Monday, February 28, 2011

Split by Swati Avashti

Sixteen-Year-Old Jace Witherspoon arrives at the doorstep of his estranged brother Christian with a re-landscaped face (courtesy of his father’s fist), $3.84, and a secret.

He tries to move on, going for new friends, a new school, and a new job, but all his changes can’t make him forget what he left behind—his mother, who is still trapped with his dad, and his ex-girlfriend, who is keeping his secret.

At least so far.

Worst of all, Jace realizes that if he really wants to move forward, he may first have to do what scares him most: He may have to go back. First-time novelist Swati Avasthi has created a riveting and remarkably nuanced portrait of what happens after. After you’ve said enough, after you’ve run, after you’ve made the split—how do you begin to live again? Readers won’t be able to put this intense page-turner down.

My Take:  This one nearly missed my radar.  I found the story compelling, the characters very well developed, and the disorders well researched.  The author digs in deep and uncovers the contempt, hatred, and love the family members have for one another.  She also presents a conundrum.  I just love that word.

Judge Witherspoon is all about appearances.  If you live in his house (and you WILL), you will abide by his rules.  A complete narcissistic personality lawyer type.  Excellent.  

The mother is beaten down emotionally and physically.  She sees no way out.  Interesting symbolism of the Queen chess pieces and Jace's compulsion to save/steal them and what he eventually does with his collection.  

Christian gets out after careful planning and makes a life for himself with conditions.  He will never, ever risk being found by his dad and he will never allow abuse in his home.

Jace was one of his father's favorite punching bags.  When he left, he also left some secrets.  In order or healing to occur, all secrets will be spilled, consequences will follow and Jace may alienate his brother.

I loved the complexity of the characters and the circumstances.  I loved the exploration of Jace's feelings for himself, Lauren, Dakota, his mom, and his dad.  I loved that Jace's appearance is the catalyst for Christian developing true intimacy with Mirriam, the voice of logic in this story.  

The story is told through Jace's POV, although in third person.  The present time is given but Jace's mind flashes back and fills in the holes.  Particularly compelling is the detail used to describe the first time Christian is used as a punching bag, the consequences, and the way the Judge responds to each of the characters.  It. Was. Incredible. 

Excellent book.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Billion Reasons Why by Kristin Billerbeck Review

A Billion Reasons Why

From Publicist:
Practically Perfect

Can God’s best include passion and security?

Katie McKenna had resolved to live a quiet life, marry a practical Christian man, and leave all her “worldly” desires behind. Since moving to California, she’d made it her goal to live life logically and for the Lord. She has the perfect life—a fulfilling job, a cute apartment, and a wedding to plan with her soon-to-be fiancé, Dexter.

But then in walks Luc DeForges, the handsome ex-boyfriend who’d broken her heart. After graduating college and rejecting Katie, Luc cornered the organic food market and became one of the most eligible multi-millionaire bachelors. But now he’s back and asking her to go home to New Orleans to sing at his brother’s wedding. She hasn’t fallen victim to her emotions since leaving New Orleans, and she’s invested too much to give into them now.

When Luc was in his element, there was nothing like it. His excitement was contagious and spread like a classroom virus, infecting those around him with a false sense of security. Katie inhales deeply and reminds herself that the man sold inspiration by the pound. His power over her was universal. It did not make her special.

Katie’s boyfriend, Dexter, is a practical man. As Katie’s roommate Eileen offers, “Katie, no matter how many entries you put in that book, Dexter is not going to be a romantic. I mean, fine, you’re going to marry him. He’s a good man. I just don’t want you to be disappointed. No matter how many junior high school hearts you draw next to his name, Dexter is going to order you what the Internet says is the proper gift for each anniversary. He’ll probably have a program created that does it for him.” But Dexter is safe. He’ll be a good dad. He’s very intellectual. He’s punctual. He’s everything she needs in a husband.

And Dexter will propose as soon as she gets her grandmother’s ring from her mom. And Luc will provide her with a free trip home for just that purpose. Plus, she needs to go home to New Orleans. It’s her last chance to find out why Luc tossed her from his life like a banana peel off the back of her father’s pickup. Love is a decision. A choice. All the leading experts said so, and she’d decided she would love Dexter in a way that honored and respected him. The way she’d loved Luc left her worn out and depleted, like an empty air mattress. Then what use was she? She’d get her ring and closure as well. Then nothing would stand in the way of her life with Dexter.

