Monday, October 31, 2011

Giveaway: The Kingdom of Childhood

We have one copy of The Kingdom of Childhood by Rebecca Coleman to giveaway to one lucky winner. 

To be eligible, please be a resident of the US or Canada and fill out the form below by midnight EST November 5th.

Good Luck!

Author Interview: Rebecca Coleman

Earlier today Alice reviewed the controversial new novel by Rebecca Coleman The Kingdom of Childhood.  We are pleased Ms. Coleman took the time to answer a few questions for us.  Enjoy!

Girls Just Reading (GJR):  This novel blew me away. What made you decide to write about such a taboo subject?

Rebecca Coleman (RC):  I think I was a little naive going into it-- I knew it was a taboo subject, but I also knew it was a common part of the news cycle and so I thought people would be interested in reading a fictional take on it. It seemed like kind of an oversight that nobody else had written a novel about it, except for "Notes on a Scandal," which is really more about the narrator being a lonely friend to the teacher in question. Once reviews and comments began rolling in, the shock at the very topic of it-- let alone the writing-- caught me a bit off-guard. I thought, "you do realize I didn't invent this crime myself, right?"

GJR:  Was there any particular news story that inspired The Kingdom of Childhood?

RC:  It was a story that I caught on the news, but I don't remember which one in particular. We tend to remember the ones with colorful elements-- teachers with bikini photos, or Mary Kay Letourneau, of course, where the boy in question is openly defending the relationship and the teacher is pregnant in jail. But most of those cases are a lot more run-of-the-mill, with a very bare framework and seemingly ordinary people, and that's what caught my attention initially. You know that for an adult woman to do this, she has to be absolutely obsessed, bent on risking everything to both pursue this and to cover it up. And so it made me wonder, what's the real story behind all that? Why did that risk seem reasonable to her?

GJR:  I didn’t want to like Judy, but I couldn’t help it. She was flawed, human. How challenging was it to write her character?

RC:  The book as a whole was very challenging, but Judy as a character wasn't as hard to write as you might think. Narcissists are fairly easy to write, because they're always motivated by what serves them best, and so a character like Judy will always act based on what's best for Judy. It's harder to write someone like Zach, who will be struggling between his own interests and his family's and his higher principles, and who might act based on any one of those things. But I had compassion for both of them. Inside Judy there is a little girl who desperately wants structure and guidance and a sense of security, and navigating the world without those things is a perilous task.

GJR:  What was the most difficult aspect in writing this novel? What was the hardest scene to write?

RC:  The most difficult aspect-- and for me this is true of any book-- was letting go of elements of the novel that had personal significance to me but weren't the best thing for the story. The hardest scene-- that's hard to say without offering spoilers, but probably the final Germany-flashback scene in the book. I wrote it several different ways and really agonized over whether to include it the way it's written. It felt like the right thing for the story, but there was a part of my mind saying, "You're kidding, right? You're really determined not to sell this novel, aren't you?"

GJR:  What made you decide to tell the story in a multi narrative as opposed to just Judy’s voice?

RC:  It was really important to me that in a story like this one, the victim's voice be given equal weight, if not more. When I was researching for the book I found that the boys in these cases, because they're minors, never have any sort of public voice. We see the teacher's mugshots, we hear the very basic facts of the cases, but the boys are invisible, and I think we tend to make assumptions about them. And yet I found a couple of posts in a debate forum on this issue from anonymous men who said they had been in such a situation as teenagers, and they felt it had really damaged them-- wasted years of their lives, given them long-standing trust issues. Maybe they don't all feel that way, but some certainly do. So I felt Zach's side of the story would be just as interesting as Judy's, as he's put in this position of hiding a crime, lying to people he loves, and resisting a relationship with someone his own age, who he cares about, because he's emotionally trapped in this destructive relationship with a teacher. The stereotype that "the kid got lucky" doesn't pan out in reality.

GJR:  Are you currently working on another novel? If so, what is the premise?

RC:  Yes-- it's called "Merciless Savages," and it's about a family that is torn apart when their son and brother comes home from Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder. It should be out next September, and I'm very excited about it. It's a meaningful subject to me.

GJR:  Who are your favorite authors?

RC:  Margaret Atwood is a longtime favorite, and I had the incredible good fortune of meeting her at a party this past spring-- talk about starstruck. But I also love Barbara Kingsolver and Eleanor Brown and Ann Hite. And the less-scary Stephen King, too.

GJR:  What are you currently reading?

RC:  I just finished a new book called "Everything Happens Today" by Jesse Browner-- it's like an updated, reinvented version of "The Catcher in the Rye." I absolutely loved it. Its a smart, funny, compassionate read.

GJR:  When you write, do you have total quiet or background noise?

RC:  I need it to be quiet, which is a tall order in a house with four kids and no office. I end up doing a lot of middle-of-the-night writing.

GJR:  Can you describe your writing process?

