Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Review and GIVEAWAY: The Universe Versus Alex Woods

The Universe Versus Alex Woods, by Gavin Extence.

To be honest with you, I'm not sure why they bothered weighing it.

"Alex, I have to ask: the contents of that urn ..."

Chief Inspector Hearse looked straight in my eyes and didn't say anything. It was pretty clear that he
wasn't going to ask, despite what he'd said, but I knew what the question was, obviously. And really I'd had enough of all of these psychological games. I was tired and thirsty. So I didn't wait to see if Chief Inspector Hearse was ever going to finish his question. I just nodded my head and told him what he wanted to know.

"Yes," I said. "That was Mr. Peterson."


Alex Woods is definitely an interesting narrator. Whip smart, he was struck by a meteor at the age of ten, and has never really been quite "normal" since. Although I overall liked this novel, sometimes the matter-of-fact way he explains everything does drag on rather long; other parts, however, are hilarious without Alex necessarily meaning them to be.

Official synopsis:
Gavin ExtenceA rare meteorite struck Alex Woods when he was ten years old, leaving scars and marking him for an extraordinary future. The son of a fortune teller, bookish, and an easy target for bullies, Alex hasn't had the easiest childhood.

But when he meets curmudgeonly widower Mr. Peterson, he finds an unlikely friend. Someone who teaches him that that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make it count.

So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the front seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he's fairly sure he's done the right thing ...

Introducing a bright young voice destined to charm the world, The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a celebration of curious incidents, astronomy and astrology, the works of Kurt Vonnegut and the unexpected connections that form our world.
-

First, we start at the end: Alex is detained by British customs after driving back from Switzerland with 113 grams of marijuana and an urn of ashes containing his best friend, Mr. Peterson. Though this might look suspicious, and in fact a manhunt to find Alex had been going on for days, there are always two sides to every story.

We then jump to the beginning, where Alex's life changes forever when he's hit by a meteor one day in his own home; it crashes through the roof.

On this book's back cover, it says "Perfect for fans of Mark Haddon, Nick Hornby and Karen Russell" - I haven't read Russell, and I like Hornby's books, but I was not a fan of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and the narrator in this one is very similar. The story in Alex Woods, however, is very interesting, and reminded me a bit of the Dr. Kevorkian trials we had here in Michigan a while back - it deals with assisted suicide, and what is right by the law versus what is "morally" right.

I will say that Alex can be a cheeky/funny character sometimes. Some of these passages had me laughing:
This turned out to be the psychiatric ward - abbreviated to the 'psych ward,' or simply 'psych,' whenever the nurses were talking amongst themselves. I found this casual shortening a little too casual for my taste, but my mother seemed to think that for most people it was more likely to be reassuring; most people, she said, were not that comfortable with medical polysyllables. From her personal experience, she knew that a similar shortening occurred on gynaecology, which was always abbreviated to 'gynae' - but this was a conversation I decided not to pursue.
And:
I'd found this a reassuringly practical approach to town planning; from what I'd been able to ascertain online, the Swiss were a reassuringly practical people. They had a long, proud history of staying out of wars, preferring to devote themselves to more constructive endeavors like science, secure banking, and building extremely accurate clocks.
The Universe Versus Alex Woods, then, is not for everyone, but if you like a good story with a quirky narrator, you should pick it up to read at some point.

3 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was given a copy of this novel to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

GIVEAWAY:

I have one copy of The Universe Versus Alex Woods to give to a lucky reader. Enter via the Rafflecopter form below. The contest will end next Wednesday, July 3, at 11:59pm EST, and the winner will be emailed on July 4 and have 48 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen. U.S./Canada only, please.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review and GIVEAWAY: Dark Dawn

Dark Dawn, by Melissa Brodsky and Nicole Andrews Moore.

"Release the girl and no harm will come to you." Seth tried to reason with Gan, he knew he would be futile though; Fae didn't know reason.

"Now Seth, why would I do something like that? You know how we Fae feel about The Awakened," Gan said mockingly, malice thick in his words.

"Because I command you to do so or I will destroy you!" His voice boomed.

"Hm, what is it that those humans say?" Gan tapped a finger to his head in thought, "Oh yes, bring it on, bitch."

-

Full disclosure: Dark Dawn is co-written by a friend of mine who is also local to the area (Melissa Brodsky), with Nicole Andrews Moore. It's always interesting to review books written by people you know; I always do honest reviews, but it's awkward if you didn't like the book. Luckily, Dark Dawn did not disappoint, and if you're a fan of paranormal novels, you will like this book.

Official synopsis:
Melissa Brodsky, Nicole Andrews MooreIn the beginning God made the heavens and the earth, and everything in between. The In-between was unplanned, unexpected, and unwelcome. Every action causes a reaction and when mankind was born, so were the Fae. Suddenly it was up to Heaven to save Earth. God created Angels to right his wrong, to save human kind. A deal was made, an agreement of sorts. The Angels would protect humanity from Fae domination and destruction, and in return they would have inhuman strength and immortality. Thus a time of angels swooping in to save humans from free will, bad decisions, and big mistakes began. They protected humans from the Fae who intentionally enslaved them, leaving shells of humans, or worse, leaving nothing at all.

Even God doesn’t always learn from mistakes. Angels were given freedom of choice. Some Angels chose wrong. When some of them spread their wings, they went too far, and just as Icharus was punished for getting too close to the sun, they were punished for getting too close to mankind.

So they fell. Falling was the easy part.
-

From this novel's blurb, Dark Dawn almost sounded like Melissa de la Cruz's Blue Bloods series, only with angels; however, although they share the paranormal genre, there's not many other similarities. The book follows The Guardians (which made me think of this movie a little, ha) and tells how they were created by "their father" (aka God) to watch over his creations, specifically the humans on Earth. The Fae, an evil group, are similar to the Guardians except flipped: they want to rule the Earth and kill all Guardians. The Guardians are not supposed to have relationships with humans, but two of the ones in this novel, Anna and Seth, both engage in relationships throughout.