But what if God has more in store for her? What if God’s desire for her is a heart full of life? Can the passions she had as a young woman, which led to many of her past mistakes, still have a place in her life?  

My Take: This book had some good nuggets of wisdom and had some moments of humor.  Kristin Billerbeck is a successful author and has published excellent books.  This one landed flat for me.  I often felt like I was standing on the outside of an inside joke.  There were a lot of references to the 1940's era - the era that the protagonist, Katie, loved.  There was also a Southern lifestyle that I needed clarified further to follow.  I felt lost when the characters jumped to conclusions that I didn't think were logical and irritated when they were about to confess something important and were cut off for one reason or another.

None of the above complaints I have are valid criticisms of the author's work.  They are simply differences in point of reference.

What I liked was the clean read.  In fact, it was incredibly refreshing to read a book that didn't leave me cringing and that I don't mind adding to the family bookshelf.  Although I struggled through the story and the references, others won't.  In fact, the old-fashioned way of Katie and Luc is exactly what would catch the attention of some readers.  The references to Humphrey Bogart, Fred Astaire, and Ginger Rogers will be the hook to catch attention.  For me, the overall story just didn't interest me enough to enjoy the book.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Gone by Lisa McMann

Gone  (Dream Catcher, #3)Gone by Lisa McMann

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

This is the third installment of "The Dreamcatchers." Although I didn't read the first two, they were wildly popular and fairly necessary to follow the story to conclusion. Still, here is what I have gathered:

Janie is a "dreamcatcher." As completely romantic as this sounds, it is a terrifying malady that she often has no control over. If she is in the general vicinity of a person that has started to dream, she is pulled into said dream. In book #2, she meets a woman in a convalescent home who happens to also be a dream catcher. Unfortunately, this possible mentor has suffered the affects of dreamcatching. She totally blind and maimed. It is not a pretty sight. To add a spoiler here, she dies. Janie realizes she is deep, deep trouble.

Mom is still a raging alcoholic. Cabel is still am amazing boyfriend. Janie is simply distracted by her future. To add a monkey wrench into the mix, a new character shows up who may or may not be her father and may or may not be a dream catcher. He has lived in isolation for a very long time, making money working ebay. He's comatose and having the most intense and powerful dreams that keep Janie trapped as he screams for her to help him. So Janie's choices are both dire. She can either continue dream hopping and eventually wind up blind and crippled or she can be an isolate. But what negative impact will this have on her malady? Meanwhile, mother is still a raging alcoholic.

So what will Janie do? Live with Cabel and his disturbing dreams, continue helping the police department which hastens her crippling disease, or give up everybody and everyone to live in seclusion?

Just a warning - some sex, some language issues.

My gut reaction to this book was, "So what?" and "Wow.  That was depressing."  I'm glad I didn't post my review until right now.  I've spent a couple of days mulling it over and I found that the story grew on me.  Okay, being a dream catcher is not necessarily relevant.  I also hated that Janie's choices were so crippling (no pun intended.  Okay, the pun was kind of intended).  But then I found that McMann had sneakily included a couple of morals to the story.

Mild spoilers:  Family is always family and there is a connection.  Accept that but it is not necessary to carry all their baggage.  At some point, forgiveness is not for the offender.

Once the above is accepted, others can step in and become family.  There is support for the forgotten and downtrodden.  Look around.  You're not as alone as you think you are.

Because of this, making decisions based on self can not be made in isolation.  All members of your own social group/family become players in the choices.

There are other perspectives to consider when making difficult decisions.  The introduction of Janie's father provides her with a new perspective.  Even in isolation, Janie's father impacted lives while trying to not do so.

This book is also written in prose that would make any English teacher break out her red pencil and mutter "incomplete sentence" and "hanging participles."  On the other hand, it is language that is understood.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Georgia Bottoms by Mark Childress Review and GIVEAWAY

Georgia Bottoms: A NovelGeorgia Bottoms: A Novel by Mark Childress

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can't figure out why I enjoyed this book. I just did. It's against all that I hold near and dear to my heart. I think it was simply the storytelling.

