Monday, December 28, 2015

Quick Pick: Love at First Flight, by Tess Woods

  • Opening lines: Mel: Looking back on it now, I can see it was instant. No question about it. The second we locked eyes. Boom. Just like that. The me I had spent a lifetime perfecting began its disintegration from that moment. I had no idea at the time of course. I was simply relieved to be on the plane and sitting down. But it was definitely instant. And despite the carnage it brought to all our lives, I still don't regret it. Because by losing everything I was introduced to myself for the first time. Would I wish away what happened, given hindsight? No way. Would I go down the same road again, given the opportunity? Not a chance.
  • Reason I picked up the book: A fellow blogger reviewed it, and it sounded interesting. I love books about people meeting significant others on planes, too. It was also on sale for 99c at Amazon that week, which was nice. 
  • And what's this book about?
  • Looking back on it now, I can see it was instant. The second we locked eyes. Boom. Just like that. The me I had spent a lifetime perfecting began its disintegration from that moment. And despite the carnage it brought to all our lives, I still don't regret it.

    What would you risk to be with the love of your life? And what if your soul mate is the one who will destroy you?

    Mel is living the dream. She's a successful GP, married to a charming anaesthetist and raising a beautiful family in their plush home in Perth. But when she boards a flight to Melbourne, she meets Matt and her picture perfect Stepford life unravels as she falls in love for the first time ever.

    What begins as a flirty conversation between strangers quickly develops into a hot and obsessive affair with disastrous consequences neither Mel nor Matt could have ever seen coming. Mel's dream life turns into her worst nightmare.

    Love at First Flight will take everything you believe about what true love is and spin it on its head.
  • Favorite Paragraph: I studied Lydia as she babbled happily now. She was energetic and engaging and she looked gorgeous. I definitely still fancied her, but something had shifted during the course of the flight. I knew with a cold certainty I wasn't in love with her and that I'd fooled myself into thinking I had ever been. The wedding was four months away.

  • Recommended for: Anyone who likes a good romance that is a little different from most - the main characters meet on a plane, and the man is engaged and the woman has been married for 14+ years and has two kids.
  • Something to know: The writing in this book wasn't really very good at first. It might have been because the characters live in Australia, so there was some slang that I didn't understand. However, about 1/3 or 1/4-way into the book, it gets better. 
  • What I would have changed: The ending really surprised me - no spoilers, but it didn't turn out how I thought it would. 
  • Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here to purchase - it's only available in e-book format currently.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Killing Lessons, by Saul Black {ends 12/18}

Her mother's eyes opened. "Run to Sadie's. I'm going to be all right, but you have to run."

There was the sound of furniture moving upstairs. 

"Now!" her mother gasped. She sounded furious. "Go now! Quick!"

Something moved much closer. In the living room.

Her mother gripped her by the wrist and spat: "You run right now, Nell. I'm not kidding. Do it or I'm going to be angry. Go. Now!"

To Nell, backing away from her mother, it was as if a skin that joined the two of them was tearing. She kept stopping. There was a fierce emptiness in her ankles and knees and wrists. She couldn't swallow. But the farther away she got, the more vigorously her mother nodded, Yes, yes, keep going, baby, keep going.

She made it all the way to the open back door before the man stepped out of the living room.

I haven't read a mystery novel in a long time, and I certainly haven't read a GOOD one in a long time. Sometimes I get so used to "chick lit" and non-mysteries that I tend to forget other genres exist. The Killing Lessons was a welcome re-introduction to the genre, and it's a fantastic novel.

Official synopsis:
When the two strangers turn up at Rowena Cooper's isolated Colorado farmhouse, she knows instantly that it's the end of everything. For the two haunted and driven men, on the other hand, it's just another stop on a long and bloody journey. And they still have many miles to go, and victims to sacrifice, before their work is done.

For San Francisco homicide detective Valerie Hart, their trail of victims--women abducted, tortured and left with a seemingly random series of objects inside them--has brought her from obsession to the edge of physical and psychological destruction. And she's losing hope of making a breakthrough before that happens.

But the murders at the Cooper farmhouse didn't quite go according to plan. There was a survivor, Rowena's ten-year-old daughter Nell, who now holds the key to the killings. Injured, half-frozen, terrified, Nell has only one place to go. And that place could be even more dangerous than what she's running from.

In this extraordinary, pulse-pounding debut, Saul Black takes us deep into the mind of a psychopath, and into the troubled heart of the woman determined to stop him.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Palest Ink, by Kay Bratt {ends 12/14}

Review by: Rachel Gonzales

“What if all your life you lived with the belief that you were special, then suddenly someone or something came and took it from you?”

Kay Bratt is a child advocate and the author of both fiction and nonfiction, including the acclaimed memoir of her own childhood and the years she spent working in Chinese orphanages, Silent Tears: A Journey of Hope in a Chinese Orphanage. She has actively volunteered for nonprofit organizations who work to assist and protect orphaned, abused, and neglected children. She lived in China for several years and now lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her family.

Official synopsis:
A sheltered son from an intellectual family in Shanghai, Benfu spends 1966 anticipating a promising violinist career and an arranged marriage. On the other side of town, lives Pony Boy, a member of a lower-class family - Benfu’s best friend all the same. The futures look different but guaranteed … until they’re faced with a perilous opportunity to leave a mark on history.

At the announcement of China’s Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao’s Red Guard members begin their assault, leaving innocent victims in their wake as they surge across the country. With political turmoil at their door, both Benfu and Pony Boy must face heart-wrenching decisions regarding family, friendship, courage, and loyalty to their country during one of the most chaotic periods in history.

The prequel to the beloved Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters series, The Palest Ink depicts Benfu’s coming-of-age during the tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Food Whore: A Novel of Dining and Deceit, by Jessica Tom {ends 12/15}

And I looked up those acronyms I'd seen on Jake's reservation sheet, to see what lay on the other side:

LOL: Lots of Love
SFN: Something for Nothing. Typically an appetizer or dessert.
Bubbles: Champagne upon Arrival.
WFM: Welcome from Manager.
And then, the term that encompassed them all: PX. From the French. 

Personne Extraordinaire.

Even as I grew tired, that knowledge strengthened me. By the time I heard the birds singing and the sun had crept up in the sky, I had something to hold on to. Knowledge, authority, direction. And a goal: to become an extraordinary person.

Tia Monroe is a Yale graduate who decides to go to NYU for her Master's degree. She doesn't get in to her top internship choice, with Helen Lansky, a renowned cook and cookbook writer; instead, she gets to work at coat check at a restaurant that she doesn't even remember applying to. So when an interesting offer comes her way, from the New York Times restaurant critic, at that, she decides to accept it.

Official synopsis:
Food whore (n.) A person who will do anything for food.

Fresh out of college, Tia Monroe has every intention of taking the New York City restaurant scene by storm. But after a coveted internship goes up in smoke, Tia’s suddenly just another food lover in the big city.

Yet everything changes when Michael Saltz, a legendary New York Times restaurant critic, lets Tia in on a career-ending secret: he’s lost his sense of taste. Now he wants Tia to serve as his palate, ghostwriting his reviews. In return he promises her lavish meals, a boundless cache of designer clothing, and the opportunity of a lifetime. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, Tia agrees.

Within weeks, Tia’s world transforms into one of glamour and luxury: four-star dinners, sexy celebrity chefs, and an unlimited expense account at Bergdorf Goodman. Tia loves every minute of it…until she sees her words in print and Michael Saltz taking all the credit. As the veneer of extravagance wears thin and her secret identity begins to crumble, Tia is faced with what it means to truly succeed. In a city where “making it” is the ultimate goal, Tia will have to decide: how far is she willing to go for the life she craves?