The premise of this novel is interesting. I do like supernatural/paranormal books which is why I liked this one, although some of the writing/words used made me laugh - in one scene, Seth is having sex with a human he likes, and he called his sperm his "love juice" or something like that. I found it interesting how God created the Guardians, yet he doesn't make them "check in" as much with him too.

Dark Dawn is the first in the Dark Redemption series, I believe, and it will be interesting to see what happens next in the series to the angels in these books.

Dark Dawn can currently be bought on Amazon for Kindle, in either an NA ("New Adult") version (less sex scenes) or its original version. 3.5 stars out of 5.
-

GIVEAWAY:
Enter via the Rafflecopter form below. The contest ends on June 30th. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

CONTEST: win books by Carole P. Roman and a $200 Toys R Us gift card! (or: $200 Paypal cash) - ends 7/9

Carole P. Roman childrens' books

Welcome to the $200 Toys R Us Gift Card Giveaway!

Hosted by Giveaway Promote.
Sponsored by author Carole P. Roman.

If you didn't win the Carole P. Roman contest back in May, check this one out! Same prizes - childrens' books by the author as well as a $200 Toys R Us Gift Card, or $200 Paypal cash (your choice).
Toys R Us gift card $200 giveaway

Carole P. Roman takes you on a another journey, this time to Asia, landing in South Korea.

Once again, children can learn how life is like for young people on the other side of the globe. From food to famous landmarks, they will learn that's it's easy to find something in common with people in different countries.

This is the third book in the series, and we'd like to celebrate with a giveaway! One winner will receive a $200 Toys R Us Gift Card and a set of Carole P. Roman's cultural books.

The series includes:



Enter to win a $200 Toys R Us Gift Card and a copy of the "If you were me and lived in…" series

Complete the tasks below to earn entries into this giveaway.
Refer your friends using your unique link at the top of the Rafflecopter for even more chances to win.
One winner will be chosen at random from all valid entries.

Open in the United States.
Ends at 11:59pm EST on July 9th, 2013.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Bloggers, we'd love for you to join an awesome group giveaway event like this one! Sign up to be emailed about future events hosted by Giveaway Promote.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Time After Time

Time After Time, by Tamara Ireland Stone.

Exactly like last time, I speak in hushed tones, telling her all about Maggie and the reason there's a photo of the three of us at the zoo, Emma and Justin's breakup, and how the Greenes let me crash on their couch the first night. She sips her coffee, hanging on every word, and after I've given her a play-by-play of practically the entire trip, I lower my head and say, "There's more."

I tell her about the two kids who were killed in a fire in the Tenderloin.

And then I tell her how they weren't.


Tamara Ireland Stone, YA books, romanceAll I have to say about this book is one word: AHHHH! (in a good way)

I read Time Between Us, the first book (which was from Anna's point-of-view) last January, and was hoping there would be another; Time After Time is the sequel, and is written from Bennett's POV. When I saw that NetGalley had it up for grabs, I was very excited; and when I was approved to read it, a whole four months before it comes to stores, I was even more excited. That excitement, my readers, was not for naught: Tamara Ireland Stone once again delivers.

Official synopsis:
Calling Anna and Bennett’s romance long distance is an understatement: she’s from 1995 Chicago and he’s a time traveler from 2012 San Francisco. The two of them never should have met, but they did. They fell in love, even though they knew they shouldn't. And they found a way to stay together, against all odds.

It’s not a perfect arrangement, though, with Bennett unable to stay in the past for more than brief visits, skipping out on big chunks of his present in order to be with Anna in hers. They each are confident that they’ll find a way to make things work...until Bennett witnesses a single event he never should have seen (and certainly never expected to). Will the decisions he makes from that point on cement a future he doesn't want?

Told from Bennett’s point of view, Time After Time will satisfy readers looking for a fresh, exciting, and beautifully-written love story, both those who are eager to find out what’s next for Time Between Us's Anna and Bennett and those discovering their story for the first time.
-

First off: this story can partially stand on its own, but you need at least a basic background of the events from Time Between Us to fully enjoy it, so I'd recommend reading that first. In TBU we were introduced to Anna and Bennett, who have a unique long-distance relationship: he lives in San Francisco and she lives in Evanston, Illinois. Oh, and one more thing: his present is 2012, and hers is 1995.

They meet while Bennett is staying with his grandmother in 1995, and looking for his sister, Brooke, who got lost in 1994 at a concert they were attending.

TBU is from Anna's point-of-view but TAT is all Bennett. I wasn't sure if I was going to like that, but it was interesting to see inside his head. To Anna's parents, Bennett is the long-distance boyfriend who always disappears - figuratively, not literally - but Anna knows its the other way around, and that he can't always control his travels. Their relationship is tested even more in this novel, since Anna has been away all summer in Mexico.

I have so many questions about this book, and time traveling, or at least how it applies in this book. At the beginning of TBU, Anna in Bennett's time (2012) is about 31 or 32 years old, and she approaches him with a letter, right before he goes to Evanston and meets her for the first time. Yet Anna and Bennett are in love in 1995, when they are both 17. So I wonder if 2012-Anna and 2012-Bennett will ever date? (maybe when the age difference isn't as much?)

We do know that one of the rules of time traveling is that if current-Bennett sees any of his selves in the past, he gets kicked back to his present (2012 San Francisco), and this is emphasized later on in the book, in a scene that was cute and that I also figured out the first time it was presented. (you'll see what I mean ...)

I really, really hope that Tamara Ireland Stone is doing a follow-up to Time After Time ... if so, the wait is on! TAT gave me more Anna/Bennett but I'm a greedy reader and I want even more. I think overall I did like TBU a little better, but TAT was very interesting as well, as we get to see what makes Bennett tick and how much his sister and parents know about his time travels. Time Between Us has also been optioned as a feature film by CBS, which I would definitely go see in the theater ... it's interesting to think about who I would cast in that as well.

