Wednesday, July 31, 2013

{Guest Post} Against Reading by Emily Croy Barker, Author of THE THINKING WOMAN'S GUIDE TO REAL MAGIC

Beginning writers are usually advised to read, read, read as much as you can. Literary classics, usually: Tolstoy, Melville, Bellow, Cheever, Bronte, Faulkner - just to pick some heavyweights at random. I think that's excellent advice. Right now, though, I want to make the case for not reading.

Normally, I have a novel going at all times - and when I'm getting to the end of one, I usually make sure that there's another novel tucked into my bag, ready for me. Call it an addiction if you will. I have long ago accepted that I am powerless over this particular compulsion.

But when I was writing the first draft of The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic - which took more than three years - I drastically changed my reading habits. I gave up novels almost completely. There were some exceptions: I couldn't resist The Historian or Perdido Street Station or the last couple of Harry Potter novels, and I remember rereading Special Topics in Calamity Physics during a long train ride. Overall, though, my normal novel consumption rate, which probably hovers around a book a week, dropped to maybe ten per year.

It was painful, frankly. Why did I do this? A couple of reasons. First, I frankly didn't want to be intimidated by how much better other, published writers were. Also, I wanted to avoid imitating another writer's voice or fantasy world. I know very well that there's nothing truly original under the sun. Every book ever written - except for the very first one, I suppose - is in dialogue with its predecessors, and it wasn't as though I could forget the novels I'd already read. But I could at least give my creativity a little more room to wander.

Most importantly, however, I wanted to goad myself to write. If I could happily lose myself in someone else's novel - even during my subway ride or some other time when I couldn't write - I'd have less incentive to lose myself in writing my novel. Reading and writing are not so far apart when it comes to the role of the imagination.

And yet I still needed something to read on the subway. So I turned to reading novels in French. I don't speak French that well, and I read at a glacial pace - it took me six months to get through The Count of Monte Cristo (totally worth it, by the way!). But my ineptitude turned out to be a good thing. Reading in French was a great exercise for me as a writer, because I had to go slow and pay very close attention to language, and I was also essentially writing the novel, line by line, as I translated it mentally into English.

I finished the first draft of my novel in May 2009 - and the next time I went into a bookstore, it was like going into a bakery after being on a diet for years. Am I advocating that writers give up reading novels for the rest of their lives and learn a foreign language to boot? Not at all. But sometimes, when you really need to concentrate on doing your own work, it's a good think to turn down the volume on all the distractions, even the best ones.

*A copy of the guest post was provided through the publisher.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

{Guest Post} A Criminal Defense by Steven Gore

ISBN #: 978-0062025074
Page Count: 352
Copyright: July 30, 2013
Publisher: HarperCollins

If there is a single word that characterizes my encounter with writing crime fiction after decades as a criminal investigator, it's counterintuitive.

And it's part of the explanation why true crime makes for lousy crime fiction, why so few career-long law enforcement officers and private investigators succeed in crime writing and why most of those who do have only worked in the field briefly. In truth, much of what readers want from investigator protagonists are characteristics and habits that experienced investigators have to train out of themselves and train out of young investigators in order for them to succeed.

Readers want different things from investigators than do law enforcement agencies and private investigator clients. Readers want to feel increasing tension, while, with the rarest of exceptions, experienced investigators aim to lower it; readers want to watch investigators overcome obstacles, while experienced investigators aim to avoid them; readers want to read about characters who are uniquely qualified, while in the real world there are only investigators who are especially qualified; readers want to watch investigators run up against walls and then force their way through them, while experienced investigators aim how to slip around them; readers want spontaneity and surprise, while experienced investigators plan and plan in order to limit surprises; readers want to investigators try and try again, while clients want real investigators to get it right the first time; readers are not troubled by brash, aggressive protagonists injecting conflict into a scene, while real investigators don't inject it, they anticipate potential conflict inherent in a situation and work to mute it.

In the end, in the real world, doing all these things in these ways is both the criteria of competence and the conditions for successful investigations.

There is one kind of law enforcement that matches readers' expectations: narcotics. But it isn't at heart a crime solving assignment. Narcotics cases are generally built from leaning on people who've already been caught dirty - by patrol officers and street drug task forces and through search warrants and wiretaps - to give up those above them. It's less about solving crimes and more about discovering crimes already in progress or creating crimes by means of informants or undercover agents. The problem is that since the skills and attitudes that succeed in narcotics enforcement fail in investigations, few narcotics officers become first rate homicide detectives. Observe the contrast between the drug enforcement reality shows and A&E's The First 48. In The First 48, at least during the first few years of the show and before detectives began to play to the camera, nearly all of the excitement came from the music and the jump cuts. The detectives themselves were generally low key and methodical.

The problem for me was to translate the reality of investigation into fiction. That is to say, there could be no "When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand" of Raymond Chandler or "My way of learning is to heave a wild and unpredictable monkey-wrench into the machinery" of Dashiell Hammett. Rather, plots had to be driven internally and conflict had to be exploited from within, rather than imposed from without and the methods used had to be those that succeeded in real life.

On the domestic front, I'm making this effort in the Harlan Donnally novels of which A Criminal Defense is the latest, and on the international front, in the Graham Gage thrillers of which Power Blind is the latest. In each series, the central problem I faced was investigative competence: the protagonists had to apply real world methods and approaches in a realistic way. That meant applying the techniques of genre fiction to stories whose aim is realism. And the challenge was to make the stories not only informative about the real world of crime and investigation, but exciting for readers. In the end, it's the readers who will judge whether I have truly bridged the gap between the real and the fictional.

*A copy of the guest post was provided by the publisher.

Monday, July 29, 2013

{Review} Carniepunk by Various Authors

ISBN #: 978-1476714158
Page Count: 448
Copyright: July 23, 2013
Publisher: Gallery Books; Original Edition

Book Summary:
(Taken from back cover)

Rachel Caine's vampires aren't child's play, as a naive teen discovers when her heart leads her far, far astray in "The Cold Girl." With "Parlor Tricks," Jennifer Estep pits Gin Blanco, the Elemental Assassin, against the Wheel of Death and some dangerously creepy clowns. Seanan McGuire narrates a poignant, ethereal tale of a mysterious carnival that returns to a dangerous town after twenty years in "Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea." Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid and his wisecracking Irish wolfhound discover in "The Demon Barker of Wheat Street" that the impossibly wholesome sounding Kansas Wheat Festival is actually not a healthy place to hang out. With an eerie, unpredictable twist, Rob Thurman reveals the fate of a psychopath stalking two young carnies in "Painted Love."

Plus nine more tales from the fantastical pens of ...

  • Delilah S. Dawson
  • Kelly Gay
  • Mark Henry
  • Hillary Jacques
  • Jackie Kessler
  • Kelly Meding
  • Allison Pang
  • Nicole Peeler
  • Jaye Wells

Mandy's Review:

Carnivals. They're full of fun, excitement, deep-fried yumminess, colorful lights, happy music, and an otherworldliness that is magical. Have you ever felt that there is a dark side to the carnivals? Do the carnies, the people working the carnivals, seem somewhat evil to you? Have you ever felt a slight uneasiness as you walk down the midway? In this anthology, fourteen authors take those uneasy feelings and twist them into stories that will have you looking at carnivals in a different light.

All of the stories are twisted and creepy, but I did notice a slight progression of the creepiness level as I read through each story. 

