Thursday, August 28, 2014

My take on: The Art of Adapting

For the past two weeks my commute to work has been flying by. I normally take a nap on the way to work, and read on the way home from work. But recently I have given up my morning naps. Why? Because I was so engrossed in The Art of Adapting by Cassandra Dunn.

I'm a sucker for family dramas. The family in this book certainly has its issues.

Lana is recently separated from her husband, Graham. She's left to raise her teenage children, Byron and Abby. Her money is dwindling. On top of all that, she has to keep an eye on her eccentric brother Matt, who has Asperger's. A renewed friendship with a former boyfriend has Lana thinking about dating again. Lana's perspective wasn't anything new, but it was enjoyable to read. She's wondering what she did or didn't do to save her marriage. When will life get better?

Everyone in this book is in their own world. The book is told from all four viewpoints, and I enjoyed taking a journey through Abby and Matt's world the most.

It's clear from the beginning of the book that Abby has an eating disorder. But everyone close to her seems to be in denial about it. Even Abby is in denial. If she just keeps the weight off, the cute guy in her chem class will finally notice her. If she just keeps the weight off, life in general will be better. Of course that's not realistic. But you can't expect a teenager to live in reality. Abby is the kind of character you just want to give a hug. Reading the book, I know she needs more than that but just a little more personal attention from her parents would have gone a long way.

Matt is a bit of an enigma. To the outside world, he's this insanely smart, odd, and creative person. His quirks include the same food for breakfast, special silverware, special coats, special seats, and staring out the window for hours. He doesn't like a lot of close contact. He doesn't like a lot of noise. If his day deviates from the plan in anyway, Matt goes into a tailspin. To the average person that sounds crazy. But from his perspective this makes perfect sense. Routine is essential to someone like Matt, and not everyone can understand that. Of course Matt isn't meant to represent everyone with Asperger's, but it was nice to read a perspective that isn't prevalent in today's fiction.

This one really held my attention. This family's story is extremely relatable. Everyone at some point will be left wondering what if? What could they have done to be a better person? Are they on the right path? When will they be the person they were meant to be? Definitely a book worth reading.

Rating: Superb

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

Monday, August 25, 2014

My take on: Meet Me in Barcelona


It's been a long time since I wrote a review, but I've got one for you! What's this one about? I've never been to Spain, but I thought I could live vicariously through Meet Me in Barcelona by Mary Carter!

A young woman and her boyfriend win a surprise trip to Barcelona. How and why? Should they really question it? Her mother is terminally ill. Should she go? But she needs a break. However, that break will be short-lived. Secrets from the past will threaten everything. What's the secret? Or secrets?! I was definitely intrigued.

Grace Sawyer and her boyfriend, Jake, embark on the trip of a lifetime. Each day in Spain is met with clues to their mysterious benefactor. Grace has a sinking feeling it's a person from her past. A person she has spent 10-plus years trying to forget.

Carrie Ann wants to reconnect with the woman she loved like a sister. Years ago, Carrie Ann was one of the many foster kids Grace's parents took in. They were best friends. Best friends who became extremely co-dependent, so much that Grace's parents hated Carrie Ann's influence over their daughter. The death of someone close to both girls leads to years of estrangement ... and eventually Barcelona.

As characters, I could not stand Grace or Carrie Ann. The mere mention of Carrie Ann's name is enough to turn Grace into such an ANNOYING woman! She never told Jake about her foster sister, and he wonders what else Grace is hiding from him. She doesn't want to be around Carrie Ann, but has such a hard time telling her that. Grace wants to express her feelings, but when push comes to shove she clams up. Carrie is equally frustrating. She's needy and manipulative. She has a way of casually getting people to do exactly what she wants. I couldn't tell if Carrie Ann's intentions were good, bad, or indifferent. She claims to be in an abusive marriage. She claims she wants out of the relationship. She claims to want Grace back in her life. But she has such an odd way of showing it. Does she want help from Grace? Or something else? It takes a long time to get to that something else.

When I read the e-mail pitch, I was definitely intrigued by the promise of some mystery. But that doesn't happen until the second half of the book. Jake and Carrie Ann go missing! I won't tell anymore than that because you should read the book. My attention was certainly piqued. But the pacing leading up to that moment was a little slow for me. Grace and Carrie Ann were not my favorite characters, but there were things I did like. Jake was No. 1, I felt like he was the voice of reason. I did feel like I was transported to Barcelona; I have to go one day! This might not have been my favorite book, but I would certainly read another book by Mary Carter.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Kensington Publishing Corp.) as part of a blog tour with  Pump up Your Book.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I'm Still Here!!

Where have I been? Why haven't I posted lately?

Answers:

On vacation. Just got back two days ago.