Time After Time will be in bookstores on October 8, 2013. 4 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Review and Q&A: Entwined with You

Entwined with You, by Sylvia Day.

... for once, I didn't need any distractions. I was sticky with sweat from an intense Krav Maga class, and my mind was spinning with thoughts of what the man I loved had done.

Gideon Cross. Just thinking of his name sent a heated flare of longing through my tightly strung body. From the moment I first saw him - saw through his stunning and impossibly gorgeous exterior to the dark and dangerous man inside - I'd felt the pull that came from finding the other half of myself. I needed him like I needed my heart to beat, and he'd put himself in great jeopardy, risking
everything - for me.

I reviewed the first and second books in the Crossfire series, Bared to You and Reflected in You, back in November 2012, when I was recruited by the BlogHer Book Club for one of their reads. When I heard that the third book, Entwined with You, was coming to stores, I of course knew I had to get my hands on it, and Sylvia Day's publicists were generous enough to send me a copy to review.

Official synopsis (although rather vague):
Crossfire, Gideon Cross, eroticaThe worldwide phenomenon continues as Eva and Gideon face the demons of their pasts, and accept the consequences of their obsessive desires...

From the moment I first met Gideon Cross, I recognized something in him that I needed. Something I couldn't resist. I saw the dangerous and damaged soul inside--so much like my own. I was drawn to it. I needed him as surely as I needed my heart to beat.

No one knows how much he risked for me. How much I'd been threatened, or just how dark and desperate the shadow of our pasts would become.

Entwined by our secrets, we tried to defy the odds. We made our own rules and surrendered completely to the exquisite power of possession...
-

To catch you up or refresh your memory: in the first two books, Eva Tramell meets Gideon Cross, a 28-year-old millionaire mogul who is also extremely gorgeous. In the first two books, they have hot sex - like ALL OF THE TIME - which doesn't change in this installment of the series, but their problems do intensify a bit. Eva's stepbrother, Nathan, used to rape her when she was young, and when Nathan comes to New York to seek out Eva, Gideon finds and kills him (which is what the quoted paragraph above refers to). Eva doesn't know how to feel about this - on one hand, she feels relief that Nathan can no longer harm her, but on the other, she is scared that Gideon will be prosecuted for the murder.

But of course, he's not found out, since he's Gideon Cross. He's also starting to pressure Eva into marrying her, but at the same time, they're supposed to be broken up, because of other events that happened in the 2nd book, so they are seeing each other secretly.

There were a lot of pros and a few cons with this book. The story was still great, and what I appreciate about the Crossfire series is that even though the sex is hot and frequent, there's still a decent story going on as well (with a plotline, and characters, and everything! Take note, 50 Shades). Eva is 24 and works full-time, in the Crossfire building (that Gideon owns) but not under Gideon (pun intended), even though he's been wanting her to join his office in the marketing department. She wants to be independent, yet she lives with her roommate and best friend, Cary, a male model, in a huge apartment that her stepfather pays for - it's got a doorman and is a lot safer than a walk-up apartment that she could afford, most likely.

The few cons I noticed was that Gideon calls Eva "Angel," a lot, and it started to become really repetitive - it reminded me a bit of the main character in 50 Shades calling herself "my inner goddess" constantly. My other minor peeve was that Eva wants to be independent, yet she lets Gideon take care of EVERYTHING for her - he's a bit controlling but also wants her to be safe, so he has his car driver take her to/from work and her Krav Maga classes in Brooklyn. She also gets a lot of perks but I suppose that's to be expected when you're dating a multi-millionaire ... they take a weekend trip to the Caribbean on his private plane (or, I should say, one of his private planes), he rents the apartment next to hers so she can be with him constantly, etcetera.

Overall, though, the Crossfire series is a good read, and I'd recommend it to anyone who likes the genre. I've heard that there will be five books total in the series (Sylvia Day actually talks about this a bit more in the video below) and I'm looking forward to reading the next two.

3.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of this book to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

BIG thanks to Sylvia Day and her publicists for letting me ask her a few questions! Check out her answers in the video below:


video

A Glittering Chaos

A Glittering Chaos, by Lisa de Nikolits.

"I love Vegas," she says to Hans as they dress and get ready to go down to breakfast and she realizes that it's true; she really does love it even though it's aggravating her volcanic emotional disruptions.

He looks surprised.

"I really thought you'd hate it," he says. "All the chaos. Vegas is humanity at its chaotic worst."

"But it's a glittering chaos," she says.


Lisa de NikolitsThis book surprised me a lot - mostly in good ways - and I suppose that's my own fault for not reading the synopsis carefully. It had a lot of NC-17 type parts, at least in the beginning, which I didn't see coming, yet I enjoyed the novel as a whole. It starts in Vegas, too, one of my favorite cities, and is extremely detailed, from the Bellagio fountains down to Fremont St. (downtown Vegas), which I really liked as well.

Official synopsis:
The adage about "what happens in Vegas" is funny precisely because we know it's wishful thinking. A Glittering Chaos is about what happens when "what happens in Vegas" comes home to haunt you. Melusine is a German librarian whose ho-hum world wobbles after she tags along when her husband Hans attends a Las Vegas optometry conference. A newly empty nester who speaks no English, Melusine's voyage of self-discovery is punctuated by the poetry of Ingeborg Bachmann, nude photos in the desert, a black dildo named Kurt, autoerotic asphyxia, and the unravelling of her husband's sanity because of a secret from his youth. A smart, funny and incredibly wise novel about marriage, secrets and lies, and unusual sexual proclivities.
-

When in Vegas, Melusine meets Gunther, a German-speaking Englishman who ends up having an affair with her. She thinks that her husband, Hans, is in town for a business trip - an optometry convention - but in reality, he's there to visit the psychics at a psychic convention, as he wants to find his long-lost sister, Kateri, who disappeared when she was 14; he's always had an unhealthy obsession with her, and lately that obsession has been popping up more and more.

