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.

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