I cannot tell you the twist, but the story with the most unsuspecting twist was "Painted Love" by Rob Thurman. I was introduced to Rob's work when I read and reviewed his novel, All Seeing Eye. It was nice to see that his talent wasn't dampened with a short story, which has given me a heightened respect for him as an author. He is quickly becoming one of my must-read authors.

While the "Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea" was well-written and engaging, it felt as if it wasn't a part of this anthology. Yes, it incorporated the carnival and the mystical factor, but it wasn't creepy. The other stories had a darkness to them that threatened to suck you in and invade your nightmares. This one didn't. That disappointed me a little.

"A Duet with Darkness" wasn't creepy either. Although, I loved it because it gave me the story of how Melanie came to be known as the Door Maker, which I've been wanting to know since reading Allison's Abby Sinclair series for review. Thank you, Allison, for finally telling her story.

My two favorite stories in this anthology have to be Rachel Caine's "The Cold Girl" and Nicole Peeler's "The Inside Man." In both, females are the heroines and exact justice on the deserving. One story has vampires while the other has a killer clown. Both creepy in their own right. Bravo, ladies.

Overall, I think those who enjoy paranormal thrillers would likely enjoy this anthology. Halloween is right around the corner. Go grab a copy of this book and get your brain ready for all the creepiness of the upcoming holiday.

*A physical copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

{US Giveaway} The Lemon Orchard by Luanne Rice

ISBN #: 978-0670025275
Page Count: 304
Copyright: July 2, 2013
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books

Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

In the five years since Julia last visited her aunt and uncle's home in Malibu, her life has been turned upside down by her daughter's death. She expects to find nothing more than peace and solitude as she house-sits with only her dog, Bonnie, for company. But she finds herself drawn to the handsome man who oversees the lemon orchard. Roberto expertly tends the trees, using the money to support his extended Mexican family. What connection could these two people share? The answer comes as Roberto reveals the heartbreaking story of his own loss - a pain Julia knows all too well, but for one striking difference: Roberto's daughter was lost but never found. And despite the odds he cannot bear to give up hope.

Set in the sea and citrus-scented air of the breathtaking Santa Monica Mountains, The Lemon Orchard is an affirming story about the redemptive power of compassion and the kind of love that seems to find us when we need it most.


The publisher will be giving away one copy of the book along with a book tote featuring the jacket cover. This giveaway is for US residents only (no PO boxes, please). The giveaway will run until August 3rd at which time a winner will be chosen. The winner will have 48 hours to respond. If the winner fails to respond within 48 hours, another winner will be chosen.

Good luck!

Friday, July 26, 2013

{Meme} Book Blogger Hop

Welcome to the last Book Blogger Hop for July! Thanks goes to Billy from Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer for keeping this meme alive and kicking.

This week's question:

How do you organize your books to be read?

Kathy's Response:

I have SO many books at home to read that I have multiple areas where they're stored. Some are in my nightstand next to my bed. These books are the ones I plan on reading "soon" ... whether this means in the next few weeks or next few months. I have some in the basement. These are the remnants of the major bonanza of shopping I did when the Borders bookstore chain was closing. I made multiple trips there and basically lugged boxes and boxes of books home for maybe $40. It was a book lovers fantasy. In my attic I have my book sale books. These are in grocery bags. When I am between my more priority reads, I'll go reach into the bag and grab a book sale book. Sometimes they're good, sometimes not.

Mandy's Response:

Where to begin ... the books that I get in the mail sit on top of my computer desk or on the edge of one of my bookshelves so I know it still needs to be read. The books I'm currently reading are on the floor by my bed since I read a lot before I go to sleep at night. I usually keep one in my pocketbook, too, to read during my lunch break at work. Sometimes I have one started in the Kindle app on my iPhone and I'll have one or two started in my Kindle Fire HD.

I wasn't fortunate enough to have a Borders in my area for me to rack up at when they closed, but I do sometimes go shopping at the Clearance sections in my local Books-A-Million. Those books usually wind up on a separate bookshelf than the ones I get in the mail so that I know they need to be read, but not necessarily for review.

Yes ... I am ALWAYS reading something ... often, more than one something at a time.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

{Book Excerpt} The Lemon Orchard by Luanne Rice


September 2012

Before dawn, the air smelled of lemons. Roberto slept in the small cabin in the grove in the Santa Monica Mountains, salt wind off the Pacific Ocean sweetening the scent of bitter fruit and filling his dreams with memories of home. He was back in Mexico before he'd come to the United States in search of goodness for his family, in another huerto de limones, the lemon orchard buzzing with bees and the voices of the workers talking, Rosa playing with her doll Maria. Maria had sheer angel wings and Roberto's grandmother had whispered to Rosa that she had magic powers and could fly.

Rosa wore her favorite dress, white with pink flowers, sewn by his grandmother. Roberto stood high on the ladder, taller in the dream than any real one would reach. From here he could see over the treetops, his gaze sweeping the valley toward Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl, the two snow-covered volcanic peaks to the west. His grandmother had told him the legend, that the mountains were lovers, the boy shielding his girl, and tall on his ladder Roberto felt stronger than anyone, and he heard his daughter talking to her doll. In dream magic, his basket spilling over with lemons, he slid down the tree and lifted Rosa into his arms. She was five, with laughing brown eyes and cascades of dark curls, and she slung her skinny arm around his neck and pressed her face into his shoulder. In the dream he was wise and knew there was no better life, no greater goodness, than what they already had. He held her and promised nothing bad would ever happen to her, and if he could have slept forever those words would be true. Sleep prolonged the vision, his eyes shut tight against the dawn light, and the scent of limones enhanced the hallucination that Rosa was with him still and always.

When he woke up, he didn't waste time trying to hold on to the feelings. They tore away from him violently and were gone. His day started fast. He lived twenty-five miles east, in Boyle Heights, but sometimes stayed in the orchard during fire season and when there was extra work to be done. He led a crew of three, with extra men hired from the Malibu Community Labor Exchange or the parking lot at the Woodland Hills Home Depot when necessary. They came to the property at 8 a.m.

The Riley family lived in a big Spanish colonial-style house, with arched windows and a red tile roof, just up the ridgeline from Roberto's cabin. They had occupied this land in western Malibu's Santa Monica Mountains since the mid-1900s. While other families had torn up old, less profitable orchards and planted vineyards, the Rileys remained true to their family tradition of raising citrus. Roberto respected their loyalty to their ancestors and the land.

The grove took up forty acres, one hundred twenty-year-old trees per acre, planted in straight lines on the south-facing hillside, in the same furrows where older trees had once stood. Twenty years ago the Santa Ana winds had sparked fires that burned the whole orchard, sparing Casa Riley but engulfing neighboring properties on both sides. Close to the house and large tiled swimming pool were rock outcroppings and three-hundred-year-old live oaks - their trunks eight feet in diameter - still scorched black from that fire. Fire was mystical, and although it had swept through Malibu in subsequent years, the Riley's property had been spared.

Right now the breeze blew cool off the Pacific, but Roberto knew it could shift at any time. Summer had ended, and now the desert winds would start: the Santa Anas, roaring through the mountain passes, heating up as they sank from higher elevations down to the coast, and any flash, even from a power tool, could ignite the canyon. It had been dry for two months straight. He walked to the barn, where the control panel was located, and turned on the sprinklers.

