Sunday, February 7, 2016

My take on: Noah's Wife

A minister and her wife arrive in a dreary, wet, gray town. It rains all day and all night. It has rained for as long as anyone can remember. The people in this community are very tight-knit. The community is resistant to change -- and to newcomers. But as the rains increase, and the rivers rise this town will have to change. Their lives depend on it.

Noah's Wife by Lindsay Starck is a modern-day take on Noah's Ark.

From beginning to end, I wasn't sure what to make of this book. I liked the writing. I liked the characters. When I was finished, I was left with "what does this all mean?" I'm not overtly religious. I was worried about that going into this book.

Was this going to be a book preaching about the virtues of religion?

It's not a preachy book. This is a story about people. About the people they love. About the choices they make. About the consequences. About the future. These are themes that everyone can relate to.

Noah has been assigned to this town after the previous minister died under mysterious circumstances. Noah believes he can help this town. He believes he can help restore the town's faith in God and in each other. Noah's Wife want to help her husband. All she has to do is be supportive and make friends. But both of them were drowning before they arrived in this town. Noah's faith in himself and in God is waning. Noah's Wife has lost herself in her marriage.

The townspeople are equally in turmoil. Mrs. McGinn is the town matriarch. People come to her for help, but she has trouble solving problems within her own family. Mrs. McGinn's daughter, Angela Rose, wants out of this town. Her fiance, the zookeeper, wants to stay. But both of them have trouble expressing their feelings. The zookeeper loves Mrs. McGinn's daughter, but he also loves taking care of the animals at the local zoo. Who would take care of the animals if he wasn't there? Mrs. McGinn's daughter doesn't understand that desire to help others. She only understands her desire to leave this town. Mauro, the local shopkeeper, has literally lost his life savings to this town. That money was going to be his way out. Where will his motivation to go on come from?

With the ever increasing water in the town, the animals are forced out of the zoo and into the homes of everyone in town. Snakes, peacocks, penguins, alligators, zebras, and more flood the community. The weatherman, who is an outsider, tries to warn the town of the increasing danger. The weatherman tries to get them to leave before they all die. But if they try to leave, it will force the town to face their problems. No one wants to face their problems in this town.

The ending is a bit open-ended, but I can't see the book ending any other way. There's hope for the town, but things could easily go the other way. But if there is something that bugged me about this book, it's the names. Why couldn't Noah's Wife get a name? I wasn't referring to her that way by accident. Unless I missed it, Noah's Wife never got an actual name. Otherwise, this is a book that I would recommend and an author I would read again.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Penguin) in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

One more book to add to the TBR

I loved Taylor Jenkins Reid's last book, Maybe in Another Life. And now....I'm looking forward to her next book, One True Loves.

In her twenties, Emma Blair marries her high school sweetheart, Jesse. They build a life for themselves, far away from the expectations of their parents and the people of their hometown in Massachusetts. They travel the world together, living life to the fullest and seizing every opportunity for adventure.

On their first wedding anniversary, Jesse is on a helicopter over the Pacific when it goes missing. Just like that, Jesse is gone forever.

Emma quits her job and moves home in an effort to put her life back together. Years later, now in her thirties, Emma runs into an old friend, Sam, and finds herself falling in love again. When Emma and Sam get engaged, it feels like Emma’s second chance at happiness.

That is, until Jesse is found. He’s alive, and he’s been trying all these years to come home to her. With a husband and a fiancĂ©, Emma has to now figure out who she is and what she wants, while trying to protect the ones she loves.

Who is her one true love? What does it mean to love truly?

Emma knows she has to listen to her heart. She’s just not sure what it’s saying.

Taylor Jenkins Reid is an essayist and novelist living in Los Angeles and the acclaimed author of Maybe in Another Life, After I Do, and Forever, Interrupted. Before becoming a writer, she worked in entertainment and education.

Friday, January 1, 2016

My take on: Freedom's Child

Freedom's Child by Jax Miller is the story of a mother in turmoil. 

Freedom Oliver is on the run. On the run from her past. On the run from her future. On the run from herself. Sooner or later Freedom will have to stop running. She will have to face her demons before they consume her.

