeane Westin, our spotlighted author

Jeane Westin is our Author in the Spotlight this week! She finds inspiration in her own life for her historical novels. Here's what she has to say about The Spymaster's Daughter: 

The most intriguing part of writing historicals to me is what might have been and what should have been.  Frances Walsingham Sidney was the daughter of Elizabeth's spymaster and young wife of the wildly popular poet,Sir Philip Sidney, a man famous for writing the most beautiful love another woman.  After his death in the Holland war of the 1580's, she married the Earl of Essex, Elizabeth's favorite.  Little is known about her inner life, but these few facts intrigued me. 

Frances has been most often cast by historians as a shadow behind these men and little worth of note.  Since I was once a cryptographer at the Pentagon during wartime, I put myself in Frances' slippers: she must have overheard plotting, been aware of important secrets, seen the supreme urgency of her father's work.  It is unimaginable to me that she would not have been caught up in that excitement and wanted to be part of the spy business...just to prove she could.  This kernel of an idea became The Spymaster's Daughter.

Click on Jeane's photo to the right there to learn more about Jeane and her books.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Author Spotlight: Jeane Westin

Hi, all! The Author Spotlight this week is on Jeane Westin, whose new book is The Spymaster's Daughter. Jeane writes historical novels with an extra intense focus, in this case, intrigue in the Elizabethan court!

To get Jeane's book on Amazon

Click on Jeane's picture to the right there to read her Spotlight. Leave a comment or just say hi!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Maryann Miller: Excerpt from Open Season

I am so thrilled to be here on Your Need to Read. When I first found this website I thought the title was so appropriate for those of us who are immersed in books. We do NEED to read, and those of us who are also writers NEED to write. Reading is more than just a casual pastime. It is something we do to feed our intellect and our soul. I am bereft if I do not have a book to read.  Some people joke about reading cereal boxes or catsup bottles, but avid readers are reduced to that if we do not have a book handy.

Since everyone who visits here is also an avid reader, I know you are always looking for a new book to read. I hope you will consider Open Season. Here is a quick introduction to Sarah, one of the central characters. Enjoy….

Turning on the hot water tap until it ran steamy, Sarah grabbed a jar of instant coffee from the windowsill and leveled a teaspoon into the cup on the yellow Formica counter. Then she held the cup under the running water, watching the coffee foam to the top.

She owned a coffeepot for the occasions when she had company, especially those of the morning-after variety. But since those moments were rare, she relied on instant gratification. It worked until the real thing came along.

A plaintive meow drew her attention, and Sarah looked down to see the kitten regarding her with unblinking, amber eyes. “You hungry, Cat?” She scooped him up and set him on the counter next to her coffee. He sniffed the cup and turned away with a sneeze.

“What? Coffee not your drink of choice?”

He cocked his head and watched her pour milk into a bowl, then delicately started lapping at it, giving himself a little white mustache. “Maybe I should sign you up for commercials. Then you could make me rich.”

He ignored her.

Sarah took another sip of coffee, then leaned one hip against the counter and opened the paper, pulling the Metro section out. She preferred to start reading at the front page, but rarely had the luxury of enough time to indulge that preference. A glance through Metro, however, sometimes turned up interesting tidbits of information relevant to an investigation.

Once, a veiled reference to a prominent surgeon seen at a Dallas nightspot with a redhead who wasn’t his wife had given Sarah the grounds to vigorously pursue her inclination that he wasn’t entirely innocent in the tragic demise of said wife.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Author Spotlight: Maryann Miller

Hi, all! The Author Spotlight this week is on Maryann Miller, whose new book is Open Season.

Click on Maryann's picture to the right there to read her Spotlight. Leave a comment or just say hi!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Research Jackpot by Darlene Gardner

The guest blog is by Darlene Gardner, our Author in Spotlight.

The Research Jackpot by Darlene Gardner

I’m a sportswriter turned romance novelist. Pretty unusual, right? Not in my family, it isn’t. Odd jobs are the norm.

One of my sisters—who, by the way, is tall, blond and beautiful—is a professional dealer at a casino. The other¬—just as tall and just as attractive but a brunette—is a private investigator.

Of the three of us, I think I have the best gig, in part because of their occupations. It’s fantastic to have two prime research sources who are related to me. No matter how many questions I ask, or how dumb they sound, they’ll answer.

The casino dealer doesn’t know it yet, but I’m plotting a book that involves gambling. And I’ll probably use some of her stories, like the one about the compulsive gambler who was told to go home and shower after forty eight straight hours at the casino because he was getting really ripe. Or the cheater who insisted she was picking on him—until the security cameras proved otherwise.

Private eyes show up in my books with regularity. The same female P.I. appears in The Truth About Tara, my current release from Harlequin Superromance, and my December Super Wish Upon a Christmas Star. In the first book, Maria DiMarco gets her brother to check out a tip that a teacher in coastal Virginia resembles the age-progression photo of a child who was abducted thirty years ago. In the second, Maria herself travels to Key West to determine if another brother, long thought dead, might still be alive.

You can’t imagine how many questions and phone calls I made to my sisterly source during the writing of those two books. The upside is that I’m pretty confident I got things right.

Don’t be surprised if the characters in my future books start arresting criminals and taking evidence to crime labs. My nephew was just hired as a cop, and my daughter is in grad school to become a forensic scientist.

