Monday, September 30, 2013

{Back to the Classics 2013 Challenge - Review} Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

Raskolnikov, a destitute and desperate former student, wanders through the slums of St. Petersburg and commits a random murder without remorse or regret. He imagines himself to be a great man, a Napoleon: acting for a higher purpose beyond conventional moral law. But as he embarks on a dangerous game of cat and mouse with a suspicious police investigator, Raskolnikov is pursued by the growing voice of his conscience and finds the noose of his own guilt tightening around his neck. Only Sonya, a downtrodden prostitute, can offer the chance of redemption.

Kathy's Review:
(Reprinted with permission from her personal blog, Grown Up Book Reports)

When I decided to read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge, I had no idea how long it would take me to read (a month). Note to self: next year, choose shorter books for this challenge!

I had read some Dostoyevsky in college, most memorably "Notes from Underground," and did enjoy it at that time. In undertaking Crime and Punishment, I was once again impressed with the writing of Dostoyevsky from a purely psychological standpoint. The character of Raskolinov is so deeply explored that he is whole and I would know him if I ran into him on the street. From there, I start to get mixed up with the Russian names. Especially because sometimes they are called different things. For instance, Raskolinov is also called Rodion (his first name), or Rodya. His sister's full name is Avdotya Romanovna but sometimes she is called Dunya.

And then, there's the philosophy entrenched in this novel. As Raskolinov himself states in the novel, there are ordinary people and extraordinary people. The extraordinary people are few and far between. They are the inventors, the ones who bring new thoughts and ideas into society. And maybe, these extraordinary people, because of who they are, are allowed to literally get away with murder. (I was with him on this philosophy right up until the murder part!) Raskolinov fancies himself to be one of these extraordinary people. And so he commits an act of murder and theft, feeling that he may get away with it, and that he is right in doing so because he can use the stolen items to help better his position in society. Of course, that isn't what happens, and he teeters on the edge of confessing his murder as he begins to act more and more suspicious to those around him.

Not at all a light read, Crime and Punishment is the kind of novel you have to devote large blocks of time to, in order to digest and absorb what is on the pages. With limited time, I could only read a few pages at a time, and then I would have to go back to re-read passages. It's an excellent psychological novel, exploring the motivations of people to act why they do. Although it was written in the 1860's, and is translated into English from Russian, it remains relatable today. Nothing to read in October? Devote your month to Crime and Punishment.

{Review} The Lemon Orchard by Luanne Rice

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

Book Summary:
(Taken from dustjacket flaps)

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 to her surprise, 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 when 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. When Julia makes it her mission to discover what happened to Roberto's daughter, the two realize they both have more at stake in the answer than even they could have imagined.

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.

Mandy's Review:

For the past five years Julia has been wondering what she should have done, what she should have noticed, what she should have said that would make her daughter Jenny not kill herself and her father. Jenny was sixteen years old and had just lost her first love a few months before. Jenny seemed okay on the outside, but must have been hurting more than Julia knew on the inside. One fateful day, Julia is coming back home from running errands only to notice emergency vehicles outside of her very own driveway. Jenny had driven fifty-miles-per-hour straight into the stone wall bordering their property.

For the past five years Roberto has emotionally beaten himself up for leaving his daughter Rosa by the boulder as he ran towards what he thought was salvation. Rosa was dehydrated and delirious from their trek across the desert from Mexico into the United States. The van Roberto ran towards for help turned out to be Border Patrol and he wound up arrested and in jail. Roberto was able to talk a Border Agent, Jack Leary, into returning to the area to look for Rosa, but by the time Jack got there Rosa was gone.

Julia's aunt and uncle have decided to travel to Ireland to trace her uncle's ancestry. While they're gone, Julia has agreed to house-sit for them. It helps get her away from the east coast where she lived with Jenny. Bonnie, Julia's dog, is special to her because it was the last object Jenny touched. Petting Bonnie allows Julia to feel close to Jenny again.

Roberto and Julia's connection is deeper than a physical attraction. They are joined together through the loss of their daughters. As Roberto opens up to Julia about what happened to Rosa, Julia feels Jenny with her again and determines to try and find out what happened to Rosa. It seems like a long shot, but well worth the try.

As the search for Rosa continues, Julia and Roberto grow closer. To say they had a love affair is cheapening their chemistry. You could feel their souls blending together as you read the story. I would probably categorize this book as being more of the literary fiction genre. It was thoughtful, emotionally deep, and engaging. The Lemon Orchard is a truly unique story that I will be reading again.

*A hardcopy of this novel was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

{31 Days of Halloween} What to Expect

Hello lovelies! We've decided to partner with Billy from Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer for this year's 31 Days of Halloween. Below is a list of what you can expect from us during the month of October. Some posts are non-Halloween related. We agreed to participate in some book tours before partnering with Billy.