The water sprayed up, catching rainbows as the sun crested the eastern mountains. It hissed, soft and constant, and Roberto couldn't help thinking of the sound as money draining away. Water was delivered to the orchard via canal, and was expensive. The Rileys had told him many times that the important thing was the health of the trees and lemons, and to protect the land from fire.

He had something even more important to do before his coworkers arrived: make the coastal path more secure. He grabbed a sledgehammer and cut through the grove to the cliff edge. The summer-dry hillsides sloped past the sparkling pool, down in a widening V to the Pacific Ocean. Occasionally hikers crossed Riley land to connect with the Backbone Trail and other hikes in the mountain range. Years back someone had installed stanchions and a chain: a rudimentary fence to remind people that drop was steep, five hundred feet down to the canyon floor.

He tested the posts and found some loosened. Mudslides and temblers made the land unstable. He wished she would stay off this trail entirely, walk the dog through the orchard, where he could better keep an eye on them, or at least use the paths on the inland side of the property. But she seemed to love the ocean. He'd seen her pass this way both mornings since she'd arrived, stopping to stare out to sea while the dog rustled through the chaparral and coastal sage.

He tapped the first post to set his aim, then swung the sledgehammer overhead, metal connecting with metal with a loud gong. He felt the shock of the impact in the bones of his wrists and shoulders. Moving down the row of stanchions, he drove each one a few inches deeper into the ground until they were solidly embedded. The wind was blowing toward the house. He hoped the sound wouldn't bother her, but he figured it wouldn't. She rose early, like him.

*Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from The Lemon Orchard by Luanne Rice. Copyright (c) 2013 by Luanne Rice

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

{Sweepstakes} Help for the Haunted by John Searles

ISBN #: 978-0060779634
Page Count: 368
Release Date: September 17, 2013
Publisher: William Morrow

Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

It begins with a call one snowy February night. Lying in her bed, young Sylvie Mason overhears her parents on the phone across the hall. This is not the first late-night call they have received, since her mother and father have an uncommon occupation: helping "haunted souls" find peace. And yet something in Sylvie senses that this call is different from the others, especially when they are lured to the old church on the outskirts of town. Once there, her parents disappear, one after the other, behind the church's red door, leaving Sylvie alone in the car. Not long after, she drifts off to sleep, only to wake to the sound of gunfire.

As the story weaves back and forth through the years leading up to that night and the months following, the ever-inquisitive Sylvie searches for answers and uncovers secrets that have haunted her family for years.

Capturing the vivid eeriness of Stephen King's works and the quirky tenderness of John Irving's novels, Help for the Haunted is told in the captivating voice of a young heroine who is determined to discover the truth about what happened on that winter night.

Sweepstakes Info:

Does the summary intrigue you? Well, if you pre-order the book, you could win tickets to see Broadway's hit musical Matilda. Click here to check out the sweepstakes rules and entry form. Round 1 of the sweepstakes ends July 28th. There will be two additional rounds, but they've not been announced yet.

Here's what John had to say about the connection between his book and Matilda:

"Matilda and Help for the Haunted are each stories about a young girl who loves books, is smart beyond her years, and must rely on her intelligence and curiosity in order to set things right in her world."

Good luck!!!

Monday, July 22, 2013

{Review} Extreme College 101: How to Aggressively Fast-Track Your College Degree by Applying Your Already-Acquired Life Knowledge by Eli Caplin

ISBN #: 978-1482711998
Page Count: 118
Copyright: May 3, 2013
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Book Summary:
(Taken from back cover)

Power your way to your college degree by applying your already-acquired life knowledge.

Using the strategies and methods explained in Extreme College 101 you will discover how to:

  • Create college credits from work, hobby, and other life experiences
  • Dramatically reduce or eliminate traditional classroom hours
  • Save thousands in tuition dollars

Before writing Extreme College 101 author Eli Caplin personally tested the approaches reported in these pages.

Yielding highly successful results Caplin amassed thirty college credits in five short months and saved several thousand tuition dollars in the process.

Mandy's Review:

As an on-again off-again college student, I was curious about this book and how I could possibly eliminate the need to take classes. Any shortcuts on receiving college credits sounds ideal, especially if it'll save me money in the long run. I'll admit that I was a little dubious about earning credits without taking any classes. Apparently there are several options in getting this goal accomplished.

If you've taken Advanced Placement (AP) classes in high school, there's a good chance you'll be able to bypass some of your college courses by simply taking the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP). I don't know about your college, but mine administers these tests for $100 for civilians (free for Military personnel) and only on Mondays by appointment at the Testing Center. That sounds like a lot for one test, but when you compare that to the $250 per credit hour for one class (with most classes being around 3 credit hours), I think I'd rather pay the $100.

The author also discussed creating a Life Learning/Experience Portfolio. This option will take you some time (we're talking up to six months here) and dedication, but looks as if it would be well worth it ... especially if it saves you money.

The key to utilizing the options in this book is finding a college that will honor a person's life experiences and allows them to use those experiences towards college credits. I feel that most accredited colleges would offer this option to their students, but don't quote me on that. Be sure you look into this thoroughly before you apply for admission.

While everyone going to college could benefit from this book, I think there are specifically two main types of people this book would be great for: adults entering back into college (or going to college for the first time) and high school seniors who have taken multiple AP classes. Eli Caplin provides the reader with links to various useful websites along with a step-by-step guide from start to finish, which is wonderful for people who never knew earning college credits without taking the class was possible.

*A paperback copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

{Review} Koko's Gift by Sarah Granahan

ISBN #: 978-1482577259
Page Count: 446
Copyright: May 17, 2013
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

(Taken from back cover)

Left for dead after her tribe is invaded, Koko is determined to survive. Relying on her instincts and connection to her spirit guides, she finds a guardian angel in Maddy - a woman from the encroaching white population. But with memories from the invasion and racism all around her, something just isn't right. So Koko sets out to rediscover her Native American roots. Hoping to heal her past hurts, she works closely with a local tribe's shaman. But in the end she realizes she must walk her own path, the one she was destined to be on ... Join Koko and her storytellers as they explore more about her incredible life and how she was able to not only heal herself, but others too ...

Charlene's Review:

The lone survivor on an attack on her tribe, Koko is given another chance at a family when a young white girl takes her in as her own. Despite her physical needs being met, Koko is faced with racism and longing for her old life. When Koko meets up with another Indian tribe, she decides it is time to return to her roots. Koko soon realizes that she is an outsider among the Indians now and must find her own place in the world.

Ms. Granahan took on a daunting task when writing Koko's Gift. Historical reference, racism, and multiple story lines all coming together into a 435 page novel. Told mostly in third-person narrative, it switches between Koko's story and modern day "researchers," which at times I did not understand. Their dialogue and relationship seemed superfluous to the story. I also felt the story became disjointed in a few places, with a large gap left between chapter 15 and 16.

That said, the overall premise was an uplifting story of a young girl's survival. The undercurrent seemed to be about accepting oneself, and overcoming past obstacles to be able to follow your predestined path. Ms. Granahan offers the reader a beautiful concept done in a historically based story that teaches as it entertains.

*A physical copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

{Review} Ring in the Dead: A J.P. Beaumont Novella by J.A. Jance

ISBN #: 978-0062294821
Page Count: 112
Copyright: August 6, 2013
Publisher: William Morrow

Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

J. P. Beaumont may be an old homicide hand now, but back when he was a rookie working with his first partner, Milton Gurkey - a.k.a. Pickles - things took a turn for the worse ...