This book should have been called Crazy People and the Secrets They Hide, although I suppose A Glittering Chaos has a better ring to it. Hans is obsessed with his sister and when they were young, he wanted a sexual relationship with her; Melusine loved what happened in Vegas, and doesn't know that Hans saw her and Gunther out for a stroll one time; and Hans eventually goes over the brink and (semi-spoiler) loses his marbles altogether.

Although I didn't like the ending of the book - it was a little abrupt - the novel overall is an interesting one. It explores sexual addictions, mental disorders, the secrets we keep from our loved ones, and we eventually learn that there's more to these characters that originally meets the eye. I'd recommend this novel for anyone who likes fast-paced books that have a hint of mystery in them, or for anyone who likes novels about marriages that aren't what they appear to be.

4 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was provided with an e-copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

To order this book: visit www.inanna.ca, and use the code CONGRESS2013 for a 20% discount.

Don't forget to check out the guest post that Lisa de Nikolits wrote for Books I Think You Should Read about the writing proccess.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Unwritten

Unwritten, by Charles Martin.

I'd been running a long time. Something I was good at, comfortable with, and could keep doing for a lot longer. But the moment I'd stepped onto this plane, that'd changed. Clarity set in. In buckling my seatbelt, I'd given up control. Hand off the throttle. If I stayed with her, I became the puppet and Steady controlled the strings. What would happen when Steady the surgeon methodically picked his way around the wound, passing through the scars I used to protect me, and the scalpel cut into the stuff that was still living? With the wound laid bare, I'd have to deal with what it hid.

And, what I'd buried.


This is the first novel by Charles Martin that I've read, although he's written eight others. Unwritten started off a little slow and also ended a little slowly, but the middle part was very interesting, and I ended up liking the novel a lot.

movie stars, actresses, starting over, suicideOfficial synopsis:
An actress running from her past finds escape with a man hiding from his future.

When someone wants to be lost, a home tucked among the Ten Thousand Islands off the Florida coast is a good place to live. A couple decent boats, and a deep knowledge of fishing and a man can get by without ever having to talk to another soul. It's a nice enough existence, until the one person who ties him to the world of the living, the reason he's still among them even if only on the fringes, asks him for help.

Father Steady Capri knows quite a bit about helping others. But he is afraid Katie Quinn's problems may be beyond his abilities. Katie is a world-famous actress with an all too familiar story. Fame seems to have driven her to self-destruct. Steady knows the true cause of her desire to end her life is buried too deeply for him to reach. But there is one person who still may be able to save her from herself.

He will show her an alternate escape, a way to write a new life. But Katie still must confront her past before she can find peace. Ultimately, he will need to leave his secluded home and sacrifice the serenity he's found to help her. From the Florida coast, they will travel to the French countryside where they will discover the unwritten story of both their pasts and their future.
-

That's a rather long-winded synopsis, but it does go over the gist of the book. There's a revelation about midway through that was a surprise to me, and it shows that Sunday - the man who Steady is friends with, that tries to help Katie Quinn after her attempted suicide - is a lot more similar to Katie than she originally thought, which was a clever twist.

The writing was decent in this book and the story flows very smoothly, for the most part. It took me a couple of days to read because it's not really the type of book I would devour, like some of the other novels I've reviewed here, but the plot was interesting and so were the characters in the novel, especially Katie, the actress. I wasn't sure how old she was originally - at first I thought she was 60+ years old because she was friends with Steady, who was around that age - but later in the book it's revealed that she's in her mid/late 30s.

I'd like to read more of Martin's novels now that I've read this one, and see if they're at all similar; if the writing style is the same, then I bet they are good reads, since I enjoyed Unwritten.

4 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was provided a copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Monday, June 10, 2013

GIVEAWAY: Win a $100 Visa gift card

You can buy a lot of books with $100! Check out this app and enter to win below.

Jathi, short for "joined at the hip", is a new app set to launch soon! It is a mobile-only iPhone app that lets you create an e-invitation called a “J-vite” that is activity focused. The J-vite is a custom-designed e-invitation you can send to a friend or loved one just for the two of you.

So if you would like to plan a special get together with your daughter, mom, husband, ect., this app will allow you to send a personalized detailed e-invitation in just minutes! I know you might be thinking, "I can just send a text." This is more than just a text....this is a special e-invitation when you want to say, "Hey, I want to spend time one-on-one with you because you are special to me." Even for activities as simple as an ice cream date, wine on the deck after the kids are in bed, or dinner and a movie night out. You can make them a special time by making an extra special e-invitation for this one person you care to spend your time with.

Jathi will be free to download and explore. You can see a tour of the Jathi App here. For a limited time, you will be able to use the free trial option, so you can send a J-vite free of charge! Then after your free trail 3 J-vites cost just $1 or 8 J-vites for $2.00.

Make sure to sign-up for the Jathi Blog Newsletter to keep up to date on the launch date.

The Jathi App features includes:
  • a broad range of activity ideas and options to select from
  • beautiful artwork created by international artists, or add your own
  • options for just the right sentiment to go with your J-vite, or create your own
  • scheduling calendar
  • message board to post comments and photos before and after the activity

Jathi is offering one lucky reader a $100 Visa Gift Card


Organized by: Mom Powered Media

Giveaway ends June 24th at 11:59pm, open to US residents, ages 18+. To enter please use the Rafflecopter form below. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I received no compensation for this publication. My opinions are my own and may differ from those of your own. Books I Think You Should Read is not responsible for sponsor prize shipment. This event was organized by MomPoweredMedia, please contact tina@babycostcutters.com with questions or to see your business or blog featured on the next big event!