Had Georgia been born a few generations back, she's be known as Georgia Ethel Butts. Fortunately, one of her ancestors had the good sense to make a name change. Somehow Bottoms is not exactly the best but it's an improvement. The thing about Georgia is she is the "Other Woman." She believes she is doing a service by providing men in her southern church's congregation a sexual outlet. She's pretty self-centered but at the same time, a decent person considering she is the one who takes care of her ailing mother and brother who is interesting at best, a domestic terrorist at worst.

She lives in the old family home that used to be quite majestic. Without a steady income, she simply has arrangements with a few of the men in town. It's not love or really "business." It's simply offering gifts (sexual) for gifts freely given (they support their mistress). There's a man for every night of the week except Monday. They all believe they are the only one. Georgia has rules that can not be breached. Things have been going smoothly for years. She keeps the secrets and keeps the men separated by nights of the week and all in the shadows to keep the facade. When one strokes out she has another to take his place. When one starts talking about leaving his wife and marrying her, she has a contingency plan. Truth is, she's too self-centered to make room for anybody that might tie her down.

But then complications arise. In her carefully ordered world, she keeps up appearances and goes to church on Sunday where she carefully studies her latest manicure or dreams of a new dress she wants to buy while Mr. Saturday Night drones on. Except Mr. Saturday Night found his guilty conscience and confessed to his wife last night and is ready to confess his sins to the entire congregation which would upset Georgia's carefully ordered world. She averts the tragedy and hastens Eugene's exit from her small town. She is clearly a girl who does not wish change in her schedule.

The little charades continue but complications are constantly arising. She puts out fires and adjusts to small changes like her increasingly forgetful mother or her alcoholic brother who just can't seem to keep his nose clean. Still, the small town continues and she handles it all with aplomb. But then things get really dicey. Georgia does have a secret son and he eventually ends up on her front porch. This is much more complicated than one might first admit. Think deep South and he has dark skin. Oh, yeah. She's fair skinned and blond.

I honestly had no idea where this story was heading. It just kept telling itself and there was nothing particularly predictable about it except I suspected that all of her secrets would eventually unravel. How this occurs, however, is really the journey and it is incredibly entertaining.

How do you cheer for the Other Woman? I honestly couldn't. I liked her and she stayed true to her character throughout the book but I certainly didn't wish for her to get off without consequences. At the same time, besides her little sexual forays, she was a good person, albeit self-centered. The ending is satisfying, although I want to say more. It is surprising and I liked Georgia's resilience and acceptance of change.

Thanks to Brad at Hatchette, I have 1 copy to offer.
Contest Ends March 12, 2011
Enter by clicking HERE. 

+1 entry by adding comment.  
Don't know what to say?  
Give me an empty compliment.  
Yes, yes.  I am that shallow.

Darkness Becomes Her Review

Darkness Becomes Her (Gods & Monsters, #1)Darkness Becomes Her by Kelly Keaton

Ari can’t help feeling lost and alone. With teal eyes and freakish silver hair that can’t be changed or destroyed, Ari has always stood out. And after growing up in foster care, she longs for some understanding of where she came from and who she is.

Her search for answers uncovers just one message from her long dead mother: Run. Ari can sense that someone, or something, is getting closer than they should. But it’s impossible to protect herself when she doesn’t know what she’s running from or why she is being pursued.

She knows only one thing: she must return to her birthplace of New 2, the lush rebuilt city of New Orleans. Upon arriving, she discovers that New 2 is very...different. Here, Ari is seemingly normal. But every creature she encounters, no matter how deadly or horrifying, is afraid of her.

Ari won’t stop until she knows why. But some truths are too haunting, too terrifying, to ever be revealed.

My Take: This book is different from the other paranormal books I've seen lately. One interesting aspect is that it takes place in the not so distant future. A horrific hurricane has leveled New Orleans. The country is not in a fantastic fiscal shape so when a private group offers to buy the land and restore it, U.S.A. jumped at it. But it's a place you don't really want to go. There are stories, legends, and little concrete evidence to refute the stories.

The truth is that there were 9 families that went in on the business venture. They wanted a safe haven for those in the society that are different. If you've ever been to New Orleans, you know why they chose it. Turns out, they're all a little on the freakish side.

