Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Possibility of You by Pamela Redmond

The Possibility of YouThe Possibility of You by Pamela Redmond

Goodreads: 1916. It was the one thing Bridget was supposed to never let happen. But no matter how many times she replayed the steps in her head, she couldn’t reanimate the small pale boy who lay limp in her arms.
1976. Billie felt as if she’d been wrenched in half more surely than when the baby had been cut from her body. But she felt something else too: happy to think only of her own needs, her own tears. So light she could float away, somewhere no one would ever find her.
The present. Even if Cait never found her birth mother, even if she decided not to have this baby, to leave her lover and kiss her parents good-bye, she was surrounded by so much emotion, so many questions, that she felt as if she might never be free again.
Can we ever atone for the sins of the past? Or does each generation of women invent itself anew? In a complex and beautifully told masterpiece set against key moments for women in the last century, New York Timesbestselling author Pamela Redmond intertwines the heartrending stories of Bridget, Billie, and Cait, and explores the ways in which one woman’s choices can affect her loved ones forever. As these three women search for identity and belonging, each faces a very personal decision that will reverberate across generations, tearing apart families, real and imaginary, perfect and flawed, but ultimately bringing them together again.

My take: This was an intriguing book! I very much enjoyed the three storylines, beginning completely differently and with different characters. Each woman is very well developed and distinct. Each story is completely unlike the other in the beginning then share some important commonalities, and finally they weave together for the reader. There is a big reveal as they join together but it's not as big as it is made out to be. Clearly, one of the protagonists did not know the secret but the reader could basically guess it fairly early on.

Today we have Cait, a single, mid-thirty year old woman establishing her career and doing quite well. She is an only child of aging parents and she's adopted. She's also pregnant. Oops. This begins her search for her birth mother as she struggles with the doubts of her own capability to love a child of her loins. Why was she placed? Didn't her birth mother love her? Cait's voice is one I found easy to follow. She's today's woman, grappling with the ghosts of her past and the societal pressures based on the women's movement in the past century. Both the positive and negative impacts are explored.

In 1916, we had Bridget. Fresh from Ireland and working as a nanny for Maude, a rich New York woman who enjoyed her social life but not her husband or young son. This story was mesmerizing because of the historical nature of the women's movement in its infancy, and attitudes towards ethnic groups and nationalities and the divide between rich and poor. This story evolves very quickly as life was unpredictable, as best.

Then we have Billie in 1976. She begins in San Francisco where she is cleaning out her father's home since he recently died, leaving her an orphan, although she's 19 years old. She discovers she is not alone as she believed and drives cross - country with her good friend, Jupe, to meet her paternal grandmother. Again, fascinating description of the time period. A different ethnic group and still a divide between the rich and poor, and the vocabulary is also different than what we use today.

Eventually, the stories tie together beautifully and it's a nice, interesting yet easy read.

Sex: Heavy
Dialogue: Laden with sex talk and occasional swearing, offensive descriptors but appropriate for time period (Negro, queer)
Violence: None

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

Lola and the Boy Next DoorLola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Budding designer Lola Nolan doesn’t believe in fashion . . . she believes in costume. The more expressive the outfit -- more sparkly, more fun, more wild -- the better. But even though Lola’s style is outrageous, she’s a devoted daughter and friend with some big plans for the future. And everything is pretty perfect (right down to her hot rocker boyfriend) until the dreaded Bell twins, Calliope and Cricket, return to the neighborhood. 

When Cricket -- a gifted inventor -- steps out from his twin sister’s shadow and back into Lola’s life, she must finally reconcile a lifetime of feelings for the boy next door.

My take: I loved Anna and the French Kiss so very much. I love the way Perkins writes. She tells a story without the unnecessary keeping of crucial information. Lola has an uncoventional family. Her father is really her uncle who adopted her when he drunk mother got pregnant and her. Her other father is her father's husband. They are strict fathers and like to keep Lola on a short leash but approve of her self-expression through fashion and color. They do NOT approve of Max, Lola's 22 year old boyfriend.

Cricket (the boy next door) moves back to his house with his famous sister, Caliope, and the old feelings return. The real story is Lola figuring out who she really is and who she wants to be. Will she allow her birth and genetics to define her, her boyfriend, her clothes, or is she someone else altogether? Obviously, each character plays a part in this self-discovery and Cricket is a perfect love interest as he is defining himself apart from being his twin sister's sidekick.

Very sweet story, well told without the unwanted details. There is sex but it is not spelled out. There is drug use but it is necessary for Lola to define herself apart from her mother. Lola's parents are gay dads; again no sexual details and I loved the way they were portrayed as fathers. Lots of sexual tension. I'd suggest it for an older teenager and up.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Where It Began by Ann Redisch Stampler

Where It BeganWhere It Began by Ann Redisch Stampler

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Sometimes the end is just the beginning. 

Gabby lived under the radar until her makeover. Way under. but when she started her senior year as a blonder, better-dressed version of herself, she struck gold: Billy Nash believed she was a the flawless girl she was pretending to be. The next eight months with Billy were bliss...Until the night Gabby woke up on the ground next to the remains of his BMW without a single memory of how she got there. 

And Billy's nowhere to be found. 

All Gabby wants is to make everything perfect again. But getting her life back isn't difficult, it's impossible. Because nothing is the same, and Gabby's beginning to realize she's missed more than a few danger signs along the way. 

It's time for Gabby to face the truth, even if it means everything changes. 

Especially if it means everything changes.

