Winter Book Preview: December, 2014

It’s been over a month since I’ve done a book preview. November was a pretty quiet publishing month; December is a quiet month as well but I still managed to find several books I’m excited about. Plus, I’m always looking for one or two books to add to my holiday wish list!

Below you’ll find the titles, the publisher’s summary, and an opportunity to preorder by clicking on the book title or cover.

Inspector Specter:Haunted Guesthouse Mystery #6 (December 2):

Lieutenant Anita McElone is one of Harbor Haven’s finest. She’s also a hard-boiled ghost skeptic. So when she shows up at Alison Kerby’s Haunted Guesthouse to ask for supernatural help in solving the murder of her former partner, Alison is more than a little surprised. As ghosts Paul and Maxie get on the case, Alison is even more surprised when the lieutenant herself disappears.


The Strange Library
by by Haruki Murakami (December 2):

From internationally acclaimed author Haruki Murakami—a fantastical illustrated short novel about a boy imprisoned in a nightmarish library.

A lonely boy, a mysterious girl, and a tormented sheep man plot their escape from the nightmarish library of internationally acclaimed, best-selling Haruki Murakami’s wild imagination.

Woman with a Gun by Phillip Margolin (December 2):

Visiting an art museum displaying a retrospective of acclaimed photographer Kathy Moran’s work, aspiring novelist Stacey Kim is stunned by the photo at the center of the show—the famous “Woman with a Gun,” which won a Pulitzer Prize and launched the photographer’s career. Shot from behind, the enigmatic black and white image is a picture of a woman in a wedding dress, standing on the shore at night, facing the sea. Behind her back, she holds a six-shooter.

The image captures Stacey’s imagination, raising a host of compelling questions. Has the woman killed her husband on their wedding night? Is she going to commit suicide? Is she waiting for someone she plans to kill?Obsessed with finding answers, Stacey discovers that the woman in the photograph is Megan Cahill, suspected of killing her husband, millionaire Raymond Cahill, with the six-shooter on their wedding night. But the murder was never solved.

Drawn deeper into the case, Stacey finds that everyone involved has a different opinion of Megan’s culpability. But the one person who may know the whole story—Kathy Moran—isn’t talking. Stacey must find a way to get to the reclusive photographer or the truth may never see the light of day.

Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz (December 9):

Internationally bestselling author Anthony Horowitz’s nail-biting new novel plunges us back into the dark and complex world of detective Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty—dubbed the “Napoleon of crime” by Holmes—in the aftermath of their fateful struggle at the Reichenbach Falls.

Days after the encounter at the Swiss waterfall, Pinkerton detective agent Frederick Chase arrives in Europe from New York. Moriarty’s death has left an immediate, poisonous vacuum in the criminal underworld, and there is no shortage of candidates to take his place—including one particularly fiendish criminal mastermind.

Chase and Scotland Yard Inspector Athelney Jones, a devoted student of Holmes’s methods of investigation and deduction originally introduced by Conan Doyle in “The Sign of Four”, must forge a path through the darkest corners of England’s capital—from the elegant squares of Mayfair to the shadowy wharfs and alleyways of the London Docks—in pursuit of this sinister figure, a man much feared but seldom seen, who is determined to stake his claim as Moriarty’s successor.

A riveting, deeply atmospheric tale of murder and menace from the only writer to earn the seal of approval from Conan Doyle’s estate, Moriarty breathes life into Holmes’s dark and fascinating world.

Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay (December 9):

Game of Thrones meets the Grimm’s fairy tales in this twisted, fast-paced romantic fantasy-adventure about Sleeping Beauty’s daughter, a warrior princess who must fight to reclaim her throne.

Though she looks like a mere mortal, Princess Aurora is a fairy blessed with enhanced strength, bravery, and mercy yet cursed to destroy the free will of any male who kisses her. Disguised as a boy, she enlists the help of the handsome but also cursed Prince Niklaas to fight legions of evil and free her brother from the ogre queen who stole Aurora’s throne ten years ago.

Will Aurora triumph over evil and reach her brother before it’s too late? Can Aurora and Niklaas break the curses that will otherwise forever keep them from finding their one true love?