Enter Ari. She wants to find out who she is. She's been in foster care for the past 13 years or so. Her most recent stint has been with a couple of work as bail bondsmen. This is crucial because they have taught her how to fight defensively. I like this part because then Ari is not 1)helpless or 2)suddenly and magically Kung Fu. She ends up in her birth place which, ironically, is what used to be New Orleans.

Once in New 2 (New Orleans), she meets up with a bunch of other misfits that are different ages, sizes, and powers. She escapes being killed by Greek "Monster Killers" a couple of times and finally discovers her curse. And it's bad. Really bad. So bad that Athena (yes, the goddess) wants to either own her or kill her. If Athena doesn't get her, the Novem want her. That's the head of the 9 families.

Fun read. Strong language. Some adult themes; i.e., how Ari's ancestor came to be cursed by Athena is not a pretty picture. This is book #1. I'm anxious to see how Ari manages her curse and what happens to the children misfit, especially Vi.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How to Flirt With a Naked Werewolf by Molly Harper

How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf (Naked Werewolf, #1)How to Flirt with a Naked Werewolf by Molly Harper

So Mo is a the product of a couple of hippies never overcoming the effects of Mary Jane et al., raising their only child in their own commune and making her eat only organic while homeschooling. In a fit of rebellion, Mo defies her upbringing by enrolling herself in a traditional and public school, getting a job at a greasy drive-in that sells dead animal, and even getting a best friend.

The book starts with Mo arriving in Grundy, Alaska. She's just been dumped by long-time boyfriend, Tim, and is ready to lick her wounds by removing herself from society. The only way this move would be believable is if Mo had previously lived in a tropical climate. Turns out, she grew up in the south.

Mo meets the Northern Exposure cast of characters and, true to Molly Harper style, they are distinctly unique and quirky. And then there is Cooper; handsome, brooding, large (in all ways) and a werewolf.

Harper is a master of dialog and describing nuances that make you giggle in a way that a good author can do. As much as I liked this book because it is Molly Harper and she makes me laugh, I have to be honest in saying that I didn't love it the way I wanted to. It's still a fun read but here is what I grappled with:

1. I have no problem with the protagonist getting a little action but detail was a little much. I didn't pick up a romance novel. I didn't think I did, anyway.

2. Character development was fine and I wouldn't have any complaints if I hadn't read Harper's "And One Last Thing." Sure, the inhabitants of this town were quirky and fun but I didn't take to Cooper. In the last book, the love interest was interesting and fun, the protagonist was probably a thinly veiled Molly Harper (and I LOVED her) but it was the protagonist's brother that stole the show. HILARIOUS! There are simply no words to describe the out of control giggling I had when she woke up after a night of drinking and found. . . things different.

Fun read. Definitely recommend but not Molly's best.

Molly Harper's Blog and how the idea of this book began:  An ice storm. Stranded in a strange, isolated place without power. Children with an unsettling ability to win staring contests. This is how horror movies start.

Watching the news coverage as cities across the Midwest are pelted by the much-touted historic blizzard, I’m having strange sympathy pangs. In January 2009, an ice storm ripped through Kentucky, taking out power and phone lines for thousands of homes, including mine. The first night I spent camped out in my in-laws’ darkened living room with my two young children, I was sure this was just a temporary blip.  It was going to be a funny story we could tell the next winter. As in, “Remember that night we had to sleep on an air mattress in front of Grandma’s fireplace and cook on a gas grill in the garage?”

By the sixth night, I was no longer amused.

Over the next week, Kentuckians were cold, cranky and progressively ill-groomed. I returned to my dark, cold house to forage for supplies one afternoon, only to find my neighbor shaving his head in his driveway. I sincerely hoped that was related to the lack of electricity and not just a personality quirk I'd never noticed before. Neighborhood block parties have been stilted and awkward since.

But I managed to channel my cabin fever, before going the full fire-ax-through-bedroom-door and elevator-full-of-blood route. I started writing. Having recently published the Nice Girls books, a vampire romance series about an undead librarian in small-town Kentucky, I’d already decided that I wanted to write a werewolf story. And being isolated, in the dark, in an increasingly crowded, enclosed space, I decided to set the story in the frozen regions of Alaska.