My take: The book starts out really strong. Gabby wakes up in a hospital with a closed brain injury. First of all, she doesn't know who she is, second of all, she has absolutely no clue what happened. All she knows is that she wants Billy. Billy is her boyfriend. His car was decimated around a tree with Gabby lying on the road nearby, holding the keys. She spends the first part of the book regaining memories and having Mommy run interference with the police. But the honest to goodness truth is that she doesn't remember what happened.

The rest of the book is Gabby trying to regain her life. What she had was this; after being a regular girl with regular looks, her shallow mother spends mega bucks on Gabs' hair, nails, body, and face. No plastic surgery but Gabby blossoms. She starts the beginning of her junior year as a completely new woman. She turns heads, including playboy, Billy Nash. She gets to sit with the cool crowd at lunch. There is her meteoric rise in social status, a drunken party and then the hospital. This part dragged for me. Gabby has all kinds of dialogue inside her head, applying metaphors that leave me scratching my head and wondering about the segue.

If I cared more about Gabby, I'd want to slap her silly because she's not putting the obvious pieces of the puzzle together. However, I give her a break since she has a TBI. The book is about shared culpability and complete stupidity and a societal peer pressure to save the Golden Boy. The truth about the accident eventually leaks out onto the pages but the reader pretty much guesses as much early on. In the meantime, Gabby takes us through the journeys of her guesses of what happened and I was bored. I never really felt like I connected to any of the characters. They're all shallow. Even Gabby.

The underlying message is about self discovery and being true to yourself even when all the pressure around you says to be someone you are not. Good message.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau Review and Giveaway

The CrownThe Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am often fascinated by England history, particularly from Henry VIII forward, although I rather tire of Anne Boleyn interpretations. This book takes place after Anne Boleyn and gives a rather well written snapshot of the political tensions of the time. Henry has moved onto wife #3 (I think) and she's expecting his son. The country is reeling from the effects of the New Reformed Church. Catholicism is beginning to be practiced more quietly and, above all, Cromwell is liquidating the abbeys to cushion his coffer increase the king's riches.

Joanna beloved cousin is about to be burned at the stake for treason (vocally objecting to the new church) and Joanna goes to be supportive but things go awry. Joanna is imprisoned in The Tower and blackmailed to return to her abbey to find a particular sacred relic. Obviously, a crown. She is accompanied by two friars, Edmund and Richard and uses the time at the abbey to find out more about it while looking for it.

The book is an excellent historical fiction with the added bonus of being a mystery. The intentions of many are questionable and the more Joanna researches, the more mystery is given to the story. With just a hint of paranormal, the book offers a big bang for the buck.

Well written and researched. Nicely wrapped up at the end without being too pretty.

And you can own a copy by filling out the form below.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Blood Sugar Solution by Mark Hyman

The Blood Sugar Solution: The UltraHealthy Program for Losing Weight, Preventing Disease, and Feeling Great Now!The Blood Sugar Solution: The UltraHealthy Program for Losing Weight, Preventing Disease, and Feeling Great Now! by Mark Hyman

Goodreads:  In THE BLOOD SUGAR SOLUTION, Dr. Mark Hyman reveals that the secret solution to losing weight and preventing not just diabetes but also heart disease, stroke, dementia, and cancer is balanced insulin levels. Dr. Hyman describes the seven keys to achieving wellness-nutrition, hormones, inflammation, digestion, detoxification, energy metabolism, and a calm mind-and explains his revolutionary six-week healthy-living program. With advice on diet, green living, supplements and medication, exercise, and personalizing the plan for optimal results, the book also teaches readers how to maintain lifelong health. Groundbreaking and timely, THE BLOOD SUGAR SOLUTION is the fastest way to lose weight, prevent disease, and feel better than ever.

My take: I'm not a health food nut. In fact, I love my diet cola more than the average American. I ordered this book simply because I'm going to Hawaii in a minute and I thought I might make some changes and look fantastic in a bathing suit.

Chances are slim, but there was a possibility.

Maybe because I'm new to the understanding-the-power-of-foods movement but I found the information a great launching pad for me. I accepted very early on that there was no chance I'd get my 23 year old body back but I did find that a condition that has been plaguing me for a few years can be greatly improved by controlling inflammation through monitoring foods that cause it. Certainly, I'll continue taking prescription anti-inflammatories but I thought Hyman clearly explained the process of inflammation and made a couple of supplemental changes to my diet. It's not huge but it's something.

Dr. Hyman breaks down certain herbal supplements and their health benefits so I knew what I should be looking for. I'm not going gung-ho because I realize herbal supplements are not monitored by the FDA, but I have found a reputable health food store that sells supplements with the ingredients he indicated. I'm also replacing at least one can of Diet Coke with a bottle of flavored green tea extracts. For me, that is huge.

I liked it and found it helpful.

For your chance to win a copy, fill out form below!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Partials by Dan Wells

Partials (Partials, #1)Partials by Dan Wells

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Humanity is all but extinguished after a war with partials--engineered organic beings identical to humans--has decimated the world’s population. Reduced to only tens of thousands by a weaponized virus to which only a fraction of humanity is immune, the survivors in North America have huddled together on Long Island. The threat of the partials is still imminent, but, worse, no baby has been born immune to the disease in over a decade. Humanity’s time is running out. 

When sixteen-year-old Kira learns of her best friend’s pregnancy, she’s determined to find a solution. Then one rash decision forces Kira to flee her community with the unlikeliest of allies. As she tries desperately to save what is left of her race, she discovers that the survival of both humans and partials rests in her attempts to answer questions of the war’s origin that she never knew to ask. 