RC:  I get an idea, then sit down and write the first 30,000 words like a woman possessed. Not at all once, of course, but still quite obsessively. Then I realize it's getting complicated, and I slow down. At around 60,000 words I decide to shelve it, start working on another project, then get nostalgic for the old one and write the last third of it. Then come revisions. The final stage of revisions feels a lot like the final stage of selling a house-- the part after the buyer's walk-through, where they say they'll only go to settlement tomorrow if you paint that wall and fix the window screens. You're just fuming and can't wait to get it over with. I know I make it sound very romantic.

GJR:  Something different: What’s an average day for you? What’s a great/ideal day?

RC:  I'm a mom to four kids, so every weekday starts with taking them at to school before settling in to write and intercept emails, tweets, and Facebook comments, and somehow fit my day job in there as well (I work that one from home, too). I try to set pretty strict goals for myself or else all the fragmenting elements-- social media, mainly-- will take over. On an ideal day, my kids are all kind to each other, the writing flows, I get to have lunch with a friend, and there's lots of hot water when I turn on the shower. When all those things come together I feel like the happiest person in the world.

Alice's Review: The Kingdom of Childhood

Summary:  THE KINGDOM OF CHILDHOOD is the story of a boy and a woman: sixteen-year-old Zach Patterson, uprooted and struggling to reconcile his knowledge of his mother's extramarital affair, and Judy McFarland, a kindergarten teacher watching her family unravel before her eyes. Thrown together to organize a fundraiser for their failing private school and bonded by loneliness, they begin an affair that at first thrills, then corrupts, each of them. Judy sees in Zach the elements of a young man she loved when she was only a child. But what Zach does not realize is that-- for Judy-- their relationship is only the latest in a lifetime of disturbing secrets.

Review:  There are many things I can say about this novel. It is strangely creepy, slightly horrific like a car accident on the freeway you can't turn away from. Oh, there were times I had to put this novel down and walk away because the subject matter was disturbing. My biggest struggle with it is that in spite of essentially being a pedophile, I liked Judy. I liked Judy a lot. Even when I couldn't wait for her to get what was coming to her, what she deserved for this extremely inappropriate behavior, I still liked her. And that is the key to what Rebecca Coleman excels at. She took a woman of despicable behavior, made her flaws what she did and not who she was. She made her human and likable. For this reason alone you should read this novel.

The other reason is she took a subject that is taboo (and that’s putting it mildly) and created a work of art that was so engrossing, the pages practically turned themselves. I really enjoyed how she laced the novel with both first and third person accounts of Judy’s journey. The passages in Judy’s point of view were captivating. I know I keep going back to Judy’s point of view, but it’s what sold me on this novel. Ms. Coleman goes back and forth in time. From the early 60s when Judy is a small child in Germany spending time with a local boy, older and protective like a brother to her present, dissatisfied in her life and marriage. And although there were times I had no idea what was going on in Judy’s head, I had a feeling she didn’t know either. She threw her moral compass out the window and lived. And wrong as her choices were, she owned them.

I also enjoyed how well developed the support characters were. Ms. Coleman’s writing was beautiful, honest. The dialogue among the characters was spot on and realistic. The story moved along well, I had no idea how it would end. It was suspenseful, nervy, bold. I remember telling our Julie “I don’t know how Judy’s going to get hers, but she’s going to. She has to.” And boy was I surprised in the final pages.

The Kingdom of Childhood novel was a must read for me. It’s fantastically unnerving and absolutely excellent. Go pick this up today. You won’t be sorry. Creeped out, yes but not sorry.

Final Take: 4/5


Sunday, October 30, 2011

Children's Corner: Clifford's Halloween Howl

Review: To keep in the spirit of the season, I thought I'd do a very quick review of a staple in our house at Halloween; Halloween Howl. My daughter received this from one of her classmates at pre-school a few years ago instead of candy (clever thinking) and she's been hooked ever since. She's 6 and you think she'd out grown him right? Not yet. Now my almost 4 year old son is on the bandwagon, so I get mileage out of this one at night.

This book isn't the Clifford books I grew up with but they take place when he was a puppy and they lived in the city. As with most books the plot for these is quite simple but it does pack a good lesson into it. You see Clifford and his friends are all playing when a spooky sound starts to come from the apartment building nearby and one of his friends quickly shreaks "Monster!". This sends all the other animals into a tizy and running for safety but not before coming across a mysterious item in the hallway. They all then seek shelter in Clifford's apartment. Clifford decides that he must protect Emily Elizabeth from whatever is out there and he gets in her bag.

Clifford doesn't quite see what he and his friends have imagined. So the lesson that is taught to kids is not worry about something until you know what it is and if it is really scary. In more adult terms "don't judge a book by it's cover".

