Friday, April 10, 2015

My take on: Orient

A storm is brewing in the small Long Island town of Orient. Strange things are happening. The corpse of a mutant-like animal has washed ashore. But it's easy to blame that on a nearby science lab. Who do you blame when people start dying? Were they murdered? Is there a killer among them? Is a local responsible? Or is it a newcomer?

Author Christopher Bollen has spun a gripping tale of culture clashes with murder as the backdrop. The murder mystery is certainly intriguing, but I was drawn in by the people in this town.

The year-round residents want to keep the new people out. The new people want to be accepted. The residents who split their time between the city and this wealthy little enclave are caught in the middle. Paul Benchley is caught in the middle. He's returned to Orient to clean up the family home and restore it to it's glory. However, Paul is not alone. He's got a moody young man with him named Mills. A busy-body like Pam Muldoon wonders what spell Mills has put on Paul. Maybe Paul has lost his marbles and can't see that's he's being hustled. Not likely! Paul feels sorry for this lost young man and knows he can help Mills get on the right track. Mills is in charge of cleaning out Paul's house, but wonders what will happen when he's worn out his welcome.

Beth Shepherd is another Orient native who is caught in the middle. She's come back to town with her artist husband, Gavril. She had dreams of becoming an artist herself, but will have to live vicariously through her husband. Beth isn't sure what to do with her life. She's stuck. To make matters worse, she's pregnant and reluctant to tell Gavril. Who can she turn to? One of her best friends, Magdalena is dead. Was it murder? Magdalena was old, and already had one foot in the grave. But Magdalena died soon after another mysterious death. A death that Magdalena was convinced was foul play. Beth wasn't sure she should believe the ravings of an old woman.

More people meet their demise -- under mysterious circumstances. Quickly, rumors begin swirling in this small town. Maybe an outsider is responsible for all the turmoil in town. Someone like Mills! It's too easy for it be Mills. He's an easy scapegoat. An unlikely alliance is formed between Beth and Mills. Both work to uncover the truth.

This book is a shade over 600 pages, but don't be scared by that. It's the perfect mix of literary fiction and mystery fiction. The character interaction not the murder plot grabbed me. Each chapter you learn a little more about Mills. In the beginning, he comes off as a moody teenager. But slowly his tough exterior begins to soften. At first I thought Beth was a little ditzy, but she's a smart cookie. This was a complex but engaging read.


Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (HarperCollins) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Grad school home stretch!!

Hello out there book lovers! I know I haven't been posting a lot, but I have a good reason! I'm just a month away from finishing grad school. I'm literally salivating at the prospect of having free time. I'm already plotting which books I'm going to read (Harry Potter series, Hunger Games, Divergent, Brown Girl Dreaming, The Girl on the Train, and soooooooo much more); and which TV shows I'm going to marathon (The Good Wife, Law and Order SVU, The Blacklist, Sons of Anarchy, and soooooooo much more). Before I can get to any of that, I have to finish up my final project!

I have to create a business plan. It's daunting and a lot of work. My idea is a digital food magazine for teens. I've come to my fellow book lovers for some feedback. Intrigued? Read on!

What's familiar about all of the magazines below? What's missing from the current crop of food magazines? Would you read a food magazine for teens? Would you encourage your child to read this magazine? Let me know your thoughts in the comments! Thanks so much and happy reading!





Monday, March 30, 2015

My take on: The Magician's Lie

"Tonight, I will escape my torturer, once and for all time. Tonight, I will kill him." That line is just two pages into The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister.

Intriguing isn't it?

That cover is pretty intoxicating too. That woman seems to be hiding more than just a white dove behind her back. She's got secrets too. She might even be a murderer.

Let's set the scene, it's summer 1905 in Waterloo, Iowa. The amazing Arden a.k.a. Ada Bates is on stage performing her most famous trick -- sawing a man in half. It's supposed to be an optical illusion. Only the man is actually dead and Ada has disappeared. By sheer luck policeman Virgil Holt captures Ada. He doesn't turn her in. Why? Ada pleads her case, and insists she's not a murderer. Virgil gives her chance to tell her side of the story. It turns out to be her life story.

Ada was once a promising dancer, but her career was ruined literally and figuratively by a dangerous man named Ray. I was screaming in head for Ada to stand up for herself. In the present day, Ada is the confident and mysterious Arden. In the past, she's somewhat timid and naive. I wanted her to have some of that spunk in her youth. Ray was a horrible character. In his mind, Ada is his possession. No one else can have her. No matter what Ada does she can never escape him. Even when Ada runs away from everyone and everything in her life, Ray is never far from her mind. Will she ever be free of him?