Cover Reveal: Accidental Marriage by Annette Haws
Penguin Horror Classics Giveaway: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
1st Chapter Reveal: Winter of Wishes by Charlotte Hubbard
Review: Darkness First by James Hayman
Book Blogger Hop: Halloween Edition
Review: Cut to the Bone by Jefferson Bass
Post: Witches of East End, Lifetime Television Series
Review: Dark Lullaby by Mayra Calvani
TV Series Review: Witches of East End, S1E1: "Pilot"
Penguin Horror Classics Giveaway: The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories by H. P. Lovecraft
Post: American Horror Story, FX Television Series
TV Series Review: American Horror Story: Coven, S3E1: "Bitchcraft"
Book Blogger Hop: Halloween Edition
Review: To Probe A Beating Heart by John B. Wren
Review: Graveminder by Melissa Marr
2013 TBR Pile Challenge - Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King
TV Series Review: Witches of East End, S1E2: "Marilyn Fenwick, R.I.P."
Book Spotlight: An Amish Country Christmas by Charlotte Hubbard & Naomi King
2013 TBR Pile Challenge: Check-In
Penguin Horror Classics Giveaway: Haunted Castles by Ray Russell
Review: Winter of Wishes by Charlotte Hubbard
TV Series Review: American Horror Story: Coven, S3E2: "Boy Parts"
Book Blogger Hop: Halloween Edition
Blog Tour Review: Murder Has Consequences by Giacomo Giammatteo
Netflix Movie Review: Lizzie
Blog Tour Review/Giveaway: Braineater Jones by Stephen Kozeniewski
TV Series Review: Witches of East End, S1E3, "Today I Am A Witch"
Penguin Horror Classics Giveaway: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
First Chapter Reveal: An Amish Country Christmas by Charlotte Hubbard & Naomi King
TV Series Review: American Horror Story: Coven, S3E3: "The Replacements"
Book Blast: Stillwell: A Haunting on Long Island by Michael Phillip Cash
Book Blogger Hop: Halloween Edition
Blog Tour Review/Giveaway: Nightlife by Matthew Quinn Martin
Netflix Movie Review: A Haunting at Silver Falls
TV Series Review: Witches of East End, S1E4, "A Few Good Talismen"
Review: Killing His Fear by John B. Wren
Penguin Horror Classics Giveaway: American Supernatural Tales edited by S.T. Joshi
TV Series Review: American Horror Story: Coven, S3E4: "Fearful Pranks Ensue"

To see our partner's list of events, click here.

The posts above are subject to change at any time. Giveaways will last one week each. Thank you for stopping by!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

{Review} All Points North by Shelby R. Lee III

ISBN #: 978-1432755690
Page Count: 192
Copyright: August 23, 2010
Publisher: Outskirts Press

(Taken from back cover)

A remarkable- and moving-psychological journey into an unseen interior world.

Sometimes comical, always moving, and often starkly painful, the stories in this unique collection share one overriding similarity: an extraordinary ability to reveal the deep psychological complexities of the human experience. In All Points North, author Shelby Lee targets the unseen mental landscape that informs our daily lives. Here are 13 short stories that trace the roots of grief, anger, psychological torment and sorrow, and shine a much a needed light on our seemingly unexplainable behavior and attitudes.

A wide-ranging and ambitious collection, All Points North is a remarkable first work as intricate and nuanced as its subject matter.

Charlene's Review:

I have agonized over this review for a few days. While I appreciate Mr. Lee’s enthusiasm and dedication to the writing process, All Points North left me wandering, confused. His stream of consciousness writing made little sense to me and I had a hard time following the plot, or keeping my focus. I don’t usually read other reviews prior to writing my own, but in an effort to be fair, in case I just didn’t "get" his writing, I took a look. I am not alone in my opinion.

As a first-time work, Mr. Lee shows a lot of intelligence and potential for future projects, but I would hope he would take a closer look into his style and take the constructive criticism as a tool to further his work. My best wishes to him in his future endeavors.

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

Saturday, September 28, 2013

{Review} The Widows of Braxton County by Jess McConkey

ISBN #: 978-0062188267
Page Count: 384
Copyright: July 23, 2013
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Original Edition

Book Summary:
(Taken from back cover)

Kate is ready to put her nomadic, city-dwelling past behind her when she marries Joe Krause and moves with him to the Iowa farm that has been in his family for more than 140 years. But life on the farm isn't quite as idyllic as she'd hoped. It's filled with chores, judgmental neighbors, and her mother-in-law, who - unbeknownst to Kate until after the wedding - will be living with them.

As Kate struggles to find her place in the small farming community, she begins to realize that her husband and his family are not who she thought they were. According to town gossip, the Krause family harbors a long-kept secret about a mysterious death that haunts Kate as a dangerous, unexplainable chain of events begins.

Mandy's Review:

The book actually begins in 1890 with Hannah, Jacob, and Willie's story and flip-flops back-and-forth between then and present-day. Which, now that I look at the year, doesn't really coincide with the 140-year time-frame given in the summary, does it? I'm wondering if I now missed something during my reading saying that Jacob Krause was actually the second generation to own this farm.

Jacob was abusive and controlling with his first wife, whom died by "falling" down a flight of stairs, and his second wife, Hannah. Jacob's son from his first marriage, Joe, grew up under Jacob's harsh influence. Hannah is able to protect Willie, her son with Jacob, from the majority of Jacob's abuse so far. The saying goes "what goes around comes around" and with Jacob it did. He was murdered in his sleep and Hannah was framed for it. Without the use of forensics in 1890 it was Hannah's word against what seemed to be the facts. It also didn't help that her lawyer and the county attorney were in cahoots together and sent her off to an insane asylum.

The affects of Jacob and Hannah's story trickle down through the generations and are repeated over and over again. Joe's mother, Trudy, calls it the family curse, which is something Kate doesn't believe in. Kate hasn't seen any abusive behavior in Joe ... until they get back to Joe's farm and he is under the influence of his mother again. Kate, unlike the other Krause wives, won't stand for it and leaves the farm considering divorce. Joe eventually agrees to go to marital counseling with her and the couple seem to be heading towards a reconciliation when the unthinkable happens: Joe is murdered by being stabbed in the same manor Jacob was and Kate is framed for his murder.

At first I didn't think Kate's ending was similar to Hannah's, but in a way I guess they are. And please don't presume to think that you know how both of their stories ended by reading this review. I'm not going to tell you EVERYTHING that happened. That would ruin the story for you. =)

Overall, I enjoyed the comparisons to the past and present. The only thing I didn't really care for was how sinister Rose and Willie, Hannah's Willie's great-great-grandson, were portrayed in one part of the book. I wish that would've either been carried out to completion or softened a bit with the same ending it has now. Otherwise The Widows of Braxton County is an enjoyable and quick read. Not one of my favorites, but it would be one that I'd read again for fun.