I love the bright colors and the illustrations in this series of books. I've always loved Clifford, so I'm happy to introduce my kids to him as well. I'm thrilled that Emily Elizabeth has gotten a fresh look as well; she doesn't seem so creepy to me now.

This is a perfect book for those that are still a bit frightened on Halloween (like my daughter) and teaches them that perhaps things aren't always what they seem.

Side Note: On Wednesday I was "Mystery Reader" at my daughter's class and they all seemed to really enjoy it and well doesn't every kid love Clifford? :)


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Alice's Review: Spooky Little Girl

Summary:  Death is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.
Coming home from a Hawaiian vacation with her best girlfriends, Lucy Fisher is stunned to find everything she owns tossed out on her front lawn, the locks changed, and her fiancé’s phone disconnected—plus she’s just lost her job. With her world spinning wildly out of her control, Lucy decides to make a new start and moves upstate to live with her sister and nephew. But then things take an even more dramatic turn: A fatal encounter with public transportation lands Lucy not in the hereafter but in the nearly hereafter. She’s back in school, learning the parameters of spooking and how to become a successful spirit in order to complete a ghostly assignment. If Lucy succeeds, she’s guaranteed a spot in the next level of the afterlife—but until then, she’s stuck as a ghost in the last place she would ever want to be. Trying to avoid being trapped on earth for all eternity, Lucy crosses the line between life and death and back again when she returns home. Navigating the perilous channels of the paranormal, she’s determined to find out why her life crumbled and why, despite her ghastly death, no one seems to have noticed she’s gone. But urgency on the spectral plane—in the departed person of her feisty grandmother, who is risking both their eternal lives—requires attention, and Lucy realizes that you get only one chance to be spectacular in death.

Review: I love Laurie Notaro; I do. Even before I knew who Jen Lancaster was, I was getting splitting stitches in my side from laughing at her misadventures since The Idiot Girls' Action-Adventure Club: True Tales from a Magnificent and Clumsy Life. Also, I am totally addicted to the TV show Ghost Adventures; so if Laurie Notaro and Ghost Adventures had a love child, it would be SpookyLittle Girl.

This is by far the funniest book I have read so far this year. I chose this novel because I needed one with a size in the title for the What’s in a Name? Challenge. The truth is I really wasn’t looking forward to reading it. Although I love her true-life comedy books, I tried to read Ms. Notaro’s first attempt at fiction and sadly couldn’t make it past page 10. I’m glad I gave this one a try because it was quite a pleasant surprise.

After returning from a bad vacation in Hawaii – I didn’t think that was possible – Lucy returns to have her stuff thrown all across the lawn of the home she shares with her fiance Martin. Then she is fired from her job. With a broken heart, unemployed Lucy moves in with her sister Alice (great name). And if things aren’t terrible enough for her, on her way to the unemployment office she accidentally steps in front of a bus and meets an unexpected and early demise. What happens next is one of the best ghost stories (okay, this only ghost story) I have ever read.

Lucy endures weeks of “spook” training before heading back to earth to complete an assignment before she heads to the “State,” her final destination. Lucy hopes to return to Alice’s house, to help her sister, but things never happen as planned, even in death. Lucy heads right back to Martin’s house to complete her mission. What ensues is a very humorous adventure to solve the mysterious mission.

I loved the characters in this novel. Naunie, Lucy’s grandmother was fantastic. She reminded me a bit of Grandma Mazur from Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. She had plenty of moxie. I love how Ms. Notaro explains the many Lady in White ghosts. You know whom I am talking about, no matter where you are there is always a legend of a Lady in White ghost. (Annie from Annie’s Road in Totowa, NJ is our local Lady in White.) I also enjoyed being party of Lucy’s relationship with Tulip, her rescued dog. And the ghost hunt/séance scene still makes me crack up just thinking of it.

Overall, this is a great book that will appeal to lovers of the paranormal or to anyone who believes in a second chance to get it right. And even if you don’t believe in second chances, there is always laughter. And really who doesn’t like to laugh?

Final Take: 4/5


Friday, October 28, 2011

Book to Movie: The Lincoln Laywer

Summary: In the gripping thriller “The Lincoln Lawyer,” Matthew McConaughey stars as Michael “Mick” Haller, a slick, charismatic Los Angeles criminal defense attorney who operates out of the back of his Lincoln Continental sedan. Having spent most of his career defending petty, gutter- variety criminals, Mick unexpectedly lands the case of a lifetime: defending a rich Beverly Hills playboy (Ryan Phillippe) who is accused of attempted murder. However, what initially appears to be a straightforward case with a big money pay-off swiftly develops into a deadly match between two masters of manipulation and a crisis of conscience for Haller.

Review: It's a distant memory I have of reading The Lincoln Lawyer, but I definitely remember not liking Mickey Haller. So, when I heard Matthew McConaughey was playing him I thought it was solid cast since for me he has a bit of a slime ball aspect to him. I don't remember the details of the story from the book but I thought there were some changes to the plot. For instance, I don't recall Mick and Maggie getting along so well; in fact I think it was pretty much the opposite. They only thing they agreed about was their daughter and even then they fought. I definitely remember the biker gang and was happy that they kept that in the movie.