I want to post at least once a week, but sometimes I just don't have the time. And.....lately some books did not hold my interest. Like......

Hidden by Catherine McKenzie. I wanted to like it. I liked her first book Spin. In her latest book, two women are mourning the loss of the same man. Only one is his wife and the other is not. It sounds scandalous, but Catherine McKenzie explored the depth of the relationships between these characters and the consequences of their decisions.

I had high hopes, but I just couldn't get into this one. I think I started reading this one back in April. I stopped reading for a week or two, then I went back, then I stopped, then I went back....you get the picture! I'm a very cyclical reader. I read several books at once, and sometimes only one or two will really grab my attention. I stuck with Hidden for several months, but a couple of weeks ago I just had to put it aside. I wasn't connecting with the story or characters. It was not working for me. I will absolutely read another book by Catherine McKenzie, but I had to breakup with Hidden. In a couple months, I might give it another shot.

So, when will I post my next review or book-related post? Soon! I promise! I'm still here!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Big news from Alloy Entertainment and Amazon!!

Thank you to Wunderkind PR for letting me take part in this announcement!!
Read the press release below for details!

(Tuesday), Amazon Publishing and Alloy Entertainment, a division of Warner Bros. Television Group, announced a digital-first imprint that will focus on young adult, new adult and commercial fiction. The new imprint, named Alloy Entertainment, will be part of Amazon Publishing’s Powered by Amazon program. Powered by Amazon enables publishers and authors to leverage Amazon’s global distribution and personalized, targeted marketing reach.

Today also marks the publication date for the imprint’s first three titles:

 

·         Imitation by Heather Hildenbrand, which follows Ven, the clone of a wealthy, 18-year-old named Raven. Imitations like Ven only leave the lab when their Authentics need them—to replace the dead, be an organ donor, or in Ven’s case, serve as bait when Raven’s life is threatened. It is Ven’s job to draw out Raven’s assailants, but she must decide if she is prepared to sacrifice herself for a girl she has never met.

 

·        Every Ugly Word by Aimee Salter, a coming-of-age story about a teenager named Ashley who sees her 23-year-old self when she looks in the mirror. Her older self has been through it all before, and helps Ashley survive torment from high school bullies, unrequited love for her best friend and a volatile relationship with her mom. But her older self also carries the scars of a terrible and imminent event in Ashley’s life that she’s powerless to stop.

 

·         Rebel Wing by Tracy Banghart, a sci-fi fantasy adventure set in the war-torn Dominion of Atalanta. For Aris, the fighting is worlds away from the safety of her seaside town until her boyfriend Calix is drafted into the military. When Aris herself is recruited to become a pilot for an elite search-and-rescue unit, she leaps at the chance, hoping to be reunited with Calix. But what starts as mission driven by love turns into one of duty as Aris becomes a true soldier determined to save her Dominion…or die trying.

Alloy Entertainment acquired the books based on the unique voices of the authors and originality of the stories. The company worked closely with each of the writers throughout the publishing process in an effort to gain the widest possible readership. The books will be published under the Alloy Entertainment publishing banner, which currently includes more than 75 New York Times bestsellers.

“One of our strengths is working with talented authors to create and develop properties that have mass entertainment appeal,” said Leslie Morgenstein, President of Alloy Entertainment. “This program is an exciting extension of our business and will allow us to leverage Amazon’s ability to distribute to an incredibly diverse and broad readership.”


"Rebel Wing is the book of my heart. It’s a story I felt compelled to tell, both from the perspective of an Army wife and as someone who believes you can never have enough strong female characters in the world," said author Tracy Banghart. "Being given the opportunity to work with the incredibly talented folks at Alloy to make it the best version of itself was an exciting and affirming process, and knowing that its distribution will be handled by Amazon—a company that has already made so much possible for me as an indie author—is pretty much the definition of win-win as far as I’m concerned."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My take on: That Night

I have to liken That Night by Chevy Stevens to a Lifetime TV movie, but in a good way. There is lots of melodrama, teenage angst, and a murder. Sounds like a Lifetime movie doesn't it? On a lazy Sunday, I can easily get lost in Lifetime movie marathon and this book was no different.

I started this book on July 12th and finished it a week later. For me, that's an accomplishment. I'm usually reading several books at once, and occasionally one will get my attention more than others. That Night got my attention in a big way!

After sixteen years in prison, Toni Murphy is being released. She's returning to a hometown that still sees her as a murderer and an outcast. Why is she going back? Why would she want to encounter people who hate her? Even her parents, especially her mother, have doubts about her. What was Toni convicted of? The murder of her sister, Nicole. Toni and her boyfriend Ryan were convicted of her murder. Is Toni returning to prove her innocence? Or just to prove to everyone that she's a better person? I was intrigued by the plot!