I’ve hit the research jackpot!

Darlene Graham's The Truth about Tara

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Author Spotlight

Author Spotlight: Darlene Graham. 

 Darlene Graham's The Truth about Tara

Hello all, Alicia Rasley here, and I wanted to take a moment to welcome our newest Author to the Spotlight: Darlene Graham, the author of The Truth about Tara and is here to tell you about the book. She's a lifelong writer. She's even served time as a sports reporter!

We are excited to have Darlene spending some time with us. Please make sure to stop by the Author Spotlight page (you can find it at the top of the page, or just click Darlene's picture to the right) to find information about her and her book. In the meantime, check out the book (cover above) and leave a comment saying hi and letting us know you stopped by.

Author Spotlight: Darlene Graham

Author Spotlight: Darlene Graham. 

 Darlene Graham's The Truth about Tara

Hello all, Alicia Rasley here, and I wanted to take a moment to welcome our newest Author to the Spotlight: Darlene Graham, the author of The Truth about Tara and is here to tell you about the book. She's a lifelong writer. She's even served time as a sports reporter!

We are excited to have Darlene spending some time with us. Please make sure to stop by the Author Spotlight page (you can find it at the top of the page, or just click Darlene's picture to the right) to find information about her and her book. In the meantime, check out the book (cover above) and leave a comment saying hi and letting us know you stopped by.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Author Spotlight this week is on Sharon Ihle

Author Spotlight: Sharon Ihle. 

Hello all, Alicia Rasley here, and I wanted to take a moment to welcome our newest Author to the Spotlight: Sharon Ihle, known for her exciting Western Historicals. ! Sharon is the author of The Bride Wore Spurs (isn't that a great title?) and is here to tell you about the book. She's a lifelong Californian relocated to North Dakota recently.

We are excited to have Sharon spending some time with us. Please make sure to stop by the Author Spotlight page (you can find it at the top of the page, or just click Sharon's picture to the right) to find information about her and her book. In the meantime, check out the book (cover above) and leave a comment saying hi and letting us know you stopped by.

Monday, September 10, 2012

'Intertwined' by Gena Showalter

Reviewed by Jesi
3 Stars

Most 16-year-olds have friends. Aden Stone has four human souls living inside him: One can time travel. One can raise the dead. One can tell the future. And one can possess another human.
With no other family and a life spent in and out of institutions, Aden and the souls have become friends. But now they're causing him all kinds of trouble. Like, he'll blink and suddenly he's a younger Aden, reliving the past. One wrong move, and he'll change the future. Or he'll walk past a total stranger and know how and when she's going to die.

He's so over it. All he wants is peace. And then he meets a girl who quiets the voices. Well, as long as he's near her. Why? Mary Ann Gray is his total opposite. He's a loner; she has friends. He doesn't care what anyone thinks; she tries to make everyone happy. And while he attracts the paranormal, she repels it. For her sake, he should stay away. But it's too late....

Somehow, they share an inexplicable bond of friendship. A bond about to be tested by a werewolf shape-shifter who wants Mary Ann for his own, and a vampire princess Aden can't resist. Two romances, both forbidden. Still, the four will enter a dark underworld of intrigue and danger - but not everyone will come out alive....
(Audible product description)

This book had a lot going on--time travel, romance, necromancy, body hopping, prophesy, family secrets, cheating boyfriends, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, demons, faeries, witches, zombies, Vlad the Impaler...what!?!  It’s like a giant paranormal soup, afraid to leave anything out!  But somehow, it works...mostly. 

I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Intertwined.  The reviews have been mixed.  But I like Gena Showalter’s Lords of the Underworld series, so I wanted to check out her young adult work. 

Aden has four other souls living in his mind, each with separate personalities.  He can hear them, but he must speak out loud in order to reply.  As a result, his parents abandoned him to the foster system and the state thinks he’s mentally ill.  I was afraid having five people in one body would get confusing, but it really wasn’t.  Each soul had a distinct personality.  That said, I really wish these characters had had more of a chance to develop before introducing forty other characters. 

Seriously, the sheer number of characters was insane! I’m hoping this is just because it’s the first book in a series, and it serves as the introduction to all of the players.  Maybe future books will settle down a bit and allow the characters to grow. 

Other than having way too much going on, there were things I liked about this book.  Aden was a good character, but so was Mary Ann.  My first assumption was that she would be Aden’s love interest, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.  Instead, they were really close friends.  It’s a refreshing twist in a YA book that a boy and a girl can be friends without needing to develop into a romance.  Of course they each fall for other people, meaning this book actually has two love stories.  (Why not have two?  This book has everything else in it.) 

Of the two romantic storylines, I was more drawn to Mary Ann and Riley.  Aden’s Victoria is an 80-something year old vampire princess.  He thinks she is totally hot, and she comes across as cold.  It’s a weird, somewhat shallow combination.  There is more chemistry between Mary Ann and the werewolf, Riley.  Things move slower with them, more believably. He first appears to her in his wolf form as a guardian, walking her to and from school each day.  He is able to speak into her mind, but he refuses to tell her who he is or show her his human form.  Their connection is strong before he ever reveals himself to her.  The scene where he finally does is beautifully written with all of the teenage awkwardness one might expect.  It reminded me of how it must be to meet an internet crush in person for the first time. 