Combining the fast-paced action of The Hunger Games with the provocative themes of Battlestar Galactica, Partials is a pulse-pounding journey into a world where the very concept of what it means to be human is in question--one where our sense of humanity is both our greatest liability, and our only hope for survival.

My take: This is a high three star book that could change when the final copy is released.

First of all, Dan Wells is a complete rock star in my neck of the woods. The high school where I work keeps his other books constantly checked out. Also, he was kind enough to grace us with his presence to inspire the students to write.

I loved the concept of the book even though it is very depressing. Bottom line is that some years ago 99.9% of all humans died from a deadly virus. Before that, they had created a genetically enhanced being to fight a war. Then they offered them oppression and the Partials rebelled by having a war with humankind. Then the virus, RM killed almost everybody so the war became a moot point. Like any good dystopia, there is government control because humans are becoming extinct. Apparently, the virus lives within the survivors but does not provide immunity to babies born. All babies die within a couple of days. The government philosophy is have more babies. By law, women 18 years and older must always be pregnant. Eventually one must survive. That was where I raised my eyebrows. The reasoning seemed weak. It is a great conflict but I needed a stronger argument.

Kira is a great protagonist. With her medical training, she enters research when she proposes something to study, a captured Partial who looks very human. After that, there is nonstop action. The world is a war zone. Details of street crossing and New York towns are described in topicological detail. I understood the need to do so in some instances but I would have preferred a greater concentration on character and relationship development. Don't misinterpret that the book is boring because it definitely is not. There is nearly nonstop action. Violence is abundant. Like I mentioned, the world is a very dangerous place and war is brewing, damage control is the government goal, and then there are those pesky Partials who have been quiet far too long.

Good book but shy on relationship development.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Spellcaster by Cara Lynn Shultz

Spellcaster (Spellbound, #2)Spellcaster by Cara Lynn Shultz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Finding your eternal soulmate - easy. 

Stopping a true-love-hungry evil - not so much… 

After breaking a centuries-old romantic curse, Emma Connor is (almost) glad to get back to normal problems. Although...it's not easy dealing with the jealous cliques and gossip that rule her exclusive Upper East Side prep, even for a sixteen-year-old newbie witch. Having the most-wanted boy in school as her eternal soul mate sure helps ease the pain-especially since wealthy, rocker-hot Brendan Salinger is very good at staying irresistibly close.... 

But something dark and hungry is using Emma and Brendan's deepest fears to reveal damaging secrets and destroy their trust in each other. And Emma's crash course in ├╝ber-spells may not be enough to keep them safe…or to stop an inhuman force bent on making their unsuspected power its own.

My take: Emma and Brendon are still fighting for their love. Kristin still wants him and will do anything to get him. The couple are still fated to be together forever. I found the book rather repetitive and monotonous. In case the reader missed the first book, the story is recalled over and over again throughout the book. Anthony tried to kill Emma, Emma lost her unicorn medallion, Emma's dead twin brother, Ethan came to her in her dreams and helped her save Brendon and they should just get right on with their junior year.

Angelique is helping Emma develop her magical skills but Emma is hopeless unless she has a strong emotional response and needs to cast a spell. Then she can. This time around, another magical person from someone's past (cryptic, I know) wants to become more powerful and cause grief and calamity to the lovers. She is dangerous and causes some havoc and it is up to Emma to end her wickedness.

It's a fine book. Emma is still unremarkable. Brendon is still lustworthy of all the junior class girls but he's still committed to Emma. Angelique is, by far, the more interesting and entertaining character.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

Gillespie and IGillespie and I by Jane Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: As she sits in her Bloomsbury home, with her two birds for company, elderly Harriet Baxter sets out to relate the story of her acquaintance, nearly four decades previously, with Ned Gillespie, a talented artist who never achieved the fame that she maintains he deserved. 

It would appear that I am to be the first to write a book on Gillespie. Who, if not me, was dealt that hand? 

Back in 1888, the young, art-loving Harriet arrives in Glasgow at the time of the International Exhibition. After a chance encounter, she befriends the Gillespie family and soon becomes a fixture in all of their lives. But when tragedy strikes - leading to a notorious criminal trial - the promise and certainties of this world all too rapidly disintegrate into mystery and deception. 

Featuring a memorable cast of characters, infused with atmosphere and period detail, and shot through with wicked humour, Gillespie and I is a powerful and haunting second novel from one of today’s most striking new voices.

My take: Even as I type, I don't know how to write this review. I think I will approach it as a book club book. I would strongly suggest that, if you are a book cheater (like myself), don't look ahead with this one. Don't look for spoilers. You know that moment in A Beautiful Mind when Russell Crow is challenged about his mental stability while his roommate sits in the corner and cries? I needed about 30 more seconds to process the scene before I came to the conclusion myself that his roommate wasn't real before my husband announced that tidbit to me.

I felt robbed of a moment.

Similarly, the twists in this book are unexpected and not crystallized. It is only after adding all of the pieces together that the reader will come to a different conclusion than s/he did two thirds of the way through the book. And it is only with some reservation at first. Then the cloudy clarifies and a disturbing picture emerges. The book is much more disturbing with the real life backdrop of Josh Powell and the horrific events of this week.