Five by Ursula Archer (December 9):

The hills of the Austrian countryside are alive with murder and mayhem in this suspenseful and fast-paced debut mystery

A woman’s corpse is discovered in a meadow. A strange combination of letters and numbers has been tattooed on the soles of her feet. Detective inspector Beatrice Kaspary from the local murder squad quickly identifies the digits as map coordinates. These lead to a series of gruesome discoveries as she and her colleague Florin Wenninger embark on a bloody trail – a modern-day scavenger hunt using GPS navigation devices to locate hidden caches. The “owner” of these unofficial, unpublished geocaches is a highly calculating and elusive fiend who leaves his victims’ body-parts sealed in plastic bags, complete with riddles that culminate in a five-stage plot. Kaspary herself becomes an unwilling pawn in the perpetrator’s game of cat and mouse as she risks all to uncover the motives behind the murderer’s actions. Five is definitely not a book for the faint-hearted, but it delivers great suspense, unexpected plot twists, and multi-dimensional characters.

King Dork Approximately by Frank Portman (December 9):

From Frank Portman comes the long-awaited sequel to the beloved cult classic King Dork, of which John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, said, “Basically, if you are a human being with even a vague grasp of the English language, King Dork will rock your world.”
Aside from the stitches and the head wound, Tom Henderson is the same old King Dork. He’s still trying to work out who to blame for the new scar on his forehead, the memory loss, and his father’s mysterious death. But illicit female hospital visitations, The Catcher in the Rye, and the Hillmont High sex-pocalypse have made him a new man.

What doesn’t make you stronger can kill you, though, and tenth grade, act two, promises to be a killer. Tom’s down one bloodstained army coat, one Little Big Tom, and two secret semi-imaginary girlfriends. Now his most deeply held beliefs about alphabetical-order friendship, recycling, school spirit, girls, rock and roll, the stitching on jeans, the Catcher Code, and the structure of the universe are about to explode in his face. If only a female robot’s notes could solve the world’s problems, he’d have a chance. But how likely is that?
King Dork Approximately—it feels like the first time. Like the very first time.


Zodiac by Romina Russell (December 9):

Astrology enters uncharted territory in the explosive first book of this epic sci-fi meets high-fantasy series.

At the dawn of time, the Zodiac Universe was made up of thirteen solar systems—Houses— each one named for the astrological sign of its citizens. Only twelve Houses remain, and the Zodiac Universe has enjoyed peace for centuries.

Then a terrifying blast tears through Cancer, killing millions of citizens. Now Rho, an intuitive young Guardian, must unite the twelve Houses of the Zodiac before an ancient, power-hungry evil destroys their world. But who amongst the vastly different Houses will believe Rho’s story that Ochus, the banished thirteenth guardian from Zodiac lore, is not only real but is determined to get revenge on everyone from Virgo to Leo and back again?

And who can Rho trust in a world defined by differences?

We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly, a True Story by Josh Sundquist (December 23):

A bright, poignant, and deeply funny autobiographical account of coming of age as an amputee cancer survivor, from Josh Sundquist: Paralympic ski racer, YouTube star, and motivational speaker.

When I was twenty-five years old, it came to my attention that I had never had a girlfriend. At the time, I was actually under the impression that I was in a relationship, so this bit of news came as something of a shock.

Why was Josh still single? To find out, he tracked down each of the girls he had tried to date since middle school and asked them straight up: What went wrong?
The results of Josh’s semiscientific investigation are in your hands. From a disastrous Putt-Putt date involving a backward prosthetic foot, to his introduction to CFD (Close Fast Dancing), and a misguided “grand gesture” at a Miss America pageant, this story is about looking for love-or at least a girlfriend-in all the wrong places.
Poignant, relatable, and totally hilarious, this memoir is for anyone who has ever wondered, “Is there something wrong with me?”
(Spoiler Alert: the answer is no.)

Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard (December 30):

A prince with a quest, a beautiful commoner with mysterious powers, and dragons who demand to be freed—at any cost

Filled with the potent mix of the supernatural and romance that made A Discovery of Witches a runaway success, Moth and Spark introduces readers to a vibrant world—and a love story they won’t soon forget.

Prince Corin has been chosen to free the dragons from their bondage to the power Mycenean Empire, but dragons aren’t big on directions. They have given him some of their power, but none of their knowledge. No one, not the dragons nor their riders, is even sure what keeps the dragons in the Empire’s control. Tam, sensible daughter of a well-respected doctor, had no idea before she arrived in Caithenor that she is a Seer, gifted with visions. When the two run into each other (quite literally) in the library, sparks fly and Corin impulsively asks Tam to dinner. But it’s not all happily ever after. Never mind that the prince isn’t allowed to marry a commoner: war is coming. Torn between his quest to free the dragons and his duty to his country, Tam and Corin must both figure out how to master their powers in order to save Caithen. With a little help from a village of secret wizards and rogue dragonrider, they just might pull it off.