Guest Post: Lisa de Nikolits, author of A Glittering Chaos

*I will have a review of A Glittering Chaos up on Thursday, June 13th. Meanwhile, enjoy this guest post from the author, Lisa de Nikolits.

The Joy and Angst of Writing by Lisa de Nikolits

A Glittering Chaos
Lisa de Nikolits
“Ever felt like you’re a voice crying in the wilderness?” Caro Soles, Writer, Teacher, Editor posted this on Facebook the same day I got the topic for this post and I thought, does that ever sum it up!

Ninety-seven percent of my writing life is angst and three percent is joy but, you may ask, if it’s that awful, why do I it?

Because, as Gustave Flaubert said: “Writing is a dog’s life but it’s the only one worth living.”

I guess that being a writer is like being an athlete; you train relentlessly, you push yourself as hard as you can and then even harder, you get up early, eat precisely prescribed foods, sleep regulated hours, limit your social life, fall down, get up, get injured, heal and start all over again… yes, writing is just as tough on the body, mind and soul as any of the rigors endured by professional athletes.

Of course, the long years of rejection are the most intense angst of all and I admit that once I The Hungry Mirror was published, things felt much better! But that happiness, like most writerly happiness (I’m sad to say) is short-lived.

Shortly after your book is published, you have the celebratory launch and you feel on top of the world (there’s 0.5% of the joy), and you fall into bed thinking that the world is the most fabulous place imaginable and that you’ll never ask God for a single thing again (you know, all those prayers where you promised God that if He (or She) just got you this contract, that you’d never ask for another thing again…) and you fall sound asleep; happy and grateful and relieved … and then you wake at 2.33 a.m. with a volley of thoughts hammering your brain, matching the hammering of your pounding heart.

I’ll never write again and even if I do, it’ll never get published and if it gets published, no one will read it and what I am thinking, never mind the book of the future that doesn’t even exist yet, what about this book, no one will like this book, no one will read it, bookstores won’t stock it, it won’t get reviewed, it will be universally ignored, all those years of effort and toil will be in vain.

You lie awake in the darkness, staring at the ceiling while to your right, your spouse snores lightly, oblivious to the viewfinder of horrors that have just flashed before you. You contemplate waking him to share but the poor man’s experienced enough of your post-midnight epiphanies about character development, plot twists and turns, not to mention the ongoing book title conundrum… no, you need to let the man get at least one night of uninterrupted sleep.

You decide to console yourself by thinking about the next novel you’re working on. Okay, so the book you just published may well end up being nothing at all but at least you have your writing, your happy escape into the world of your imaginary friends (this accounts for another 0.5% of the total joy).

You finally fall asleep, carried away on the dreams of some adventure and when you wake, things feel marginally alright.

You decide not to think about the book you’ve just published; you won’t think about it at all – it must find its way in this world – you decide you’re going the route of tough love.

You return to your novel-in-progress and a whole new angst floods your senses. The book is rubbish, the writing is puerile, have you learned nothing? You sit in your study, writing hat in place, gnawing at your lip, despondent.

But you force yourself to carry on, to just work on through it, and you bounce plots and ideas off your spouse, you write and rewrite and rewrite because you’re that athlete, aching, out in the wilderness of training, pounding onwards, because the alternative of stopping, is much worse.

Your study is papered with timelines and tips, pictures of the locale you’re talking about, photocopies of your research and you finally stop.

It’s time to send it to your publisher.

You email her and package up the hard copy and post it off and sink into gloom.

For three long months all you can think about is the oncoming rejection. You look for omens: there’s a hawk in the sky – is that good or bad? You avoid cracks in concrete, pluck daisies (she rejects me, she rejects me not), you try to manifest success, project positivity and try to converse with colleagues and friends without mentioning the only thing you can think about.

And then it comes. The evaluation letter. The manuscript is good but it’s not ready for publication yet.

You weep. Six years spent on this novel. You can’t do any more. You email your publisher.
“I can’t,” you say, “I just can’t.”

You go to bed still weeping. You wake, swollen and sorrowful.

“I can’t do it,” you tell your spouse, “I can’t.”
He nods.

Half an hour later, on the way to work, you turn to him in the car.
“I have to try,” you say.
He smiles. “Knew you would,” he says.

And so you do. Another eight months, hat on, gnawing at your lip, grappling with sentences, characters and style.

You send it off again. And spend another three months waiting. Nothing about books is speedy.

Then you hear the great news. The novel has been accepted for publication! Another 0.5% of joy!

And you are truly happy! Ecstatic!!

Your thoughts return to the novel you published the previous year. It did just fine and you were amazed and gratified by the readers who emailed you and posted comments – their appreciation accounts for a whole 1%. And now, a year later, you hear from your publisher – it won an award! Notch up another 0.5%!

So there you go… the breakdown of three percent joy and ninety-seven percent angst of writing!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Review and Giveaway: Washing Cars & Wasting Time

Washing Cars & Wasting Time, by John C. Oliva.

Please allow me to address those starry-eyed young men and women out there who bought this book in the hopes that they could glean from these pages all of my secrets to breaking into the self-service car wash business. Sadly, the only advice I can share on that matter is to be born into it. Like John-John Kennedy or Hank Williams, Jr., winning the genetic lottery is the only way I know how to get this gig.

And while we are on the topic of crushing dreams, let me also offer this unsolicited advice to rising stars in the car wash biz: If you are expecting to see a lot of girls in bikinis getting all sudsed up while watching their sports cars, let me just warn you up front that it will likely happen less frequently than you have been led to believe.

Although he lives in Michigan now, John C. Oliva grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and worked at his family's business, the Speedee Car Wash, from when he was in high school until the end of college. He has a lot of stories to tell from those days, and that is what we get in Washing Cars & Wasting Time.