So while it was a lot to take in, I have already bought the second book, Unraveled.  I’m interested enough in Aden, Mary Ann and the gang to stick with it.  I just hope the next book is more focused.

Overall, I give Intertwined...

Plot - 4 bookmarks (fast-paced)
Character development - 2 bookmarks
Love story(s) - 2 bookmarks (Aden & Victoria) and 4 bookmarks (Mary Ann & Riley)
Dream cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Jeremy Sumpter (Aden), Shay Mitchell (Victoria), Juno Temple (Mary Ann), Steven R. McQueen (Riley)

Friday, September 7, 2012

'This Little Piggy Went to the Liquor Store' AK Turner

Reviewed by Lindsey
5 ++++ stars

'This Little Piggy Went to the Liquor Store chronicles what happens when a little girl who scorns the idea of marriage and children (in favor of becoming a stiletto-wearing, attache-carrying Secret Agent), majors in Russian, minors in Vodka, and then one day finds herself with child… and in-laws.' (Amazon Description)

I have openly shared my title of Worst Mom in the World. Sometimes I accept it; other times the guilt is suffocating. However, as I approach my 39th birthday, frankly, I embrace it. Somehow, I manage to have three fairly decent, non meth addicted children. We are in the dreaded teen years.  Some choose to approach this time with hope and excitement. I continue to approach with pessimism and dread. Sure, they are great now, but what will happen next year?

So I am not one for memoirs. The cover, which is great caught my eye.

When a chapter begins with, "Like all new moms, I had a baby and decided that I should smoke pot for the first time", well, how could I not love this? Pure poetry!

Throughout the book, the author is candid and hysterical. I too have attempted (and failed)  perfect Mom-dom. I joined that hideous Mom and Tots or whatever that cult was in hopes of finding the one other young mum like me. Never happened. Instead, I had my head filled by competitive mums about all my wrong doings. I found out that allowing my infant to pass out in my bed after the hundredth feeding of the evening meant I was securing her a life in insecurity, drug use and probably into the arms of an abusive partner.

I was a wreck. My husband was sick of hearing how we were either poisoning our daughter with toxic shampoos that would ensure blindness by age 4 or how that bite of ice cream would now cause her kidneys to overwork.

In most first pregnancies, parents somehow believe that their to-be child will be so superior over an out of utero nit wit, there is a level of arrogance that no Mean Girl can match.

Exhibit A: This is conversation between AK and her husband Mike regarding pets.

AK: "But what about our kids? They're going to want a pet at some point."

MIKE: "Fine, we'll give them invisible pets."

AK: "Our kids are going to be gifted, so of course they'll never buy it."

MIKE: "You're right."

I loved this book for its honesty, foul language, frustration with kids, marriage, family and liquor consumption.

This is the book you give to friends who have kids. If they are uptight, maybe this will help them relax. If they're pregnant for the first time-avoid them like the plague.

Give them five years then you can buy a copy for the failures.

Grab a bottle of wine (or two) and start reading!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Reading and Vegetables, by Bill Blais

Reading and Vegetables
Guest Post: Written by Author Bill Blais

I hated spinach growing up. God, I hated it. It was always flaccid, slimy, flavorless and covered my teeth in that unmistakable film that always took several mouthfuls of potatoes or chicken or whatever else was on my plate to get rid of. This was back before grocery stores carried fresh baby-leaf spinach -- it was either the massive, thick leaves in the produce section or the solid blocks of chopped bits from the freezer aisle -- and let's just say that cooking vegetables well was not a highly developed art form in the kitchens of my youth.

Not that I'm complaining, mind you -- I still have a soft spot for canned peas (no pun intended) -- but my point is this: Reading, for me, is like my relationship with eating vegetables. I wasn't all that adventurous with food as a kid (I would eat plain pasta and butter until I exploded if my parents let me), but being forced to try things I didn't think I liked actually set a precedent that has since exposed me to some fabulous culinary adventures.

Pride and Prejudice -- the one without the zombies -- is one of my top 5 books of all time, but I would have completely missed it if not for my wife (who also re-introduced me to spinach, thankfully!).

Yes, I had to read it in school, along with a number of other 'classics', but if there was one proven method for ensuring I didn't enjoy a book, it was to force me to read it. Further complicating matters was the fact that I was simply too young to truly appreciate many of these pieces (and as a pudgy teenage boy trying his very hardest to fit in, reading a 'girl-book' like P&P was just not going to work). 

What I preferred to read, and what I devoured with a near-pasta-level hunger, was fantasy and science fiction (okay, this didn't win me any friends in the cool crowd, either, but I found enough like minds to make it palatable). The seeds of those other books had been planted, though, albeit in stubborn ground, and I could not shake the thought that I might have missed something in them. Eventually, I picked some of them up in later years to see if they were as bad as I remembered.

To my genuine surprise, I discovered things like laugh-out-loud humor side by side with heroic tragedy in A Tale of Two Cities, or a love story in Pride & Prejudice that transformed my (previously stereotypical) perception of romantic fiction. While fantasy and science fiction remain my first literary passions, these other experiences opened my mind to more genres and styles outside my comfort zone, including some fabulous non-fiction, like Maya Angelou's heartbreaking I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman, about the origins of the Oxford English Dictionary, or Stephen B. Carroll's fascinating text on evolutionary development, Endless Forms, Most Beautiful.