Book review ideas for discussion:

  1. Note the times when the protagonist makes reference to pregnancy or breast feeding or any kind of incubation. Note the part of the wooden horse that is scorched. What attitude might Harriet have regarding motherhood or having children? 
  2. How would the reader describe the protagonist's relationship with her father? Are the feelings reciprocal? Any Freudian ideas?
  3. Once the kidnapping occurred, which character(s) were suspicious both in the current time and in hindsight? 
  4. When was the AHA moment for you? Did it occur after or before the end of the book. Are you still waiting for it? 
  5. What was the significance of the birds? What of the cage?
  6. I have typed the next question five times. Each time, it was a different question but I thought it gave too much away. I am trying my art of subtlety. I am not very good at it.

It is a very well written book that will leave the reader feeling unsettled and looking for earlier clues. They are there but very subtle. In hindsight, the explanations provided from the particular POV sort of made sense but became more and more frantic.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

IMM (2/18/12)

What I bought:

For Review:
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What I Read in the past two weeks (and if you can't wait for reviews on blog, click the image and it will take you to my reviews on Goodreads):
Shatter Me (Shatter Me, #1)
What Happened to Hannah: A Novel
Agorafabulous!: Dispatches from My Bedroom
The Rivals (The Mockingbirds, #2)
Where It Began
The Accidental Bride
Gillespie and I
DJ Rising
Lone Wolf

Friday, February 17, 2012

Little Girl Gone by Drusilla Campbell

Little Girl GoneLittle Girl Gone by Drusilla Campbell

My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Madora was seventeen, headed for trouble with drugs and men, when Willis rescued her. Fearful of the world and alienated from family and friends, she ran away with him and for five years they have lived alone, in near isolation. But after Willis kidnaps a pregnant teenager and imprisons her in a trailer behind the house, Madora is torn between her love for him and her sense of right and wrong. When a pit bull puppy named Foo brings into Madora's world another unexpected person--Django Jones, a brilliant but troubled twelve-year-old boy--she's forced to face the truth of what her life has become. 

An intensely emotional and provocative story, Little Girl Gone explores the secret hopes and fears that drive good people to do dangerous things . . . and the courage it takes to make things right. 

My take: Drusilla Campbell's best asset in writing books is the way she tells the story then wrapping loosely related story lines to one another. All of the characters intertwine and each is unique with different thoughts, pasts, and experiences. What ties all of the characters together, however, is their prisons, both physical and metaphorical. Also, each character believes a story told to them by one parent or another. Some of those stories empower the characters. Others sink into their cracks and weaken them.

Very well written, giving a voice to all characters, including those who might be considered perpetrators (btw, sexual abuse is NOT a story line, which I found interesting and appealing).

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Shatter Me (Shatter Me, #1)Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I have to admit that I had no idea what this book was about. The cover indicated that Juliette would be a strong protagonist ready to conquer the world. Embarrassingly, I didn't realize this was a dystopia and a really good one.

Juliette's touch is lethal. She's shunned, teased, and bullied. Her own parents didn't like her and gave her up very easily to an insane asylum. She's been studied and tested and the answers are inconclusive. She's in solitary confinement when Adam presents himself as a fellow psychotic.

But Juliette is not crazy. She is simply lonely and not very confident of anything except her will to never hurt another human being with her touch. She is good hearted and wants only to help.

Being a dystopia and Juliette having this gift of touch, naturally there is a bad side. One man wants to control her for his purposes. He wants to use her to torture who he chooses. He is cruel beyond comparison. And brutal.

On the opposite end we have a love interest who is good and kind but also trying to play the part of a good soldier. I'm not going to lie to you. This is one of the most sensual teen books I've read. I did not say sexual. Sensual in that the author carefully describes how Juliette feels when someone is finally able to touch her. She is touch sensory starved and Mafi artistically describes sensations while dodging being blatantly sexual. I loved it. On the other hand, I might not hand it immediately to my teenage daughters. Or I might. It might have enough layers of careful wording that it could be construed on mostly innocent. Because it is mostly innocent. But I don't expect it to remain that way. For my sake, I hope not. For my daughters' sakes, I hope so.

Sex: Mild innuendo

Sensualness: delicious moderate

Violence: Severe

Swearing: Mild to moderate

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Gravity by Melissa West Cover Reveal!

In the future, only one rule will matter: Don’t. Ever. Peek. 

Seventeen-year-old Ari Alexander just broke that rule and saw the last person she expected hovering above her bed--arrogant Jackson Locke, the most popular boy in her school. She expects instant execution or some kind of freak alien punishment, but instead, Jackson issues a challenge: help him, or everyone on Earth will die. 

Ari knows she should report him, but everything about Jackson makes her question what she’s been taught about his kind. And against her instincts, she’s falling for him. But Ari isn’t just any girl, and Jackson wants more than her attention. She’s a military legacy who’s been trained by her father and exposed to war strategies and societal information no one can know--especially an alien spy, like Jackson. Giving Jackson the information he needs will betray her father and her country, but keeping silent will start a war.

Coming August 2012.
Preordering now available.

Cloaked by Alex Flinn

CloakedCloaked by Alex Flinn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cute play on different fairy tales. The protagonist is a 17 year old boy in a thankless family owned business going under when he discovers magic exists and agrees to help a princess. Once the magic is unleashed, it's all around and he and his best friend, Meg, go around making deals with magical beings, breaking spells, and meeting unsavory characters. Fun, clean read. Feel-good book.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What Happened to Hannah by Mary Kay McCornas

What Happened to Hannah: A NovelWhat Happened to Hannah: A Novel by Mary Kay McComas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: As a teenager, Hannah Benson ran away from home in order to save herself. Now, twenty years later, the past comes calling and delivers life-changing news: her mother and sister have passed away, leaving Hannah the guardian of her fifteen-year-old niece.
Returning home to bitter memories and devastating secrets, Hannah must overcome her painful past to pave a future with her niece, the last best chance at a family for both of them. She begins to create a new, happier life with her niece and rekindles a relationship with Grady Steadman, one of the few people she's ever called a friend.
But she can't forget what she cannot forgive, or lay to rest those ghosts that will not die. Will love and trust--and the truth--give her the strength to stand her ground and fight for what she deserves?