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

Friday, September 27, 2013

{Meme} Book Blogger Hop: Weekly Memes

It's the final Book Blogger Hop post for September! This meme was kept alive by Billy from Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer.

This week's question:

What weekly memes do you follow on a regular basis?

Kathy's Response:

I like "It's Monday, What Are You Reading?" It's a good way to discover new books.

Mandy's Response:

The only meme I really follow is this one. My life's a tad busy right now for me to follow too many, but I would eventually like to expand our range of memes hosted on this blog.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

{Book Spotlight} Winter of Wishes by Charlotte Hubbard


Snow is falling, cookies are baking, and Christmas is just around the corner in Willow Ridge, Missouri, where a new season marks fresh beginnings for the residents of this tranquil Amish town . . . As another year draws to a close in Willow Ridge, life seems to be changing for everyone but Rhoda Lantz. Her widowed mother is about to remarry, her twin sister is a busy newlywed, and soon Rhoda will be alone in her cozy apartment above the blacksmith's shop. An ad posted by an Englischer looking for someone to help with his mother and children may offer just the companionship she's looking for, but if she falls for the caring single father, she may risk being shunned by her community. Certain she can only wish for things she cannot have, Rhoda must remember that all things are possible with God, and nothing is stronger than the power of love.

Purchase at:

barnes and noble     amazon  


I’ve called Missouri home for most of my life, and most folks don’t realize that several Old Older Amish and Mennonite communities make their home here, as well. The rolling pastureland, woods, and small towns along county highways make a wonderful setting for Plain populations—and for stories about them, too! While Jamesport, Missouri is the largest Old Order Amish settlement west of the Mississippi River, other communities have also found the affordable farm land ideal for raising crops, livestock, and running the small family-owned businesses that support their families. Like my heroine, Miriam Lantz, of my Seasons of the Heart series, I love to feed people—to share my hearth and home. I bake bread and goodies and I love to try new recipes. I put up jars and jars of green beans, tomatoes, beets and other veggies every summer. All my adult life, I’ve been a deacon, a dedicated church musician and choir member, and we hosted a potluck group in our home for more than twenty years. Like Abby Lambright, heroine of my Home at Cedar Creek series, I consider it a personal mission to be a listener and a peacemaker—to heal broken hearts and wounded souls. Faith and family, farming and frugality matter to me: like Abby, I sew and enjoy fabric arts—I made my wedding dress and the one Mom wore, too, when I married into an Iowa farm family more than thirty-five years ago! When I’m not writing, I crochet and sew, and I love to travel. I recently moved to Minnesota when my husband got a wonderful new job, so now he and I and our border collie, Ramona, are exploring our new state and making new friends. You can visit her website at

Winter Wishes Virtual Book Publicity Tour Schedule

Monday, September 16
Book reviewed at A Year of Jubilee Reviews
Interviewed and 1st chapter reveal at My Devotional Thoughts
Tuesday, September 17
Book reviewed at Teaberry Cottage
Interviewed at Raven Reviews
1st chapter reveal at Mom Loves 2 Read
Wednesday, September 18
Book reviewed at Book Him Danno
Book featured at 4 the Love of Books
Thursday, September 19
Book reviewed at Reviews from the Heart
Friday, September 20
Book reviewed at Lighthouse Academy
Tuesday, September 24
Book reviewed at Griperang's Bookmark
Wednesday, September 25
Thursday, September 26
Book reviewed at Books+Beach=Escape
Book featured at Literary R&R
Friday, September 27
Guest blogging at Shhh...Not While I'm Reading
Pump Up Your Book

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

{Review} The Voice is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac by Joyce Johnson

ISBN #: 978-0143123965
Page Count: 512
Copyright: August 27, 2013
Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint Edition

Book Summary:
(Taken from back cover)

Joyce Johnson brilliantly peels away layers of the Kerouac legend in this compelling book. Tracking Kerouac's development from his boyhood in Lowell, Massachusetts, through his fateful encounters with Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, and John Clellon Holmes to his periods of solitude and the phenomenal breakthroughs of 1951 that resulted in his composition of On the Road followed by Visions of Cody, Johnson shows how his French Canadian background drove him to forge a voice that could contain his dualities and informed his unique outsider's vision of America. This revelatory portrait deepens our understanding of a man whose life and work hold an enduring place in both popular culture and literary history.

Mandy's Review:

The interesting thing about biographies is the information you learn about a person that you may or may not have known about. I knew nothing about Jack Kerouac before reading The Voice is All ... and I'm still wondering how much I really know. The other interesting thing about biographies is that the information within is based (usually) on one person's perception of the one they're writing about. Most of the time, I take biographies with a grain of salt instead of as the absolute truth.

Joyce Johnson had a relationship with Jack. She relayed the facts: he was French-American, he lost his older brother Gerard when he was just a boy, and he was a very quiet, contemplative man. Jack never really talked about his older brother but, if Joyce paid close enough attention, certain mannerisms were evidence of Gerard's influence over Jack's life ... even years after Gerard's death.

In some ways Jack is like many other people. Others have family problems. Others have deaths in their family at a young age. Others travel around a lot. Others don't allow people to get close to them. With Jack, though, it's almost as if he took everything to heart and held it inside. He allowed situations to fester within himself and he eventually used all of those pent up emotions in his writing and poetry ... and ultimately became one of the greatest American writers of our time.

I enjoyed this biography and getting to (somewhat) know a man and writer I knew nothing about. I think others who have an interest in biographies would enjoy The Voice is All as well. Why not give it a try?

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

Monday, September 23, 2013

{Review} The Story of Rachel (Tales of Pandora) by K.D. McLean

ASIN #: B008QF042A
File Size: 481 KB
Page Count: 299
Copyright: July 27, 2012
Publisher: Monarch Moments Publishers; 5th Edition

Book Summary:
(Taken from Goodreads)

Rachel Collins is praying. And not for world peace. Thirty six years old and single, her prayer is self-centered. "Kill me now, Lord," she pleads during her latest attempt to meet Mr. Right via the internet.