Official synopsis:
John C. Oliva, Michigan, WisconsinHave you ever been given the impromptu offer to buy a crossbow from a random stranger? Has your life ever been threatened over $1.75 in quarters? Can you say that you have ever been so bored that sifting through broken glass and cigarette butts constituted an accepted pastime? Those are just a sampling of the many adventures that I had while working as an attendant at Speedee Car Wash in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I also learned to never untie a plastic grocery bag that you find in the trash. I was taught that there is not as great of a distinction between a car wash and a pawnshop as most people may think and that there are fewer bikini-clad girls washing cars than Hollywood would have people believe. Despite all of the abrasive customers; cold, tiring winter hours; hot, boredom-filled, and even longer summer hours, I got some great stories to tell out of those years. And they are compiled here in Washing Cars & Wasting Time. Oh yeah . . . and we managed to wash a couple of cars amidst all of the chaos as well.
-

This book was not really what I thought it would be. At times it reads more like a blog, although overall I liked the "voice" throughout - it's more of a friend telling you some stories than a narrator, since the book is written in first-person from Oliva's point-of-view.

Some of the situations and quotes made me crack up, but there was a lot of technical stuff about the car wash that I wasn't really interested in. Oliva did say in one paragraph that he's "about to get nerdy, so skip this paragraph if you want," but some of the other paragraphs had no such warning.

My favorite chapter was "Professional Development," where he talks about a lot of the craziness that went on there and the pranks that the employees pulled. In one instance, a pizza place had almost the same exact phone number as the car wash, and people would call trying to order pizzas. At first the employees would tell them they had the wrong number, but when the same person would call back, they would pretend to take their orders or even try to mess with them - in one instance they asked the person if they had an oven, because the pizza place's oven wasn't working that day! I enjoyed reading about these, even if some were a little mean.

Anyone that's ever had a summer job or a job during in their youth can relate to this book, but you must be in the mood to go on a slow-paced, story-driven ride to enjoy it.

3 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of this book to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

GIVEAWAY:

Thanks to the author, I have two copies of this book to give away. Enter via the Rafflecopter form below. Contest will end on Sunday, June 16th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be emailed on June 17th and have 24 hours to respond to my email, or an alternate winner will be chosen. U.S./Canada only, please.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Sea of Tranquility

The Sea of Tranquility, by Katja Millay.

It amazes me how people are so afraid of what can happen in the dark, but they don't give a second thought about their safety during the day, as if the sun offers some sort of ultimate protection from all the evil in the world. It doesn't. All it does it whisper to you, lulling you with its warmth before it shoves you facedown into the dirt. Daylight won't protect you from anything. Bad things happen all the time; they don't wait until after dinner.

I received a NetGalley of this book back in November 2012 or so, and then promptly forgot about it. More than one blogger has raved about the novel to me, however, so I recently found it on my Kindle to read it - and I'm so glad I did.

Official synopsis:
Katja Millay, YAFormer piano prodigy Nastya Kashnikov wants two things: to get through high school without anyone learning about her past and to make the boy who took everything from her—her identity, her spirit, her will to live—pay.

Josh Bennett’s story is no secret: every person he loves has been taken from his life until, at seventeen years old, there is no one left. Now all he wants is be left alone and people allow it because when your name is synonymous with death, everyone tends to give you your space.

Everyone except Nastya, the mysterious new girl at school who starts showing up and won’t go away until she’s insinuated herself into every aspect of his life. But the more he gets to know her, the more of an enigma she becomes. As their relationship intensifies and the unanswered questions begin to pile up, he starts to wonder if he will ever learn the secrets she’s been hiding—or if he even wants to.

The Sea of Tranquility is a rich, intense, and brilliantly imagined story about a lonely boy, an emotionally fragile girl, and the miracle of second chances.
-

The first thing you need to know about this book is that instead of the characters' histories being revealed up front, pieces are parceled out throughout the story, especially info regarding the past "life" of Nastya (pronounced Nah-STEE-ya). With a name like Nastya Kashnikov, everyone assume she's Russian - but she's not, and she lives with her aunt who has a different last name from her. It's fitting that she meets and befriends Josh Bennett, as they're both outsiders who've had terrible things happen to them; they're attracted to each other almost without even realizing it. Josh wants to know more about her past but she's reluctant, and he's too polite to just demand to know.

The writing in this book was fantastic - it may be the most well-written YA book that I've read recently. From the very beginning, the opening paragraph draws you in:
I hate my left hand. I hate to look at it. I hate it when it stutters and trembles and reminds me that my identity is gone. But I look at it anyway, because it also reminds me that I'm going to find the boy who took everything from me. I'm going to kill the boy who killed me, and when I kill him, I'm going to do it with my left hand.

The chapters are written from alternating POV, one from Nastya and one from Josh, usually. In one of Nastya's chapters, the author describes what Nastya feels like when going to support group:
I got to hear about rapes and gunshot wounds and hate crimes, people who knew their attackers, people who didn't, people whose assailants were punished and those who weren't. There isn't any comfort in it. If eavesdropping on someone else's nightmares is supposed to make me feel better, I'd rather stay feeling like shit. I don't think telling them about my horror story would do any good. And besides, I'm not even supposed to have a story to tell.
So that's what it was like every week. I'd sit in a circle and a bunch of people who'd been through as much shit as I had would look at me like I snuck into the club without paying the cover. And I'd feel like screaming and telling them I had paid it the same as everyone else in the room, I just didn't feel like waving around my receipt. 
It's really hard to write a review of this novel without giving away some of the secrets in it that aren't revealed until the end, so I'll just stick to the basics. Josh's best friend Drew starts hitting on Nastya almost as soon as she meets him in school, but soon realizes she's better to have as a friend. Josh gradually falls in love with Nastya, and she him, even though she knows everything about his past - his mom and sister died in a car accident and his father died from a heart attack a few years after that, so he's left with his grandfather, who just got put in a home.