My take: Hannah disappeared when she was 16. The people of the small town assumed she'd probably been murdered by her abusive father. Little rumors had been circling for a bit about him being alcoholic, the broken bones, unexplained bruises, etc. But there is a collective agreement to turn the other way in order to not be responsible for Hannah or their family.

It's 20 years later when the book opens. Grady, the new sheriff, and Hannah's one teenage love, knows she is alive and well in Baltimore. He finally makes the call to reconnect but also to drop the bomb that her mother has just died. Her beloved sister, Ruth, has been gone for a few years and, surprise! Ruthie had a daughter who is now 15 and needs a home. Hannah protests but finally agrees to meet Anna, her niece. So Hannah returns to her loathsome home town where her heinous childhood took place and still haunts her.

The story of Hannah's childhood and the blossoming of the romance between Hannah and Grady during their teenage years is slowly and sweetly revealed in flashbacks. Also remembered and voiced are the horrendous memories of abuse suffered by both her father, in an effort to control, and her mother, in fear. The time spent in Clearfield, getting to know Anna and her friends (coincidentally, they are Grady's children), getting reacquainted with Grady and his mother and Grady is a single father, by the way, is also punctuated by Hannah's cleaning out the old Benson home, haunted by the memories of her childhood yet symbolically, Hannah is cleaning out the anger and resentment she has clung to through the years.

Peripherally, Hannah speaks often to Joe, her mentor, former business partner, and dear friend in Baltimore. Joe, a religious and God-loving man, plays the part of reason and learning to trust and have faith. With the help of all of these supporting characters, Hannah finds who she really is, faces her past, and releases her demons. She has secrets. Many secrets that she is afraid to allow to see the light. How does one heal from such terrible experiences? How does a self-sufficient woman like Hannah forgive those who wronged her? Can she make room in her life for Anna? Will Anna accept her? What if the secrets she holds are shared? Might it jeopardize her taking guardianship of Anna? Can there be a romance for Hannah?

Good, solid chick lit with spiritual overtones of faith and forgiveness. Clean enough for an older teenager (teenage sex implied and one "f" word).

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Agorafabulous! by Sara Benincasa Review and Giveaway

Agorafabulous!: Dispatches from My BedroomAgorafabulous!: Dispatches from My Bedroom by Sara Benincasa

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: “I subscribe to the notion that if you can laugh at the shittiest moments in your life, you can transcend them. And if other people can laugh at your awful shit as well, then I guess you can officially call yourself a comedian.” 

In Boston, a college student fears leaving her own room—even to use the toilet. In Pennsylvania, a meek personal assistant finally confronts a perpetually enraged gay spiritual guru. In Texas, a rookie high school teacher deals with her male student’s unusually, er, hard personal problem. Sara Benincasa has been that terrified student, that embattled employee, that confused teacher—and so much more. Her hilarious memoir chronicles her attempts to forge a wonderfully weird adulthood in the midst of her lifelong struggle with agoraphobia, depression, and unruly hair. 

Relatable, unpretentious, and unsentimental, Agorafabulous! celebrates eccentricity, resilience, and the power of humor to light up even the darkest corners of our lives. (There are also some sexy parts, but they’re really awkward. Like really, really awkward.)

My take: Wow. This is one of the most well written and courageous memoirs I have ever read. It is not a woman wallowing in self-pity or exacting revenge against all of her enemies by publishing a book and point out THEIR short-comings. It is simply an honest and detailed look at Sara Benincasa's journey through adulthood neurosis.

The book begins with the author's high school years - one year in particular. A beloved boy she loved from afar, perfect in every possible way, including kind, handsome, and selfless, commits a heinous Catholic sin of suicide. This is the beginning of further unhinging her carefully constructed power and control of her debilitating fears and panic attacks.

At the age of 18, the author takes an 8 day tour of Europe with other high school students where she has a full-blow panic attack and details it in excruciating detail. Not excruciating for a person who does not suffer from any Axis II diagnosis (DSM-IV talk) but oh-so-familiar to a self-proclaimed neurotic who spent her own first two and half decades pretending to be normal but knowing she had all the secret and special powers to know from vibes that danger lurked and could only be avoided by litanies and unexplainable compensating behaviors.

A blessing of being neurotic is that we are magical. It's a gift. And a curse. Just as Monk.

Just a little warning that I was unprepared for - the author provides a brief and humorous summary of her own phobias in the first few pages. That is not the shocking part, in fact, it is very endearing. But it is peppered with sexual innuendo and swear words indicating such innuendo. In other words, the "f" bomb is abundant. That's when I nearly put the book down but I didn't. I was hypnotically entranced. There were moments she was telling my story except that I have expertly shoved those unpleasant detailed memories into compartments and duct taped them well. Not Sara. She owns her behavior and all disturbing thought processes in all its glory.

Chronologically ordered, Sara begins at age 18 and works forward. She tells about all the unspeakable habits she began in order to avoid The Thing that sat on her shoulder, her head, or her chest. She is heroic to me for freeing all of those thoughts and behaviors for the rest of us neurotics.