If I only ate what I knew I liked, I would never have touched a kebab or a black pudding or tasted Chicken Tikka Masala (and I would certainly never have known the simple delight of a fresh spinach salad!), and I probably would have died years ago from pasta over-consumption. 

Okay, I'm aware this isn't a perfect analogy, but you get the point: If I only read what I knew I would like, I would never have picked up Patrick O'Brian's fantastic Aubrey & Maturin series, and while I certainly appreciate the security and comfort of reading what is familiar (see: Aubrey & Maturin series), the real point is that the wider I read, the more I gain from all that I read.

You can find out more about Bill Blais's new release, No Good Deed, by clicking the link below.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Author Spotlight this week is on Bill Blais

Author Bill Blais

Hello all, Alicia Rasley here, and I wanted to take a moment to welcome our newest Author to the Spotlight: Bill Blais! Bill is the author of No Good Deed, and is here to tell you about the book.

We are excited to have Bill spending some time with us. Please make sure to stop by the Author Spotlight page (you can find it at the top of the page, or just click Bill's picture to the right) to find information about him and his book. In the meantime, check out his book (cover above) and leave a comment saying hi and letting us know you stopped by.

Monday, August 27, 2012

‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn

Reviewed by Jesi

Marriage can be a real killer.

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?
(Amazon product description)

Wow.  This book was so not what I was expecting, and I mean that in the best possible sense. 

I have always said that no one can truly know what happens inside a marriage. For this reason, I try never to judge or pick sides when it comes to the marriages of my friends and family. Gone Girl is a perfect illustration of how different a marriage can really be compared to the way it appears from the outside. 

On the surface, Nick and Amy are perfect--good looking, successful, rich.  So when Amy goes missing, the country is up in arms over the possibility that Nick is responsible for her disappearance.  As a reader, I wanted to believe in his innocence.  Nick doesn’t make it easy to keep that faith in him.  He lies to the police, behaves strangely and holds his secrets close.  As the book progresses, the perfect Amy’s flaws begin to show also, deteriorating her character so much that you begin to feel Nick is better off without her. 

The cool thing is that this book is written in the first person point of view, alternating between Nick and Amy.  This gives you glimpses into each of their heads.  However, this is a perfect example of unreliable narrators, because you can never really trust either to tell you the truth.  It makes for a fascinating read! 

My only sort of criticism is that when I finished reading it, I wanted to throw the book across the room.  The ending is so different than what I was expecting, and not what I wanted to have happen at all.  At the same time, it was strangely perfect.  I’m dying to talk to someone about this ending!  I think I will assign this to my book club next time it is my turn to pick the selection.

Gone Girl explores complex themes of trust, fidelity, child exploitation, economic recession, mental illness, bias in the media and the court of public opinion.  These themes are layered over a fast-paced, suspenseful plot, creating a rich and poignant novel.  One of my favorite books of 2012!

Overall, I give Gone Girl...
Plot - 5 bookmarks (intricate and fast-paced)
Character Development - 12 bookmarks!!!!  (Okay, so my rating system only goes to five, but this is my review and I can rate it how I want.)
Mystery - 5 bookmarks (Not one that you are likely to figure out a head of time.)
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Rachel McAdams (Amy), Chris Pine (Nick), Ashley Greene (Andi), Cherry Jones (Bony)

Friday, August 24, 2012

The "Author Edition": by Marsha Canham

From award-winning historical romance novelist Marsha Canham:

I am very excited to reissue my medieval romance, My Forever Love, with its original working title, The Dragon Tree. As the last book written and printed before I took a much needed eight year hiatus (or, call it what it was: burn out), it has been extensively revised and edited and, hopefully, improved to reflect my newly restored energy and love for writing. The tale of the tormented Templar Knight and the woman he rescues from her murderous husband has remained essentially the same. I have simply added more depth and texture to their characters and their love story.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

'So L.A.' by Bridget Hoida

Reviewed by Lindsey
5 stars

Beautiful Magdalena de la Cruz breezed through Berkeley and built an empire selling designer water. She’d never felt awkward or unattractive… until she moved to Los Angeles. In L.A. where “everything smells like acetone and Errol Flynn” Magdalena attempts to reinvent herself as a geographically appropriate bombshell—with rhinestones, silicone and gin—as she seeks an escape from her unraveling marriage and the traumatic death of her younger brother, Junah. Magdalena’s Los Angeles is glitzy and glamorous but also a landscape of the absurd. Her languidly lyrical voice provides a travel guide for a city of make-believe, where even Hollywood insiders feel left out.

Like a lane change on the 405 freeway during rush hour, Bridget Hoida, skillfully navigates the impossible in So L.A. offering a portrait of contemporary Los Angeles through the penetrating prose of her female protagonist. Evoking a dynamic and materialist landscape, So L.A. introduces readers to the unforgettable voice of an extremely talented new writer. (Amazon Description)

I loved this book. Not what I expected. I honestly expected some sort of smart Melrose Place novel. This book was the complete opposite.

Magdelena has lost herself. She had a brother who died in a rock climbing accident. She has never recovered. She marries, moves to LA and changes herself from the person she used to be, body, mind and spirit.

On a personal note, I got this. I grew up around these people. My mother worked for a cosmetic company that would send her all over the world. We spent one summer in Beverly Hills Hilton. This was normal. I remember being 16 and watching the women talk about their latest "procedures". Discussions went from whose husband left who, to who has let themselves go, on and on. It seemed the norm, but I didn't fit in. I thought at that time that eventually I would have to get things done also; that's what you do when you're old - around 30.