She's not hoping for a billionaire or even a millionaire, just a guy who can strike a spark to her tinder! Is she asking too much? She's a great gal! Just ask her parents! She might be a bit naive about some things, but capable enough - she's a correspondent for a major magazine, after all. So there!

On assignment she meets Michael, 42 years old, also a writer. The attraction is immediate and intense. Rachel, who sees vanilla as only a baking ingredient, enchants him. Michael can whip up some pretty hot delights himself, outside of the kitchen. He introduces a curious Rachel to powerful experiences of sensuality. Her Ladylike sense of propriety engages in a running battle with her now sparked Tinderbox desires.

Michael is an excellent cook and knows how to turn up the heat. Sampling the flavors offered, Rachel experiences humorous hiccups. On a date, Michael ramps up the risque, resulting in a memorable skirt swirling salsa dance. Rachel's "What the hell, I ain't getting any younger" attitude spurs Michael to take her to the exclusive, adults only club Pandora's. Here, Rachel witnesses even more variations of earthly delights, and begins a lifelong friendship with another guest.

Michael is a realist, convinced that within 90 days, his affair with Rachel will be but another painful memory of loss. He is neither willing nor able to yell 'Geronimo' and fall for her. He can't, and that's that.

Maybe he should just get a damn dog.

This modern, urban, grown up love story is a recipe - three cups romance and one cup of slapdash humor. Blend in spices of eroticism, and beat until smooth.

Kathy's Review:

I had such high hopes for this book. The author's request for review was very cleverly written and humorous, so I thought that I would absolutely love it.

Then, a few pages in, I realized I had already read this book, but it had been called Fifty Shades of Grey. OK. That's not fair. I hated Fifty Shades, thought it was horribly written, and schlocky. I didn't hate The Story of Rachel, but I found myself saying, "REALLY?" a lot. Out loud. This was a much better written story than Fifty Shades, but basically the same concept. Naive woman meets hot guy who shows her the world of bondage and domination and subs and stuff like that. It's hot in places, but over the top. Then it turns into a rom/com at the end, where you can almost see the role of Rachel being played by Kate Hudson or someone like that, and you're rooting for everything to work out before the final credits roll.

One thing I did enjoy was the author's sense of humor. It's obvious she has a sharp wit and she infuses this into her characters. Frankly, the humor was what got me through this book. Otherwise I would have just been squirming through the whole thing. Some of the dom and sub stuff really creeped me out. Call me prude or whatever, but it's definitely not something I would ever find myself doing.

So that about sums it up. Funny but kinky, and if that's your thing, then you will like it.

*A Smashwords coupon code was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

{Review} The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

ISBN #: 978-0670023660
Page Count: 563
Copyright: August 1, 2013
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books; First Edition

Book Summary:
(Taken from dustjacket flap)

Nora Fischer's dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman. During a miserable weekend at a friend's wedding, Nora gets lost and somehow walks through a portal into a different world, with only her copy of Pride and Prejudice in her back pocket. There, she meets glamorous, charming Ilissa, who introduces her to a new world of decadence and riches. Nora herself feels different: more attractive; more popular. Soon, her romance with the gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It's almost too good to be true.

Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora's new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally - and a reluctant one at that - is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Aruendiel's student - and learning real magic herself - to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her "real life" against the dangerous power of love and magic.

Mandy's Review:

Nora lives in present-day and, like many of us, does not believe in magic. Even after she walks into another world and is enchanted by the Faitoren Queen. Nora's time spent with the Faitoren is magical and transforms her in ways she never thought possible. She becomes compliant and unthinking, but also beautiful and wanted. When the Queen's son, Raclin, chooses to spend time with her and court her, Nora is surprised and overwhelmed. Their courtship culminates into a marriage rather quickly. Nora is now beginning to sense things aren't quite right within the Faitoren kingdom, but she is too enchanted to be able to say how she really feels. It is during Nora's pregnancy that she realizes the full extent of the trouble she's in and, thanks to a chance encounter with a magician, she calls to him for help and is able to escape her Faitoren prison.

Aruendiel is reluctant to help Nora escape, but has given his word so he responds when her call for help comes to him. Nora is on the verge of death giving birth to her half-breed baby and Aruendiel helps save her yet again. Once she's healed, Nora continues living with Aruendiel. She "earns her keep" by helping out where she's needed. Aruendiel eventually begins teaching Nora how to perform magic due to her natural inclination towards the practice. The bond between Nora and Aruendial is tentative, but it continues to grow. By the time a passage back to her world opens up, their bond has grown so much that Nora's torn about whether to stay or leave.

This was an interesting book. Even though there were instances of extreme magical situations, I didn't find the story to be instantaneously emotional. Rather, the emotions of story built within the reader over time. I know the book is over 500 pages, but don't let that intimidate you. The story flows really well and before you know it you've read over 100 pages in one sitting.

If you like immediate emotionalism, like with thrillers, then The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic is not for you. If you enjoy literary fiction that builds within you over time, then this book is perfect for you.

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

Friday, September 20, 2013

{Meme} Book Blogger Hop: Favorite Genre

Welcome to another weekly edition of the Book Blogger Hop, hosted by Billy from Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer.

This week's question:

What is your favorite genre? List two of your favorite books in that genre.

Kathy's Response:

I love literary fiction. Two that spring to mind that I enjoyed recently are Gone Girl and Life of Pi.

Mandy's Response:

I love thrillers, mystery and horror equally. Two of my favorites are classics by the fear-master himself, Stephen King. They are It and Misery.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

{Review} Martyr's Moon by J.E. Lowder

File Size: 705 KB
Page Count: 463
Copyright: February 19, 2013
Publisher: WordCrafts Press

Book Summary:
(Taken from Goodreads)

The Council of Ebon encircle the Cauldron, their grotesque features shrouded in shadows. With voices like ice shards scraping against stone, they disclosed their dark prophesy ...