Years ago, Freedom Oliver used to be Nessa Delaney. How did she become Freedom? After being convicted and then exonerated of her husband Mark's murder nearly twenty years earlier. Matthew, one of Mark's crazy brothers, ends up taking Nessa's place in prison. Once out of prison, Nessa wants to be reunited with her young children, Ethan and Layla, but decides to put their safety and well-being first. The crazy Delaney's, Mark's mother Lynn, and his brothers, Matthew, Luke, and John, want Nessa dead. Only Peter, the sane member of the Delaney siblings, has a soft spot for Nessa. But he's confined to a wheelchair, and doesn't have the strength to protect Nessa from his family. Nessa's only option is to enter Witness Protection, and the kids are put up for adoption.

Life goes on, and Nessa becomes Freedom a reckless, alcoholic, and destructive mess. The past forever haunts Freedom. To numb the pain, she drinks to excess. She goes from dead end job to dead end job. But she can't forget her children. She keeps track of them via social media. Ethan and Layla, have now become Mason and Rebekah Paul, raised in a religious cult. Only Mason has managed to escape the cult, focusing on his education and becoming a lawyer. Rebekah wasn't so lucky, she's in deep.

The past and the present come to a head for Freedom when Matthew is released from prison and Rebekah disappears. Freedom can either stay put or find Rebekah. Freedom doesn't care about herself. She only cares about Rebekah's safety. The motherly instincts kicks in. Mason and the Delaney brothers are also on the hunt for Rebekah. For the Delaney's, finding Rebekah means finding Freedom and getting revenge. For Mason, finding Rebekah means reconnecting with his sister.

I was going through a reading slump when I started this, so it took me a couple months to finish this. The chapters are very short, so when I was reading this I was very engaged. As a character, Freedom can be funny, sarcastic, depressing, and reckless all at the same time. But sometimes she was a little annoying. I just wanted her to grow up. At times, some of the situations seemed a little far-fetched. Keeping the plot and number of characters straight was a little hard. I think the author threw everything but the kitchen sink at these characters. Just when you think they can't take anymore, something else happens. The ending was sad and happy. Freedom finally finds some peace but it comes at a price. Overall, I think this was a solid debut. I would definitely read another book by Jax Miller.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy from Penguin Random House's Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 is so over, let's look forward to 2016 !!

It's that time of year. A time when everyone begins to reflect on the past year. What have we accomplished and what haven't we accomplished? I personally finished a big goal, getting my Masters degree. I don't say that to brag. It's really just a fancy piece of paper. I was never wrapped up in getting another degree. My end goal was to get a new job, and if I happened to graduate that was just extra icing on the cake. 

Now, I have lots of extra free time. Free time that I'm often not sure what to do with. I had grand visions of using that time to catch up on my reading. It didn't happen. While I was in school, I spent every weekend chained to my desk and my laptop. At work, I look at words for most of the day. When the end of the day comes and it's time to wind down, I don't always want to look at more words. That's why I read the least amount of books, than I have in four years. My initial goal for 2015 was 40 books, but I lowered that to 30. I only read 27 books, I wish I could have read more. Some days I just did not want to read. I did not want to post anything on my blog. I continued to buy more books, but have read very few of them. Some days I really feel bad for slacking on my reading. 

I think I'm getting over my reading lull. Like many book bloggers, I want to do better in 2016. I know I will do better. I'm aiming high for 2016, with a goal of reading 75 books. It's an ambitious goal. I might not make it. The number isn't that important. What's important is that I have fun doing it.

Before I get to my reading resolutions for 2016, lets look back at 2015. I don't feel I read enough to do a best and worst books list. Instead, I focused on the best books I did read and tropes/cliches I'm tired of hearing about. 
Best books of 2015
(Please note, not all of these books were published in 2015. I just happened to read them in 2015)

1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah: I love, love historical fiction. This one is set during World War II. Two sisters are put to the test. Risking not just their freedom, but their lives.

2. Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid: What if fate gave you a chance to see yourself on two completely different paths?

3. The Martian by Andy Weir: Never thought I'd like a sci-fi book, but I did. It was funny all the way to the end, and so was the movie!
4. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins: This one started out slow, but I loved it by the end. I have high hopes for the movie!

5. Evergreen Springs by RaeAnne Thayne: A sweet holiday romance!

6. Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan: I did not review this on my blog. This was an office book club pick. This one mixes music and magic. It's the story of how one harmonica played a pivotal role in the lives of three children.

7. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: I read the whole series (did not review on the blog). I read all three books and watched the movies in preparation for the final movie. The first book is my favorite. I feel this one set the tone for the rest of the series.

8. George by Alex Gino: Another office book club pick (did not review on the blog). A little girl desperately wants to play the lead role in the school production of Charlotte's Web. But she's afraid to tell anyone. Why? This little girl was born a boy. I highly recommend it.

Tropes/Cliches I'm tired of hearing!!

"It's just like Gone Girl" "For fans of Gillian Flynn" "For fans of Gone Girl" "For fans of.......": No, no, no, no. Why can't books just stand on their own? Why constantly compare them to blockbuster books and authors? 

Love triangles in young adult books: While I loved The Hunger Games series, I was tired of the whole Peeta or Gale business. This trope seems to be in soooooooooo many YA books. It's time to retire it.

Print vs. digital: My personal opinion, print is not dead. But digital hasn't completely taken over either. Every year there is an argument that publishers should increase their digital initiatives, along with 20 more stories that print is the better option. Enough already!

Reading resolutions for 2016!
(other than the first one, the rest are listed in no particular order)

Read more of my own books: As in I must read more of the books I made the effort to search for and purchase. I spend hundreds of dollars every year on books, but I rarely read my own books. I put review books above my own TBR pile. That stops in 2016. Fifty percent of the books I read in 2016 have to be my own. That is one resolution I have to keep. How bad have I been at reading my own books? Take a look below:

2015: 5 out 27 books (18.5%) I read were my own
2014: 3 out of 37 books (8.1%) I read were my own
2013: 3 out of 60 books (5%) I read were my own
2012: 0 out of 76 books I read were my own

I suppose the silver lining here is that each year since 2012 I've read more of my own books. But still those numbers are abysmal. I vow to change that in 2016. I will still accept review books, but reading books I purchased will take priority.

Buy less books: This is a hard one. Continuing to buy books that I don't read is just not sustainable financially. I need more money in my wallet and buying books is a BIG drain on my wallet. For Christmas I did buy more books, but only with the gift cards I received. I think that's a good policy. Only buy books on special occasions (birthdays/holidays). This is really going to hurt. :(

Read more fantasy/sci-fi books: I need to step out of my comfort zone, and this is the genre I read the least. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin is at the top of my list (just ordered it online with a gift card). I heard her speak at a book event, and she really piqued my interest in fantasy books. 

Read more period: As I stated earlier, 27 books, in my opinion, is just such a small number. I have to do better.

Less social media, more reading: I don't post a lot on social media, except on those occasions when I like to snark on red carpet fashion (the Golden Globes are calling my name). I do waste far too much time on Twitter, scrolling through nonsense posts. It's such a time suck! Time to change that.

Read more e-books: I have several hundreds books on my Kindle and have read less than 10 of them.

Listen to an audiobook: I've had my Kindle for a couple of years and have yet to take advantage of the free audiobook that comes with it. I think it would be great to get a different perspective on reading. 

Read more non-fiction: I did not read a single non-fiction book in 2015. Dead Wake by Erik Larson is at the top of the list. Of course I bought it months ago, and it's been collecting dust.

Read Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: I know the exact place I bought this, Penn Books (before it closed). I bought it three years ago. This is so sad. I don't have any desire to watch the TV show, but I feel out of the reading loop with this series. 

Read the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series by George RR Martin: Now, I'm not a regular viewer of the show outside of short clips and I'm not a die hard fan waiting for the next book. But I feel this is another series that's required reading.

Read more Harry Potter books: I don't know how long ago I bought the hardcover box set, but I was still at my old job when I did. I haven't worked at my old job in more than four years. In that time, I have only read the first book. I don't remember a lot about the first book. So I know I have to hit the reset button and start from the beginning. When it was happening, Harry Potter mania was lost on me. I was in high school when the books started coming out and I just didn't get all the hype over a book. Now that I work in children's publishing, Harry Potter is a regular topic of conversation. I can't really relate, and the only way that's going to change is if I understand the hype.

That's it for resolutions. Here's to a successful 2016 all around!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My take on: Mastered

"Go assure Evangeline's roommates that she is perfectly all right, but she won't be be coming home tonight, or any other night for that matter. Inform them that she's moving in with me and will be in contact with them in the next day or two and will explain everything to them then." Pg. 79


Maya Banks isn't afraid to let her characters be bold and in control. Her latest book, Mastered, is no exception.