I definitely liked the way the author chose to tell the story. With each chapter, Ada revealed something new about herself. Each detail seemed more ridiculous than the last. Virgil calls her out every chance he got. Ada had an air of innocence, but even Virgil was skeptical. So much so that he shackled Ada to a chair with five sets of handcuffs. Somehow five sets of handcuffs didn't seem like enough. While parts of this book were very good, I wanted more. I was expecting a murder mystery. A thriller. The middle part of the book moved a little slow for my tastes. I could totally see where the ending was going, and it felt a little bit rushed. This wasn't one of my favorites, but I would definitely read another book by Greer Macallister.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Sourcebooks). The Magician's Lie is one of She Reads books of Winter.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

One year, and We'll Still Always Have Paris

Last year I read and reviewed We'll Always Have Paris by Jennifer Coburn. To celebrate the book's one-year anniversary, the author is back for a guest post about her Aunt Bernice and her diaries.

The Tossed Diaries
 
There is a great deal I will never know about my Aunt Bernice because soon after her death, her son destroyed more than 75 years of her hand-written diaries. He dumped them in the incinerator in Bernice’s condo, where I had often tossed garbage bags filled with her empty mayonnaise jars and Weight Watchers snack wrappers.
What I do know about my aunt is this: she died shortly after her ritual midnight snack, this time half a rib eye steak and mashed potatoes left over from dinner at Smith and Wollensky. Her son told me that when he came to pick her up for breakfast the next morning, Bernice had already passed away. The leftovers from her last meal were missing from the fridge, a single plate and silverware setting in the dishwasher.
 
Bernice had been an unusual 90-year-old hospice patient, and her exit from life served as a fitting metaphor for how she lived it: enjoying every last bite. We spoke by phone earlier that day and in her thick New York accent, she said her doctors were crazy. “End of life heart disease?” she scoffed. “I feel marvelous.”
 
Bernice and I often talked about how I would inherit her diaries when she died. We shared a love of contemporary art, high-fat food, and writing. I told her I wanted to write a book about her, which she said would be a total bore except for the part about the pilot that invited her to take a Jell-O bath. Or the time an ex-fiancé sued her for keeping his lavish gifts after she dumped him. And there was the mix-up with that art gallery owner that allowed her to acquire a Salvador Dalí sculpture at a fraction of its value.
 
Bernice told sepia-toned stories of her childhood in Brooklyn in the 1930s, complete with details of her neighbors’ cloche hats and shabby furs. I always imagined her with a fountain pen, scratching out stories about her past: how her father lost his coat factory in a dice game with a guy with a gangster name like Skinny Carmine or about how her parents planned to stage their economic comeback by running card games from their Coney Island apartment.
 
By the time Bernice was a teenager, the nonstop topic of conversation at home was about how her Jewish family would survive if Adolf Hitler crossed the Atlantic Ocean and came to the United States. My grandparents’ plan for Bernice was for her to be hidden in a convent. She could pass as gentile, the nuns there said. The German family living in the apartment downstairs would adopt my father, an infant at the time. Bernice’s younger sister Rita had polio, so there was little hope for her.
 
Bernice wasn’t all nostalgic remembrances; she opined on contemporary issues too. She thought Sheryl Sandberg – or Sandersberger as she called her – was meshugenah with her “lean in nonsense.” Bernice said when she was a young woman, she called in sick to work every Friday. “Today Goldsmith Jewelers is out of business and I’m 90 years old with a beautiful life,” she said. “So who do you think had the right idea?”
 
More than the storyline of Bernice’s life, I was interested in how she had remained incredibly centered and positive in the face of a fair amount of prejudice and hardship throughout her long life.
Ten years before she died, Bernice had a stroke. “A mini,” she called it. On the phone from the county hospital, Bernice told me her room was lovely and that a gorgeous bud vase sat on a table beside her bed. When she mentioned this to the nurse, she found a red carnation in the vase the next morning. “Aren’t people marvelous?” she mused.
 
When I found out my aunt had died, I took some comfort knowing I would revisit familiar stories, and gain deeper perspective on her life through her diaries. Her son said he threw them away because not all of her memories were happy ones. Of course that is exactly why her writings would have been so precious to me. Like all of us, Bernice’s life was filled with emotional complexity and conflicting desire. Yet she always managed to experience the profound joy and goodness in the world.
 