Mothers, guard babes: Fathers, draw steel,
Thunder approaches, soon blood on the fields.
Tempest of war, so black and so vile,
Spreads o'er Allsbruth; lament suckling child.

War between the dark nation of Ebon and rebel forces is imminent.
The Martyr's Moon rises. The blood of a storyteller is spilled.
Hope vanishes.
Yet in night, the King of Claire whispers.

Kathy's Review:

I really enjoyed Book One of this series, Tears of Min Brock, and was looking forward to reading this installment. I didn't enjoy this one as much, mostly because it was so long, and because there were more characters to focus on this time around. However, as the book got going, the action propelled me forward and I found pages of this book melting away as I read on.

The Martyr's Moon does make an appearance in this book, which means that a storyteller is killed. Without spoiling the story I will say that it is a major character. And they aren't the only casualty in this book. (Although I have hope we'll see one of the fallen again ...)

At the end of the book, nothing has quite been resolved. Elabea, aka Ela Claire, who is still at the heart of this book, is losing hope, but others are gathering momentum around her for Claire. It will be interesting to see where this story goes in book three. Hopefully it won't be as lengthy (I have so many books to review and so little time), but will be just as engaging.

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

Monday, September 16, 2013

{Review} Destiny Gardens by John Harrison

ISBN #: 978-0615829715
Page Count: 350
Copyright: July 6, 2013
Publisher: House Bean Boy

(Taken from back cover)

A disparate group of abandoned kids in the late 1950's band together for survival in a vacant and derelict public meeting hall. In their Dickensian world, they cross paths with Mafia godfather, Charles "Lucky" Luciano, and a sinister New Orleans pimp named Rance Charles who has arrived to reclaim what's his.

In the style of Stephen King's The Body (aka Stand by Me), and the novels of S.E. Hinton, Destiny Gardens opens a door into a world not long ago where the definition of "child" and "adult" was a distinction without a difference.

Charlene's Review:

Destiny Gardens introduces the reader to a group of ragtag adolescents thrown together by the need for survival. Dwelling in an abandoned building, they form their own kind of family life, always a step ahead of truant officers and foster care. Set in the 50's, Mr. Harrison paints a picture of a simpler life, yet one of poverty and social injustice.

Destiny Gardens is an enchanting read from another time in history. I felt as if I was watching the unlikely group through a frosted window, as they attempted to make a life and family out of their own personal wreckages. Through trials and triumphs, the young residents of Destiny Gardens fight to survive, and I felt blessed as a reader to watch as they matured and grew together.

There are many sub-stories that come together to make this novel work, and I felt it wove together flawlessly. Each of the characters had a very separate identity, and brought a vital element to the story. The ending leaves the possibility of a sequel, which I would gladly read. Destiny Gardens deals with a sad reality in a hopeful, charming voice. Definitely worth the read.

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

Sunday, September 15, 2013

{2013 TBR Pile Challenge} Check In

Unfortunately, Kathy nor Mandy are where they'd like to be with this challenge right now. We have a feeling that as it gets closer to the holidays, time is going to be even tighter than usual and we will be struggling to finish this challenge on time ... but we are determined women and we will do it!

Here is what we've read so far for this challenge:

Kathy (5/12)

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Mandy (8/12)

Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison
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

Saturday, September 14, 2013

{2013 TBR Pile Challenge} Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison

ISBN #: 978-0060572969
Page Count: 432
Copyright: April 27, 2004
Publisher: Harper Voyager

Book Summary:
(Taken from back cover)

All the creatures of the night gather in "the Hollows" of Cincinnati, to hide, to prowl, to party ... and to feed.

Vampires rule the darkness in a predator-eat-predator world rife with dangers beyond imagining - and it's Rachel Morgan's job to keep that world civilized.

A bounty hunter and witch with serious sex appeal and an attitude, she'll bring 'em back alive, dead ... or undead.

Mandy's Review:

The earth is populated with witches, weres, vampires, pixies, fairies and other otherworldly creatures. Once hidden, they now live out in the open among the humans. Two organizations vie for top-dog position and are always at war with each other: the Inderland Security (I.S.), ran by the otherworldly creatures, and the Federal Inderland Bureau (FIB), ran by humans. Rachel Morgan is a "runner" for the I.S. Whenever an otherworldly creature does something wrong and is in hiding, she chases them down, finds them, tags them, and takes them off to jail. Lately, though, her assignments have been more and more humiliating. Rachel believes it's the I.S.'s way of getting her to quit her job, which means if she leaves there won't be a contract out on her for her death ... or will there?

Ivy, a non-practicing living vamp, leaves the I.S. with Rachel. Though a little wary to live with a vamp, Rachel has no other options. Her apartment has been tagged by her ex-boss's runners and all of her stuff has to be de-spelled. Ivy has found them a home in a church, of all places, and can give Rachel the protection she needs until they figure a way to pay off Rachel's contract.

Over the course of the novel Rachel takes risks in getting the information she needs to help pay off her contract. Some of her risks pay off and others almost kill her. Rachel also unknowingly puts herself in danger with Ivy. After their one major incident, Ivy decides to let Rachel in on some vamp secrets so that Rachel doesn't make the same mistakes again. Although Rachel doesn't entirely trust Ivy to not vamp out on her, she is thankful for Ivy's protection.

My favorite character, though, has to be Jenks. Jenks is a pixie and Rachel's backup. He rides around on Rachel's earring, is able to unlock any door, put security cameras on a 15-minute loop, smell people and determine what they are (whether human or creature), and use his pixie dust as a weapon or a help depending on the situation. Jenks is smart, but sarcastic. Helpful, but annoying.