Monday, November 30, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: I'm Happy For You (Sort of ... Not Really), by Kay Wills Wyma {ends 12/7}

*Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

I was interested in reading this book because of the culture we live in today - the Facebook culture, I'll call it, or "a culture of comparison," as the author calls it. When our parents were growing up, they didn't have "access" to everyone's pictures, videos, etc. to compare themselves to; our generation, however, is very different, and both comparison and FOMO (fear of missing out) is a very real thing.

Official synopsis:
Is comparison living hijacking your life?

Do you find yourself measuring your value against your friend’s house, body, marriage, resume, paycheck, organic garden, or Pinterest-worthy holiday décor, and coming up lacking? Do your college roommate’s Instagram snapshots bear little resemblance to the scene at your house this morning?

Excessive comparison and competition sap our energy and steal our joy. Our friends become our audience and judges, and our kids become part of our brand. Add social media’s constant invitation to post and peruse, and it’s no wonder that we’re left exhausted, discontent, and lonely. Thankfully, there is another way!

With refreshing candor and humor, Kay Wyma shares her experiences with comparison living and offers readers the simple remedies that helped her and her family reboot their perspective and discover freedom, authenticity, and joy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Witch's Market, by Mingmei Yip {ends 12/1}

Review by: Karen Doerr

As I stared into the water, I felt myself slipping into a trance.

Minutes later, I sense a presence surrounding me. Now I was scared, and froze in place, not daring to move even my lashes and quieting my breathing. Gradually from the surface of the water I began to hear intense whispers seeming to reveal ancient secrets, if only I could make out what they were saying. My eyes and ears seemed to open up to things I had never before seen and sounds I had never before heard. It was in a language I could almost, but not quite understand.

Eileen Chen seems to have it all: budding career as a professor, hopelessly devoted boyfriend, and magical powers. What would make her risk losing it all? According to author Mingmei Yip, a sense that there is more out there, which cumulates as a dream of a talking tree. This was my first experience with the author’s work. While I did find it a bit slow at the beginning, it became hard to put down. The author took Amy Tan’s formula of mixing Chinese culture, self-discovery, and family dynamics and added in a bit of fantasy.   

Official synopsis:
From the author of Secret of a Thousand Beauties and Peach Blossom Pavilion comes a beautifully written novel of self-discovery and intrigue.

Chinese-American assistant professor Eileen Chen specializes in folk religion at her San Francisco college. Though her grandmother made her living as a shamaness, Eileen publicly dismisses witchcraft as mere superstition. Yet privately, the subject intrigues her.

When a research project takes her to the Canary Islands—long rumored to be home to real witches—Eileen is struck by the lush beauty of Tenerife and its blend of Spanish and Moroccan culture. A stranger invites her to a local market where women sell amulets, charms, and love spells. Gradually Eileen immerses herself in her exotic surroundings, finding romance with a handsome young furniture maker. But as she learns more about the lives of these self-proclaimed witches, Eileen must choose how much trust to place in this new and seductive world, where love, greed, and vengeance can be as powerful, or as destructive, as any magic.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Book Review & GIVEAWAY: Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head, by Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester {ends 11/30}

They went straightaway, after changing in the darkness of the attic out of their pajamas and into street clothes. When they emerged into the brisk air, the sky was just beginning to lighten in the east, like a large blue blanket whose corners had caught flame. Max had always loved the city at this hour, when the buildings were like tall black stakes against the sky, and only a few lights flickered in the windows; when the streets were empty; when the whole city felt like a large, slumbering monster, and she could pass unseen in its shadows.

But now that they were on their way to catch a real-life monster, Max felt different. 

I'm a big fan of Lauren Oliver's books - the last novel I read by her, Vanishing Girls, was great, and I like her Delirium series too. Curiosity House is a little different in that it's more for younger readers - the book trailer calls it a "middle-grade" read. That being said, as an adult, I still enjoyed the book.

Official synopsis:
What you will find in this book:

– A rather attractive bearded lady
– Several scandalous murders
– A deliciously disgusting Amazonian shrunken head
– Four extraordinary children with equally extraordinary abilities
– A quite loquacious talking bird

Blessed with extraordinary abilities, orphans Philippa, Sam, and Thomas have grown up happily in Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders. But when a fourth child, Max, a knife-thrower, joins the group, it sets off an unforgettable chain of events. When the museum’s Amazonian shrunken head is stolen, the four are determined to get it back. But their search leads them to a series of murders and an explosive secret about their pasts.

This sensational new series combines the unparalleled storytelling gifts of Lauren Oliver with the rich knowledge of the notorious relics collector H.C. Chester.

What you will NOT find in this book:

– An accountant named Seymour
– A never-ending line at the post office
– Brussel sprouts (shudder)
– A lecture on finishing all your homework on time
– A sweet, gooey story for nice little girls and boys.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Nuts, by Alice Clayton {ends 11/20}




F O R. B U T T E R.

I sat in my car outside Mitzi's house, tucked high up into the hills. I'd packed up my knives, plucked my last check from her perfectly manicured gel tips, then trudged to my 1982 Jeep Wagoneer.

Fired. Over butter. I should have known better than to turn my back on cream being whipped. It can go from stiff peaks to buttery squeaks in seconds. 

I've read a few of Alice Clayton's books, and they're always quite funny, with a dash of sauciness thrown in; her characters are always strong women, who enjoy their love lives.

Official synopsis:
From New York Times bestselling author Alice Clayton, the first in a brand-new romance series telling the humorously sexy tale of Roxie, a private chef who gets a taste of love—but is it to stay, or to go?

After losing almost all of her clients in one fell swoop following an accident involving whipped cream, private chef to Hollywood’s elite Roxie Callahan gets a call from her flighty mother, saying she’s needed home in upstate New York to run the family diner. Once she's back in the Hudson Valley, local organic farmer Leo delivers Roxie a lovely bunch of walnuts, and soon sparks—and clothing—begin to fly. Leo believes that everything worth doing is worth doing slowly…and how! But will Roxie stay upstate, or will the lure of West Coast redemption tempt her back to Tinseltown?

This was a predictable novel, but very cute. Roxie had moved out of her small town in order to attend culinary school in California, about as far away from New York as you can get, but her mother now has the chance of a lifetime - to be on The Amazing Race with Roxie's aunt, her sister - and needs Roxie home for the summer to run the diner. Roxie is now a private chef in L.A., but has recently been fired by one of her clients (over whipped cream turning into butter! Ha), so the timing works out perfectly.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The House, by Christina Lauren {ends 11/17}

Delilah's breath grew trapped in her throat, and the old protective fire flickered to life between her ribs.

He was the same, but not. His shirt was black, jeans were black, and shaggy black hair fell into his eyes. He was so tall he must have been pulled like taffy. When he looked up at Delilah as he passed, the same eyes she remembered from all those years ago - dark and stormy and shadowed with bluish circles - seemed to flicker to life for a moment.

Just long enough for her to lose her breath.

He looked as if he knew every one of her secrets. Who would have guessed that after six years Gavin Timothy would still seem so perfectly dangerous?

Apparently, Delilah was still smitten.

From the passage above, you might guess that this book is a love story - and in a way, it is - but it's more about a house that literally comes to life, and is angry that its son that it raised, Gavin, now has a girlfriend, and some day might not live there anymore.

Official synopsis:
Gavin tells Delilah he’s hers—completely—but whatever lives inside that house with him disagrees.

After seven years tucked away at an East coast boarding school, Delilah Blue returns to her small Kansas hometown to find that not much has changed. Her parents are still uptight and disinterested, her bedroom is exactly the way she left it, and the outcast Gavin Timothy still looks like he’s crawled out of one of her dark, twisted drawings.

Delilah is instantly smitten.

Gavin has always lived in the strange house: an odd building isolated in a stand of trees where the town gives in to mild wilderness. The house is an irresistible lure for Delilah, but the tall fence surrounding it exists for good reason, and Gavin urges Delilah to be careful. Whatever lives with him there isn’t human, and isn’t afraid of hurting her to keep her away.