So why start with that quote? Because, in my opinion, that quote is the biggest WTF moment of the book. A wide-eyed, country girl comes to the big city (New York). She works her butt off working late-night shifts at a seedy bar. All to send money home to her parents. She never takes a moment for herself, which is a big attraction to a brooding and domineering millionaire playboy. After knowing each other for less than 24 hours, this man is convinced this wide-eyed girl is his next conquest.....his next submissive. It sounds insane that a person would want to "own" and "control" a relationship with another human being. But that is the world Drake Donovan lives in, and if Evangeline wants to be part of it she has to...submit. Yes this book is full of sex and passion (and a little BDSM).

Evangeline was recently dumped by her weasel of a boyfriend. Her friends hatch a plan for revenge. Send Evangeline, dressed to the nines, to the ultra-exclusive hot club in the neighborhood and let her weasel of a boyfriend see what he's missing. It sounds like a good plan, but things go bad quickly. Drake, the club owner, sends his beefy bodyguards to rescue Evangeline before she gets in over her head. One hot scene later between Drake and Evangeline and an instant connection is formed.

If you've read my reviews in the past, I'm not a fan of insta-love or in this case insta-lust. I wanted a little more buildup. A little more tension. A little more resistance on Evangeline's part before giving into Drake. A few fleeting moments of passion, and Drake is ready to literally possess Evangeline. He will take care of all of her financial needs now and in the future, all she has to do is give him what he wants. Does that make her a prostitute? No, but what could a man like Drake get out of this relationship? How long could an arrangement like this last? Who would get bored first? Or will they fall in love? Can a relationship built on domination and submission have a future?

This book isn't all sex all the time, there are some sweet moments. Drake doesn't like things that go against his plan. He likes control. Evangeline often resists or questions that control, even little things. After a whirlwind shopping spree, all at Drake's expense, Evangeline decides to return the favor by cooking dinner for him. Sounds simple, sounds nice. But for Drake, that's an action that goes against his plan. In his mind, Evangeline is woman who deserves to wined and dined. She doesn't need to wait on him. Drake gets over his initial angst, and devours the meal she cooked. A few moments of small talk over a meal offer a small glimmer into what a "normal" relationship between these two could look like. I found it to be a sweet moment. 

As a character, Evangeline is a person you would want in your corner. Although she's very naive, she will defend her family and friends down to her last breath. Drake is a bit of an enigma. He solves a lot of his problems with money, power, and sex. What kind of life is that without some balance? Evangeline is that balance. She could be the missing link to his life and vice versa, if they both want it. This is book one in a series, and given how it ended I will have to come back for book two. Drake and Evangeline are not done after just one book.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from Sullivan and Partners in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

My take on: Evergreen Springs

I rarely read holiday-themed books. Come to think of it, I don't think I've ever read a holiday book. It takes a lot to soften my cynical heart and mind.....but I think RaeAnne Thayne did that with her book Evergreen Springs.

Evergreen Springs is the third book in Thayne's Haven Point series, but I didn't know that until I finished. This can totally be read as a standalone. For my first entry into the series, I smiled. I laughed. Some moments even made me go, "Awww!" If you believe in love and second chances, this book will definitely warm your heart.

Reformed town bad boy Cole Barrett is starting over. Cole, a former sex-crazed cowboy, is honing his skills as a horse trainer in the hopes that it will bring the family ranch back to prominence. Following the recent death of his ex-wife, Sharla, Cole is thrust into single parenthood. He's now raising his know-it-all, brooding, 8-year-old daughter, Jazmyn, and 6-year-old son, Ty. Sharla moved the kids around a lot and rarely let Cole see them. How does Cole reassure two grieving children that he's not going anywhere? How does he let them know that they're safe? If Cole tells Jazmyn to sit down, she stands up. He goes left, she goes right. One moment Jazmyn wants one thing and the next she wants another. Sounds like typical child behavior. But for Jazmyn she just can't let her father win. She can't trust him just yet. But Ty is just the opposite. He's the sweetest, most agreeable child a parent could want. Cole's estranged father, Stanford, is back in the picture. But a father-son reunion is just not in the cards right now. Cole has his hands full.