One day, at the end of Beaumont and Pickles's shift, a stop at the Doghouse restaurant quickly turns deadly. Not feeling well, Pickles steps out into the parking lot for a breath of fresh air and stumbles into a crime in progress. Suffering from a heart attack, he is found unconscious, with a dead woman on the ground nearby and the murder weapon in his hand.

With Pickles under investigation from Internal Affairs, it's up to the new kid on the block, J. P. Beaumont, and his friends on the force to find out the truth.

Mandy's Review:

I will admit this is the first J.A. Jance story that I've read. Shocking, I know. I didn't know what I was missing out on, but does it help that now I do and I intend to remedy my lack of knowledge concerning Jance's writing soon?

When the book opens, it is New Year's Eve and J. P. is waiting on his wife so they can go celebrate. In the interim, J. P. receives a call from Anne, his ex-partner's daughter. She has been cleaning out her mother's home and came across a document of her father's. After reading it, Anne feels as if J. P. would be interested in reading it himself. So, as part of her 12-step program for Narcotics Anonymous (NA), she rings J. P. asking if she can bring by the document as an apology for blaming J. P. for her father's death. Once Anne leaves his home, J. P. begins reading Milton Gurkey's (his ex-partner) document.

I'm actually glad I've not read any other J. P. Beaumont novel. I now have an understanding of the character and can have his background in mind when I have a chance to read other Beaumont novels. I loved getting to know J. P. and reading about his first experience in the Homicide department.

This novella was engaging, interesting, and (obviously) a pretty quick read. This is definitely a recommendation for any J. A. Jance and J. P. Beaumont fans. If you're like me and you've never read a J. P. Beaumont novel, this is the perfect introduction into this character's psyche and will make you want to read more of his experiences.

*An ARC was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, July 19, 2013

{Meme} Book Blogger Hop

Hey good peeps! I hope everyone has had a great week so far. Thanks for stopping by our post for this week's Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Billy from Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer.

This week's question:

What is your favorite classic novel?

Kathy's Response:

I guess this depends on what your definition of "classic" is, but I am going to say The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I read it when I was a junior or senior in high school, and I was just beginning to find my own voice as a writer. That book spoke to me in a way that few books had been able to before. I underlined so many passages and wrote so many notes in the margins, reading certain passages over and over again. Beautifully written.

Mandy's Response:

Mine would have to be Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I grew up loving to read thanks to my mother always taking me to the library, but when I read this novel in the 8th grade it gave me a new appreciation for the written word. As I read it, I imagined what it would be like if our government really did ban all of our books. Since then, I've been on a mission to read as much as I can ... and maybe to add a few to my bookshelves on occasion.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

{Review} The Death and Life of Sherlock Holmes by Grace Best-Page

File Size: 793 KB
Page Count: 290
Copyright: November 17, 2012
Publisher: CreateSpace

Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

Jackie Bowman, a modern-day American woman, mysteriously time travels to 1891, where she meets Sherlock Holmes at the point of his untimely "death" at the Reichenbach Falls. Disguised as Jack, she and the great detective partner for the next three years travelling, braving dangers, sharing adventures, and facing Holmes' ultimate challenge: boredom. They depend on each other, they like each other, they get on each other's nerves.

With humor, drama, and poignancy, The Death and Life of Sherlock Holmes fills in the details of Holmes' three-year hiatus and continues beyond his return to Baker Street. Discover what made him the man he is, get to know the Baker Street Irregulars, and find the answer to that perennial question: Was he gay? No, sorry about that; rather, did he actually exist?

Whether you're a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle looking to expand your Sherlockian horizons, someone meeting Holmes for the first time, or you're simply looking for a good read, this light-hearted adventure will both illuminate and entertain.

Mandy's Review:

I am a fan of Sherlock Holmes, so to "find out" what happened to him during his hiatus was intriguing to me. Perhaps it is a little far-fetched to think that a person living in Tennessee could time-travel back to 1891 England and meet a fictional character. Before I began reading this book I created an open mind by thinking that the phrase "all fiction is based in reality" is true. Perhaps there really was a Sherlock Holmes.

Jackie works in a gift shop in Tennessee. As she steps out of the back door she notices her world has been replaced with something new. She decides to explore. The gift shop disappears and she finds herself stuck in this new world. Jackie doesn't recognize her surroundings until she comes upon a waterfall and sees Sherlock Holmes. Her futuristic appearance is enough to puzzle and intrigue him. Thus begin their adventure together.

My attention was captivated through their meeting and the first few chapters of their travels together. Eventually, though, I became a little bored with their story. It seemed to be the same page after page. And, instead of sticking with one alias, Jackie had the habit of calling Sherlock every name she could possibly think of ... often times within the same conversation or situation. It was a distraction that took away part of my enjoyment of the story.

I also think the ending was somewhat drawn out. I don't want to give anything away, but the story could have been stopped sooner. This would have allowed the reader to imagine the rest of the story themselves, which I think we all secretly hate and love at the same time.

So, overall, if the section on their three-year journey was either spiced up or edited to remove some of those chapters and if the ending was stopped sooner than it was, I think this could make for a really fun and entertaining read. As it stands, I don't hate this book, but I don't love it either. If you're a Sherlock fan and you're curious about what happened to him during his three-year hiatus, then this could possibly be the book for you.

*An ecopy of this book was available from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

{Review} A Sheltered Life: Take it to the Streets by Dr. Jeremy Reynalds

ISBN #: 978-1449790202
Page Count: 198
Copyright: April 10, 2013
Publisher: WestBowPress

Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

In this amazing story, Jeremy Reynalds, who founded and runs New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter and was once homeless himself, shares how he rose from the despair of homelessness to the pinnacle of academia, earning a doctorate in intercultural education at Biola University in La Mirada, California.

In addition, the book contains stories of a number of people who have fallen on hard times and have gotten back on their feet again with the help of the Lord at Joy Junction.

Allen's Review:

A book written about homelessness in a city in New Mexico, but could be in "Anywhere, U.S.A." Having been homeless myself, this book hit home, and it hit hard, with no sugar-coating as to the insecurity, fear and uncertainty that goes with the homeless each and every day of their lives on the streets (What's for dinner for my family and me tonight? Dumpster-diving, begging, or finding an 89-cent package of cold hot dogs from Wallyworld?). A lot of shelters - if there is any room to begin with - separate families, and if not the shelter, then it's a lot of "Can't stay here ... gotta move on." And culverts are cold comfort.

On the flip side, the author really made the effort to try and show the hope in tomorrow that can be found in any situation, and how sometimes people with similar experiences will sometimes join together to create an atmosphere of hope where none previously existed. It's a book that is to-the-point; it's an easy read and really transmits the homeless lifestyle in its depressing, scary, insecure, dark, hopeful ups and downs that such people struggle with every day, including the social stigmas that society thrusts (sometimes undeservingly) upon them.

It's a harsh, cold, unforgiving reality that is without mercy in many ways and people, as a whole, can't handle "that kind of messy." If the solution to end homelessness is to raise society's awareness and compassion, then this is the type of book that can start the conversations needed to find workable solutions. Things can change, "tables" can turn, and anyone can go from the top of the world to the bottom of it in no time flat. Unless one has been there, understanding is more difficult to come by.

The reading of A Sheltered Life affords the reader a stark, undiluted glimpse into what life can be like for the people who, for whatever reason, "fall through the cracks" of society's standards.