Ryan Phillippe is perfectly cast as Louis and plays the part extremely well. Marisa Tomei is a great casting job as Maggie McPhearson and I enjoyed William H. Macy as Frank Levine.

Perhaps it is because I've gone deeper into the Lincoln Lawyer books but now I can see past Mick's facade and I know there's more to him than just getting his clients off whether or not he believes in their innocence or not. I'm guessing that's what makes a great defense lawyer, the ability to get a client off regardless of the case stacked against them.

It wasn't until mid-way through the movie that I thought it picked up but before that I thought it was a bit slow going.

I am wondering if this will be the first of Mickey Haller movies since there are more books. I'd love to see them add Harry Bosch to the cast!

Final Take: 3/5


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Author Interview: Mitchell Maxwell

Last week I reviewed Little Did I Know by Mitchell Maxwell, this week we bring you part of an interview that Mr. Maxwell did for promotion of his debut novel.

Can you tell us something about yourself that not a lot of your readers know?

I am a tremendous optimist—I believe that you can will things to happen and when all seems at the lowest that is when you figure it out.  And I can tell my wife anything which makes me very lucky

Do you have any quirks that come out while you are writing? 

I don’t trust the dialogue so I read it out loud several times in the voices of the characters to make sure it has a special and specific cadence and so that everyone sounds different.  To make sure the characters speak in their “speak” their vocabulary and with a unique energy that makes us all individuals.

What is your daily routine as a writer?   

I think about what I am going to write throughout the day so when I sit in front of the computer the words have been pre written in my head. 

What inspired you to write your first book?

A need to revisit joy and spontaneity and lose cynicism.

If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

Yes but I can only tell you after you have read the novel otherwise it will give too much away

What is your favorite part of the writing process?  

Surprise as to where my characters go how they react to situations and how they grow in ways I never imagined.  I also like to find new words to say things in a fresh fashion.

Our thanks to the publicist for providing us with the interview.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jenn's Review: Awake at Dawn

Summary:  From the moment Kylie Galen arrived at Shadow Falls Camp, she’s had one burning question:  What am I?  Surrounded by vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters, fairies and witches, Kylie longs to figure out her own supernatural identity…and what her burgeoning powers mean.  And now she’ll need them more than ever, because she’s being haunted by a new spirit who insists that someone Kylie knows—and loves—will die before the end of the summer. If only she only knew who she was supposed to save.  And how…

But giving Kylie the most trouble is her aching heart.   Gorgeous werewolf Lucas left camp with another girl, but he’s still visiting Kylie in her dreams.  And Derek, a sexy half Fae who’s always been there for her when she needed him, is pushing to get more serious—and growing impatient, especially when Lucas returns.  Kylie knows she needs to decide between the boys, and it’s tearing her up inside. 

Yet romance will have to wait, because something from the dark side of the supernatural world is hiding in Shadow Falls.  It’s about to threaten everything she holds dear…and bring her closer to her destiny. ~product description

Review:  I absolutely adore this series!  I am very grateful to our friends at St. Martin's Press for turning me on to it by sending me the first book of the Shadow Falls series to review as an ARC last year, because it's one I may not have come across on my own ...and, oh, do I love these books!

I was glad to see the story picked up shortly after things left off in Born at Midnight.  I was afraid that C.C. Hunter might jump ahead to the fall,  when the camp was promised to turn into a boarding school.   It would have been easy to gloss over the rest of the summer, and I'm glad the author did not choose this route.   There we're many loose ends in Born at Midnight and Awake at Dawn spends some time wrapping those up, while unraveling some others.

I'm not a huge fan of angst-y love triangles and this one isn't.  It's one of the many things Hunter does so beautifully.  Yes, Kylie is interested in two boys, but she knows she needs to sort herself out first before she makes any big decisions, not to mention the boys need to figure some some things out for themselves as well.  

Hunter's characters are all flawed but likable.  Kylie is hard on herself, but not as down on herself as she used to be. She's making great strides at being comfortable with who she is, even though what she truly is seems to be more elusive than ever before.  Kylie's vampire friend and roommate Della's story is becoming more interesting too, and I hope we will be spending more time with her in the future.  I love Derek and I love who he and Kylie become when they are around with each other, but I'm worried that his ever growing powers will be more than he can handle. I still don't quite trust Lucas, but I look forward to him proving himself. ...And here I am talking about the characters as if they're real people, again.  A sure sign that the author has hooked me.

There are a plethora of supernaturals at camp and that makes for a story that is deep with layers.  It's wonderful to watch all the side stories develop, and see which ones the author brings into center stage now, and which ones will simmer on the back burner for a later book in the series.  At the same time, Hunter keeps introducing new facets to keep things interesting.