Double Book Review: Rebel Belle (#1) and Miss Mayhem (#2), by Rachel Hawkins

Review by: Rebecca Schweitzer

“Shouldn't I get to fly? Or at the very least, shoot laser beams out of my eyes? Feeling like a complete moron, I stood up and focused as hard as I could on my closet door. No matter how hard I stared, no laser beams. I even tried muttering “laser” under my breath, but nothing. That done, I gave a few experimental hops, trying to see if I could levitate even for a second. When that didn't work either, I briefly considered trying to jump out the window, but then I remembered Mom's expression when she'd found me in the pool. So no laser, no flying, but superstrength and the ability to kick some major ass. That was something.”

Harper Price runs her school. She's the student body president, homecoming queen, head cheerleader and every other important position available. After a lipgloss crisis, she finds herself in possession of mysterious super powers that seem to be forcing her to protect her nemesis since kindergarten, student newspaper editor, David Stark. Harper is used to balancing a few different tasks, but with cotillion coming up and her boyfriend feeling neglected already, Harper's new super strength isn't feeling like such a strong point.

Imagine Buffy the Vampire the Slayer as a southern belle instead of a valley girl. That's about what you get with Harper Price. In fact, Harper herself wonders where her “Giles” is when she figures out she's now some sort of super hero called a Paladin. Rebel Belle, the first book in the series, crashes into Harper's new and confusing life. It's a fun ride with plenty of action and a side of romantic tension. Harper may be the model student, but she's not always the best as making perfect decisions, which makes her all the more compelling.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Quick Pick: Surviving Ice, by K.A. Tucker

  • Opening lines: Ned pauses to stretch his neck and roll his right shoulder once ... twice ... before lifting the needle to his customer's arm again, humming along with Willie Nelson's twang, a staple in Black Rabbit for as long as I can remember. After all these years, the aging country singer still holds a special spot in my uncle's heart. He even sports the matching gray braids and red bandanna to prove it.
  • Reason I picked up the book: I'm a huge fan of K.A. Tucker's Burying Water series, and this is the fourth book in the series.
  • And what's this book about?
  • The USA TODAY bestselling author of the Ten Tiny Breaths series and Burying Water—which Kirkus Reviews called “a sexy, romantic, gangster-tinged page-turner”—returns with a new novel packed with romance, plot twists, and psychological suspense.

    Ivy, a talented tattoo artist who spent the early part of her twenties on the move, is finally looking for a place to call home. She thinks she might have found it in San Francisco, but all that changes when she witnesses a terrible crime. She’s ready to pack up her things yet again, when a random encounter with a stranger keeps her in the city, giving her reason to stay after all.

    That is, until Ivy discovers that their encounter wasn’t random. Not at all…
  • Favorite Paragraph: I begin on the outline of the reapers' head, the side of my palm ever so gently resting against him as I work, his body heat warming my skin through the latex.

    This is where my clients usually begin talking. They're excited, they're nervous, it's a bit awkward to have a stranger touching their flesh and they want to get comfortable ... there are plenty of reasons for them to strike up a conversation. It always starts with small talk - the basics about the person, the all-too-common "What's the weirdest tattoo request you've ever had?"

    Depending on how detailed the piece is and where I'm doing it, at some point the conversation usually veers into personal territory.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Not That Easy, by Radhika Sanghani {ends 11/3}

"So, this must be the famous girlfriend," said Chris. I looked at him weirdly. Why was he talking about Holly like that? "Ellie, right?"

I stared at him. He was smiling at me, waiting for an answer. I turned to look at Nick. He was smiling too. What the fuck? Why wasn't he correcting his brother?

No one had spoken yet and Chris's smile was beginning to wane. Holly looked at me curiously as she puffed on what I had now realized was an e-cigarette.

OH GOD. HE'D TOLD THEM I WAS HIS GIRLFRIEND. Nick wasn't my fuck buddy at all - he was my goddamn boyfriend and he hadn't bothered to tell me.

Oh fuck fuck fuck. It was fine. This was a good thing. I could do this. 

This book is the sequel to Virgin, which I reviewed last year, and the main character, Ellie, is back, and still making me laugh. In the first book, she was 21 and looking to lose her virginity; now that she has, she's looking for some one-night stands, so that she can talk with her friends about them and have more in common. She reminds me a bit of Georgia Nicolson in another series I like, and the result is a funny read.

Official synopsis:
Ellie used to be a virgin, but now she’s a woman with sexual experience. Well, some sexual experience. She also has debt, an unpaid magazine internship, and three flatmates who left her with the single room to match her single status.

That’s okay. She doesn’t want a boyfriend anyway—she wants several. And if the sex is exciting enough, her ruthless magazine editor boss can exploit her dating life for a column.

After countless hook-ups, a disastrously fiery encounter with some heat lube, and one orgasm class, Ellie is faced with the sad reality of her sexual ineptitude. But when she starts to witness the emotional wreckage she’s leaving in her wake, Ellie realizes that sex can be hard, and there’s a down side to giving it up too easy.

This book also reminds me of My Big Fat Greek Wedding (movie) because Ellie is Greek, and her mom is a "typical" Greek mom; always worrying about Ellie and Ellie asks her for loans (since she's at an unpaid internship currently), saying she wants to make moussaka or other Greek foods. 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Smoke, by Catherine McKenzie {ends 10/26}

I take a ragged breath, but all I get is smoke for my troubles.

"Aren't I, though? Everyone wants to blame the hoemowner. I could leave it at that. I should leave it at that."

"But you don't think it's him?"

"It might be, but maybe not."

"You have to do what's right."

"Do I?"

He looks at me, at for the first time since we met, I'm not exactly sure what he's thinking.

"You always do what's right. That's who you are."

"What if I don't want to be that person anymore?"

"You can't run away from yourself. I'd have thought you knew that by now."

This is the newest novel by Catherine McKenzie, author of Spin and Arranged, among others, and it's different from her previous books that I've read. This one focuses on Elizabeth and Ben, who have just decided to get divorced, but haven't told anyone yet; while at the same time, a fire threatens to unravel their small town, and Elizabeth decides to help in whatever way she can and put her marital troubles on hold, for the meantime.

Official synopsis:
From the internationally bestselling author Catherine McKenzie comes an evocative tale of two women navigating the secrets and lies at the heart of a wildfire threatening their town.

After a decade-long career combating wildfires, Elizabeth has traded in for a quieter life with her husband. Now she works as the local arson investigator in a beautiful, quaint town in the Rockies. But that tranquil life vanishes when she and her husband agree to divorce, and when a fire started in nearby Cooper Basin begins to spread rapidly. For Elizabeth, containing a raging wildfire is easier than accepting that her marriage has failed.

For Elizabeth’s ex-friend Mindy, who feels disconnected from her husband and teenage children, the fire represents a chance to find a new purpose: helping a man who lost his home to the blaze. But her faith is shattered by a shocking accusation.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: In His Keeping (Slow Burn #2), by Maya Banks {ends 10/20}

Review by: Rachel Gonzales

Maya Banks is the author of over fifty novels, including multiple New York Times and USA Today bestsellers. In His Keeping is the second novel in her “Slow Burn” series of romances with “psychic elements.”

Official synopsis:
Arial knows the rules that keep her safe. She’s been following them since she was a little girl: Do not tell. Do not show. But in a moment of terror, facing an attacker intent on taking more than just her life, Ari has no choice but to unleash the psychic powers she’s been hiding since childhood.

Now, with her abilities revealed, a bigger threat looms - something that makes her question everything she thought she knew about her parents and her secretive upbringing. But this isn’t a fight she can face on her own.