Overall, I really enjoyed my first foray into Kim Harrison's imagined world. I'd be curious to read the other books in The Hollows series and see how things turn out for Rachel ... especially with her demon mark she acquired.

If you haven't read any of Kim Harrison's novels and you enjoy paranormal-type stories, then you would enjoy Dead Witch Walking.

Friday, September 13, 2013

{Meme} Book Blogger Hop

Hello bookish peeps! We hope your week has been wonderful and that you have awesome plans for the weekend! To get this weekend started we're participating in the Book Blogger Hop hosted by Billy from Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer.

This week's question:

Are you in a book club? How does your book club choose books? How far in advance do you choose?

Kathy's Response:

My book club meets about every six weeks, and we choose our next book while we are discussing the current book. Lately though, the book club has been less about books and more about wine. =)

Mandy's Response:

I would love to be a member of a book club, but my city does not have one that I'm aware of. I would consider starting one but am not sure how to go about it. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

{Review} The River is Dark by Joe Hart

ISBN #: 978-0615866642
Page Count: 214
Copyright: August 6, 2013
Publisher: Black Spine Books

(Taken from back cover)

Ex-homicide detective Liam Dempsey is waiting to die.

His career, the only thing he ever knew how to do well, is over. The single solace each day brings is the ever-growing contemplation of suicide.

But when his estranged brother and sister-in-law are brutally murdered in their bucolic town set on the banks of the Mississippi River, he is drawn into an investigation surrounding a string of killings unlike anything he has ever seen before. The murder is ruthless, cunning, and without conscience.

Soon Liam learns that the river is dark.

And so are its secrets.

Charlene's Review:

Liam Dempsey's law enforcement career ended with a fatal mistake. Paralyzed by guilt and depression, he takes a phone call that will soon have him investigating, once more, as he tries to solve the murder of his brother and sister-in-law, by a possible serial killer. In the midst of the investigation, all he has uncovered may be ignored when his past comes back and is revealed. But Liam is not the only one in town with secrets.

Having read one of Mr. Hart's prior novels, I was familiar with his writing style, and graphic horror genre. The River is Dark is similar but is more in the genre of mystery/thriller. As much as I enjoyed Singularity, The River is Dark is by far my favorite of the two.

Mr. Hart keeps the suspense rolling and even with the clues given, you are never sure of who or what the "monster" is until the reveal. Excellent writing, believable characters, and terrific storytelling all combined in this relatively small book that culminates in a spine-tingling ride to redemption for the main character. I was spellbound throughout. Would love to see more of this style of writing from Mr. Hart, and even perhaps, some more with Liam Dempsey.

5 out of 5 stars!

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

Monday, September 9, 2013

{Review} Searching for Tom Sawyer by Tim Wright

ISBN #: 978-1449786205
Page Count: 158
Copyright: March 12, 2013
Publisher: WestBow Press

Book Summary:
(Taken from Amazon)

The Story of Boys - Lost in the Twenty-first Century:

  • 70% of all Ds and Fs go to boys
  • 85% of stimulant-addressing medications prescribed in the world are prescribed to US boys
  • Boys are falling behind girls in virtually every area of life
  • 70-90% of boys will leave the church in their teens and early twenties

Searching for Tom Sawyer offers parents and church leaders a compelling vision and practical principles for how, together, they can change that storyline by forging boys into heroic men.

Mandy's Review:

I was surprised by how much I wound up enjoying this book. When it first began I was thinking, "What about the girls?" After finishing the book, which is an extremely quick read, I better understood the author's point of view.

Think about the church services and Sunday school classes you've sat in. Weren't most of the songs singing about the love of Jesus, chasing after Him, yearning for him, etc? What about Sunday school classes? Most of the classes consist of reading or sitting and listening quietly to the lesson. All of these things cater to how little girls (and women) think, but not to little boys. Little boys are full of testosterone, which means they are active and learn better when busy. It's understandable, then, why there is an exodus of boys/men out of the church into the world searching for something and/or someone to show them how to be a man. 

It also doesn't help that the majority of our society no longer actively participate in rites of passage for little boys. Rites of passage are important because they usually consist of a challenge the boy must accomplish. Once the challenge has been met and defeated, a ceremony or celebration happens giving the boy a definitive rite of passage from boyhood to manhood. Without the rites of passage, we risk our little boys never growing up into men. We risk them forever being little boys in grown men bodies. No woman wants to marry a little boy.

Along with the insight into little boys and their spiritual needs, Searching for Tom Sawyer provides various resources church leaders can check out to begin learning how to correct the female-centered services. The author also graciously provides some sample lessons that can be used to entice boys into learning about Jesus.

I know this book isn't for everyone out there. However, if you're a Sunday School teacher of third grade boys or above, or a pastor of a church, then I would recommend reading this book. There is a lot of knowledge, truth, information, and some radical ideas, packed into these few pages. I believe this is a timely book as this world is in need of strong men who have a heart and passion for following Jesus and becoming leaders in their home, church, and community.

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

Sunday, September 8, 2013

{Back to the Classics Challenge - Review} Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

I was at the library last night with the kids, looking for books that my third grader will read (a daunting task), and I came upon all the Judy Blume books that I read back in the day. But there’s one that I never read, and I put it on my “Back to the Classics” reading challenge list this year as an alternate.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret was deemed “too racy” for us to read when I was in grade school. It was in our school library, but none of us had the guts to check it out. One of my girl friends owned a copy and I remember giggling over the chant the girls did in the book … ‘We MUST! We MUST! We must increase our bust!”

One day, Chris S., one of the most popular kids in my grade, boldly checked it out and he and the other eighth grade boys read it on the playground as all of us girls huddled around in disbelief and embarrassment. I wish I hadn’t wasted half of my eighth grade year crushing on him – he was a jerk then and he’s still a jerk now.

But I digress.