Clearly comedy is her forte and her timing is impeccable. Just as I was getting so sucked up into her life, thoughts, and relating all-to-well, she drops humor that made me chuckle, laugh out loud, or at least smile. Again, the timing is a thing of art. She does not belabor any part of her story, including the humor which could prove to be distracting and an attempt to over compensate. Instead, it is just enough to break up the seriousness of the illness. She does not minimize the part anxiety and depression played on her life but fully owns it. She lays it all out in spite of the fact that people she knows are going to read this book. She clearly states that there are two kinds of freaks; the kind who seek to be freaks like Lee Redmond from Salt Lake City who grew her fingernails to be like dragon claws and freaks who are purposely hiding their freakishness and wondering why ANYBODY would seek to be a freak. The latter is the club of neurotics.

This is not a simple and clean little story of how the author suffers from phobias and depression then gets better. The author instead provides brief snapshots of pivotal moments during her journey, hitting the lows (peppered with appropriate amount of humor) and her slow and not complete recovery. How can there be a recovery when "normal" was never a part of her original self? Like my children and I joke about our own neuroses, "Normal is a setting on the dryer."

This is an honest, frank, yet humorous journey through the eyes of a wise, courageous woman who seeks a place of peace and accepts the woman she is.

If you want to read a little of the beginning, click HERE.

If you want your own copy, click HERE or fill out form below.

Bewitching by Alex Flinn

BewitchingBewitching by Alex Flinn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: "It is the story of Kendra and her first 300 or so years of life. In Bewitching, Kendra ponders whether to help out a modern day plain-looking stepsister, while also reflecting on her experiences in the 1666 British plague, the court of Louis XV, and on the Titanic."

My take: What a delightful book! I did not read Flinn's Beastly but my daughter informed me that Kendra is the starring witch in that one, as well.

Fairy tale retelling, when done well, is an art. Kendra is born a witch. She discovers it by accident and then, with the unsuspecting help of her captor, a witch who captures children with her gingerbread house, she learns a lot of tricks. Kendra is old. She's a misunderstood witch from a lot of the fairy tales from days of yore. She'll drop a couple in for you. And they are fun. But they can backfire and it's not pretty.

Which is why Kendra is reluctant to step in to help Emma. It's a retelling of Cinderella but the fairy tales definitely have it wrong. There are some misunderstandings all around. It's a well developed story with strong characters and a satisfying twist at the end.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

The Mockingbirds (The Mockingbirds, #1)The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not an easy book to read. In the ideal world, date rape is prosecuted by the legal system. But in the ideal world, there are not so many shades of gray.

The story begins with the protagonist waking up in an unfamiliar room without clothes next to a boy she barely recognizes. She quickly dresses and leaves, realizing she lost her virginity and doesn't remember it. Throughout the book, memories return to her. She was drinking and blacked out. Was she a participant to the encounter? If she participated at all, does that make her culpable? Does the fact that she was drunk play a part to her culpability? These questions are explored and answered throughout the story and a trusted adult figure plainly explains to her that if she did not grant permission, it is rape.

I liked that the rape is not cut and dried. Date rape is far too common yet far too overlooked. I had at least two roommates during college who were date raped. My best friend escaped a date rape when the guy's roommates walked in, seeing her shirt unbuttoned and her arms pinned. With the years and experience since she told me, I now understand why she wanted to throw up every time we saw him on campus. I also understand why I wanted to throw up when I was paired with my roommates rapist for a first aid final. No matter how compromising the circumstances (getting drunk or making out), sex without permission is rape.

The story does not preach. In fact, one of the characters does not agree with the student-created Mockingbirds (Student Justice System). However, I love that students at a college created this system to deal with offenses against other students.

The story is well written. The characters well developed. The subject is difficult yet well addressed.

The Rivals by Daisy Whitney

The Rivals (The Mockingbirds, #2)The Rivals by Daisy Whitney

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: When Alex Patrick was assaulted by another student last year, her elite boarding school wouldn't do anything about it. This year Alex is head of the Mockingbirds, a secret society of students who police and protect the student body. While she desperately wants to live up to the legacy that's been given to her, she's now dealing with a case unlike any the Mockingbirds have seen before. 

It isn't rape. It isn't bullying. It isn't hate speech. A far-reaching prescription drug ring has sprung up, and students are using the drugs to cheat. But how do you try a case with no obvious victim? Especially when the facts don't add up, and each new clue drives a wedge between Alex and the people she loves most: her friends, her boyfriend, and her fellow Mockingbirds. 

As Alex unravels the layers of deceit within the school, the administration, and even the student body the Mockingbirds protect, her struggle to navigate the murky waters of vigilante justice may reveal more about herself than she ever expected.

My Take: The book picks up right where Mockingbirds leaves off. There is enough back story to jump into this book without reading the first one but I liked the first one because of the originality. This one lacked a clear conflict. There would be a beginning of a conflict and then it would fizzle. Eventually, I saw the pattern of the real conflict which was two-fold 1)Students are using ADHD medicine to improve academic performance and 2) Alex, the new leader, is imperfect, not knowing what she can ethically do or not do.

The first conflict was not as substantial as I would like. It was like trying to grab water. On the other hand, this aspect is addressed. The "victim" is not clearly identified like the other cases of the Mockingbirds. So Alex puts her figurative arms out with her eyes closed and starts walking in the dark. It seemed contrived and anti-climactic.

Meanwhile, Alex is struggling with leading an underground vigilante group without clear cut guidelines. More than anything, this storyline showed the flaws of a vigilante student group. It's a great idea but the checks and balances are weak and human nature can be manipulated in so many different ways.