As the head of Devereaux Security, Beau Devereaux is not stranger to the strange. But when he takes on a new client - a beautiful young woman with an extraordinary gift - Beau isn’t prepared for the extent of his attraction to her. What began as a simple assignment, just another job, quickly turns personal as Beau discovers he’ll do anything at all to protect Ari. No matter what it costs him personally. Even his heart and soul.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen, by Katherine Howe {ends 10/19}

"Do you think ...," Wes says, and I can feel his pulse thrumming fast under his skin. "Annie. Do you think it's possible to love more than one person?"

I stare long and hard at him. That word hangs in the air between us.

Did he say it?

Did I hear it?

Or is it what I wanted him to say?

It's impossible to see his expression in the dark. I can only the outline of his hair, his jaw, and his shoulders as he turns to me. A knot unties itself in my chest.

I whisper, "Yes."

This book is a ghost story, but the word "ghost" is never used in it; the one time someone starts to ask if Annie is a ghost, she cuts them off, saying she doesn't like "that word." The story takes place in present-day NYC, as well as 1820s NYC, and if you love historical stories, you will love this one too.

Official synopsis:
It’s summertime in New York City, and aspiring filmmaker Wes Auckerman has just arrived to start his summer term at NYU. While shooting a séance at a psychic's in the East Village, he meets a mysterious, intoxicatingly beautiful girl named Annie.

As they start spending time together, Wes finds himself falling for her, drawn to her rose petal lips and her entrancing glow. But there’s something about her that he can’t put his finger on that makes him wonder about this intriguing hipster girl from the Village. Why does she use such strange slang? Why does she always seem so reserved and distant? And, most importantly, why does he only seem to run into her on one block near the Bowery? Annie’s hiding something, a dark secret from her past that may be the answer to all of Wes’s questions . . .

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Book Review: The Fire Sermon, by Francesca Haig

Review by: Rachel Gonzales

It was midharvest when they came. I felt it first. Had been feeling it, if I were honest with myself, for months. But now I sensed it clearly, a sudden alertness that I could never explain to anybody who wasn’t a seer. It was a feeling of something shifting: like a cloud moving across the sun, or the wind changing direction.

This first novel in a planned trilogy begins the story of seer Cass, living in a future that is terrifyingly backward and inhumane, who must endure not only her visions, but also the knowledge that she is the twin sister of Zach, a powerful man who will stop at nothing to protect her - but why?

Official Synopsis:
Four hundred years after a nuclear apocalypse, the Alphas have inherited the earth - or what’s left of it. All humans are born in pairs, the deformed Omegas getting split from their flawless twins and exiled to bleak farming villages while the Alphas exploit and oppress them almost unto death. But despite their claims of superiority, the Alphas cannot escape one harsh fact: Whenever one twin dies, so does the other.

Cass is a rare Omega whose mutation is psychic foresight - not that she needs it to know that as her powerful twin, Zach, ascends the ranks of the ruling Alpha Council, she’s in grave danger. Zach has a devastating plan for Omega annihilation. Cass has visions of an island where bloody Omega resistance promises a life of freedom. But her real dream is to discover a middle way, one that would bring together the sundered halves of humanity. And that means both the Council and the resistance have her in their sights.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: History of the Vampire (Vanderlind Castle #4), ends 10/17

"I need you to think very closely about what you've seen here today," Mrs. Denkler said. "I need you to think about your relationship with Jessie Vanderlind. I understand that he's a very handsome young man and I'm sure he can be charming when he chooses, but I hope you also understand that pursuing such a relationship might not be such a healthy choice for a young girl like you." She reached out and squeezed my shoulder again, this time in a much firmer grip. "You might want to consider seeking other employment, if working here at the castle makes you uncomfortable." The strength of her grip increased, making me squirm under pressure. "But mind me when I tell you not to discuss what you've seen here," she said. "About Arthur. The good people of Tiburon don't need to know anything more about him. If the blood donations were to stop, then that could make things very unpleasant for a great many people."

I'm a big fan of Gayla Twist's novels, and this one was no different. It's technically the 4th book in the Vanderlind Castle series; it can be read as a standalone, in my opinion, but it's better to read the other books in the series first.

Official synopsis:
Before Jessie fell in love with Aurora, he knew her as another girl. This is their story:

“I couldn’t help that I was in love with Colette Gibson, but it did complicate things. Ending my romance with her would be the right thing to do. Turning her into a member of the undead would be the selfish thing to do. And conjoining with Colette for the rest of her life, and the rest of my eternity, would be the foolish thing to do. I knew all of that. The only problem was that I couldn’t see clearly which path to take. By the time the sun set and I climbed out of my coffin for the evening, I knew only one thing for sure; I had to see her.”

From the author: Even though this is a prequel to the first three Vanderlind Castle books, it is best to read the story as book 4. I’ve included a few Easter Eggs for readers and there are many spoilers if you read the books out of order. It’s up to you, of course, but I wrote the book to be experienced after the first three stories.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Quick Pick: The Royal We, by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

  • Opening lines: (Prologue)
    I don't know what to do.

    The calls and texts are starting to pile up, relentless and suffocating. I'm afraid of what will happen if I don't give him what he wants, and I'm afraid of what will happen if I do. The TV isn't soothing my nerves, given that global hysteria over my impending wedding is the lead story on every channel. 
  • Reason I picked up the book: I had heard a lot about this book, and I started reading it on my tablet on Southwest's site (yay for free books while in the air!) during my recent L.A. trip - only the first 7 chapters were provided, and after those I was already hooked. 
  • And what's this book about?
  • American Rebecca Porter was never one for fairy tales. Her twin sister, Lacey, has always been the romantic who fantasized about glamour and royalty, fame and fortune. Yet it's Bex who seeks adventure at Oxford and finds herself living down the hall from Prince Nicholas, Great Britain's future king. And when Bex can't resist falling for Nick, the person behind the prince, it propels her into a world she did not expect to inhabit, under a spotlight she is not prepared to face.

    Dating Nick immerses Bex in ritzy society, dazzling ski trips, and dinners at Kensington Palace with him and his charming, troublesome brother, Freddie. But the relationship also comes with unimaginable baggage: hysterical tabloids, Nick's sparkling and far more suitable ex-girlfriends, and a royal family whose private life is much thornier and more tragic than anyone on the outside knows. The pressures are almost too much to bear, as Bex struggles to reconcile the man she loves with the monarch he's fated to become.

    Which is how she gets into trouble.

    Now, on the eve of the wedding of the century, Bex is faced with whether everything she's sacrificed for love-her career, her home, her family, maybe even herself-will have been for nothing.
  • Favorite Paragraph: ... I was increasingly nervous. Intellectually, I knew I wasn't being introduced to the extended family as anything more than Nick's friend, and that Cilla and even Bea being there would bolster that cover. But I wasn't the kind of moneyed or titled aristocrat with a plummy accent and a Bentley that Nick's relations were used to; I was a first-time skier whose father made comfortable appliances for beer lovers. I didn't know how any of that would go over with them, no matter what they thought he and I were to each other - and on that score, Richard was still in severe, sometimes apoplectic denial.

    Gaz studied me, then raised his glass. "No need to panic," he said. "We'll keep you out of the blast radius."

    As we clinked wine glasses, mine cracked and squirted thick red port all over my couch.

    "Don't tell Cilla about that," Gaz warned. "She'll say it's an omen."

    "I don't believe in omens," I said.

Friday, October 2, 2015

GIVEAWAY: You'll Be Thinking of Me, by Densie Webb {ends 10/9}

Author Densie Webb (you read that right - Densie, not Denise) has a new book out, and two of my lucky readers will win a copy.