While we waited for the power to come back on, I wrote about twenty pages of notes by candlelight.  What emerged was the story of Mo Wenstein, a woman who moves across the country to escape her intrusive hippie parents and make a life for herself in the remote town of Grundy, Alaska. Cantankerous neighbor Cooper has been giving Mo a hard time about her place in her new community since day one. But when Cooper stumbles onto her porch, naked, with a bear trap clamped around his ankle, she realizes there’s more to him than a surly- though attractive- surface. A series of werewolf attacks, for which Cooper may or may not be responsible, dysfunctional werewolf clan drama, and romantic hijinks ensue.

The manuscript grew over the next few months and became HOW TO FLIRT WITH A NAKED WEREWOLF, which is due to be released by Pocket Books on Feb. 22, wherever books are sold.  The sequel, THE ART OF SEDUCING A NAKED WEREWOLF, will follow on March 29.

So, while the encroaching claustrophobia is frustrating, make the best of your snow days. Use the milk, eggs and bread you hoarded to make French toast. Plow through the To-Be-Read pile of paperbacks on your nightstand.  Write journal entries about the sights, sounds and emotions you’re experiencing as a blizzard survivor.

You never know.  You could turn this experience into your first manuscript.

Simon and Schuster wants you to discover Molly Harper and her incredibly fun writing style. I can only do so much.  If you want to find out how much you will like Molly (and you really will), enter contest below.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Anna and the French KissAnna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This goes down in my personal chick lit/YA history as my favorite. It hit all the elements that I liked. Excellent character development, a likable and imperfect protagonist, likable and imperfect love interest, mishmash of characters in the social group, and constant action. There is no single "angst" moment where there is a communication failure. It's simply Anna sent to a Paris boarding school and winning acceptance into a crowd that happens to possess a love interest. But she still holds onto a crush at home in Atlanta.

So the year progresses and the friendships deepen. Snarky, fun dialogue, sexual tension, awkward circumstances that made me laugh out loud (as did the dialogue and games). Okay, I laughed about the stupidest things like the game Étienne and Anna play on the airplane, "If you had to buy one thing on this page..." I didn't know other people played that game and "Duty Free" Sky Mall really does sell the most useless and odd items.

When Anna finally decides to do something alone, my nostalgia bone was tickled funny. I stood at Point Zero in front of Notre Dame and didn't get it. I climbed those blasted stairs up to the top of the bell tower and Notre Dame and couldn't believe how many stairs there were. It just went on and on and on and on - as Anna attests.

So much fun to read. Completely and utterly enjoyed it.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

IMM 2/20/11 and IT'S MONDAY!

Okay, it's not Monday but I still want to play.

For review:
Gone (Wake)Miss Scarlet's School of Patternless SewingHome to Woefield: A NovelThe Land of Painted Caves: A Novel (Earth's Children)The Sandalwood Tree: A NovelBetween Here and ForeverForbiddenPossessionFalloutThe Revenge of the Radioactive LadyThe Silver Boat: A NovelThe Personal MBA: Master the Art of BusinessMy Foolish Heart (Deep Haven)

This week I finished:
How to Flirt with a Naked WerewolfChocolate & Vicodin: My Quest for Relief from the Headache that Wouldn't Go AwayFalloutGeorgia Bottoms: A NovelGone (Wake)Split

Planning to finish by the end of today:
Kat, Incorrigible

Watch for reviews of the following this week:
Darkness Becomes HerHow to Flirt with a Naked WerewolfGeorgia Bottoms: A NovelGone (Wake) Anna and the French Kiss

There will be giveaways posted for How to Flirt and Georgia Bottoms.

Speaking of gone, don't get all weepy and clingy here but this woman is taking off on Thursday to spend the weekend in the warm and welcoming climate of Gilbert, Arizona.  I'm taking books and I've pre-scheduled reviews.

I will spend those few days with my sisters who will tell me I need a haircut, my clothes are outdated, I could really use a breast augmentation and oh-my-gosh-is-that-a-whisker growing right there? And speaking of hair, do I have any board shorts to wear while I sit in her hot tub or should we schedule a Brazilian wax session?

And strangely, I will come home at the end of the weekend and feel validated as a person.