The women, including Mom, never seemed content. There was a underlying rule. Look a certain way and be accepted, be liked. Doesn't matter who you really were, you needed to be liked and thought of as attractive.
As I became older and moved away, these thoughts caused me to feel resentful.  I didn't want to have "procedures". I have witnessed the recovery and it is not for the weak. It all seemed like a lot of pain in order to be liked. Everyone wanted to look the same.

At 6ft tall, brown eyes and brown hair,  that was not going to happen. The whole production turned from exciting and beautiful to exhausting and insecure.

So, I did the opposite. I cut all my hair off ( I can still hear my Mom telling me I'll look like a pin head). Embraced my flannel and jeans (hello...90's grunge?). Dropped out of college, took off for Alaska and began to run.

At 38 I am still in the same mode. Sometimes that is good; sometimes it's not. I don't feel the need to look or act anyway in order to get approval. I just don't need it. Unfortunately , there are so many women who do. It comes out in competitiveness or cruelty at times in order to hide who they really are.

Magdelena purposely causes drama in her life to escape her guilt regarding her brother's death. Sometimes she made me laugh. Other times she irritated me with her righteous attitude of self destructive behavior.

I feared her. She was who I fought against for so long. She is the person  it would have been easier to be at times.It was hard to take the criticism for not looking a certain way. As I get older it's a lot easier.

Overall, Magdelena made me sad.  She made me feel for how lost she was, how unforgiving she was toward herself.  She couldn't comprehend what she was doing was hurting others.

I rarely read books twice, but this one I will definitely read again.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Author Spotlight

Author Spotlight on Marsha Canham

Hello all, Alicia Rasley here, and I wanted to take a moment to welcome our newest Author to the Spotlight: Marsha Canham! Marsha is the author of many romances, including best-sellers, and is here to tell you about her latest release, The Dragon Tree.

We are very excited to have Marsha spending some time with us. Please make sure to stop by the Author Spotlight page (you can find it at the top of the page, or just click Marsha's picture to the right) to find information about her and her book. In the meantime, check out her book (cover above) and leave a comment saying hi and letting us know you stopped by.

Monday, August 13, 2012

'Hearts Chalice' by Thomma Grindstaff

Reviewed by Shari
3.75 stars

Destiny rarely gives a woman a second chance at love, especially not with a man who died twenty years ago. Laurel is pulled to an alternate reality where her beloved still lives. She desperately wants to remain, but every shift between realities damages her body further, and her soon-to-be-ex will stop at nothing to shackle her to a life she despises.
(Amazon Product Description)

Thomma Grindstaff is the author of two previous novels, Mirror Blue and Patchwork Stained Glass. Her writing interested me enough that I would like to read them, as well.

Heart’s Chalice is an intriguing novel filled with suspense. There’s nothing like an unplanned pregnancy on the first page to grab a reader's attention (unless maybe it's a murder). And as I read through the rest of chapter one, there were both, with some psychic episodes thrown in, too. Triple hooks!

Chalice reminded me of the movie Sliding Doors starring Gwyneth Paltrow, but only because of the alternate realities that Laurel, the heroine, keeps sliding in and out of (with the guidance of a mystical cat she calls Moonlight). There, the similarity stops. Laurel experiences something akin to being struck by lightning every time she alternates, and she also suffers great emotional trauma. In one reality, she is alive but has lost the love of her life, Nate, and the children she might have borne him, and in the other reality, she, Laurel, is the one who has been lost, and Nate and his motherless children grieve. She can appear to them only as a wraith-like specter. In one reality, Laurel is tied to a loveless marriage (an institution she entered into believing she could somehow redeem herself and her emotionally abusive husband). In the alternate reality, the love she never lost for Nate is a beacon of hope, but Nate and the children, especially the boy, are emotionally scarred and in need of a redemption Laurel is sure she can bring to them if she can only make them aware that her presence is real. The last third of the book really hooked me, and I’ll leave that as a surprise for the reader.

However, I found some of the transitions to be too abrupt. That abruptness works well when Laurel is “sliding”, but it doesn’t at other times. Like when the reader must jump from the young teens being in love (I felt that early relationship could have been depicted with a lot more depth) to their breakup, and then to Nate’s death in hopscotch fashion. And I never connected with Laurel’s feelings that she had “done” something wrong that caused her losses. Perhaps it might have worked if Thomma had taken me deeper into Laurel’s psyche, but she didn’t. Even worse was the jump from the dinner scene when Laurel first meets the Harry, to the proposal, immediately to the first anniversary, and then a HUGE jump to fourteen years later. And, in reading that last third of the book—which shall remain a surprise—I could see how much better it would have been if the character of Harry had been further developed. The novel is relatively short, 253 Kindle pages, and Thomma could have lengthened it by a good bit allow for this development. Still, I very much enjoyed it, especially the cats who stole the stage at various points in the novel, and the transcendental love that permeated everything.