Official synopsis:
A chance encounter with a celebrity, an impromptu video, and a shiny new espresso machine. It all added up to a juicy tale for 24-year-old Rachael Allen to share with friends. But when her best friend posts the video online, bizarre threats, home break-ins, and deadly gifts from an obsessed fan follow close behind. Mick Sullivan, the star in her video, offers to help and in the process, Rachael discovers that despite his reputation as a player of Olympian caliber, he’s down-to-earth—and emotionally damaged. He has secrets; some he’s shared only with his pseudo best friend. Others he's shared with no one. But there's one secret he’s hidden from himself, washed away by too many beers. Despite wildly divergent life paths, their shared southern roots (and a passion for good music) creates a common thread that draws them together. As the threats escalate, and their relationship deepens, Rachael struggles to accept Mick’s past—and his present. And she is forced to confront her own obsessive love to ultimately decide if being with Mick Sullivan is worth the collateral damage.

YOU'LL BE THINKING OF ME is the story of Rachael's serendipitous encounter with a celebrity, her brush with obsessive love, and the bittersweet gift left behind by the very person fixated on destroying her life.

About the author:
Densie Webb is a full-time freelance writer/editor of nonfiction, mainly health and nutrition topics. She is currently working on two other novels, a paranormal romance novel and a women's fiction (family drama) book. She would eventually love to write fiction full-time. 


Enter via the widget below. Giveaway will end on Friday, October 9th, at 11:59pm EST, and winners will be notified the next day via email, and have 24 hours to respond, or an alternate winner will be chosen.

Two winners will win a paperback copy of You'll Be Thinking of Me.

U.S. and Canadian residents only, please.

Good luck!

You'll be Thinking of Me

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

GIVEAWAY: Becoming Famous, by Natalie Scott {ends 10/7}

Becoming Famous is the sequel to Rules for Riders, and was released in August 2015. You can win yourself a copy here!

Official synopsis:
Bebe Barkley has never released a sex tape. She’s not America’s Next Top Model. She didn’t get pregnant at 16, and has never auditioned for American Idol. In fact, she’s holed up in a hotel room at the Waldorf in New York City, totally depressed. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s about to become famous. A former equestrian rider, Bebe had a bright future until a tragic accident changed everything. Now she’s unable to return to her old life, yet incapable of moving forward. 

Follow her as she ventures from New York to LA, the City of Broken Dreams, where she will find everything she’s ever wanted, only to risk losing the things she truly loves. Join Bebe in her heart-stopping journey in Becoming Famous.

About the Author:
Natalie Scott enjoys writing young adult contemporary romance novels. She published her debut novel Rules for Riders in August 2014. Rules for Riders is a fast paced coming-of-age novel set in the competitive world of equestrian riding. Becoming Famous, the long anticipated sequel to Rules for Riders, was released in August 2015.

Natalie is originally from Australia and has lived in New York and Los Angeles. She currently resides in Scottsdale, Arizona.

To learn more, go to

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Life and Other Near-Death Experiences, by Camille Pagán {ends 9/29}

"I'm sorry, Libby. I was only trying to be helpful when I said you should see someone. You should, you know. You're not acting like yourself."

"The Libby you know is dead, Tom," I said. "And by the way, I changed the locks. Until I get back and hire an attorney, you'll need to find somewhere else to live."

I took my luggage and rather ungracefully maneuvered it through the front door, down the sidewalk, and onto the crub. Then I stuck my fingers in my mouth and whistled for the livery cab I had called to take me to O'Hare. The rest of my life was waiting, and I did not intend to be late.

This was a quick read that I was able to devour on two separate flights home from L.A. this past week, where I was at an entertainment bloggers conference. I read a little bit on my first flight (Burbank to Vegas) and finished it on my second (Vegas to Detroit) and even though it deals with some heavy subjects, overall it's a light and fast read.

Official synopsis:
Libby Miller has always been an unwavering optimist—but when her husband drops a bomb on their marriage the same day a doctor delivers devastating news, she realizes her rose-colored glasses have actually been blinding her.

With nothing left to lose, she abandons her life in Chicago for the clear waters and bright beaches of the Caribbean for what might be her last hurrah. Despite her new sunny locale, her plans go awry when she finds that she can’t quite outrun the past or bring herself to face an unknowable future. Every day of tropical bliss may be an invitation to disaster, but with her twin brother on her trail and a new relationship on the horizon, Libby is determined to forget about fate. Will she risk it all to live—and love—a little longer?

From critically acclaimed author Camille Pagán comes a hilarious and hopeful story about a woman choosing between a “perfect” life and actually living.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Dark Wild Night, by Christina Lauren {ends 9/22}

I rarely take a day off - in fact, I haven't taken an entire day away since the store opened four months ago - but I need it today.

I sleep in, have coffee on the back porch, and watch a mourning dove build a nest in my eaves.

I run a few miles along the water, to Cove Beach and back.

I get the car serviced and washed.

I clean the house, shower. Eat and dress.

And I give myself the entire day to think about what's happening with me and Lola. 

I love Christina Lauren's books. I always fly through them because they're so easy to read. Dark Wild Night is the third book in the "Wild Seasons" series, which focuses on a group of six friends who end up romantically involved and paired off. Dark Wild Night focuses on Lola (real name: Lorelei) and Oliver, the only pair of the friends who annulled their Vegas marriage (the 3 pairs all got married in Vegas, drunkenly, one night) and didn't end up together afterwards still.

Official synopsis:
Lola and Oliver like to congratulate themselves on having the good sense not to consummate their drunken Las Vegas marriage. If they’d doubled-down on that mistake, their “Just Friends” situation might not be half as great as it is now.

…Or so goes the official line.

In reality, Lola’s wanted Oliver since day one - and over time has only fallen harder for his sexy Aussie accent and easygoing ability to take her as she comes. More at home in her studio than in baring herself to people, Lola’s instinctive comfort around Oliver nearly seems too good to be true. So why ruin a good thing?

Even as geek girls fawn over him, Oliver can’t get his mind off what he didn’t do with Lola when he had the chance. He knows what he wants with her now…and it’s far outside the friend zone. When Lola’s graphic novel starts getting national acclaim - and is then fast-tracked for a major motion picture - Oliver steps up to be there for her whenever she needs him. After all, she’s not the kind of girl who likes all that attention, but maybe she’s the kind who’ll eventually like him.

Sometimes seeing what’s right in front of us takes a great leap of faith. And sometimes a dark wild night in Vegas isn’t just the end of a day, but the beginning of a bright new life.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper, by Hilary Liftin {ends 9/16, 2 winners!}

I had married a blank slate, a hollow man. Our love was an invention scripted by a stranger, the elusive Emil. And yet Rob was exactly who he seemed to be: the best actor in the world. In a way I understood him better than I ever had. But I didn't love him. Not anymore. Not after this.

Worst of all, in this phony romance, I had played my part, and it was a doozy. I was the cliched princess, swept off my feet, willing and eager to accept this faux Prince Charming at face value. I should have known. Rob may have commissioned this false romance, but I was complicit.

There were two days remaining before Rob left for Turkey. I'd had six months with the husband I'd longed to know better. Now I couldn't bear to look at him. I climbed into bed and pretended to have a migraine until he was gone.

I found this book to be extremely interesting, not only because I'm a movie blogger, but because it's written by a woman who is a ghostwriter (she helps celebrities tell their stories in memoirs) who decided to write a memoir about a fake celebrity. Lizzie Pepper may be fake, but seems to be based on a real-life couple, at least in my opinion, and I found this to be a great read.

Official synopsis:
“I’ve had a million meetings in my acting career, and I had no idea that this would be the one that would change my life forever. I walked into the room, and there was Rob . . . in the flesh.”

Actress Lizzie Pepper was America’s Girl Next Door and her marriage to Hollywood mega-star Rob Mars was tabloid gold—a whirlwind romance and an elaborate celebrity-studded wedding landed them on the cover of every celebrity weekly. But fame, beauty, and wealth weren’t enough to keep their marriage together. Hollywood’s “It” couple are over—and now Lizzie is going to tell her side of the story.