 

Quite an eclectic line-up, yes? What December books are you looking forward to most?

Review: Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; 1ST edition (June 10, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781250019356
  • Source: Publisher

Saint Michael’s is a crumbling Catholic high school, both structurally and figuratively.Freshman Peter Davidek’s first experience at the school is of an upperclassman that finally reacts to the abuse he received. On the large part, the faculty ignores the tormenting and torture that exists between the students, instead struggling to maintain their positions in a school in which the student body is a mixture of delinquents and strict, religious students.

Peter quickly finds solace and friendship in Noah Stein, a young man with his own fair share of pain. Noah’s past is a difficult one; his face bearing scars of a horrific family tragedy.  Lorelei Paskal, another incoming freshman, works so hard at making friends that, instead, she makes countless enemies. The only way these three students are going to survive these tumultuous four years is to  band together. Yet even the strongest bonds weaken under pressure. Despite the best of intentions, the only way to survive Saint Michael’s is to stand up for yourself, no matter the damage and consequences.

We all look back on our high school years, some of us more fondly than others. It’s easy to remember our struggles, battling to earn good grades while simultaneously attempting to maintain some position on the social class ladder. As this novel is set in 1991, the very year I started high school, I found a deep connection with these students. This was before social media became the way to torture poor, unknowing souls. The bullying took place in person; you couldn’t avoid those students who chose to harass you. They were around every corner, ready and willing to make each day a living hell.

At over 400 pages, one would think the intensity and pacing of this novel would waver and fall. That is far from the case, for the author excels and maintaining an intense pacing through differing storylines and conflicts. The plot twists varied, some obvious and others completely shocking and unexpected.

The setting was perfect. While this could have happened in any school, but the fact that it was a parochial school makes the entire situation more devastating. The students couldn’t turn to the faculty who, in this case chose to avoid what was happening before their eyes. Their veiled attempts to improve the quality of life for students was all in vain. Instead, it worsened the relationships between students. Rather than nip the problems in the bud, the faculty allowed it, believing that upperclassman earned the right to torture the underclassmen.

Other reviews have commented on the lack of development of the faculty, how readers were only granted superficial access to their characters. I believe this was Breznican intent; the focus of this novel is the students.  We gained access into their lives and what motivated them. In all honesty, I couldn’t imagine this book any other way.

Brutal Youth is a novel that will shock you, without a doubt. You will question how it is possible for individuals to act the way they do. Both recalling my own high school memories, and now my son’s experience in high school, I can state with certainty that the characters in this novel can’t be any more genuine or believable.  While I do have fond memories of my high school years, I can honestly state that if I had to do it again, I would fail. I would tuck tail and run.

What makes this novel stand out is that it is one that can be appreciated by a wide range of readers. From current high schoolers to adults, Brutal Youth is a novel that will both captivate and terrify you. Highly, highly recommended!

Review: Compulsion by Martina Boone

  • Series: Heirs of Watson Island
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Simon Pulse (October 28, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781481411226
  • Source: Personal copy

After her mother passes away, Barrie Watson is sent to live with her aunt at to her mother’s childhood home at an old South Carolina plantation. Her mother never shared information about her family; a fire on the night of Barrie’s birth stole her mother’s beauty and the life of her father. Since then, they’ve lived as recluses in their own home.

When Barrie arrives at Watston Island, she finds herself to be a prisoner of another type, stuck in the middle of a generations-long battle between the three founding  families of Watson Island. The ancient spirit responsible for cursing one of those families is a constant reminder to the island’s past.  The other two families were granted magical gifts that eventually grew into compulsions.

As a member of one of the families granted a compulsion, Barrie is haunted by unseen forces. Her compulsion is to locate missing objects; she becomes obsessed with locating items that explain her mother’s sudden departure from Watson Island years ago. What she uncovers, however, not only explains her mother’s departure but uncovers a family secret that, if uncovered, will destroy one of the founding families.

What drew me to reading Compulsion was the setting, but what won me over was the unique storyline and rich characters.  I’m a fan of Southern fiction and, add a sprinkling of the supernatural and I’m sold. Boone succeeded at crafting a beautiful homage to the rich southern culture and folklore. Barrie’s character is a rewarding one; she’s been dealt a difficult card in life yet still manages to get by. Her spitfire attitude and strong connection to Mark, the neighbor that filled in a as a father-figure when her own father died, create a young woman that refuses to let any obstacles bring her down.