The many dimensions pulls the reader in and makes it hard to put down.  I wanted to savor this one since  book three, Taken at Dusk, won't be released until April, but every time I tried to put it down, I found myself returning to it.   Luckily, there is a preview of Taken at Dusk at the end of Awake at Dawn, so I'll have something to tide me over until April...

Final Take:  5/5

Monday, October 24, 2011

Julie's Review: The Gate House

Summary: When John Sutter's aristocratic wife killed her mafia don lover, John left America and set out in his sailboat on a three-year journey around the world, eventually settling in London. Now, ten years later, he has come home to the Gold Coast, that stretch of land on the North Shore of Long Island that once held the greatest concentration of wealth and power in America, to attend the imminent funeral of an old family servant.

Review: In 2008, I re-read The Gold Coast in prep for The Gate House being released. Obviously, I didn't get around to it around release date, so I chose it for my TBR Challenge this year. Nelson DeMille has always been a favorite author since my aunt introduced me to him by lending me The Charm School when I was 18.

I really enjoyed The Gold Coast even on my re-read so on some level I was excited for the sequel. Unfortunately, the sequel in my head was better than this. This novel is a chunkster at 673. When I spend the first 150 pages of the book reading how the main character is over his ex-wife's betrayal but yeah he's not.

When did John Sutter turn into such a whiner? I'm serious. And within the first 100 pages I totally knew where the plot was going to go and yelled out "Really, wasn't this pretty much the plot of the first book?" Also, didn't John learn his lessons the first time around? Apparently not. Maybe this time around Susan won't betray him and sleep with the mafia boss.

The only thing redeeming about the book is that Mr. DeMille still keeps John's wit and sarcasm; both are things that I adored about him before.

Sometimes the sequel doesn't live up to the original and this is the case with this novel. I wish that the plot would have taken another direction entirely. I would have liked to have seen John and Susan tackle a different enemy.

I have another sequel of Mr. DeMille's to read (The Lion) and now I'm a little nervous. I can't remember if it's on my 2012 TBR List or not, but I will read it next year.

Final Take: 3/5


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Children's Corner: How to Hug

My daughter is a huge hugger ~sometimes to the complete shock of the recipient.  So when I saw this book on the library display, I snapped it up.  I think it's a wonderful little book that helps children think about hugging and personal space.  It gives good guidelines ("Never hug anyone who's angry.  It can take time to get over it, so just be patient." as well as "Never hug too many people at once." which has caused many piles of fallen children in my daughter's world.)  as well as understanding about sometimes, people don't like to be hugged, but they may like a hand to hold, or that you may get more than you bargained for and get a kiss too (especially if you hug my daughter!).  It also mentions that it's okay to say no to a hug, a concept that it's important that children learn early on.  While it doesn't venture into stranger danger, it opens the door for a discussion of it, if that's what you wish.

I love the warm inviting illustrations by Jana Christy too ~all the hugs are animal related in the pictures, and she has very ingenious concepts that keep a book that could be overly serious on the light and fun side.  I especially love all the examples of different kinds of hugs.  This is a great bed time read as it isn't overly long and wordy, but it's also warm and cuddly too.   I think this will be another permanent addition to our shelf.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Alice's Review: The Eternal Ones

Summary:  Haven Moore has always lived in the town of Snope City, Tennessee. But for as long as she can remember, Haven has experienced visions of a past life as a girl named Constance, whose love for a boy called Ethan ended in fiery tragedy.  One day, the sight of notorious playboy Iain Morrow on television brings Haven to her knees. Haven flees to New York City to find Iain and there, she is swept up in an epic love affair that feels both deeply fated and terribly dangerous. Is Iain her beloved Ethan? Or is he her murderer from a past life? Haven asks the members of the powerful and mysterious Ouroboros Society to help her unlock the mysteries of reincarnation and discover the secrets hidden in her past lives, and loves, before all is lost and the cycle begins again. But what is the Ouroboros Society? And how can Haven know whom to trust? ~

Review: I picked up this novel on a whim after hearing the good buzz about it. I’m a sucker for romance, especially the kind that transcends time. I’m just going to put it out there right off the bat…I loved this novel. Loved it, loved it, loved it. Was it perfect? No. Am I so crazy excited about the sequel that I ordered it as soon as I flipped the last page? Yes.

I’m not even sure where to begin. I really enjoyed the Manhattan setting of Eternal Ones. Ms. Miller mentions city neighborhoods that are right around the corner from where I work. I can see Gramercy park from my office window. I’ve shopped in the drugstore Haven hid from the grey men. I loved that she made New York a character as well.