Bernice’s son may have felt ambivalence over my reading his mother’s private thoughts, but I know Bernice would have shared them freely with me. During our last visit together, my aunt asked me to read aloud to her from one of her diaries. When I asked which volume I should select, she replied, “Surprise me.” Bernice was not a person with dark secrets. She was a wise old woman from whom I could have learned a lot.
 
I wish I could have piled the diaries on my bedside table and leafed through every page, hopeful that I might discover Bernice’s greatest secret – how to live life fully, and yet always have room for leftovers.
 
Jennifer Coburn is the author of We’ll Always Have Paris: a Mother-Daughter Adventure





Monday, March 9, 2015

My take on: The 100 Day 21

How often is a sequel better than the original? Very rarely happens in the movie world. For every Aliens, there's a Grease 2! In the book world, I haven't read a lot of sequels . . . or finished any series for that matter. But I am determined to finish The 100 series by Kass Morgan.

Before I begin, I'm going to assume you have read book 1 or watch the TV show. If you haven't, I will likely be spoiling things for you. So, if you don't want to read spoilers, go read the books or catch up on the TV show!

Book 1 felt a little uneven to me. A lot of the "world-building" and character setup took place in the first book. But that's all done in The 100: Day 21.

The action picks up right where the first book left off. Clarke, Wells, and Bellamy and the rest of the 100 are fighting for survival and for power on Earth. But someone is killing members of the 100. Who or what is doing this? Why? After Octavia goes missing, Bellamy certainly wants to know. Have these savage, violent Earthborns kidnapped Octavia? Or worse, have they killed her? He might get some answers. An alleged enemy, Sasha, has been captured. But she's not providing any answers. Can Clarke get them out of her? Maybe Wells has the magic touch? Life in space isn't much better for Glass, her boyfriend Luke, or her mother. Breathable air has become scarce. The Phoenicians have cut off the air supply for the Waldenites. Luke and Glass are separated. But for how long? A long-buried secret comes to light, and in an instant Luke and Glass' relationship might be over.

There is a lot more character depth in the second book. Clarke is hiding a big secret. It's been eating at her long before she landed on Earth. It's a secret that could tear Clarke's new-found friendship with Bellamy apart. Wells is almost like an outsider himself. As the son of the Chancellor responsible for putting them in prison, Wells has never been liked. It's only natural that he finds a friendship with Sasha. Bellamy's anger hasn't subsided in the least. In my opinion, he was a bit of a jerk in the first book. That hasn't changed in book 2. Occasionally, he shows his softer side with Clarke. I thought Wells and Clarke were meant to be, but that's out the window.

It's always hard for me to read something not based in reality, but I fully embraced this world the second time around. I wanted to know what happened to these characters. I wanted to know how life in space would go on or not go on. I felt like the writing in this book was tighter, more fast-paced, more engaging, and more emotional. This book like the last one ended on a cliffhanger. Fortunately, book 3 is already out! Once school is over, I will definitely be picking up a copy!

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy from FSB Associates in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cover reveal: Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Summer is not here yet, but it's never to soon to build your summer reading list. Be sure to add Maybe in Another Life (on sale July 7,2015), the third book from Taylor Jenkins Reid.

ABOUT MAYBE IN ANOTHER LIFE:
At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college, but on the heels of a disastrous breakup, she has finally returned to her hometown of Los Angeles. To celebrate her first night back, her best friend, Gabby, takes Hannah out to a bar—where she meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan.

It’s just past midnight when Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. Ethan quickly offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay.
Hannah hesitates.
What happens if she leaves with Gabby?
What happens if she leaves with Ethan?

In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly, these parallel universes develop into surprisingly different stories with far-reaching consequences for Hannah and the people around her, raising questions like: Is anything meant to be? How much in our life is determined by chance? And perhaps most compellingly: Is there such a thing as a soul mate?
Hannah believes there is. And, in both worlds, she believes she’s found him.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Taylor Jenkins Reid is an author and essayist from Acton, Massachusetts. She is the author of Forever, Interrupted and After I Do. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Alex, and her dog, Rabbit. You can follow her on Twitter @TJenkinsReid.

MAYBE IN ANOTHER LIFE by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Atria Books/Washington Square Press Paperback | 352 pages | ISBN:  9781476776880 | July 7, 2015 | $16.00

eBook: Atria Books/Washington Square Press | 352 pages | ISBN: 9781476776897 | July 7, 2015 | $11.99

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Tragic Age - Blog tour!

Coming soon to a book store near you is
The Tragic Age
by Stephen Metcalfe. A debut coming-of-age novel!
Read on for an excerpt and for links to more bloggers on the tour!



