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.  Just...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!