Eternal Ones was well written, well researched. I liked the idea of past lives and links formed that last lifetimes. She breathed life into all the characters making them very real, annoyingly so at times. What drove me the most nuts were Haven and Iain. Funny considering they are the main characters in this adventure. Haven because she kept doubting Iain. Although, truth be told, there wouldn’t be much of a novel if she had believed him. And Iain because if he would have told her the truth, she wouldn’t have doubted him. Oh, what a vicious circle it was.

And Haven? Where do I start? Although she was seventeen years old, she didn’t show much maturity. At times, she came across a like a self-centered thirteen year old instead of a young woman searching for her true love of 2,000 years. Even now, I have a hard time picturing her as an adult. I hope that in the sequel she will act more like one. It’s not that I disliked her, it’s that I wish she’d grow up.

There were quite a few characters I really enjoyed getting to know. First of all was Beau, Haven’s best friend. He always gave it to her straight and everyone needs a friend like that. I also liked Marta, the troubled artist. I wish her scenes were longer. I hope there is a Marta spinoff in the future. I would love to find out her story in detail. And I just loved the villain, who was so wonderfully creepy.

Through ever page, the story flowed at a quick pace. I was looking forward to what happened next. I suspected a couple things along the way and when they were revealed, I was pleased more than disappointed I was able to figure it out. In the end, I was happy with the resolution but would have been equally happy if it had gone another way.

Although the novel classification is Young Adult, I think anyone will enjoy it, regardless of what genre the reader likes. There was enough mystery, drama, excitement, sci-fi, and romance to draw in most readers, enough variety without overpowering the next. One thing I will say is that there is a bit of religion in the novel however, it is a means to move along the story.

Maybe I was connected to the setting, I don’t know. All I know is that I kept going back to it, excited to find out if Haven and Iain have the kind of love what will make it in this lifetime.

Final Take: 5/5

Friday, October 21, 2011

Alice's Review: Needles and Pearls

Needles and Pearls: A NovelSummary:  A brief affair after the death of her philandering husband yields a surprising result for a shopkeeper in McNeil's warm and fuzzy sequel to The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club. Jo Mackenzie's succeeded in rehabbing her Gran's wool shop in Broadgate, a lovely seaside town in England. Her Stitch and Bitch class is popular; her two young boys, Archie and Jack, have settled in; and her Gran's getting married. But Jo's liaison with Daniel Fitzgerald, a globe-trotting photographer, has ended, leaving Jo to sort out what's next. Big changes and a bevy of stressful obstacles test her mettle and reorder her world. Will Martin Trent, the newly divorced son of her Gran's friend, be a part of it? It's a little on the chatty side, but McNeil spins a comfy, hopeful yarn with believable characters.

Review:  I picked up Needles and Pearls on my hunt for a novel with a gem in the title as part of the “What’s in a Name” challenge. (A pearl is a gem, yes?) And as a beginning knitter, I thought I would enjoy this.

The novel begins one year after the death of Jo’s cheating husband. When I first picked this up, I didn’t know it was the second novel in Gil McNeil’s Jo Mackenzie series. Being the second in the series, Ms. McNeil did a great job developing Needles and Pearls without leaving me feeling I was missing something. The story continues over the next few months of Jo’s life with many twists and surprises around each corner. What sets Jo apart is how she deals with these surprises.

Jo is quite the heroine. She is funny, charming, strong, but above all, she is full of grace. And if that’s not enough, she is so authentic, I fully expect to visit her shop and have tea with her on a future trip to England. I think it’s a challenge to write a character that is so real in spite of everything that has happened to her and that is exactly what Ms. McNeil has done.

Needles and Pearls is laugh out loud funny at times. It reads like a TV comedy about a shopkeeper in a small town coastal with quite a cast of zany characters. Some of those characters are quite famous, some are “common” folk, and there is even an authentic Lady thrown in for good measure. She has an overbearing mother, a loving grandmother, two spunky young sons, Britain’s most loved journalist as a best friend, a famous actress as a client, the boy next door as a love interest, and a crazy large dog named Trevor who wants to adopt her. Whew! Don’t even get me started on the shop ladies.

I enjoyed the friendship among the ladies, but more than anything I adored the promise of a romance between Martin (the boy next door) and Jo. I am pleased the author didn’t rush through their courtship. It was a refreshing change to see Jo think about what is best for her family instead of her own interests. It was also refreshing to see Martin give Jo the space and friend support she needed. He was a gentleman and I loved that about him.

Needles and Pearls didn’t temp me to pick up The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club to find out where it all began but I am looking forward to reading the third novel in this series Knit One, Pearl One.

Above all, I loved the sense of friendship embraced by the women involved. The “Stitch and Bitch” group was more than a casual place to go once a week. It was a place where the woman came together to gather comfort and strength from each other as well as knitting tips. The novel, like The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs, is a testament to friendship tightly woven with one knit and one purl at a time.