Even though I found the story slow in the beginning, Whitney does an exemplary job with character development, placing main characters in multiple environments and testing their ethical strength. Sometimes they screw up. Other times, they don't. Yet other times, they exhibit humility by admitting wrong doing. And then there are the true culprits/bullies who, through excellent character development, I hated quite a bit.

I can see a third installment to round out Alex's senior year. One that balances the power of bad behavior, administration accountability and vigilante accountability. Ultimately, I think it will come down to power corrupts; Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

That's just my guess.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mercy of the Queen Guest Post

Mercy of the Queen
By Anne Clinard Barnhill
Release Date:  January 3, 2012
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin


A sweeping tale of sexual seduction and intrigue at the court of Henry VIII, At the Mercy of the Queen is a rich and dramatic debut historical about Madge Shelton, cousin and lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn.

At the innocent age of fifteen, Lady Margaret Shelton arrives at the court of Henry VIII and quickly becomes the confidante of her cousin, Queen Anne Boleyn. But she soon finds herself drawn into the perilous web of Anne’s ambition.

Desperate to hold onto the king’s waning affection, Anne schemes to have him take her guileless young cousin as mistress, ensuring her husband’s new paramour will owe her loyalty to the queen. But Margaret has fallen deeply in love with a handsome young courtier. She is faced with a terrible dilemma: give herself to the king and betray the love of her life or refuse to become his mistress and jeopardize the life of the her cousin, Queen Anne.

Speaking of Anne, Anne, the author (not the queen. In case you missed it, she died. Sorry to give a spoiler but it's kind of a well known beheading) is here today as my guest:

Anne Clinard Barnhill 

Arthur Brandon strode onto the pages of AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN without so much as a 'beg your pardon' and once he was there, he refused to leave.  He appeared as Madge Shelton and her nurse were making their way to London and, as if by magic, he became the romantic lead in the novel.  It wasn't until I was halfway through the book that I realized he was a great deal like my husband, Frank.

     He has the same features as my hubby--dark hair and brown eyes--and he also has that same confidence, the cocky walk and I-dare-you stance.  As the novel progressed, I even dressed Arthur in colors that looked good on Frank.  Interestingly, my husband's nickname is 'Chur,' a name earned when our family (three sons, two parents) took Kung Fu together when the boys were young.  We would all practice our forms and the boys would soon begin chopping at each other with their hands, just like Bruce Lee.  They provided noises to improve the effects.  Ching-chang-chur!!  Of course, my husband joined in and soon, they began referring to him as simply 'Chur.'  Now, our grandchildren call him Chur, too.  So, when Madge dubbed Arthur Brandon 'Sir Churlish', it seemed just right.

     I would never have consciously modeled a leading man on MY leading man--as I said, I didn't realize I was writing about him until mid-way through the novel.  I have found including caricatures of friends and family a dangerous ploy--often, they take offense and it's just not worth the hassle.  But, I figure if a character shows up as adamantly as Arthur Brandon did, a writer has no choice by to let him have his way--even if he does act a lot like your husband.

     Funny how the mind works and how we often put elements of our own lives into creating stories, even though those fictitious stories may have taken place 500 years ago.  It's a little scary though.  I'd hate to think what some psychiatrist might discover about my psyche by reading my work!

For more blog posts regarding Anne's Freudian insights (subconscious, I  mean. Not her dad), visit more sites on the tour by clicking HERE.

More tidbits? Okay. Stalking Anne is not an inappropriate past time. Do so in the following ways:

Link to Anne Barnhill's Website:  http://www.anneclinardbarnhill.com/
Anne Barnhill on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/acbarnhill
Anne Barnhill on Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/acbarnhill
Twitter Event Hashtag: #MercyOfTheQueenVirtualTour

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Accidental Bride by Denise Hunter

The Accidental Bride (A Big Sky Romance)The Accidental Bride by Denise Hunter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goodreads: When a wedding reenactment turns real, this cowgirl suddenly finds she's an accidental bride.
Shay Brandenberger is raising her daughter in Moose Creek, Montana on her childhood ranch, nestled against the Yellowstone River. Despite her hard work, she can't seem to keep her head above water-and now the bank is threatening to foreclose. She prays for a miracle, but the answer she receives is anything but.
Having agreed to play the bride in the Founders Day wedding reenactment, Shay is mortified to be greeted at the end of the aisle by none other than Travis McCoy, her high school sweetheart-the man who left her high and dry for fame and fortune on the Texas rodeo circuit.
Then the unthinkable happens. Thanks to a well-meaning busy body and an absent minded preacher, the wedding reenactment results in a legal marriage. But before Shay can say "annulment," Travis comes up with a crazy proposal. If she refuses his offer, she'll lose her home. But if she accepts, she may lose her heart.
Shay isn't sure if the recent events are God's will or just a preacher's blunder. Will trusting her heart to the man who once shattered it be the worst mistake of her life? Or could their marriage be the best accident that ever happened?

My take: I've already met Shay when I read (and loved) a previous book by Denise Hunter, featuring Abigail and Wade. Wade's and Shay's daughters are friends. It was fun to peek into Abigail's and Wade's life after the last book ended. But this story is Shay's.

Shay was stood up at the altar by Travis, her high school boyfriend, who left for the rodeo. By the time he figured he goofed, Shay had remarried. Now, 14 years later, Shay is divorced and her ex-husband has died. She's single parenting and running a ranch on fumes. It's about to go under when a Founder's Day re-enactment of a pioneering couple somehow becomes real as Shay and Travis are the proxies.