As teenagers, Toni and Ryan lived in their own world. They were so in love that nothing else mattered. They dressed different. They talked different. They smoked pot. They drank alcohol. In the eyes of some, including Toni's mother, they were bad news. Toni's dad was always on her side, even when it made her mother angry. Nicole was different. She was the "perfect" child. The "good" child. She followed her parents' rules and got good grades, the very opposite of Toni. But Nicole had her parents fooled. Toni knew her sister was sneaking out at night to be with a boy, drinking, and hanging out with the neighborhood mean girls!

Shauna McKinney is the ultimate mean girl. During high school, she made Toni's life a living hell. But to everyone else Shauna and her cronies, Rachel, Kim, and Cathy, were good girls. They project an image of perfection, but Toni knew their true nature. Unfortunately, Nicole didn't see who they truly were. To the outside world, Toni is a foul-mouthed teenager. When Toni tries to expose Shauna, no one believes her -- no one except Ryan.

The story alternates between Toni's teenage years, her time in prison, and her time out of prison. There is a lot of suspense in the build up to "That Night." I kept turning page after page because I wanted to know what happened "the night" Nicole was murdered. After "That Night," Toni was never the same. She's full of guilt and pent up anger. What could she have done differently to prevent Nicole's murder? That's a central theme throughout the book. Several characters in this book, including Toni's parents, have to realize that holding onto guilt will get them nowhere.

I loved this book. Given the slow rate in which I finish books, it's an accomplishment and testament to the writing that I finished the book in a week. I really wish there was more. The payoff was satisfying, but I still wanted to read more of Toni and Ryan's story. There is certainly hope for their future, I just wanted to see more of that future.

Rating: O.M.G. !!!

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (St. Martin's Press). That Night is the July selection for She Reads

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Please welcome Laura Pedersen

In this Q&A Laura Pedersen talks about her new play with music, This Will All Be Yours, which runs off-Broadway in New York City as part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival July 17-August 7 at The Barrow Group Theatre

Q&A With Laura Pedersen
What made you decide to try writing a stage play? When did you realize you wanted to write more than one?
My starting point is always a story, usually one that has meaning for me because it involves an issue that I care about. Next I decide if it's for children, teens or adults, or some crossover combo. Once the story has taken shape it tends to naturally lend itself to a specific format -- newspaper article, short story, novel, series of novels, stage play, etc. However, no rap songs, mime shows, or confessional poems have emerged thus far.
What was the inspiration for This Will All Be Yours?
I like to say that This Will All Be Yours is about the demise of the family farm, but in a fun way! This is
something that was happening all around me when I was growing up in Western New York and across the country. We felt in our bones it was bad on so many levels, but there weren't many options for people. Government policies were making things worse, not better. I'm glad I was able to stick around long enough to see a renaissance in small farms, and that researchers have been able to provide so many reasons why community supported agriculture is beneficial all around -- information we didn't have in the 1970s.
Did you originally envision the show as a musical?
My dad was very musical. In fact, he was a folk singer, which was not the kind of thing you wanted the kids in the cafeteria to find out when I was in Middle School. So even though I'm not musical, I love it and was exposed to the American Songbook growing up. The minute I had the outline for this story in play format I knew it needed music.
What is the most rewarding part of having a play of yours performed?
It's just amazing to sit in the dark and watch the actors work their magic on the stage. And it is always magic to me. No matter how many rehearsals I attend I have no idea how the director, performers, and crew do what they do. Everyone always jokes about me having to understudy for certain parts since I know all the lines. Well, that's never going to happen so don't anyone catch flu or eat dodgy potato salad at a 4th of July picnic. My mother is a nurse and she says that if you can't see the ocean from where you're sitting in the restaurant then do not order the seafood.
Which is more challenging --- writing a play or writing a novel? Why?
It's most frustrating when I think I have a good story, put a lot of time into developing it, and then it turns out not to have legs. It's equally frustrating when I think I have a good idea but can't locate the best way to tell the story. On balance, if something is not working out then it's probably not a solid story with a beginning, middle (or "the muddle" as writers like to call it), and an end. Time to move on. Unless you're on a deadline for a newspaper, in which case you figure it out. Working for a newspaper is an excellent way to eliminate "writer's block."
Do you try to attend every performance?
I do try and attend every performance. To me a story is never completely finished and I'm always listening for what I might be able to make into a slightly better line or solve some problem that's been niggling at me. The final night of The Brightness of Heaven we sold out so I gave up my seat and listened to the play from a place where I couldn't see anything. Total epiphany -- the placement of one critical piece of information that had always bothered me finally resolved itself.
What is your prep ritual as performance time nears? Do you have any superstitions you adhere to before curtain?
Before the show I just hope all the performers are hale and hearty and ready to go on. I'm usually just goofing around at that point, giving out candy to my friends. I'm trying to find peach candy (since the family has a peach orchard) for This Will All Be Yours -- not an easy task. What I do is stay out of the actors way because they have some bizarre rituals -- a few disappear, some are lying on the floor, and one bellows in front of a wall. I don't even ask.
What advice do you have for someone who is considering a theatrical career, either on the creative side or acting side?
I can only speak to writing. See as many shows as possible. I often learn more from a bad show than a good one. Sit in the back so you can watch how the audience reacts to everything and not just how the story is being told. This is also a good way to run into famous tall people such as John Cleese, Jeff Goldblum and John Lithgow because they usually head to the back or upstairs in search of more legroom.
If you could be involved with ANY play, in any capacity, what would it be, and why?
I'd need a time machine and also a body swapping formula. With those details out of the way I'd be born Henrik Ibsen in 1828 and have written An Enemy of the People.
When you are not working, what do you enjoy doing?
Rollerblading.
What are your favorite books and authors?
A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn
Emerson: The Mind on Fire by Robert D. Richardson Jr.
The Mayor of MacDougal Street by Dave Van Ronk
The Third Coast: When Chicago Built the American Dream by Thomas Dyja
Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World by Margaret MacMillan
What are your favorite movies?
Mississippi Burning
Harold and Maude
Dog Day Afternoon
The French Connection
A Streetcar Named Desire
Annie Hall
Who are your favorite musicians/bands?
My background has left me stuck in the 1960s -- Carole King, James Taylor, Nina Simone, Etta James, the Drifters, Martha and the Vandellas, the Shirelles, the Mamas and the Papas, Buffalo Springfield. Whereas some people never made it back from Woodstock, I never made it to Woodstock.
What is your favorite food?
I eat at Chipotle every day. But if they open up a Moe's Southwest Grill around here then Chipotle stock is going to drop like a rock.