It’s between morning classes when Deliza Baraza comes up to her locker, which for two, going on three years at good ol’ High School High has been next to mine. I can actually feel her approaching. It’s like there’s a seismic pheromone shift in the hallway. Anything male begins to flutter and jerk. Deliza’s father’s a Mexican-American financier. Her mother’s a former Telenuevo star. You won- der how they ever let Deliza out of the house. This morning she’s done up in a sheer white blouse with a Peter Pan collar, a tiny cardigan sweater vest, a little tie, and a pleated short skirt. Her smooth dancer’s legs are stuffed into white anklet socks and six-inch spike heels. Her dark hair is in pigtails and her makeup, which is always professionally perfect, is that of a toffee-colored geisha. “Hey, Billy,” she says. She has a deep, confident voice. Deliza only dates older guys. Rumor has it she charges them for the fun of it.

“Hey, D.” I try to sound casual, as if chatting with a dirty old man’s Japanese schoolgirl fetish is an everyday occurrence. Deliza throws some books into her locker, grabs another, and turns back to me. She leans in close. She whispers.

“Hey, Billy, you want to go out with me Friday night? I might even suck your dick.”
My balls jerk as if cupped by a handful of ice cubes. “You mind going on a skateboard?” I say.
“A skateboard,” she says. “It’s how I roll,” I say.

Deliza laughs. We both know there’s no way we’re ever going to hang together let alone engage in illicit sex acts. Even so, we’re pretty good locker buddies. And we’re not all that unalike. Deliza runs with the popular crowd, but the truth is, we both fly solo.

“You are one weird chavo, Billy.” Point of reference.

Chavo is this poor, homeless orphan in an old Mexican sitcom. The plot revolved around the idea that the other characters think it’s hysterical to insult him, beat the crap out of him, and generally torture him. Needless to say, the show was a huge hit.

Deliza leans in again. “It’s why I like you.” The tip of her tongue lightly touches the inside of my ear, the concha, which is Spanish slang for vagina. My pelotas, which is Spanish for balls, jerk again.

Deliza smiles like the total innocent she isn’t. She turns away. Farther down the hall some jocks give her some shit, hoping she’ll give them the time of day. She blows them a kiss, gives them a perfectly manicured, French- tipped middle finger, and moves on. 

Anything male wipes its brow and begins to breathe again. It’s not even the highlight of the day.


Though most of the students at High School High leave campus for lunch, some of them even going home and not returning, the school still provides meals for people. The food is pretty much inedible but the old school cafe- teria is pretty nice. It’s usually a quiet place to read. In fact, a lot of people skip lunch and just use it as a study hall.

But today, maybe because it’s still early in the year, it’s a scene. It’s noisy and almost crowded, people hanging out, each with their own tribe, jocks and queen bees at one ta- ble, the black athletes, nerds, aspiring rockers, emos punks, and surfers at others. Thankfully there’s an empty table over by the window. I’m reading some sci-fi novel about some little kid who defeats a race of alien ants and saves the known universe. It’s ridiculous but the only other book in my knapsack is Being and Time, by the philosopher Mar- tin Heidegger, which is also ridiculous but it’s the kind of ridiculous that takes a concentration and focus that is not especially conducive to cafeterias. So today it’s alien ants.

“Hey, Billy. Can I sit?”


It’s Ephraim and I don’t look up. Ephraim Landgraf is my neighbor, meaning we live down the street from one another, each of us behind locked gates and high walls. Ephraim is small and skinny and, without his glasses, half blind. He has straw-colored hair that doesn’t seem so much blond as lifeless. Ephraim’s the kind of kid who gets pushed around for no real reason. The kind of kid, you play hide-and-seek, you don’t look for him.

“It’s not my chair,” I say.

Ephraim sits and dives into the prepackaged, pre- servative-infested lunch he’s brought from home. It’s truly a magnificent collection of unhealthy, high-fat food groups. Ephraim is the kind of kid who would eat alien ants.

“I found Death Hunt 9,” Ephraim says. This, coming out of nowhere.

Death Hunt 9 is a video game so violent it hasn’t been released. The only way to get it is to illegally download a bootleg copy off the Net. Only the truly wounded would want this game and Ephraim’s been searching for it for weeks.

“Good for you, Ephraim, now go disappear into your bedroom, and let me read about alien ants, okay?”

“Nah,” says Ephraim. “I already beat it. It wasn’t hard at all . . . no way . . . yeah . . .” His voice trails off. He sounds disappointed.

Here’s the thing.