*A physical copy of this book was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

{Release Date Review & US Giveaway} The Never List by Koethi Zan

ISBN #: 978-0670026517
Page Count: 320
Copyright: July 16, 2013
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books

Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

For years, best friends Sarah and Jennifer kept what they called the "Never List": a list of actions to be avoided, for safety's sake, at all costs. But one night, against their best instincts, they accept a cab ride with grave, everlasting consequences. For the next three years, they are held captive with two other girls in a dungeon-like cellar by a connoisseur of sadism.

Ten years later, at thirty-one, Sarah is still struggling to resume a normal life, living as a virtual recluse under a new name, unable to come to grips with the fact that Jennifer didn't make it out of that cellar. Now, her abductor is up for parole and Sarah can no longer ignore the twisted letters he sends from jail.

Finally, Sarah decides to confront her phobias and the other survivors - who hold their own deep grudges against her. When she goes on a cross-country chase that takes her into the perverse world of BDSM, secret cults, and the arcane study of torture, she begins unraveling a mystery more horrifying than even she could have imagined.

Mandy's Review:

I must say that I struggled a bit writing this review. Not because it was a bad story, but because I kept wanting to focus on the character's past. Our past does help define who we are and what we become, so I'll try to keep my comments on Sarah's past short.

Generally, when people have phobias there's a root cause. Sarah and Jennifer created their "Never List" as a result from a tragedy involving Jennifer's parents. The result of creating the "Never List" was that they both became slightly neurotic. They wouldn't go to certain events, they would only use certain car companies, etc. I think this is what made it easy for their kidnapper to get them. They were creatures of habit. All their kidnapper had to do was pay attention to how they acted and he could figure out their routine ... something Sarah and Jennifer did not factor into their "Never List."

Sarah spends three years with her kidnapper and tormentor before she escapes. I do find it a little difficult to believe someone could have such willpower and determination after being held captive (and tortured) for three years. Please note, I did not say it was impossible, just difficult to believe. Instead of going off on that tangent, though, let me continue on with the review.

So Sarah escapes ... ten years later she is still majorly affected by her past (and rightfully so). She must face her demons head-on in order to go against her ex-captor in his parole hearing. Her psychiatrist and an FBI agent have been working with Sarah to prepare her for the upcoming court date. Sarah, along with one of the ladies who was in the captor's basement with her, decides to take matters into her own hands. She knows her ex-captor's trying to tell her something in the letters she keeps receiving from him while he's in prison. In order to figure it out, Sarah has to go back to where her nightmares all began. It is this quest that the book mainly focuses on.

I liked how the book focused on the present, but gave the reader everything they wanted to know about the past. Knowing the captor's name from the start doesn't deter away from the thrilling aspect of this novel. In fact, I think it even enhances the thrill because you get to know him and how twisted he is. I was a little confused by Sarah and Tracy's rescuer (in the present while on their quest, not while they were in the basement). The character seemed to be almost obsolete from the story and then, BAM!, they're back in the storyline full-throttle. It was a little disconcerting and unbelievable. Despite that, though, I loved The Never List. I will be reading it again and would recommend it to readers who love thrillers and/or mysteries.

*A hard copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

US Giveaway:

There is one copy available from the publisher up for grabs. The winner must live in the US. No PO Boxes, please. This giveaway will last for one week. At the end of the week, a winner will be randomly chosen. The winner will have 48 hours to respond. If the winner does not respond within 48 hours, another winner will be randomly chosen.

Good luck!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Q&A: Koethi Zan, Author of THE NEVER LIST


Q: Where did the inspiration for The Never List come from?

A: The Never List was inspired in part by the amazing stories of captivity survivors: Elizabeth Fritzel, Natascha Kampusch, Sabine Dardenne, Jaycee Lee Dugard. These women have suffered through the absolute worst thing I can imagine and every one of them has demonstrated incredible strength in the wake of such trauma. My own difficult life struggles paled in comparison. I was - and am - in awe of them. I wanted to create a character like that: a woman who was strong in the face of unfathomable horror, but who needed to confront her past to figure that out.

Q: The Never List echoes recent events in the news even though you wrote it long before those events came to light in May 2013. How did you feel when you heard about the women in Cleveland and have you heard any early feedback about the eerie similarities between life and art here? If the news about Cleveland had broken while you were writing your novel, would those events have changed the storyline in any way?

A: I was stunned when the news broke about the Cleveland kidnappings, and it only became more surreal as the story unfolded. I'd written a book based on my worst nightmare, and there it was on the screen - real. And even worse than the story I'd invented.

Dozens of friends contacted me in those first few days, recognizing the obvious similarities and thinking I would have some special insight into the situation. But I didn't have any answers for them. I don't know how or why these terrible things happen. Writing my book was just my way of trying to understand the hardships and strength of the women whose stories inspired me. All I know is that I am so happy that Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight are finally free, and I hope they are able to recover from such an unfathomable tragedy.

It's hard to say what I would have done had the story come to light while I was writing the book. However, even if I had changed some of the plot details, the essential narrative would still have been the one I felt driven to tell: the story of a woman who survived an awful, traumatic experience and her struggle to recover by facing her past. My book was written from the heart, with great empathy and respect for abduction survivors. The timing of this revelation doesn't change it; it only makes my feelings for all these amazing women that much stronger.

Q: What made you want to be a writer? Did you always want to be a writer when you were growing up?

A: I was raised in a family of scientists in a house that had only one small bookcase. And unfortunately that bookcase was filled with chemistry and engineering textbooks. When I was nine, however, I found at the bottom of a drawer my mother's Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volumes I and II, from her one required freshman English class. After that I pretty much survived childhood by reading.

If you'd asked me at twelve, I would have said all I ever wanted to be was a writer, but I lost my nerve somewhere along the way and opted for a steadier career path. I was estranged from my parents after high school and ran out of money fast, so it seemed important at the time to find a secure way to support myself. So I ended up at Yale Law School, which was a pretty great safety net.

I was drawn to the world of writers, though, so perhaps it was inevitable. I married a writer and as a lawyer I represented writers. My favorite New Yorker cartoon sums it up: a little boy in a cowboy costume says to his father, "Well, if I can't be a cowboy, I'll be a lawyer for cowboys." So not I'm finally a cowboy.

Q: How would you describe your book to someone you'd just met?

A: I like to say it's a psychological thriller about girls held captive in a basement crossed with trauma recovery memoir - sort of as if the girl in that basement from Silence of the Lambs ended up hunting down Hannibal Lecter.

Q: Do you have a "Never List" of your own?

A: I don't have an actual written list, but I do have a jumble of informal rules that my best friend and I developed in high school. We didn't need to write anything down because we lived by them everyday as we navigated our way through our odd adventures: staying out all night, going to unsavory clubs, hanging out with strange characters. I have written Sarah and Jennifer's Never List, however, and expect to add to it, perhaps even with suggestions from readers.

Q: The relationships between the female characters are crucial to The Never List - who are your favorite female characters in fiction?

A: As I thought about this question, it struck me that the first names to come to mind were all young girls: Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, Matilda, Pippi Longstocking, Jo from Little Women, Cassandra from I Capture the Castle, Catherine of the early chapters of Wuthering Heights. These characters are all smart, tough and insightful individuals who follow their own way.