It's a fun concept, if a little unbelievable. I didn't mind the pretending it could happen. The problem I had was with the cantankerous Shay. The idea is that she's been through a lot of tough times and has learned by many experiences to not trust or count on a man but I found very little redeeming qualities about her. I liked Travis just fine but I did also have a small problem with keeping up with the quick shift of point of view.

The underlying message is one I loved; Galations 1:10 - who are we trying to please, man or God? Shay struggles with what other people think of her. This translates to her own daughter and Travis and Abigail are instrumental in helping her with this issue of pride.

It's a fun, quick read. I like Hunter's writing but I am much more drawn to Abigail's and Wade's story.

Spin by Catherine McKenzie Review

SpinSpin by Catherine McKenzie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads: Katie Sandford has just gotten an interview at her favourite music magazine, The Line. It's the chance of a lifetime. So what does she do? Goes out to celebrate - and shows up still drunk at the interview. No surprise, she doesn't get the job, but the folks at The Line think she might be perfect for another assignment for their sister gossip rag. All Katie has to do is follow It Girl Amber Sheppard into rehab. If she can get the inside scoop (and complete the 30-day program without getting kicked out), they'll reconsider her for the job at The Line. 

Katie takes the job. But things get complicated when real friendships develop, a cute celebrity handler named Henry gets involved, and Katie begins to realize she may be in rehab for a reason. Katie has to make a decision -- is publishing the article worth everything she has to lose?

My take: I didn't really expect to like this book. Too many books about wannabe writers who want to show off their Hollywood connections and lifestyles of the rich and famous behaving badly have turned my stomach. The authors are often self absorbed. Now I can honestly say this book kept me reading far past the hour that a woman with four children and a professional job should be reading because I was so intrigued and really cared about the protagonist. She was funny, snarky, and not very self aware but you just could not help yourself. I loved her "voice" and her ability to write a new and compelling story that made me crave a martini or a shot of whiskey. Just to clarify my drinking history - I have none. No, truly. Never even sipped champagne. That's how convincing the protagonist is. But I digress.

Katie does not have a drinking problem. She is not an alcoholic. She simply drinks too much and tends to be irresponsible. At least that's her story and she's sticking to it. Due to her presentation at a job interview, she is the lucky winner to enter a pricey rehab for celebs and rich and famous. Think Cirque Lodge via Robert Redford's influence. It's Utah's best kept secret where stars go to detox. Okay, whatever. We all about it.

So Katie's assignmement is to go to rehab and play the therapy game so she can report on the IT girl who is in the same rehab. But Katie does not have an addiction problem. Of course the reader knows Katie might have a little problem. The story is told first person in Katie's head. She justifies herself, talks to herself and is all too relateable and funny. There is nothing forced about the story as Katie starts out pretending to go through the twelve step program with a lot of deflection and lack of responsibility. She makes friends with a couple of the women in rehab including Amber but it is almost incidental. The meat of the story is the every day in rehab and her slow acceptance that she might choose to stay sober and she decides she has issues.

Somehow a little romance is introduced and new patients show up that shake up the chemistry. I don't think it is a spoiler to mention that she becomes friends with a couple of vacationers, including Amber which causes a moral dilemma for writing the story since she suddenly finds she has a conscience sans alcohol. This is about the time that I become convinced my choice to never partake are still sound. I simply loved Katie. In fact character development for all of Katie's best friends are well done. I just really liked them.

Be aware that swearing is heavy. Sex is implied but mostly in past tense. Drug and alcohol use and abuse is heavy with the caveat of the sweet friendships that develop in rehab, a more clear understanding of addiction, and real struggles to survive and successfully complete a rehab program.

Definitely worth the read but does not pass my Mom-o-Meter. You will laugh. You might cry. You will enjoy.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

DJ Rising by Love Maia

DJ RisingDJ Rising by Love Maia

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Goodreads: The first thing I hear is music. The first thing I've always heard is music.

Meet Marley, an unassuming high school junior who breathes in music like oxygen. In between caring for his heroin-addicted mother, and keeping his scholarship at a fancy prep school, he dreams of becoming a professional DJ.

When chance lands Marley his first real DJ job, his career as "DJ Ice" suddenly skyrockets. But when heart-rending disaster at home brings Marley crashing back down to earth, he is torn between obligation and following his dreams.

My take: The book tells the story about Marley, a boy who has seen a lot of sorrow. Yet for all the times he's down, he finds his way back up and keeps swimming. He sets his goals high and works for his dreams. It all sounds quite After-School-Special but I assure you it is not. Although Marley is a hard working student on scholarship in an expensive prep school, finding jobs as a DJ, he is still dealing with a mother who shoots the rent through her veins then does nothing but sit in a heroin induced stupor. Marley gets tired. He wants a childhood but the responsibilities lay heavy on his shoulders.

The characters Marley meets along the way represent different aspects of hope, redemption, common sense, love, and belonging. The message is one of forgiveness and acceptance but the journey there involves a lot of grit. Marley sees a lot of drug and alcohol use/abuse, dialogue and swearing is strong and the tragedies Marley endures takes him to a new low. Marley is not perfect but he is definitely a good role model.

I also had no idea what an art being a DJ is! The author describes it in many different ways and paints beautiful pictures with her words. The end result is that I understood how out of blue, comes green. When all of life is layered together, balanced just right, even the tragedies can add depth to a human soul, depending on the person's willingness to accept and forgive.