I liked that this book was more real than other YA novels I have read. There's more than just character stereotypes here: both Josh and Nastya are severely flawed people, although they both have reason to be, and Nastya has bigger problems than the normal female teenager "Does he like me?" mantra that is sometimes prevalent in YA books. Josh has a "friends with benefits" relationship with a college girl named Leigh, as well, who is a few years older than him, and doesn't try to hide that from Nastya, which is something that most books might have hesitated to include, though in my opinion that just makes him a teenage boy trying to feel normal again.

The Sea of Tranquility is a book that anyone would like, and that everyone should read.

4.5 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received an e-copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Review and GIVEAWAY: The Banana Police

The Banana Police, by Katy Koontz.

Eating all the extra bananas was [the elephants] special job, and they did a very good job indeed.

But having a herd of elephants roaming around town wasn't always easy. The elephants jammed the aisles at the supermarket. They also snored so loudly that they kept half the townspeople awake at night.

And they always sat in the front-row seats at the movies. Have you ever tried to watch a movie when a bunch of elephants are blocking the screen?

I don't usually review children's books on this blog, but this one sounded very cute, and indeed it was. The townspeople hate having so many elephants in their town, but they also have a big problem, and when they lure the elephants away from town, that problem intensifies.

Official synopsis:
Katy KoontzDeep in the jungle is a town where people happily co-exist with elephants—until the townspeople become increasingly annoyed with their lovable, lumpy neighbors. After all, they snore loudly, hog the best seats at the movies, and block all the aisles in the supermarket. Who needs that? When Mayor McFroontz calls on the Elephant Police to devise a clever scheme to get the elephants to leave, the town ends up buried in all the extra bananas the beasts usually eat. The mayor then calls on the Banana Police to deal with the bananas, but it’s the townspeople themselves who finally get rid of them. Everyone ends up learning—immediately, if not sooner, as the mayor is known to say—just how vital those pesky pachyderms really are. The unspoken message is about the value of peaceful co-existence and cooperation between inherently different groups.
-

This book was extremely silly and also very fun. It would be a good book for parents to read to their children, and I would say that children of all ages would most likely like this picture book. The Banana Police try very hard to get rid of the bananas, but the townspeople need their elephants back - and originally they tricked the elephants to get them to leave town! The Mayor isn't helpful either - there are so many bananas that the sun is blocked in the sky, and he thinks it's night and thus has fallen asleep.

The townspeople even try to think up some unconventional ways to eat all of the bananas, including banana pizza! Yikes.

The message in the book is good for kids to learn, also - that all types of groups (elephants and people, in this example) can learn to "coexist" and live together despite their differences.

Thanks to the author, one of my lucky readers will win a copy of The Banana Police! Enter via the Rafflecopter form below. Contest will end on Friday, June 14th, at 11:59pm EST, and winner will be emailed on June 15th and have 24 hours to respond to my email, or an alternate winner will be chosen. U.S./Canada only.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


*Disclosure: I was given an e-copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Seduction

Seduction, by M.J. Rose.

I asked Didine one last question.

"Will you come back to talk to us more?"

One glorious tap. The yes I had yearned to hear.

And so, in a matter of moments, a life changes.

I who had never been haunted, who had been skeptical of visitations, suddenly accepted all possibilities. Or as a priest would say, in that moment, I allowed the devil into my life.

But the priest would be wrong. I did more than allow him in. I gave the devil a warm hearth and a hospitable place to rest for as long as he wanted one. I gave him access to my very soul.

Check out that gorgeous cover!
Seduction failed to seduce me at first - there were two stories going on, one with Victor Hugo (the above narrator) in 1855, and another in present-day, and I didn't see more than a tenuous connection between the two, at least in the beginning. Once it's established that the two stories are related, then the mystery/suspense part starts to take hold, and the book begins to catch your attention.

Official synopsis:
A gothic tale about Victor Hugo’s long-buried secrets and the power of a love that never dies . . . In 1843, novelist Victor Hugo’s beloved nineteen-year-old daughter drowned. Ten years later, still grieving, Hugo initiated hundreds of séances from his home on the Isle of Jersey in order to reestablish contact with her. In the process, he claimed to have communed with Plato, Galileo, Shakespeare, Dante, Jesus—and even the devil himself. Hugo’s transcriptions of these conversations have all been published. Or so it has been believed...

Recovering from a great loss, mythologist Jac L’Etoile thinks that throwing herself into work will distract her from her grief. In the hopes of uncovering a secret about the island’s mysterious Celtic roots, she arrives on Jersey and is greeted by ghostly Neolithic monuments, medieval castles and hidden caves. But the man who has invited her there, a troubled soul named Theo Gaspard, hopes she’ll help him discover something quite different— transcripts of Hugo’s lost conversations with someone he called the Shadow of the Sepulcher. Central to his heritage, these are the papers his grandfather died trying to find. Neither Jac nor Theo anticipate that the mystery surrounding Victor Hugo will threaten their sanity and put their very lives at stake.
-

Seduction is not the type of book I normally read, although I do enjoy a good mystery/suspense novel every so often. I will say that M.J. Rose is a great writer - her prose flows eloquently but is sometimes so detailed that the book seems slow, like it was for me in the beginning.

However, anyone who is interested in Victor Hugo or enjoys historical novels would like this book. There's a third story that later intertwines with the other two, and the main character, Jac, is very much connected to that story. It was interesting to read at the end of the novel what was actually true about Hugo and his life, and what the author has made up - he and his family did hold seances after his daughter accidentally drowned, and he claims to have talked to many spirits, including Shakespeare and also the evil Shadow of the Sepulcher, who in this book infiltrates his mind and spirit. I also like the ending of this book, as everything wraps itself up neatly, for the most part.

3 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I was provided with a copy of this book for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Nantucket Blue

Nantucket Blue, by Leila Howland.