It's telling that so many of the strongest, surest female characters haven't yet reached maturity, while some of the adult characters I love are ruined or deeply flawed: Anna Karenina, Isabel Archer, Lily Bart. Yes, they are more complex and challenging, but in a way, my true heroes are the girls who haven't been taught to doubt their strength yet. My life goal is to get back to that place, and to keep my daughters there.

Q: Did you do any research before you began writing your book?

A: I spent the past ten or so years researching it indirectly. My unofficial hobby - one I would never put on my resume - was obsessively studying psychopaths, captives, and the criminal mind. Also, I took a brief detour from law in the early 2000s to go to graduate school in Cinema Studies. There I studied Surrealism with the incredible Annette Michelson, who, let's just say, has a penchant for the dark side. So in many ways it was as if I was preparing for the book for years without knowing it.

While writing the book, I did formal research into BDSM, abnormal psychology, victimological studies, statistical analysis, you know - the usual. My computer got a lot of viruses, and I saw a lot of disturbing text and images that are etched in my brain forever.

Q: Do you feel your own life experience has contributed to the book in any specific ways?

A: Definitely. Although I have thankfully never experienced what my characters went through, the broadest themes were drawn from my own emotional life. Sarah, Tracy, Christine and Adele each have a different response to the traumatic events of their collective past, and I've experienced them all for better or worse: anxiety, anger, repression, ambition. I've worked with a wonderful therapist on and off for a decade - our relationship is definitely not the model for Sarah and Dr. Simmons - but my own process helped me understand what it's like to go back and face a dark past.

Specifics from my own life influenced many of the details of the book as well. My relationship with my best friend was the model for the friendship between Sarah and Jennifer. While the story is obviously fiction, the powerful, intense nature of their friendship is rooted in ours, and their paranoia and obsession with precautions are magnified versions of our own.

Also, I went to college in Birmingham, Alabama, and my friends and I spent many weekends in New Orleans, wreaking all manner of havoc. We lived a pretty wild life - hitting the club scene, dressing up in costume, crashing with strangers. We woke up one morning to find we were staying with a guy who honestly believed he was a vampire. That was a bit of a wakeup call.

While I was in college, I also had a brush with a spiritual cult. My roommate and I went to regular meetings for a couple of months, where we were instructed in a bizarre cosmology and taught to be "present to the moment." It was an interesting life experience that we didn't take very seriously. Then we reached the level where we were invited to attend a weekend retreat in honor of a visiting guru from New York City. We had to scrape the floors of a house we were renovating for the group, do special "sacred" movements to music, and were expected to meditate for hours. I'm not ashamed to say I feigned illness, got out of there fast, and never went back.

Q: Which writers do you enjoy reading?

A: Mostly I read at either one of two extremes: nineteenth century/early twentieth century marriage plot novels and dark psychological crime. My favorites aren't especially original: Tolstoy, Dickens, Austen, Wharton, Zola, Eliot, and Nabokov. And I always recommend a couple of books I think are under-appreciate: Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh and Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time. Some of my favorite crime writers (construed broadly) are Patricia Highsmith, Graham Greene, Shirley Jackson, Henning Mankell, Ruth Rendell and Dorothy L. Hughes. I can't understand why everyone in the world hasn't read We Have Always Lived in the Castle because it is a perfect, perfect book.

Q: Where do you like to write - and how?

A: I wrote The Never List down in a stonewalled basement, which was fitting. I got up at five a.m. five days a week and wrote for exactly one hour before my kids got up. I gave myself a minimum of five hundred words to do in that hour (which I later increased to six hundred), so there was no time for writer's block or self-doubt. I only knew the broad strokes of the story, so each day was a new revelation, as I would find out what was going to happen as I went.

Now I've moved to another house, so I don't have that wonderful basement anymore. In fact, I have a large, bright sunny office with a beautiful view of the Berkshires, where I absolutely never, ever work. I end up at the banquette in my kitchen, mostly so I can sit cross-legged.

I'm writing two books now, and I do a thousand words on each a day. On the first draft, I focus on getting the story down, knowing I will re-write each line a thousand times. For one of these books I have a relatively detailed outline that I more or less stick to, but for the other I'm letting it unfold as I go. I like to get my word count done first thing in the morning; otherwise it hangs over my head. After every five hundred words, I get a ten-minute internet break, then - provided I'm not traumatized by what I've found there - it's back to work.

{2013 TBR Pile Challenge} Check-In

Hi there challenge peeps! It's hard to believe that we're already at the July check-in. Only five more to go before the year's up. Unbelievable.

Kathy has finished reading 4 of the 12 books so far. The list below are the ones she's finished. Each title is a link to her review.

  • Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

  • Mandy just finished her 7th book yesterday. Below is a list of all the ones she's finished. Each title is a link to her review.

  • The Godforsaken by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
  • A Time to Kill by John Grisham
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Falling Under by Gwen Hayes
  • The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis
  • Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson
  • Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

  • Good luck to everyone in this challenge!

    Sunday, July 14, 2013

    Author Bio: Koethi Zan, Author of THE NEVER LIST

    To hear the Spotify playlist that inspired Koethi, click here.

    When Koethi Zan was born in the sleepy farming town of Opp, Alabama, the "City of Opportunity," her mother was Valedictorian of the local public high school and her father the star of its football team. Her parents named her after the homecoming queen of Lurleen B. Wallace Junior College, perhaps hopeful that some of that glory would rub off on her. But Koethi would never be a homecoming queen. In fact, she spent most of her youth in her room, reading, listening to Morrissey, and avoiding everything connected to high school football - not an easy task in those parts.

    After graduation, Koethi put herself through Birmingham-Southern College with scholarships and a small "cow fund" courtesy of Molly, the Charolais heifer she received as her third birthday present. She used the money wisely, travelling to New Orleans on the weekends to hit the club scene, almost always in silver-sequined costume, surrounded by transvestites, Goth kids and her gay male entourage. Perhaps, in some roundabout way, she had fulfilled her homecoming queen destiny after all.

    Then, in what may have been a misguided fit of pique, Koethi threw away her all-black daywear and her thrift-store evening gowns, and went to Yale Law School, with some vague idea of becoming a film producer. Afterwards, however, she unexpectedly found herself twenty-eight stories up in the Manhattan offices of Davis Polk & Wardwell, a prestigious white shoe law firm that represented mostly investment banks. She regularly pulled all-nighters working on secured financings and revolving credit facilities. She tended to wear demure black pantsuits, with her hair up.

    It didn't take her long to realize corporate life wasn't for her, and Koethi spent the next fifteen years practicing entertainment law both in private practice (at Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison and, later, Schreck Rose & Dapello) and in-house business and legal affairs positions (for the film producer, Ed Pressman, and, most recently, at MTV), with a slight detour along the way to study cinema at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts.

    As an entertainment lawyer, Koethi attended glamorous premieres and openings, international film festivals and celebrity-filled parties. She dealt with gritty production issues as varied as suicide threats, drug overdoses and sex-tape allegations. She warred with Hollywood agents and befriended reality stars.

    Then, while Senior Vice President & Deputy General Counsel at MTV, she decided to fulfill a lifelong dream on the side, and in the early mornings she wrote a crime novel, The Never List.

    Now, coming full circle in a way, Koethi, her husband, Stephen Metcalf, and their two daughters, live in an old farmhouse in a rural community in upstate New York. Her husband occasionally watches a football game on television. But her daughters have never even heard of homecoming queens.