Final Take:  4/5

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Jenn's Review: Flash and Bones

Summary: Just as 200,000 fans are pouring into town for Race Week, a body is found in a barrel of asphalt next to the Charlotte Motor Speedway. The next day, a NASCAR crew member comes to Temperance Brennan’s office at the Mecklenburg County Medical Examiner to share a devastating story. Twelve years earlier, Wayne Gamble’s sister, Cindi, then a high school senior and aspiring racer, disappeared along with her boyfriend, Cale Lovette. Lovette kept company with a group of right-wing extremists known as the Patriot Posse. Could the body be Cindi’s? Or Cale’s?

At the time of their disappearance, the FBI joined the investigation, only to terminate it weeks later. Was there a cover-up? As Tempe juggles multiple theories, the discovery of a strange, deadly substance in the barrel alongside the body throws everything into question. Then an employee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention goes missing during Race Week. Tempe can’t overlook the coincidence. Was this man using his lab chemicals for murder? Or is the explanation even more sinister? What other secrets lurk behind the festive veneer of Race Week? 

Review:  Oh, how I've missed Temperance Brennan!  Though usually a serious lack of Andrew Ryan bothers me, it didn't seem as upsetting in this novel.  Perhaps because Kathy Reichs has returned to basics, a solid case with plenty of suspects, and lots of unanswered questions.

I have absolutely no interest in racing but as usual, Ms. Reichs kept me completely engaged with the subject and taught me a few things as well.  She balanced the racing with racism -an entire fringe racist group that may or may not have been involved in the death of the recently discovered victim, or the cold case disappearances. Oddly, I didn't find myself pushing to solve the case but found myself enjoying the discoveries as they came.  Though I did figure out the culprit before Tempe and Slidell, it was only by a few chapters.

As I mentioned at the beginning of my review, the only thing absent was any forward momentum in Tempe's love life -though some doors may be closing and some windows may be opening. Right now, Tempe doesn't really have time for romance, but I hope she'll make time for it.  (Obviously, I'm rooting for Andrew Ryan -I always have and I always will.)  And here I go, referencing Tempe as a real person not a character, but Kathy Reichs writes her so well, Temperance Brennan feels like an old friend to me.

I was really looking forward to a solid forensic mystery and Flash and Bones didn't disappoint.  Kathy Reichs seldom does.  Julie and I both highly recommend this series... or if you're looking for something a little lighter, try Kathy Reichs' new paranormal YA series.*

Final Take:  5.0/5

*I'll be reviewing newly released Seizure, the second book in the Virals series, before the end of the month.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Julie's Review: The Leftovers

Summary: What if—whoosh, right now, with no explanation—a number of us simply vanished? Would some of us collapse? Would others of us go on, one foot in front of the other, as we did before the world turned upside down? That’s what the bewildered citizens of Mapleton, who lost many of their neighbors, friends and lovers in the event known as the Sudden Departure, have to figure out. Because nothing has been the same since it happened—not marriages, not friendships, not even the relationships between parents and children. Kevin Garvey, Mapleton’s new mayor, wants to speed up the healing process, to bring a sense of renewed hope and purpose to his traumatized community. Kevin’s own family has fallen apart in the wake of the disaster: his wife, Laurie, has left to join the Guilty Remnant, a homegrown cult whose members take a vow of silence; his son, Tom, is gone, too, dropping out of college to follow a sketchy prophet named Holy Wayne. Only Kevin’s teenaged daughter, Jill, remains, and she’s definitely not the sweet “A” student she used to be. Kevin wants to help her, but he’s distracted by his growing relationship with Nora Durst, a woman who lost her entire family on October 14th and is still reeling from the tragedy, even as she struggles to move beyond it and make a new start. With heart, intelligence and a rare ability to illuminate the struggles inherent in ordinary lives, Tom Perrotta has written a startling, thought-provoking novel about love, connection and loss.

Review: I've only read one other Tom Perrotta book, The Abstinence Teacher and I enjoyed it. He really does get suburbia and the strife's of daily life. On the flip-side I've seen two movies based on his books and loved them; Election and Little Children. Both very thought provoking in different ways. In The Leftovers, he keeps up with this tradition of thought provoking novels by addressing a biblical event, The Rapture. It isn't so much "The Rapture" itself, but the people left to pick up the pieces of their lives and to try to make sense of the new world around them. We are quickly introduced to the Garvey family and how each of them is affected by the sudden disappearance of those in their lives. Jill is with her best friend when she leaves, Laurie is affected by her best friend losing her daughter, Tom is in college takes up with a cult and Kevin, seems to be the only one to take life by the horns and become Mayor of Mapleton.

If you are looking for an uplifting book about hope and love, you might want to steer clear of The Leftovers. I'm not saying that there aren't bright spots to the book, there are and I even found myself laughing a few times. What Mr. Perrotta writes very well is the human condition in extraordinary circumstances and makes them relevant to every day life.