Reading Are You There God now, as an adult, it seems comical to think that we were all so worked up over this book. First, as it was written in the 70′s, it seems extremely outdated. Second, the topics that may have been taboo back then, and back in the 80′s when I was growing up, are more freely discussed.

Margaret is a sixth grader who moves to a new school and becomes part of a group of girl friends called the PTS’s (Pre-Teen Sensations). They are all in a hurry to grow up, get breasts, wear bras, get their period, and discover the mysteries of kissing a boy. I wish I could make a guest appearance in the book and tell them that none of those things are what they’re cracked up to be (except the kissing a boy part, and even then, it’s not special unless there’s a spark – not some forced smooch in the closet at a co-ed party during “Two Minutes in Heaven.”). There’s something nostalgic about this innocence they all have – eleven year old girls today are way more knowledgeable about sex than they should be.

Definitely glad I finally read it, if for nothing more than to see how much things have changed even from when I was a kid. I also checked out a couple of other Judy Blume titles to take a trip down memory lane – and perhaps pass some of the more “PG” titles on to my son. He will not be reading this one, however!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

{Review} Zaremba: or Love and the Rule of Law by Michelle Granas

ISBN #: 978-0988859203
Page Count: 518
Copyright: January 28, 2013
Publisher: Michelle Granas; 1st Edition

Book Summary:
(Taken from Goodreads)

In Warsaw, a shy and high-minded polio victim lives a live of seclusion caring for her odd family until a chance encounter plunges her into the intrigues of dirty politics. Zaremba, a wealthy businessman, is about to be arrested on trumped-up charges and only she can save him. Swept along by events, Cordelia finds her feelings increasingly involved with a stranger for whom she is both rescuer and victim. When Zaremba is implicated in terrorist activities and disappears, Cordelia is painfully uncertain if she has been abandoned and must overcome surveillance, corruption, the media, and mounting humiliations and difficulties to learn the truth.

This is a story about love between a man and woman, but also love of family, country, and justice. Although set in Poland, where the CIA had a black site, it is a story that could happen anywhere, in a world where young democracies struggle against the temptations of covert operations and older democracies sometimes lead them astray.

Kathy's Review:

This is a rather lengthy novel which depicts a series of life-changing random encounters between Cordelia and Darek Zaremba. A strong woman who has to overcome a physical disability in order to care for her eccentric and mentally ill family, Cordelia gets caught up in a plot to implicate Zaremba in criminal activity. As she gets to know him, she realizes he could never be capable of what he's being accused, and sets out to find the truth.

I was much more interested in the romance between these two unlikely characters than I was about the politics that was going on in the novel. Maybe it's because it takes place in Poland, so it didn't quite hit home with me. I also liked her odd family, and how she really held things together.

While the characters were intriguing, and the plot was nicely done, I didn't feel this book merited being 500+ pages long. With some careful editing, I think this story could have been told in about 300, or perhaps less. Its length is daunting, and it's not gripping enough for the average reader to invest the amount of time it takes to read a novel of this size. However, I commend the author for this imaginative political thriller/love story.

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

Friday, September 6, 2013

{Meme} Book Blogger Hop

Oh my goodness! Can you believe it's already September?!!! Christmas will be here before you know it! So, anyway, welcome to the first installment of September's Book Blogger Hop, kept alive by Billy from Ramblings of a Coffee Addicted Writer.

This week's question:

What got you started as a blogger? Everyone has a story/reason, what's yours?

Kathy's Response:

I felt that blogging was a perfect way to share my writing style with a large amount of people. I had majored in journalism in college, but did not pursue a career in that field. I missed having an outlet to write, and blogging filled that gap perfectly.

Mandy's Response:

I don't have a story like Kathy's. I started blogging because I wanted a place to write down my thoughts that didn't require pen and paper. Then, when that didn't pan out, I started a new blog. A blog about books. The rest, as they say, is history.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

{Review} Lions of Scotland: Lords of Hume Castle by Thomas E. Greenlaw

ISBN #: 978-1475155815
Page Count: 712
Copyright: May 2, 2013
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

Book Summary:
(Taken from back cover)

Since the beginning of recorded history few people have fought longer and harder for their freedom and independence than the inhabitants of the diminutive nation of Scotland. From their earliest history they fought; Scots with the Picts; Scots with the Romans; and Scots with the English.

Though outnumbered ten to one, for three centuries they fought against the English enduring many massacres, including King Edward I's annihilation, in 1296 A.D., of all the men, women and children of the town of Berwick, then held by Scotland.

By the start of the sixteenth century, the Cheviot Hills provided a clear line between the two countries, a line repeatedly crossed by raiders (reivers) on both sides, and many a skirmish escalated to a bloody battle. This relentless fighting continued until the Union of the Crowns, in 1603.

Scottish ability to resisted their numerically superior enemy was enabled by the powerful families of the Borderland, like the Scotts, the Kerrs and especially the family of Humes led by the Lords of Hume Castle.

This is the story of the Humes' interminable struggle; their victories and defeats, their loves and hates; their joy and despair during a bitter time of indecisive rulers, a decadent Catholic Church, witchcraft and unthinkable treason, treachery and murder.

Mandy's Review:

I've never heard of the Humes before reading this novel. Their story, while historically accurate concerning dates and who was reigning, is depicted fictionally in Lions of Scotland. Despite its length, the Humes' story was very engaging and easy to read.

There were a couple things that could have been changed to take this book from good to great. The first is the dialect. The Humes were a Scottish clan. I would have loved to see the Scottish dialect depicted in this novel. Even though it can be a little difficult to read and understand, it would have lent an authenticity to the Humes' story. As it stands, the book changes back and forth between the Scottish dialect and the English dialect, which can be slightly confusing when you're really into the story and the dialect changes all of a sudden. The second change is the length of the novel. Not many people are willing to read a novel that is over 700 pages. It's a little intimidating. Perhaps if the novel were split into two books it would have greater success. Part One would be the perfect amount for the first book leaving Part Two as the second book. That would make the Humes' story much more manageable to consume. I think an editor could easily make these corrections.