I give Heart’s Chalice 4 stars for plot, 2.5 stars for character development, and 4.75 stars for the love story—the way they triumphed despite the challenges of the alternate realities was fantastic—for an average of 3.75 stars.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

'Beautiful Disaster' by Jamie McGuire

Reviewed by: Jesi 
5 Stars

The new Abby Abernathy is a good girl. She doesn’t drink or swear, and she has the appropriate percentage of cardigans in her wardrobe. Abby believes she has enough distance between her and the darkness of her past, but when she arrives at college with her best friend America, her path to a new beginning is quickly challenged by Eastern University’s Walking One-Night Stand. Travis Maddox, lean, cut, and covered in tattoos, is exactly what Abby needs—and wants—to avoid. He spends his nights winning money in a floating fight ring, and his days as the charming college co-ed. Intrigued by Abby’s resistance to his charms, Travis tricks her into his daily life with a simple bet. If he loses, he must remain abstinent for a month. If Abby loses, she must live in Travis’ apartment for the same amount of time. Either way, Travis has no idea that he has met his match.
(Amazon product description)

First, let me say, it was brave of the author to write a novel for the college age.  For those of you who are not familiar with the industry, traditional publishers will buy adult books or young adult books, but not the age in between.  Why?  Basically, because they don’t know where to shelve it in the book store.  But just because publishers don’t know how to sell it doesn’t mean readers don’t want to read it.  Beautiful Disaster is a refreshing novel for that mature, 17 and up reader. 

I think what I enjoyed most about this book was the characterization.  The description above kind of makes it seem like the characters might be stereotypical, but thankfully, that didn’t turn out to the case at all.  Travis is a tattoo covered, fighting bad-boy, but he is also fiercely loyal, intelligent and loving.  Anna tries to hide behind her cardigan sweaters, but she has an adventurous soul.  I loved that Anna and Travis did not try to change each other.  Yes, Travis made adjustments, but I think that was more an effect of him growing up.  He realized that if he wanted a quality relationship with someone, he would have to clean up his act.  Anna never issued ultimatums.  She didn’t hassle him over his fighting for money.  Even in the one scene where she hit her deal-breaker, she didn’t try to force Travis to do what she wanted.  She simply made the mature decision for what was good for her.  In keeping with the age of the characters, Travis and Anna were not perfect.  They made mistakes.  The cool thing was that we see them learning from them. 

The pacing of the story flowed nicely.  It was a fairly long book, but part of me didn’t want it to end.  There was a fair amount of excitement and action peppered throughout the plot.  Travis was a fighter in an underground boxing club on campus.  He got paid enough from his cut in the bets that it served as his job.  Of course, this meant he had a bit of a violent reputation.  One of my favorite scenes was when Anna and her friend were at a dance club.  Every time a guy would start dancing with them, he would suddenly disappear.  After a few times of this happening, they discovered Travis and his cousin yanking the guys off the dance floor when the girls’ backs were turned, and then threatening the guys to stay away.  Anna was mad, but I thought it was rather funny. 

I strongly recommend this book, and I look forward to more by this author.

Overall, I give Beautiful Disaster...

Plot - 4 1/2 bookmarks
Character Development - 5 bookmarks (Anna was one of the best younger heroines I have read in a while.)
Love Story - 5 bookmarks
Dream Cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Kristen Stewart (Anna), Liam Hemsworth (Travis), America (Brit Robertson), Shepley (Jeremy Irvine)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

'Transcende​nce' by C.J. Omololu

Reviewed by: Stephanie
Five Stars

Summary from Goodreads:

'When a visit to the Tower of London triggers an overwhelmingly real vision of a beheading that occurred centuries before, Cole Ryan fears she is losing her mind. A mysterious boy, Griffon Hall, comes to her aid, but the intensity of their immediate connection seems to open the floodgate of memories even wider.

As their feelings grow, Griffon reveals their common bond as members of the Akhet—an elite group of people who can remember past lives and use their collected wisdom for the good of the world. But not all Akhet are altruistic, and a rogue is after Cole to avenge their shared past. Now in extreme danger, Cole must piece together clues from many lifetimes. What she finds could ruin her chance at a future with Griffon, but risking his love may be the only way to save them both.

Full of danger, romance, and intrigue, Transcendence breathes new life into a perpetually fascinating question: What would you do with another life to live?'

This is a fantastic book! I’m so glad it’s got a sequel because I definitely want more of Griffon and Cole!

I was hooked from the first chapter that describes Cole and her sister Kat on a spring break trip to London. That’s where Cole starts having disturbing visions, and she meets Griffon for the first time.

When she returns home to San Francisco and the visions continues, Cole thinks she’s going crazy. She reconnects with Griffon, and he helps her to understand what is going on with her.

The evolution of Cole’s understanding and acceptance of who she is as an Akhet was perfectly paced. She was of course shocked and skeptical but grew to trust Griffon and his explanation. Through this their relationship progressed. That was also done flawlessly, with Cole having to overcome her own normal teenage insecurities to pursue a relationship with this unique guy.

The rogue Akhet storyline was good but one that I figured out early on. Although there weren’t any shocking surprises, I was still riveted and anxiously awaited the final resolution.

A chance meeting between Cole and one of her sister’s co-workers sets the stage for book two. Thankfully this one doesn’t end on a cliff hanger but I am excited to see how this latest plot wrinkle will be explored in next year’s book, Fated..

This is an exciting new series and I’m excited to read more from C.J. Omololu!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

'Jackrabbit Junction Jitters' by Ann Charles

Reviewer: Lindsey
5 stars (as usual)

Illustration by C.S. Kunkle

Claire is back, raining trouble throughout Jackrabbit Junction in another fast-paced, fun, sexy suspense.