How is Kevin supposed to handle it when is wife, Laurie, up and joins the Guilty Remnants? Is he supposed to act like she died and move on with his life? How hard is that when you do run into her but she can't speak? How is he supposed to relate to his teenage daughter who is dealing with her own emotions about her mother leaving and trying to figure out where she fits in the social aspect of high school?

Perhaps the most complex character is Nora. You see she lost her whole family during the "Sudden Departure" and is viewed in the town as a kind of martyr. How could you live in the same town where people don't know what to say to you or just don't say anything to you? How do you deal with the pent up rage you feel to those who have their families intact? How do you get back into life? For much of the book, we don't know a lot about Nora and her story is slowly revealed, until the end when you know what really is haunting her. As a mother, if you've never had the same thoughts that admits to, then either you have perfect kids/perfect marriage or you are lying to yourself. All mother's have been there and it passes.

I didn't find myself all that engaged in Tom's story because I felt that he used the "Sudden Departure" as an excuse to check out of his life and his commitments and to run free. At the end of the book, I didn't feel that he changed all that much either and was still a self-absorbed 20 something, who thought he was doing the right thing.

The only person that I feel that might be on the path to happiness or at least making the most out of the situation is Jill. Sure, she'll probably never really get over losing her mother but she'll deal with it and return to some semblance of normalcy. She goes through a lot during the course of the book and determines on her own what is important to her.

There were definitely a couple twists and turns that I didn't see coming and had to go back to re-read to ensure that I knew what had happened. I will say that the book ended a bit too abruptly for me. I wanted an epilogue or something...more. I'm not quite sure what to make of the ending. Is it a new beginning? Perhaps it is. Mr. Perrotta doesn't seem like a sequel kind of writer, so I will just have to make up the rest of the story for these characters in my head.

Final Take: 3.75/5


Monday, October 17, 2011

Jenn's Review: Little Did I Know

Summary:  Samuel August dreams of producing bigger-than-life musicals in the grand tradition of summer stock. It is the summer of 1976, an endless party for America's two-hundredth birthday is in full swing with young men and women recklessly coming of age under star-studded skies lit by orange neon moons.

Sam has just one summer to learn how to grow into the theatrical producer he aspires to be.

Review:  When the publicist offered Little Did I Know from a Tony Award-winning producer and director Mitchell Maxwell I was immediately intrigued. My background is in musical theatre and I've been out of the loop for a while and I thought this would be a good way to revisit. What I found instead was a romanticized reminiscence of summer stock theatre complete with drugs and salacious behavior. It hit all the cliches, which was sort of disappointing. I wasn't expecting a tell-all, but was hoping, perhaps, for a little more realism. There were lots of twists and turns to the story but everything was resolved with ease and dramatic flare... like a plot straight out of a musical. 

Mr. Maxwell tends to wax poetic from time to time, but it is easy to overlook because he has a smooth style with good pacing.  It took me a little while to appreciate his main character of Sam August, though.  Sam appraises the physical appearance and sexual appeal of every female he meets and if it weren't for Sam's strength of character, he would not be a very likable protagonist.  However, when push comes to shove, Sam makes the right decisions.  I wanted to see him in the gruel of production and rehearsal, though.  For a story about a director, Little Did I Know has very few scenes where we actually see Sam directing instead of just managing and galavanting.  There is only scene in the book where it is visited and then it is only because the cast starting to ignore his direction, but it would have been more powerful if the reader had actually been through some of the rehearsals.  As for Sam's relationship, it is predictable but a little less than realistic.  

Don't get me wrong, it's characters were interesting and the story kept me engaged.  It was a quick, feel-good read, it just fell short of my expectations.

Final Take:  3.5/5

Next Stop on the Book Blog Tour: Being Alison

Story excerpt:

I gestured for the group to sit closer, and from my breast pocket took a small, folded piece of glossy paper that I had torn from Variety. As I opened it, my friends’ eyes widened as if I were revealing the map to a treasure. In bold print was a small but arresting advertisement. Saying nothing, I let them read what it said:


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Children's Corner: The Autum Marathon

Review: This book is dear to my heart because Ms. Desjardins is a local author and the setting is the town I grew up in. I'm fairly certain that I recognize 99% of the drawings in the book. My husband also worked with her, so we received a signed copy when I was pregnant with my daughter.

This book is a mainstay at our house during the fall. My daughter would constantly pull this book out to read to her every night. I think she likes the idea that fall leaves are acting like people and going on an adventure. She likes that they start off in the morning and end up finishing the day at night.

What I love most about the book is its creativity not only in the story but in the pictures. They are simple and yet vibrant, full of color. Starting from the cover which is a gorgeous burnt orange to the inside that is filled with all the colors associated with fall.

The book has now taken up residence on my son's bookshelf, but I do find my daughter pulling it off the shelf to quietly look at herself.  I will continue to read this to my kids until they are too old to appreciate a story about a group of adventurous leaves and then I will save it for their kids.