If you're looking for a novel that makes history come alive, Lions of Scotland is for you. With all of the battles, intrigues, complicated love stories, and deceits, this novel is sure to appeal to many people.

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

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

{Review} What Maisie Knew by Henry James

ISBN #: 978-0143124634
Page Count: 320
Copyright: May 1, 2013
Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint Edition

Book Summary:
(Taken from back cover)

After her parents' bitter divorce, young Maisie finds herself shuttled between her selfish mother Ida and her vain father Beale Farange, who value her only as a means for provoking each other. When both take lovers and remarry, Maisie - solitary, observant, and wise beyond her years - is drawn into an entangled adult world of intrigue and sexual betrayal, until she is at last able to cooperate in choosing her own future.

A subtle yet devastating tale of a crumbling relationship told from a child's-eye view, What Maisie Knew remains as relevant and vital today as it was when first published more than one hundred years ago.

Mandy's Review:

Divorce is difficult on the children involved, especially when the parents use the child(ren) as leverage in their disputes. Maisie is used by her parents. She'll live for a time with one parent becoming familiar with her routines and hearing all of the secrets being discussed. Then, when the parent Maisie is currently living with wants to irritate the other parent, they take Maisie to the other parent's residence. Nothing satisfies Maisie's parents more than to "dump" Maisie on one another knowing that it causes a disruption to their lives. Poor Maisie doesn't seem to have a loving parent to save her life. Throughout the entire story, Maisie is tossed back and forth between the two families. Nobody really seems to love Maisie, they only seem to love how she can be used.

I think I've realized that literary classics are not for me. It takes me a few chapters to even get involved in the story. By then, I'm able to look past the language and see the story for what it is. What Maisie Knew kept my interest for the first half of the book, but then the writing style overshadowed the story it was supposed to be telling. I struggled through the rest of the book. Just because it's not for me, though, I think that lovers of literary classics should give this story a try ... especially since there is a movie being made (has been made?) about it.

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

** This is #792 on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list.

Monday, September 2, 2013

{Review} Welcome Home, Mama and Boris by Carey Neesley

ISBN #: 978-1621451150
Page Count: 224
Copyright: August 29, 2013
Publisher: Readers Digest

Book Summary:
(Taken from back cover)

A fallen soldier, a grieving sister, two strays, and one question: How to extract the dogs from a war zone and bring them safely to a new home in the United States?

Part memoir, part suspense story, Welcome Home, Mama and Boris draws readers into the turmoil of a sister struggling to accept her brother's death and finding solace in rescuing the animals he had befriended on the streets of Baghdad. Saints and saviors emerge one by one, and as the operation gains momentum, Carey feels Peter's guiding hand behind it all and comes to believe that angels truly live here on earth.

Mandy's Review:

I'm a sucker for dogs. They are my favorite animal of all-time ... so how I wound up with cats as pets, I'll never understand. Combine dogs with an American hero and you have a book that I couldn't resist.

Peter and Carey were close growing up, so close they felt like twins. When Carey became a single mom, it was Peter who stepped in and became a father to Patrick. When Peter decided to enlist in the Army, Carey was understandably upset but she made up her mind to be as supportive to Peter as he had been to her and Patrick. During his tours, Carey would send care packages and letters to Peter but what really helped Carey keep her sanity were the weekly phone calls on Sunday. It's during those phone calls that Peter tells her about the dogs that he's befriended. Over time, the dogs become Peter's pets and he discusses with Carey how to get them from Baghdad to America when his tour is over.

Then, on Christmas Day, Carey receives the worst news possible: Peter has died, not in battle but, ironically, in his sleep. It's during the planning and preparation of Peter's funeral that Carey remembers the dogs, Mama and Boris. Through some intricate planning and the help of strangers, Mama and Boris finally make it home to Michigan. Their success inspires Carey to help other soldiers and their families with the same dilemma.

Welcome Home, Mama and Boris is a heartwarming, touching story, but it did make me wonder ... There are so many other soldiers' families who are going through the same thing, if not more, and yet their story hasn't been told. Was Carey and Peter's story told because they had national media coverage while trying to get Mama and Boris to America? Nothing against Carey, Peter, Mama, and Boris, but I want to know the other soldiers' stories. I want to know about the soldiers and their families that the majority of America doesn't already know about. I did appreciate the websites listed for the organizations that helped Carey bring the dogs back. Perhaps this is the beginning of our being able to hear about all of the other military family stories. I hope so.

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

Sunday, September 1, 2013

{Review} Silk Armor by Claire Sydenham

ISBN #: 978-0615774749
Page Count: 352
Copyright: April 30, 2013
Publisher: Old Harbour Press

Book Description:
(Taken from Amazon)

Her name is Didem, a young Turkish woman. She has managed to escape the hopeless future she faced in her village, and has entered university. There she meets Victor, an American instructor teaching English. When they become lovers, however, Didem is propelled into an entirely new and dangerous future. The obstacles and threats their relationship faces leads Didem and Victor into plans of escape, an escape Didem must keep secret.

Silk Armor follows her adventure through her battles with her community, her culture, her traditions and conscience, leading to her realization that though these battles may be lost her war can still be won.

Charlene's Review:

Silk Armor is a powerful story of cultural ties, veiled existence, and deep-seated beliefs. Focusing on Didem, a student, and her love affair with her American instructor, Ms. Sydenham takes us on a journey through another country where religion and familial ties are a burden holding a young girl back from her dreams. Adding into the plot is a disappearance of another student and an in-depth explanation of a foreign culture.

What struck me the most in Silk Armor was the haunted characters. All of Ms. Sydenham's characters have secrets, burdens, or a calling that they are in battle against. As they struggle between their circumstance and their pull towards "more," they learn what they may gain, or lose, in order to break away.

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