A burglar is on the loose! Claire wastes no time forming suspicions, but she's sidetracked by a treasure hunt.
Even with help from her boyfriend, Claire is swirling in a whirlpool of chaos. Throw her crazy sister into the torrent, along with an angst-ridden teen, a jittery bride, and some randy old men, and Claire struggles just to keep a toehold in the current.

Then her mother arrives ...(Amazon description)

Ann Charles has come out with another winner. This time it is #2 in the Jackrabbit Junction series. Folks, it put the first one to shame.

This story brings back Claire and her grandpa. Grandpa is getting married and his daughter (Claire's mom) has come along to put a end to it. With her mother comes her sister, whose driving skills equal a dear friend of mine...who happens to be a DOT engineer.

There are new characters introduced, but I found them easy to follow. Claire's family was insane but hysterical.

For you smutty lovers there was enough to keep you interested.

For you prudes it did not overpower the book.

There is a mystery, of course, with a who-done-it that I did not see coming. Everything flows well.  Once again I pulled a all nighter and read it until 3:00 am. I would love to tell who did what, but then you wouldn't read it. It's only $3.99 on Amazon.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Author Spotlight: Joanne Sydney Lessner

This week, we have a guest post by Joanne Sydney Lessner, author of The Temporary Detective. You can learn more about Joanne by clicking the Author Spotlight link above.

“I Happen to Like New York”
By Joanne Sydney Lessner

I grew up in Newburgh, New York, a Hudson River town 60 miles north of the city, as folks in the tristate area refer to Manhattan. It was close enough for occasional visits to my grandparents, but tantalizingly out of reach for the acting classes and auditions I was dying to go to. After college and graduate school, I finally succeeded in staking out my territory in the city and plunged into the full range of theater-related activities I had only dreamed of.

One thing I never anticipated was how my early years in New York pounding the pavement as an actress would influence my writing. Isobel Spice, the heroine of The Temporary Detective, arrives in the city eager to take Broadway by storm and winds up temping, just as I did. Like Isobel, I was fresh out of school with no office experience, and it took several tries before I convinced a kind-hearted temp agent to take pity on me and give me a chance. Unlike Isobel, however, I never stumbled across a dead body on the job—although I have to confess, there were a few employers I’d have liked to bump off! The Temporary Detective is the first of a series that will follow Isobel as she goes from temp job to temp job (and the occasional theater job) solving mysteries. As fun as it is to devise whodunits, my favorite thing about the series is that I can incorporate my and my friends’ most hilarious and mortifying audition, performance and temping experiences. And, believe me, that well isn’t going to run dry anytime soon!

I’ve lived in the city for over twenty years now and am raising my kids here. They love being born and bred New Yorkers, although ironically, neither of them is inclining towards the theatrical. That’s fine with me—it’s a difficult life. But I can’t help thinking that their experiences living in this propulsive, compulsive, never-sleeping city will inform whatever they do, just as it has for me.

The Temporary Detective Purchase Links:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

'Three Days in Seattle" by Debra Burroughs

Reviewer: Jesi
Rating: 3 Stars

Revenge. Romance. Murder.
A gorgeous Blonde, a kidnapped Sister, a handsome Stranger, and a vengeful Killer.
The desperate race is on to find the sister before both women wind up dead.
(GoodReads description)

I have to admit, I had a hard time finishing this one.  The basic plot was interesting.  It opens with Katie McAllister getting a call from her sister’s roommate in Seattle, telling her that her sister is missing.  She immediately hops a plane to go find her.  Serendipity steps in when she ends up seated next to a handsome stranger on the plane who decides to cancel all his appointments at work and spend the next few days being Katie’s support.

I liked the idea of this story, but I just don’t think it was my style.  The reader knows right away who is behind the kidnapping, where the sister is being kept and even why they did it.  I think I would have preferred a little more mystery.  I felt very little suspense in this romantic suspense novel.  Don’t get me wrong, I think some readers like this dual plot kind of thing...I’m just not one of them. 

Speaking of romance, in lieu of actual suspense, I could have been more engaged in the book if I bought into the romance.  Ryan was too good to be true.  A hot stranger with a good job who drops everything to be your emotional support in a time of crisis?  I don’t know.  It just didn’t feel right.  Maybe it was the Insta-Love that I had trouble with.  I mean, they only had three days.  And it happened while Katie was preoccupied and distraught over her sister.  If it was more about sexual chemistry than emotional love, I would have been more on board with the relationship. 

Lastly, the dialogue was stiff and unnatural.  People just don’t talk that way.  Again, I admit, I tend to be picky on dialogue with most books.  It’s sort of my thing. But there were a lot of instances where the author chose to “tell” rather than “show”, and that telling usually involved the character’s mouths.

I’m giving this book three stars because I think it has potential.  It’s just not quite there yet.

Overall, I give Three Days in Seattle...

Plot - 3 1/2 bookmarks
Character development - 3 bookmarks
Suspense - 2 bookmarks
Love story - 2 1/2 bookmarks
Dream cast (otherwise known as who I pictured while reading) - Galen Gering (Ryan), Yvonne Strahovski (Katie), Diana Argon (the sister), Leighton Meester (Suki), Steven R. McQueen (Ethan)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Author Spotlight: Joanne Sydney Lessner

Hello all, Alicia Rasley here, and I wanted to take a moment to welcome our newest Author to the Spotlight: Joanne Sydney Lessner! Joanne has a varied and intriguing background that includes theater and music along with her novel writing.