Celebrity ghostwriter Hilary Liftin chronicles the tabloids’ favorite marriage as Lizzie Pepper realizes that, when the curtain falls, her romance isn’t what she and everyone else thought. From her lonely holidays in sumptuous villas to her husband’s deep commitment to a disconcertingly repressive mind-body group, Lizzie reveals a side of fame that her fans never get to see. Full of twists and turns,
Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper is a breathless journey to the heights of Hollywood power and royalty and a life in the spotlight that is nearly impossible to escape.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Memory Painter, by Gwendolyn Womack {ends 9/13}

Review by: Rachel Gonzales

“I am here now. I’m here now. I’m here now. I’m here now.” Bryan Pierce chanted the words over and over with desperate intensity, keeping his eyes squeezed shut as he rocked his body back and forth in a soothing motion. But then just as suddenly, he stopped. His body went slack and his eyes grew distant as a strange calm descended over him. He got out of bed.

This debut novel by Gwendolyn Womack wonders what might happen if you could take a drug that helped you remember your past - not just your immediate past, but all of your pasts, going back to the beginning of your being. And what would happen if, in remembering, you found out that your pasts lives have been intertangled with others’ going back decades, centuries, even millennia?

Official Synopsis:
Bryan Pierce is an internationally famous artists whose paintings have dazzled the world. But there’s a secret to his success: Every canvas is inspired by an unusually vivid dream. When Bryan awakes, he possesses extraordinary new skills … like the ability to speak obscure languages and an inexplicable genius for chess. All his life, he has wondered if his dreams are recollections -- if he is re-experiencing other people’s lives.

Linz Jacobs is a brilliant neurogeneticist, absorbed in decoding the genes that help the brain make memories -- until she is confronted with an exact rendering of a recurring nightmare at one of Bryan’s shows. She tracks down the elusive artist, and their meeting triggers Bryan’s most powerful dream yet: visions of a team of scientists who, on the verge of discovering a cure for Alzheimer’s, died in a lab explosion decades ago.

As Bryan becomes obsessed with the mysterious circumstances surrounding the scientists’ deaths, his dreams begin to reveal what happened at the lab, as well as a deeper mystery that may lead all the way to ancient Egypt. Together, Bryan and Linz start to discern a pattern. But a deadly enemy watches their every move, and he will stop at nothing to ensure that the past stays buried.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Black-Eyed Susans, by Julia Heaberlin {ends 9/7}

Thirty-two hours of my life are missing.

My best friend, Lydia, tells me to imagine those hours like old clothes in the back of a dark closet. Shut my eyes. Open the door. Move things around. Search.

The things I do remember, I'd rather not. Four freckles. Eyes that aren't black but blue, wide open, two inches from mine. Insects gnawing into a smooth, soft cheek. The grit of the earth in my teeth. Those parts, I remember.

It's my seventeenth birthday, and the candles on my cake are burning.

The premise of this novel intrigued me, and the book is being compared to Gone Girl, although in my opinion it's more like Dark Places (also by Gillian Flynn) meets The Lovely Bones. The novel is a whodunit mystery, and it took me most of the book to figure out who the killer was that had kidnapped Tessa about twenty years ago, when she was a teenager.

Official synopsis:
For fans of Laura Lippman and Gillian Flynn comes an electrifying novel of stunning psychological suspense.

I am the star of screaming headlines and campfire ghost stories.
I am one of the four Black-Eyed Susans.
The lucky one.

As a sixteen-year-old, Tessa Cartwright was found in a Texas field, barely alive amid a scattering of bones, with only fragments of memory as to how she got there. Ever since, the press has pursued her as the lone surviving “Black-Eyed Susan,” the nickname given to the murder victims because of the yellow carpet of wildflowers that flourished above their shared grave. Tessa’s testimony about those tragic hours put a man on death row.

Now, almost two decades later, Tessa is an artist and single mother. In the desolate cold of February, she is shocked to discover a freshly planted patch of black-eyed susans—a summertime bloom—just outside her bedroom window. Terrified at the implications—that she sent the wrong man to prison and the real killer remains at large—Tessa turns to the lawyers working to exonerate the man awaiting execution. But the flowers alone are not proof enough, and the forensic investigation of the still-unidentified bones is progressing too slowly. An innocent life hangs in the balance. The legal team appeals to Tessa to undergo hypnosis to retrieve lost memories—and to share the drawings she produced as part of an experimental therapy shortly after her rescue.

What they don’t know is that Tessa and the scared, fragile girl she was have built a fortress of secrets. As the clock ticks toward the execution, Tessa fears for her sanity, but even more for the safety of her teenaged daughter. Is a serial killer still roaming free, taunting Tessa with a trail of clues? She has no choice but to confront old ghosts and lingering nightmares to finally discover what really happened that night.

Shocking, intense, and utterly original, Black-Eyed Susans is a dazzling psychological thriller, seamlessly weaving past and present in a searing tale of a young woman whose harrowing memories remain in a field of flowers—as a killer makes a chilling return to his garden.

Each of the chapters in the book are either in the present time or in 1995, when Tessa had to give her testimony about what happened that night. A man gets put away in jail for the crime, to Death Row, and his execution is coming up; however, Tessa is now having doubts about what her 16-year-old self thought to be true, and she thinks the killer might still be out there. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Sustained (The Legal Briefs, #2) by Emma Chase {ends 9/4}

I've heard people talk about anxiety. Nerves. But that doesn't happen to me. I don't get nervous before an opening statement or a closing one, not when my boss calls me to his office for a meeting, and sure as hell not before a hookup. I guess I just never cared about anything - or anyone - enough to anxious about things not working out. I always figured I'd be able to fix it or find an equal option to replace it. 

You know what I'm goign to say next, don't you?

Yes: standing outside Chelsea's tightly closed bedroom door, I'm fucking nervous.

I've read one of Emma Chase's books previously, and she sometimes writes from the male's POV; this book does that as well. Chick lit, especially New Adult (R-rated), is usually from a woman's point-of-view, so it's always interesting to read a book from a man's (especially as written by a woman!).

Official synopsis:
A knight in tarnished armor is still a knight.

When you’re a defense attorney in Washington, DC, you see firsthand how hard life can be, and that sometimes the only way to survive is to be harder. I, Jake Becker, have a reputation for being cold, callous, and intimidating—and that suits me just fine. In fact, it’s necessary when I’m breaking down a witness on the stand.

Complications don’t work for me—I’m a “need-to-know” type of man. If you’re my client, tell me the basic facts. If you’re my date, stick to what will turn you on. I’m not a therapist or Prince Charming—and I don’t pretend to be.

Then Chelsea McQuaid and her six orphaned nieces and nephews came along and complicated the ever-loving hell out of my life. Now I'm going to Mommy & Me classes, One Direction concerts, the emergency room, and arguing cases in the principal's office.

Chelsea’s too sweet, too innocent, and too gorgeous for her own good. She tries to be tough, but she’s not. She needs someone to help her, defend her…and the kids.

And that — that, I know how to do.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Off the Page, by Jodi Picoult & Samantha Van Leer {ends 8/26}

A fairy tale is a snapshot too. You never know what goes on post-happily-ever-after. It's simply a frozen minute, and the only one we seem to remember.

The difference is, in a fairy tale, the story can't be altered. The prince and princess will never have a fight. You'll never hear the queen raise her voice. No one ever gets sick; no one ever gets hurt. 

Maybe love is only safe in places where it can't change.

This novel is a "companion book" to Picoult and Van Leer's Between the Lines, which I reviewed about three years ago. It's called a companion book and not a sequel because you don't have to have read BTL before reading this one; however, I found that reading BTL beforehand definitely benefits the reader when reading Off the Page.

Official synopsis:
From #1 New York Times bestselling authors Jodi Picoult and her daughter and co-writer, Samantha van Leer, comes OFF THE PAGE, a tender and appealing romantic YA novel filled with humor, adventure, and magical relationships.