    {2013 TBR Pile Challenge - Review} A Time to Kill by John Grisham

    ISBN #: 978-0440245919
    Page Count: 672
    Copyright: June 23, 2009
    Publisher: Dell

    Book Summary:
    (Taken from back cover)

    The life of a ten-year-old girl is shattered by two drunken and remorseless young men. The mostly white town of Clanton in Ford County, Mississippi, reacts with shock and horror at the inhuman crime - until her black father acquires an assault rifle and takes justice into his own outraged hands.

    For ten days, as burning crosses and the crack of sniper fire spread through the streets of Clanton, the nation sits spellbound as young defense attorney Jake Brigance struggles to save his client's life - and then his own.

    Mandy's Review:

    A Time to Kill is one of my most favorite movies. I don't care how many times I see, I will still want to see it again and I will still cry at the end. It is absolutely heart-wrenching. When I realized it was based on a novel (this was back before I had heard of John Grisham) I put the novel on my TBR list. Needless to say, it has been on my TBR list for years. I have finally been able to read it.

    As I was reading, I can easily see the differences between the book and the movie. Most of the time, I don't like it when the movie differs from the book very much. With this story, though, I can understand why the movie was made the way it was. This is no short read. If the producers would've kept the movie in line with the book, the movie would have been close to 6 or 7 hours long. This is one of those book/movie combinations where I enjoy both versions of the story.

    If, for some weird reason, you're not familiar with this story let me sum it up for you: A 10-year-old black girl gets raped, beaten, pissed on, and left for dead. Thanks to a trusted informant, the police find out who did the heinous crime, arrest them, and take them to jail. As the boys are leaving the courtroom, the little girl's father rushes at them shooting them dead. The father is then arrested and put on trial for their murders. During the imprisonment and trial of Carl Lee (the girl's father), the Ku Klux Klan converge and commit acts of crime against the people associated with Carl Lee's defense.

    Whether you watch the movie or read the book, A Time to Kill is an emotionally gut-wrenching, soul-stirring story about the different forms of justice and people's interpretation of such an idea. This is the ultimate story of black versus white set in an American small town, which is still mostly segregated. The N-word is used quite prevalently, so if you are easily offended you may not want to read this story. For me, the language did not deter my enjoyment of this novel, but I think I enjoy the movie a little bit more.

    Saturday, July 13, 2013

    {Review} Gene Pool: Unnatural Selection by R. A. Finlayson

    ASIN #: B008OHZVIW
    File Size: 859 KB
    Page Count: 529
    Copyright: July 23, 2012
    Publisher: Day Street Press; 1st Edition

    Book Summary:
    (Taken from Goodreads)

    The first book in a four-part, science fiction series that explores a world where biological engineering becomes the master science influencing every aspect of society. A mystery and romance at its core, ambition, power, wealth and love drive the fast-paced story that revolves around a fascinating cast of characters.

    For thousands of years human beings have dreamed of immortality, of reversing the aging process, of enhancing beauty and retaining the vigor and vitality of youth - forever. In the year 2059 this dream is at last within our grasp. But as biologic engineers finally achieve total control over the fundamental mechanics of life and the ability to change the course of human evolution, will this awesome power alter the meaning of love, the nature of relationships and society, and even the very definition of what it means to be human?

    Such concerns are most decidedly not on the mind of Amade Bertrand, a young, investigative journalist with the New York Times. Amade is worried that her career is stalling out after a meteoric - and some would say undeserved - rise to the top of her profession. As Amade ponders her next career move, an anonymous and cryptic tip lands in her inbox about GeneTech, the largest and most powerful of the new generation of bioengineering companies.

    Amade's quest to uncover the meaning of this mysterious message leads her to Whitfield Gray, a senior GeneTech executive with a dark secret that if exposed could destroy the company and threaten the biotech revolution. Drawn to the powerful and mysterious Whitfield, Amade must decide between a burgeoning love for the brash, young executive and her career ambition as she uncovers a web of intrigue that leads from the GeneTech board room to the White House and beyond.

    Kathy's Review:

    One thing right off the bat with this book: it is LONG. That's strike one. Usually if a book is this long, it's like some kind of epic Lord of the Rings thing. Sure, Unnatural Selection has multiple storylines and characters that intertwine, but honestly? It becomes quite tedious to try and keep track of everything that is going on. I'd been reading this for two weeks and only reached 50%, while my long pile of books to be reviewed languished. Oy.

    And it's a four part series!!! This is just book one! Double oy!

    There are definitely some interesting concepts in the book; mainly that humankind could manipulate genetics to create a species of living creatures meant to perform work traditionally done by laborers, essentially putting those people out of jobs. Genetics could also be used to create weapons - we see some of these being used in the book, notably a bee that stings its victim, rendering them unconscious for a length of time.

    Whitfield, one of the main "bad guys" in the book, has been imbued with the ability to control people's minds. Like a Jedi mind trick the the Nth degree. This is scary. He's basically untouchable and uses his mind magic to control the media, enemies and even lovers.

    There's also a moral issue at play here: if you create a living being using genetics, is it morally ok to destroy them when they have completed serving their purpose? The Xenomats are terminated when the next upgrade becomes available. Is that murder, or it is simply replacing a "thing" with the newest version?

    A lot of things to think about in this book. However, its length and all of the competing storylines really hindered me from fully engaging. For those whose tastes run more toward sci-fi, or if the concept of genetic engineering piques your interest, give this one a whirl.

    *An ebook was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

    Friday, July 12, 2013

    {Meme} Book Blogger Hop

    Welcome to the hop made of the blogger, by the blogger, and for the blogger. Thanks go to Billy from Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer for keeping this hop going!

    This week's question:

    How long have you been blogging?

    Kathy's Response:

    I've been blogging since 2003, with various blogs and topics. Right now I have 3 blogs and contribute to one (Literary R&R). In addition to writing book reviews, I blog about being a type two diabetic, and I also have a blog for creative writing. Wow. I just went back to some of my 2003 blog posts and they made me smile.

    Mandy's Response:

    Lord, I feel like I've been blogging for forever. I'm not sure when I started, but when I did it was a personal blog basically about my life, blah blah blah ... Tried that for a blog or two and nothing stuck. Then, in April 2010, an idea struck me. I began a blog reviewing books for the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books: 2000-2009. I never expected it to take off, but it did. People began asking me to review their books. That's when I decided that perhaps the title of my blog didn't fit any more ... thus Literary R&R was born on September 9, 2010. Aren't you glad? =)

    Thursday, July 11, 2013

    {Review} The Elderine Stone by Alan Lawson

    ASIN #: B00DS1YS0G
    File Size: 403 KB
    Page Count: 189

    Book Summary:
    (Taken from Amazon)

    When Jason finds himself running late for school he decides to take a shortcut, a shortcut that will change the course of his destiny and set him off on a journey of self-discovery and adventure.

    The Elderine Stone tells the tale of a normal boy who always dreamt of escaping reality, until one day he actually did! Finding himself magically warped into the world of Hasparia, only to discover that he is the Chosen One, destined to destroy a dark evil in the land. Joining up with his friends Emily and Sherbit, they travel together to unlock the truths, whilst at every turn dodge the scope of a mysterious force. Who, as it seems will stop at nothing until their quest has failed!