We are very excited to have Joanne spending some time with us. Please make sure to stop by the Author Spotlight page (you can find it at the top of the page, or just click Joanne's picture to the right) to find information about her and her book. In the meantime, check out her book (cover above) and leave a comment saying hi and letting us know you stopped by.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Review: 'Jane' by April Lindner

Reviewer: Stephanie
YNTR Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Forced to drop out of an esteemed East Coast college after the sudden death of her parents, Jane Moore takes a nanny job at Thornfield Park, the estate of Nico Rathburn, a world-famous rock star on the brink of a huge comeback. Practical and independent, Jane reluctantly becomes entranced by her magnetic and brooding employer and finds herself in the midst of a forbidden romance.

But there’s a mystery at Thornfield, and Jane’s much-envied relationship with Nico is soon tested by an agonizing secret from his past. Torn between her feelings for Nico and his fateful secret, Jane must decide: Does being true to herself mean giving up on true love?
An irresistible romance interwoven with a darkly engrossing mystery, this contemporary retelling of the beloved classic Jane Eyre promises to enchant a new generation of readers.
(Summary from GoodReads)


First of all, you should know that Jane Eyre is my all time favorite book so I was pretty sure I was going to enjoy this modern retelling of the story. And it certainly is a retelling – there is no detail from the original left out of this book. If you’re not a huge fan of Jane Eyre, you may find this boring and redundant. As we all know though, that isn’t me. I loved every bit of it and was anxiously awaiting each trial to befall Jane Moore to see how she would react (and if it was similar to my beloved Jane) and of course I relished the happy ending that I knew would be coming!

I think the author did a good job of translating Jane Eyre to modern times. How brilliant to make Mr. Rochester an aging rock star! And Jane Moore as a college student turned nanny was wonderful. Her family was also spot on (she was orphaned but just recently, not as a child like the original). The big secret keeping her and her rock star apart was also on par with the original story but with a very believable modern explanation.

I’m so glad I bought the book for my birthday last year because I’m sure I will read want to read it again and again (just as I have with Charlotte Bronte’s original work!)

*** This will be Stephanie's last review with #YNTR. She is setting off on a new life adventure.  While this is happy news for her, she will be greatly missed here at the Indie Book Collective.  Please post a comment to wish her farewell.  ~Jesi

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

'Old Enough to Know Better' by Shanyn Hosier

Reviewed by Shari
4 stars

James Swain is young, rich, talented and handsome. A British actor in a wildly successful series of films, he’s well acquainted with the sort of lifestyle afforded by practically unlimited wealth. Life hasn’t always been this good for Jamie, but he senses something is still missing.

Enter Melanie Morganstern, a thirty-something American housewife with an ambition to become a published author. After penning a well-received fanfiction novel involving Jamie’s popular character, Mel inadvertently becomes drawn into his real-life orbit. What would seem like a dream come true soon becomes something like a nightmare: her favorite fictional character crosses the line separating fantasy from reality, resulting in nearly catastrophic consequences.

Deciding Mel is exactly what he wants, Jamie tries to steal her away from her husband. But, despite her attraction to him, Mel refuses to betray her marriage vows. It’s only after tragedy strikes that she finally opens herself to what Jamie has to offer, something she’s desperately needed all her life. And Jamie, leaping headfirst into the aftermath, learns lessons of self-sacrifice, patience, and responsibility. Their passionate romance blooms despite nearly universal disapproval. Together, they face the challenges of forging a new life and a family out of the wreckage.
 (Amazon Product Description)

Shanyn is a new, and very talented, self-published author with two more novels upcoming. I’m anxious to read them when they come out. Old Enough to Know Better is her first book.

The first two paragraphs hooked and kept me slogging through the boring backstory that filled the rest of that page and the next two pages of the novel—good thing, because what followed completely reeled me in. I couldn’t put the book down, even though it’s 478 pages long. Shanyn’s masterful characterizations and descriptive capabilities had me right there with Mel and her two small boys, cheering them on as they worked their way from grief to happiness. Jamie, a too-young, hotheaded, “bloody narcissist”, made me root for him to “capture the castle” despite everything against him, including his own screw-ups. And I had to cross my legs at the “X” scenes (blush).

While characterization is strong, I found the plot to be a bit disappointing. Mel’s former mother-in-law threatens to take the children away from Mel after she marries Jaime, and there’s no escalation of that conflict. The last chapter is a letdown. I expected Mel to deal with her phobia and support Jamie at the premiere of his new movie, but Jamie babies Mel through her fears in the hotel room and the premiere scene itself is never reached. Also, Jamie has hereditary tendencies that led him to have a vasectomy well before he ever met Mel. I kept expecting some sort of challenge involving Jamie’s health to hit them. I think some of the “X” scenes (while I loved them) could have been “x’d” to allow for greater plot development.

I give Old Enough to Know Better 2.5 stars for plot, 4.5 stars for character development, and 5 stars for the love story—the chemistry among them, including the children, was totally believable and completely “satisfying” (blush again)—for an average of 4 stars. It’s a jolly good read!