This Will All Be Yours Social Media/Website:
Website: http://www.thiswillallbeyours.com 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

My take on: The Stories We Tell

Before an author becomes an automatic buy, I have to read at least 2-3 of their prior books. I think Patti Callahan Henry has become an automatic buy for me. I loved And Then I Found You and Coming Up Air. When I saw the e-mail pitch for her latest book, The Stories We Tell, I didn't even need to know what the book was about. All I saw in the e-mail was "Patti Callahan Henry," and I was sold!

In all honesty, this wasn't my favorite book of hers but it certainly held my attention from start to finish.

On the surface, Eve and Cooper Morrison seem to have it all. They have a beautiful but moody teenage daughter in Gwen. Cooper runs a successful magazine. Eve owns an equally successful printing company. They are one of the top couples on the Savannah social scene. They have it all. Everything is great ... or so it appears. In an instant, everything comes undone for this couple. The facade they allowed everyone to see and believe is crumbling. The happy life they once had is gone. How and why becomes a great source of debate throughout the book.

Cooper and Eve's free-spirited sister Willa get into a bad car accident. The physical scars are just the beginning of their problems. Cooper spins a wild tale about the accident. Willa was drunk and not only embarrassing herself, but Cooper in front of his high-profile clients. While Cooper is driving her home, she grabbed the wheel and caused the accident. At the outset, it seems logical. In the past, Willa always got drunk and made a fool of herself. Why should this time be any different? What does Willa say about the accident? She can't remember. A head injury has left Willa with memory loss. Willa swears she wasn't drunk, and medical tests back her up. If you're Eve, whom do you believe? 

Eve has to believe Cooper. Maybe he just got a few details wrong. Believing in Willa means not believing in her husband. She has to trust her husband. If there is no trust, how can they have a marriage? But soon Eve begins to peel back the layers on Cooper's story. Eve exposes one lie after another, but still she has faith in Cooper. Her entire life is tied to being a wife and a mother. But who is Eve without those things? Can life still go on without her neat and ordered life?

With every lie exposed, I kept waiting for Eve to get really, really angry. But I felt her reaction was subdued. I wanted her to leave him right away. Cooper is lying about more than just the accident. The book reads a lot like a thriller, except the action here isn't murder it's a family drama. The drama definitely held my attention. I kept reading because I wanted to know why Cooper lied. Maybe Cooper and Willa were having an affair? That was my first assumption, but that was too easy and I was wrong. It's never the most obvious reason, but by the end of the book I wasn't completely satisfied. When I found out the source of Cooper's lies, I was like "That'ts it?!?" Perhaps, if I was married I would understand a little more. Although, by the end Eve was on better footing and I loved that! While I wasn't in love with this book, I would certainly read another book by Patti Callahan Henry!

Rating: Give it a try

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