It hadn't mattered how good my grades were or that I'd made varsity as a freshman; it hadn't mattered how carefully, how perfectly, I'd managed my popularity; it hadn't mattered that I'd measured and doled out my flirtations like teaspoons of sugar, never too much to be a tease, always enough to be sweet. Jules had been able to take my happiness away from me with one swift betrayal. My social life had slid from good to bad like a hockey puck across a rink. 

beach, summer, romance, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, summer romancesMy goal for the summer is to FINALLY work my way through the ridiculous number of NetGalley books I have downloaded, and Nantucket Blue is one of the more recently-released books on that list. I'm a sucker for a good YA book, and when you add in a summer season or beach location too, it makes it a book I definitely want to read - and Nantucket Blue takes place on Nantucket during the summer.

Official synopsis:
For Cricket Thompson, a summer like this one will change everything. A summer spent on Nantucket with her best friend, Jules Clayton, and the indomitable Clayton family. A summer when she'll make the almost unattainable Jay Logan hers. A summer to surpass all dreams.

Some of this turns out to be true. Some of it doesn't.

When Jules and her family suffer a devastating tragedy that forces the girls apart, Jules becomes a stranger whom Cricket wonders whether she ever really knew. And instead of lying on the beach working on her caramel-colored tan, Cricket is making beds and cleaning bathrooms to support herself in paradise for the summer.

But it's the things Cricket hadn't counted on--most of all, falling hard for someone who should be completely off-limits--that turn her dreams into an exhilarating, bittersweet reality.
-

I liked this book a lot, and it had a lot of "real world" aspects that sometime you don't see in YA. Cricket has a falling out with her best friend in Providence, Jules, after Jules' mom dies; Jules and her mom had invited Cricket to their Nantucket house, but then Jules rescinds the invite, saying that it will be "family only" this year. Cricket decides to get a job on Nantucket for the summer and surprise Jules, but Jules is more annoyed than surprised to see Cricket on her beach house doorstep.

Cricket has issues of her own, as well: her dad just remarried, and him and her stepmom recently adopted a Russian child, Alexei, who hates Cricket. Her mom stays inside and watches TV every night, giving up on having "a life." And Cricket has started seeing Jules's brother, Zack, even though he's a little more than a year younger than her, and is scared that she might be falling for him - a big no-no even though she and Jules are currently on the outs.

The beginning of the book takes place in Rhode Island, and Leila Howland has the particulars down pat; my dad was born there, and his side of the family lives there still, so I am very familiar with the area. Cricket goes to get Del's (lemonade) after school one day to get a drink, and I smiled at that: Del's is a Rhode Island institution. The novel then shifts to Nantucket, which I don't know much about except that it's very "exclusive," and Howland manages to convey the essence of that as well.

This novel is perfect for a summer beach read or for those that enjoy YA lit. It does have some flaws, but is a great "escape" for those who just want a summer at the beach.

4 stars out of 5.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for reviewing purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Don't Worry, It Gets Worse

Don't Worry, It Gets Worse: One Twentysomething's (Mostly Failed) Attempts at Adulthood, by Alida Nugent.

My brother told me that with my people skills and tendency towards being grubby, I might do well as a garbageman, a job that had better benefits and more pay than any position I'd hold in the next ten years. I was disappointed to find out that even for that job you need a goddamn connection. Hopeless. Even the simplest positions, the mindless ones where all you had to do is file and put stuff in alphabetical order and say hello into a phone were as competitive as going after an Olympic gold medal. To have your resume considered, an applicant needed approximately sixteen years of secretarial school and also must be able to manage wrangling in a pack of wolves while bedazzling a jacket. You must also be a wizard, Harry.

autobiography, humor, Alida NugentAlida Nugent is the author of the popular Tumblr "The Frenemy," and after reading this book I realized that I had read some of her posts before, specifically the Carrie Bradshaw Math one, which was hilarious. Her book title intrigued me because I am twenty-something and just recently started "adulthood," or so it feels, and most of the book was pretty funny; however, there were some areas where it felt that Nugent was just babbling on and on.

Official synopsis:
Alida Nugent graduated college with a degree in one hand and a drink in the other, eager to trade in parties and all-nighters for “the real world.” But post-grad wasn’t the glam life she imagined. Soon buried under a pile of bills, laundry, and three-dollar bottles of wine, it quickly became clear that she had no idea what she was doing. But hey, what twentysomething does?

In Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse, Nugent shares what it takes to make the awkward leap from undergrad to “mature and responsible adult that definitely never eats peanut butter straight from the jar and considers it a meal.” From trying to find an apartment on the black hole otherwise known as Craigslist to the creative maneuvering needed to pay off student loans and still enjoy happy hour, Nugent documents the formative moments of being a twentysomething with a little bit of snark and a lot of heart. Perfect for fans of HBO's Girls and Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half, and based on her popular Tumblr blog The Frenemy, Don’t Worry, It Gets Worse is a love note to boozin’, bitchin’ ladies everywhere.
-

The author of the book and I have much in common. She lived with her parents after graduation for three months and I lived with my parents after graduation for three years and three months. She majored in writing, which probably didn't help in finding a job; I majored in creative writing, and minored in music. She moved to the big city, NYC, when she was able, and I moved to a different city last year (though it's still a suburb, technically).

Her book, however, encompasses what most twentysomethings feel, especially in this economy: it is HARD to find a job these days. And then, once you find one, there's rent, food costs, and other adult things to cover ... and in a city like NYC, where a nice studio can cost you $2000+ per month, it's hard to get by. Nugent covers these topics with humor and sarcasm, and it makes her book a fun read.

She does get a little off track sometimes, going on long winded rants and raves - she reminds me a bit of The Bloggess in that respect, actually - but sooner or later, she gets back "on topic." I recommend this book for any twentysomethings or even thirtysomethings that can relate to what the author went/is going through, be it about relationships, the job market, or life in general.

*Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Edelweiss for review purposes. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.