Sixteen-year-old Delilah is finally united with Oliver—a prince literally taken from the pages of a fairy tale. There are, however, complications now that Oliver has been able to enter the real world. To exist in Delilah’s world, Oliver must take the place of a regular boy. Enter Edgar, who agrees to take Oliver’s role in Delilah’s favorite book. In this multilayered universe, the line between what is on the page and what is possible is blurred, but all must be resolved for the characters to live happily ever after. Includes twelve full-color illustrations, and black-and-white decorations throughout.

Full of humor and witty commentary about life,
OFF THE PAGE is a stand-alone novel as well as a companion to the authors’ bestseller Between the Lines, and is perfect for readers looking for a fairytale ending. Fans of Sarah Dessen and Meg Cabot are sure to appreciate this novel about love, romance, and relationships.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Idea of Love, by Patti Callahan Henry {ends 8/22}

"That's enough?" Mimi asked. "Really? You dream your whole life of having a real wedding dress design. You sketch and draw and devour magazines and books. You do research and read and have natural talent, and that's enough? Whoever told you that crumbs were enough? Who the hell told you that?" Mimi's voice rose, fighting for something Ella was unsure about.

"What? I mean, if I win, it will be amazing."

"Then forget about 'everything happening.' Get yourself a dress. Buy yourself a plane ticket. Go to New York. What are you waiting for?"

Ella closed her eyes. Right. What was she waiting for?

It took me a while to warm up to the main character, Ella, in The Idea of Love. Her husband has recently left her for her best friend's sister, so she has no support system; her best friend knew about the affair and didn't tell her. She's living in a crumbly old apartment because her husband has essentially kicked her out of the house (his name is on the house, hers is not). I was kind of thinking ... girl, stand up for yourself! Later in the novel, however, circumstances start to change, and with those, Ella as well.

Official synopsis:
As we like to say in the south: "Don't let the truth get in the way of a good story."

Ella's life has been completely upended. She's young, beautiful, and deeply in love—until her husband dies in a tragic sailing accident while trying save her. Or so she'll have everyone believe. Screenwriter Hunter needs a hit, but crippling writers' block and a serious lack of motivation are getting him nowhere. He's on the look-out for a love story. It doesn't matter who it belongs to.

When Hunter and Ella meet in Watersend, South Carolina it feels like the perfect match, something close to fate. In Ella, Hunter finds the perfect love story, full of longing and sacrifice. It's the stuff of epic films. In Hunter, Ella finds possibility. It's an opportunity to live out a fantasy – the life she wishes she had because hers is too painful. And more real. Besides. what's a little white lie between strangers? 

But one lie leads to another, and soon Hunter and Ella find themselves caught in a web of deceit. As they try to untangle their lies and reclaim their own lives, they feel something stronger is keeping them together. And so they wonder: can two people come together for all the wrong reasons and still make it right?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Book Review: White Gardenia, by Belinda Alexandra

Review by: Sarah Blanchette 

I spent hours perched on the rim of the bathtub, peering in the mirror at the stranger I was becoming. I was both exhilarated and depressed about the changes in me. Each step towards womanhood was a step closer to Dimitri and a step away from the child I had been with my mother. I was no longer the young daughter to whom she had sung songs about mushrooms and whose stubby hand she had bruised because she held it so tightly, never wanting to let me go. I wondered if my mother would even recognize me. (p.85).

From the very beginning of my journey through White Gardenia, I was completely enamored with the writing style. Due to the historic content of the book, the added sensory and flowing syntax allowed me to remain engaged. I had to call on some high school AP History lectures to place my mind in the timeframe of the ending years of World War II, but found that the explanations given actually expanded my knowledge of the time period. Viewing the war and post-war years through various cultural lenses was pretty eye opening as well. I always respect writers who exhibit their expertise and research in their creative writing endeavors, and Belinda Alexandra accomplishes this beautifully.

Official synopsis:
It is the final days of World War II and the Japanese occupation of China is crumbling. In Harbin, White Russian émigrés who fled the murderous Bolsheviks now face an invading Soviet force ‘repatriating’ citizens and helping their Chinese comrades wreak revenge against the Japanese and anyone accused of collaborating.

Recently widowed Alina Kozlova accommodates a Japanese general in her home, afraid of the consequences for herself and her young daughter, Anya, if she refuses. Little could she know what the tragic ramifications would be. And so begins a story of heartbreak and hope that sweeps across cultures and continents – from the glamorous nightclubs of Shanghai to the harshness of Cold War Soviet Russia; from a desolate island in the Pacific Ocean to a new life in post-war Australia.

Both mother and daughter must make sacrifices, but is the price too high? Most importantly of all, will they ever find each other again?

Rich in incident and historical detail, this is a compelling and beautifully written tale about yearning and forgiveness.


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Quick Pick: This is Where It Ends, by Marieke Nijkamp

  • Opening lines: The starter gun shatters the silence, releasing the runners from their blocks.

    Track season starts in a couple of weeks, but no one has told Coach Lindt about winter. He's convinced the only way to get us into shape is to practice - even when my breath freezes right in front of me.

    This is Opportunity, Alabama. Sane people don't leave their homes when it's white and frosty outside. We stock up on canned food, drink hot chocolate until we succumb to sugar comas, and pray to be saved from the cold.
  • Reason I picked up the book: The title of the book and the description pulled me in. I've read books about school shootings before - specifically, The Life Before Her Eyes (Laura Kasischke, one of my college professors), which was made into a movie with Uma Thurman, and Nineteen Minutes (Jodi Picoult) - and they always interest me; there's always so many characters with different motivations.
  • And what's this book about?
  • 10:00 a.m. The principal of Opportunity, Alabama's high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

    10:02 a.m. The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

    10:03 The auditorium doors won't open.

    10:05 Someone starts shooting.

    This explosive, emotional, page-turning debut about a high school held hostage is told from the perspective of four teens—each with their own reason to fear the boy with the gun.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: The Status of All Things, by Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke {ends 8/14}

The truth of her words strikes me hard. I think of Courtney and her big day at Max's company. Her new job that I'm indirectly or directly responsible for, despite my best efforts to keep her away from Max. My mom was right, I needed to hang on to him. But I couldn't get the word Ruby had used out of my mind - fate. Because what I really needed to know was why the universe had sent me on this journey in the first place - and there was really only one way to find out. I had to stop using magic and let fate take its course - no matter what the outcome.

This is the second book I've read by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke, the first one being Your Perfect Life, which I reviewed back in January. The author duo likes to write about new or unusual situations, and that's what we have here as well: after being dumped by her fiancee, Max, at her wedding rehearsal dinner, Kate wakes up the next day in bed with him. The hitch: she's somehow gone back in time, and it's 30 days prior to their wedding.

Official synopsis:
What would you do if you could literally rewrite your fate—on Facebook? This heartwarming and hilarious new novel from the authors of Your Perfect Life follows a woman who discovers she can change her life through online status updates.

Kate is a thirty-five-year-old woman who is obsessed with social media. So when her fiancé, Max, breaks things off at their rehearsal dinner—to be with Kate’s close friend and coworker, no less—she goes straight to Facebook to share it with the world. But something’s changed. Suddenly, Kate’s real life starts to mirror whatever she writes in her Facebook status. With all the power at her fingertips, and heartbroken and confused over why Max left her, Kate goes back in time to rewrite their history.

Kate's two best friends, Jules and Liam, are the only ones who know the truth. In order to convince them she’s really time traveled, Kate offers to use her Facebook status to help improve their lives. But her attempts to help them don’t go exactly as planned, and every effort to get Max back seems to only backfire, causing Kate to wonder if it’s really possible to change her fate.