Ephraim surprised his parents. His siblings are all at least fifteen years older than he is and Ephraim’s mother was never supposed to get pregnant again. Hence his parents have decided Ephraim didn’t really happen and they ignore him. And because they do, Ephraim spends the ma- jority of his time living as an avatar in an online, computer- based community in Illinois. The avatar is nothing like him. Ephraim’s avatar has his own apartment, an impor- tant job, a social life. He, the avatar, even gets laid on oc- casion. Ephraim’s built an online fantasy world where he’s safe and happy and can control things. In real life, Ephraim stays home sick a lot.

“Hey! Hey, Willard!”

Ephraim and I both turn to see that a couple of tables away a big, handsome guy named John Montebello is standing, gesturing for someone to join him. On the moron scale of one to ten, John Montebello is a twenty. If Dad—Gordon—has decided he’s earned everything we have, John Montebello has long since decided he’s earned everything his father has.

“Hey, Willard, over here!”

Willard Twomey has come out of the kitchen, a tray in his hands. I’ve seen him in classes now, a couple of days running. He still hasn’t uttered a word, still hasn’t so much as looked at anyone. If he’s changed his clothes since his first day of school, you wouldn’t know it.

“Come on, dude!” says Montebello. “Sit with us!” Montebello’s at a table surrounded by his popular jock posse who, added up, push the moron scale into the high two hundreds. Normally they wouldn’t be here at all. All of a sudden I wonder if they’ve planned this.

“C’mon, we don’t bite! Much!


Again, I get the sense that Willard Twomey feels none of this is happening to him, and if it is, he couldn’t care less. Montebello nudges the kid right next to him out of his seat.

“Pull up a chair, dawg. You don’t want to eat by your- self, right?”

Fact.

“Dawg” is an example of what is called Ebonics. Eb- onics is the study of nonstandard African-American vernacular English, meaning speech often used by black people.

Sidebar.

The closest kids like John Montebello ever get to black people is listening to deafening rap music while parked at stoplights with the windows of the car rolled down.

Willard Twomey crosses to the table, sits down and begins to eat. Montebello looks around at his jock posse as if to say, Watch this.

“So, Willard. Monaghan got you up to speed yet? ’Cause, dude, you look like you still got the brakes on.” Har-har-har. The jocks all snark and slap palms with one another as if in the entire history of the world, this is the sharpest thing anyone has ever said.

Willard Twomey just eats his food.

“Willard, huh? That’s, uh—that’s kind of a retarded name, huh?”

Giggle-gaggle-gaw! Willard Twomey eats his food. “Y’know,  there  was  this  movie called  Willard.  All about this freaky guy who loved rats. I mean, like, he slept with rats, Willard. When he took a dump in the morning, he did it with a freakin’ rat on his lap. You do that? You take dumps with rats? Is that cheese you’re eatin’ or what, dawg?”
The jocks think that’s really hysterical. One of them gags and spurts milk out his nose.
Willard Twomey eats.

“Yeah, ol’ Willard here looks like a guy who loves his rat food,” says Montebello. “Squeaky-squeak!”
“Squeaky-squeak,” intone all the other morons at the table, in different voices, a regular rat choir. “Squeaky- squeak.”
Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, Willard Twomey rises. Montebello looks surprised, then annoyed. He’s definitely not used to people his own age ignoring him, especially when he’s being such a comedian.
“Hey, Willard, come again, when you can’t stay so long, okay? And say hi to your rats.”
Willard Twomey picks up his tray and swings it into John Montebello’s head, knocking him out of his chair. Plate, silverware, and uneaten food fly.
No one can believe it. John Montebello began lifting weights at age twelve just to get a head start on beating people up. As Montebello tries to rise, Willard Twomey hits him over the head with the tray again and again, forc- ing him back down to the floor until he curls into a fetal position and covers up.
“Fuck!” Montebello whimpers. “Fuck!” No one can believe it.
Willard Twomey throws the broken tray down at John Montebello. It bounces off his head and clatters away.
Believe it.
Willard Twomey turns. He stares contemptuously at the other jocks as if daring someone to do something. Anything. Not one of them moves, not even the guy with milk in his nose.
The dam breaks and the whole room begins hubbub- bing at once. Some of the surfers are laughing. The Asian kids are talking excitedly in Chinese. The black guys are all slapping palms. Girls are pretending to be horrified. Faculty members come rushing across the cafeteria from wherever it is they’ve been standing. One goes to Monte- bello. Two others grab Willard Twomey who is as docile as a baby as he’s led out.
I’ve never seen real violence before. I see why people find it effective.

“He’s awesome,” whispers Ephraim.

For more excerpts, check out these blogs:

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