    Mandy's Review:

    At less than 200 pages, The Elderine Stone is a quick read. Jason is a likeable character and the reader can't help but to feel some empathy for him and his situation. He lives with his aunt and is an only child. The aunt is somewhat overbearing and can be a little hard on Jason.

    The story has a pattern that is very familiar to fantasy readers: Create a main character who is in an undesirable situation and is misunderstood, have them enter a portal into a magical realm where they find out they are actually the Chosen One foretold from generation to generation, and put them on a quest that will eventually (if things work out well) lead them to saving the kingdom. It's a tried-and-true guideline for fantasy stories, especially when the book is for a younger audience as this one is. There was only one part that I didn't particularly agree with. In order not to give a spoiler let me just say that the way two characters make their escape was not very imaginative or believable. I really want to go into detail here, but I don't want to give anything away. For a younger reader, though, who is simply reading for love of the genre, I believe this would be a book they would enjoy.

    *An ebook was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

    Wednesday, July 10, 2013

    {Blog Tour - Review} A Glittering Chaos by Lisa De Nikolits

    ISBN #: 978-1926708928
    Page Count: 300
    Copyright: April 15, 2013
    Publisher: Inanna Poetry and Fiction Series

    Book Summary:
    (Taken from Goodreads)

    The adage about "what happens in Vegas" is funny precisely because we know it's wishful thinking. A Glittering Chaos is about what happens when "what happens in Vegas" comes home to haunt you.

    Melusine is a German librarian whose ho-hum world wobbles after she tags along when her husband Hans attends a Las Vegas optometry conference. A newly empty nester who speaks no English, Melusine's voyage of self-discovery is punctuated by the poetry of Ingeborg Bachmann, nude photos in the desert, a black dildo named Kurt, autoerotic asphyxia, and the unraveling of her husband's sanity because of a secret from his youth.

    A smart, funny and incredibly wise novel about marriage, secrets and lies, and unusual sexual proclivities.

    Mandy's Review:

    I really hate to give a bad review, especially when it is part of a book blog tour, but here we are ...

    The first thing I noticed about this book (and maybe it was just because I had an e-ARC for reviewing) was that there were no chapter separations. The entire book flowed page after page after page with only a small design separating certain segments to indicate a change of direction. That annoyed me. I'm reading this late at night thinking that soon I'll be able to put it down at a definitive stopping point before going to bed. Nope.

    And, I'm sorry you people who raved about this book, I did not like nor understand Melusine and her husband Hans. It wasn't really clear in the book (that I can remember) where they lived, but I'm assuming from the summary it was in Germany. Otherwise, why would she be working in an American library without knowing any English? From that assumption I can understand why Melusine doesn't speak English, but why does Hans? Where did he learn English? If they live in Germany, I wouldn't think there'd be an extensive English-speaking clientele for his optometry practice.

    Anyhow, Hans has told Melusine that he has an optometrist convention in Las Vegas. There's really not a convention. He's actually going there to look for his sister, who is apparently a drug-addict and prostitute. Which begs the question: Why Las Vegas? I'm sure there are plenty of European prostitutes and drug addicts that she could have hooked up with.

    Melusine has decided to go to Las Vegas with Hans to have some fun. Did she not think knowing SOME English would be beneficial?! But, no, she learns no English before going there. Fortunately, she meets a man while drunk who just so happens to speak German. How coincidental ... and obvious. They wind up having an affair and write to each other after she leaves Vegas to head back to Germany. Oh, by the way, Gunther (the American who speaks German) is married. He is in Vegas to, basically, run away from home because he cannot handle his wife's depression over miscarrying their child. I understand the depression and him wanting to get away from it, but this man is supposed to love his wife. I get the whole "what happens in Vegas" adage, so I understand his affair with Melusine despite loving his wife. What I don't understand is how they can write and make phone calls and Gunther come see Melusine in Germany while he's still married. What the frack?! Is he going to stay married or not? If it mentions in the book where he and his wife separated, then I probably missed that during one of my skimming sessions.

    The ONLY thing I liked about this book is the title. A Glittering Chaos refers to Las Vegas, which I think is an apt and perfect nickname for the city.

    I'm sorry ya'll, but there's no way I would recommend this book be read by anyone.

    *An e-ARC was provided by the tour host in exchange for an honest review ... which they may now be regretting.

    Tuesday, July 9, 2013

    {Release Day Review & U.S. Giveaway} Forever, Interrupted by Taylor Jenkins Reid

    ISBN #: 978-1476712826
    Page Count: 352
    Copyright: July 9, 2013
    Publisher: Washington Square Press

    Book Summary:
    (Taken from back cover)

    Elsie Porter is an average twentysomething and yet what happens to her is anything but ordinary. On a rainy New Year's Day, she heads out to pick up a pizza for one. She isn't expecting to see anyone else in the shop, much less the adorable and charming Ben Ross. Their chemistry is instant and electric. Ben cannot even wait twenty-four hours before asking to see her again. Within weeks, the two are head over heels in love. By May, they've eloped.

    Only nine days later, Ben is out riding his bike when he is hit by a truck and killed on impact. Elsie hears the sirens outside her apartment, but by the time she gets downstairs, he has already been whisked off to the emergency room. At the hospital, she must face Susan, the mother-in-law she has never met - and who doesn't even know Elsie exists.

    Interweaving Elsie and Ben's charmed romance with Elsie and Susan's healing process, Forever, Interrupted will remind you that there's more than one way to find a happy ending.

    Mandy's Review:

    Well, the blurb at the top of the front cover is certainly correct: this is not your average love story. Within the very first chapter tragedy strikes and Ben is killed (if you read the summary, you know this is not a spoiler). The remainder of the book is dedicated to the reader watching Elsie go through the five stages of grief. Intermingled throughout are her reminisces of the time she met Ben through the time they were married.

    Ben and Elsie met by twist of fate. Upon meeting they experienced an instant connection that spiraled them into a whirlwind relationship. Ben seemed perfect, but had his flaws. For instance, the man was unable to tell his mother about Elsie. It explains why he felt that way in the book, but his procrastination was an annoyance to me. However, had he not procrastinated then there wouldn't be the conflict between Elsie and Susan, Ben's mother, in the book which was something I enjoyed watching unfold.

    Elsie's grief was palpable and is easily felt by the reader. My favorite part was when she punched a guy in the library. That's when I knew that Elsie would be okay. She had some fight left in her and, in the end, she was able to make good use of it.

    Overall, the story is a very realistic one. I did feel that there was an abundance of explicatives in certain parts of the book. Of course, that could be just my prudish way of thinking. The book is a fictional depiction of real people and real people curse ... and often times more than they need to. I did enjoy Forever, Interrupted and would probably recommend it to those who enjoy reading novels that are based on real-life events/situations.

    *A paperback copy of was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

    U.S. Giveaway:

    This giveaway will last one week and is for United States residents only. There are two copies of Forever, Interrupted up for grabs. The winners will have 48 hours to respond with their mailing address. If they do not respond within 48 hours, or if they do not have a U.S. mailing address, another winner will be chosen in their place.

    Also, we made a change due to the responses we read from last week's Book Blogger Hop question. We realized not everyone enjoys filling out the Rafflecopter forms. So, to give you non-Rafflecopter fans a chance to enter, we are including both a Rafflecopter form and a Google form for this giveaway. You do not have to enter both forms for a chance to win. You only have to fill out one or the other. However, if you want to take the time to fill out both forms, you are more than welcome to do so.

    Good luck!

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