In The Status of All Things, Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke combine the humor and heart of Sarah Pekkanen and Jennifer Weiner while exploring the pitfalls of posting your entire life on the Internet. They raise the questions: What if you could create your picture-perfect life? Would you be happy? Would you still be you? For anyone who’s ever attempted—or failed—to be their perfect self online, this is a story of wisdom and wit that will leave you with new appreciation for the true status of your life.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Quick Pick: The Martian, by Andy Weir

  • Opening lines: I'm pretty much f--ked.
    That's my considered option.
    Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it's turned into a nightmare.
  • Reason I picked up the book: I had heard a lot of good things about it, and the movie version (starring Matt Damon!) is out in theaters this October. 
  • And what's this book about?
  • Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
  • Favorite paragraph:
  • "This is a short but very important announcement," Annie said. "I won't be taking any questions at this time, but we will be having a full press conference with Q&A in about an hour. We have recently reviewed satellite imagery from Mars and have confirmed that astronaut Mark Watney, is, currently, still alive."

    After one full second of utter silence, the room exploded with noise.
  • Recommended for: Anyone who likes a good read! The narrator in this book was actually very sarcastic and hilarious, which made me laugh out loud at certain points in the novel. 
  • Something to know: There's a lot of science in this book. At first it was a little offputting, but the main character (Mark, the astronaut stuck on Mars) brings so much sarcasticness that by the end I didn't mind it. He "explains" science too in some points, so that it doesn't feel confusing or overwhelming.
  • What I would have changed: The ending - it was cut too short. I wanted to know more about what happens (avoiding spoilers here, ha) and the aftereffects on Earth. 
  • Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
  • Where can I find this book? Click here.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Book Review: The Darkest Joy, by Marata Eros

Review by: Rachel Gonzales

Marata Eros is the author of over seventy titles, including the New York Times bestseller A Terrible Love and the Token series. Her novels cover a variety of genres, including erotica, fantasy, horror, sci-fi, and suspense. The Darkest Joy, published in 2014, tells the story of a young woman who escapes a terrible tragedy only to find solace, happiness, and love in the most unexpected of places.

Official synopsis:
Six months ago, Brooke Starr was one impeccable piano performance away from Juilliard. Now, she is lonely, devastated, orphaned … seeking solace in a place where the sun never sets and trying to make sense of the dark tragedy that clouds her shattered heart.

Deep-sea fisherman Chance Taylor can’t imagine what his life would be if he’d never taken that midnight stroll to the pier. Had never seen the intriguing, raven-haired girl swan dive into the Alaskan sea. Had never plunged into the icy waters to rescue her … and finally felt her electric charge.

As their blazing chemistry consumes them, Chance is determined to save Brooke from her demons. But Brooke knows she must find her own footing. She thinks she’s already lost everything -- until the terror of her past catches up with her and threatens all that she has left: her life, her love, and the freedom to choose between drowning in grief and finding joy in the darkness.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: From Scratch, by Rachel Goodman {ends 8/3}

Sighing, I lean my head back and soak up the sun filtering through the overhang of branches, thinking of all the times Nick patched me up when I was hurt. Even now, the faded scars and slight imperfections covering my body tell secret stories of all the knife cuts he bandaged, the oven burns he soothed, the sore backs and throbbing feet he massaged after grueling diner shifts. 

But then, he's also the one who shattered my heart into so many pieces it shocked my soul into silence.

This book definitely reminded me of the movie Waitress, minus the crazy husband, in that it follows a cook-turned-lawyer as she returns back to Dallas to care for her aging father, who has an operation scheduled soon. Lillie escaped to Chicago a few years back, and now has a new job (lawyer), new life, and new fiancee ... but that might change once she runs into her old love and former fiancee, Nick.

Official synopsis:
A down-home, feel-good debut Southern romance, From Scratch explores one woman’s journey back home to Dallas, Texas, where her family is cooking up a plan that doesn’t quite suit her tastes…

Thirty-year-old Lillie Turner grew up with maple syrup stuck to her skin and bacon grease splattered on her clothes, courtesy of working in the family diner. Thank goodness she escaped all that when she moved to Chicago five years ago. Now a successful strategy consultant and newly engaged to a man who complements her like biscuits and gravy, she has everything she wants.

When an urgent phone call about her father’s health pulls Lillie back to Dallas, she soon learns it was a ruse to bring her home so she can run the diner she’d rather avoid and compete in the Upper Crust, an annual baking competition, with no option to withdraw. Lillie is furious and ready to run back to Chicago, but her father’s haggard appearance makes her wonder if he’s hiding something. Things go from bad to worse when Nick, her handsome ex and the only man she ever truly loved, reappears, looking as scrumptious as ever.

Lillie’s trip home forces her to question the path she’s chosen, find her place in the family she abandoned, and wonder if the life she left behind is what she wants after all.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Book Review and GIVEAWAY: Those Secrets We Keep, by Emily Liebert {ends 8/1}

Sometimes it was hard to separate Hillary the friend from Hillary the family counselor. Was she analyzing Sloane's every word? Her every expression? Was she judging her for being sent into a tailspin over running into an ex-boyfriend? Hillary had a front-row seat to witness the train wreck of her long overdue reunion with Luke, when, apparently, not only had the cat gotten her tongue, but he'd run off with it. What if she'd observed a significant look or emotion? What if she'd seen Luke's eyes meet Sloane's and noticed the unspoken dialogue they had exchanged? Would she say something to Greg? Would Greg say something to Eddie? Did Sloane even care? It wasn't like she'd done anything wrong by running into Luke.

There was also the considerably more likely scenario that Sloane was reading the situation as if it were an epic love story when in reality it was nothing more than a cheap paperback relegated to the sales bin at the supermarket. 

I reviewed another of Emily Liebert's books almost two years ago (You Knew Me When) and enjoyed that one, so I had high hopes for this one. Those Secrets We Keep is a fun beach read - I actually started reading it at the Grand Haven, MI beach when I was there a few weeks ago - although a little slow in parts.

Official synopsis:
Three women. Three lives. Three secrets.

On the surface, Sloane has the perfect life—an adoring husband, a precocious daughter, and enough financial security to be a stay-at-home mom. Still, she can’t help but feel as though something—or someone—is missing....

Hillary has a successful career and a solid marriage. The only problem is her inability to conceive. And there’s a very specific reason why....

As the wild-child daughter of old family money, Georgina has never had to accept responsibility for anything. So when she realizes an unexpected life change could tie her down forever, she does exactly what she’s always done: escape.

When these three women unite for a three-week-long summer vacation in beautiful Lake George, New York, even with the idyllic location as their backdrop, the tensions begin to mount. And they quickly discover that no secret can be kept forever....

Sloane and her friends Hillary and Georgina are staying at Sloane's aunt's cottage in Lake George, NY, when Sloane runs into Luke, a former boyfriend. Sloane has a perfectly nice husband at home, Eddie, who will be joining the girls with Greg (Hillary's husband) at the house in a few weeks, but seeing Luke makes feelings come back from the one summer they spent together.

Meanwhile, Georgina decides to crash the trip last-minute, and she's running away from something, though Hillary and Sloane aren't privy to this info until later on in the novel. Hillary may seem perfect, but she's also harboring a secret, especially from her husband, and it's a secret that could be life-changing.

This book was definitely a quick read, although I haven't had a lot of time for reading lately so it took me a week or so to finish it. I liked You Knew Me When (see above) a little more than this one, but that novel focused on two women and this one focuses on a group of friends (three women); in the Q&A with the author at the end of the book, she mentions that she wanted to try writing about three women instead of two this time. 

The ending was also very open-ended, which I always dislike in books, but the author said not to count out a sequel, which would satisfy me - I'd like to see more of these characters.

I'd recommend this book for anyone who likes a "beach" read (aka: a quick read) or who likes "chick lit." Liebert has written one other novel, too, When We Fall, and I'd like to check that out at some point too.

3.5 stars out of 5.
{Click here to purchase}

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

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