To make matters worse, Cole's pregnant sister, Tricia, has come to town. She's expecting twins and fleeing from a husband whom she's says doesn't want children. The stress lands Tricia in the hospital, where she will stay until it's time to deliver her children. To top it off, Christmas is just a few weeks away. Can Cole give his children the Christmas experience their childhood has been sorely lacking?

With all of that on his plate, Cole certainly doesn't have time for love. Right? Wrong? Love finds him when he's not even looking for it.

As fate would have it, the beautiful Dr. Devin Shaw is on call when Tricia is admitted to the hospital. Tricia and Devin are old friends, and as one of the town's most-respected doctors she is compelled to help not just her patient but her patient's family. Tricia lets Devin know all about Cole's struggles as a single parent. Of course Devin lends a helping hand. Several in the town rally around Cole and his children, cooking up meals that can last for weeks. Devin chips in with babysitting. Cole can't understand it. Why is the town helping him? Why is Devin helping him? Does she have an ulterior motive? Nope. These are just two lonely people who belong together, only they don't know it.

Devin brings out the best in Cole and his children. She knows when to be patient. She knows when to push. But she doesn't know how to guard her heart. She doesn't know how not to fall in love with this family. If Devin and Cole can just learn how to let the other in, everything will fall into place.

This wasn't an insta-love connection. It was slow and steady, which I loved. I hate it when characters are immediately attracted to each other. Books like that are just not believable. I believed in these characters. I rooted for these characters. I'm sure other readers will too!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from Little Bird Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

My take on: The Last September

Charlie Moss has been murdered. His mentally ill brother, Eli, is a suspect. Charlie has a calming presence and he could always find a solution for Eli's unpredictable behavior. Charlie was the protector, especially when it came to his brother. Was Eli finally tired of his brother? What was the final straw? It's a mystery. Charlie's wife, Brett, and his young daughter, Sarah, are left to pick up the pieces. 

Sounds like a murder mystery doesn't? But The Last September by Nina de Gramont is about about so much more. This book is about the years of friendship and love between Brett, Eli, and Charlie. It's about the love a brother has for a brother. It's about the love Brett and Charlie had for each other. Charlie's murder is just a small piece of a much larger emotional puzzle that Brett must solve. Before she can move on, Brett has to figure out how their lives got to this point?

The book starts out in the present day. Charlie, Brett, and Sarah are living in his father's cottage on Cape Cod. They are struggling financially. Their marriage appears to be shaky. They don't need Eli and his erratic behavior. But Eli is coming to the house. Brett draws a line in the sand and refuses to put their daughter or herself in harm's way. She spends the night with a friend, and returns alone to the house. What she discovers is shocking. Eli is confused and covered in blood. What has happened? A stunned Brett finds Charlie's bloodied body. There's only one conclusion right? Eli must have done it? It's not so simple, and that's when the book shifts back to the past.

The friendship between Eli, Brett, and Charlie began in college. Eli and Brett were friends before Charlie ever came into the picture. Brett was the person Eli could be vulnerable with. Boyfriends came and went, but Eli was always there. A short chance encounter with Charlie, and Brett knew she was in love. It wasn't quite the same for Charlie. A devastated Brett moves on and gets engaged to another man, Ladd. But Charlie was never far from Brett's heart and mind. The same could be said for Eli. His descent into madness changed his friendship with Brett. The closeness is gone, but deep down Brett has always cared for Eli.

Ladd loves his fiancee, but he knows that Charlie has a hold over Brett. He's been burned by Charlie before. Ladd is just waiting for it to happen again. Of course it happens again. Brett feels extremely guilty for breaking Ladd's heart, but she has to follow her own heart. She follows it to Charlie. What if she didn't? It's a question that haunts Brett. What if she had stayed with Ladd? Wouldn't Charlie still be alive? Did her past choices ultimately kill Charlie? She can't think like that.

Brett never would have experienced such a deep love or motherhood if she hadn't chosen Charlie. Her life, while hard, was better with him in it. Charlie wouldn't have felt like himself if he couldn't help his brother. As long as Charlie was in his life, Eli was comfortable in his own madness. My take from this book, everyone is responsible for their own choices, including Charlie and Eli. Everything happened for a reason.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Algonquin Books). The Last September is the fall selection for She Reads.
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