The romance between Barrie and Eight (a member of another founding family) is genuine and not forced. I’ve found that, in a lot of YA, the romance added to the equation seems false and manufactured.  Yet the bond that is forged between these two is bound together by fate.  As this is the first book in a trilogy, I hope to learn more about the connection between these two characters.

The storyline is wholly unique; I honestly haven’t read anything like it. Ancient Native American spirits (a fire monster) that haunts three families? I’m sold.  The history of their powers (compulsions) has captured my attention as well; I hope the author spends some time building up the history.

Compulsion has so many compelling traits, a storyline filled to the brim with love, revenge, mystery, family secrets. All in all, a well-rounded and nearly perfect read. I can’t wait for the next book, due out next Fall. Highly, highly recommended.

Check out Boone’s inspiration on her Pinterest Page!

 

Blogger 911: I Was Hacked

I’ve been blogging since 2008. I thought I was knowledgeable in the ins/outs of blogging. Boy, was I wrong.  Last week, my blog was hacked. I couldn’t access it to fix it. I felt vulnerable. I felt helpless. I’m writing this post so you don’t have to experience this for yourself.

I had no warning. I thought my blog was secure. It wasn’t. Little did I know, someone accessed my blog, installing code into my template that forced a redirect to another web site.  But that wasn’t enough. Little by little the very content of my blog was destroyed by this individual. By that afternoon, I couldn’t access my blog at all. When anyone would try to access my blog, they would get the “white screen of death.” I thought backing up my site was enough security. I mean, it makes sense, right? Wrong.

I enlisted (paid for) the help of a company that vowed that it would scan, repair & remove malicious content on a web site in a matter of a few hours. Eight hours later, this company stated that no malware/viruses were detected.  They kept insisting that all of my problems (including the redirect) were due to an outdated version of WordPress. “Update your WordPress!” they said. Well, I can’t do that if I can’t access my site! Frustrated, I reached out to the Twitterverse and dozens of knowledgeable, understanding bloggers responded to my plea. I subsequently requested, and received, a full refund from this company.

Meanwhile, I continued to maintain content with the company that hosts my blog. Initially, they indicated they would be unable to help. But, at this point in time, I found the malicious code, removed it, and now needed to block the back door access the hacker was using to get to my blog. By 4 pm (nearly 36 hours after the attack) I had complete access to my blog again.

There are still a lot of unanswered questions. The hacker started the attack by adding the redirect code to my blog theme. I deleted the theme, downloaded a fresh version from the designer and within moments, the white screen would return.  Even after all the security searches and scans; the moment I reactivate that theme my blog goes wonkers.  I’m sure there is some code hiding somewhere in my blog that is causing this.  Deleting the theme, for me, seems to be the best and safest way to deal with it.

All this said, no one should have to go through what I did.  So, the point of this post is to give you ways to prevent this from happening to you.  Following are some quick (and relatively easy) steps to maintaining the security of your self-hosted WordPress blog:

  1. Keep your WP current and updated.  I know all the updates are annoying but, with each one, WordPress is providing you with a safer version. When a security issue or other problem is indicated, they issue and update.  While the continuous updates seem annoying and unnecessary, they are the first level in keeping your blog safe & secure.
  2. Keep your plug-ins and themes updated. Outdated themes and plug-ins make your blog vulnerable. Keep your active plug-ins updated.  Delete any plug-ins or themes that you aren’t using or wont’ be using in the near future.
  3. Password integrity! Regularly change your passwords! This includes your WP passwords, your host passwords, & your ftp passwords.
  4. Back-up your blog! This should be a given, but it’s not. Don’t just back it up once a month or once week. Back it up every day.  There are several plug-ins that allow you to do so.  Each update overwrites the previous and can be sent directly to your Dropbox, Google Drive, email, etc.
  5. Use some sort of security on your blog! I personally use a plug-in called iThemes Security Pro (Thanks, Jennifer, for the recommendation). It not only scans your blog for unauthorized access, but also provides tools to keep your blog safe & prevent hackers from gaining access.

All of these suggestions are relatively easy and require little technological savvy to implement; a little that will go a long way when it comes to keeping your blog safe!  Any questions?

Reflections: Revival by Stephen King

The moment I read the final pages of Revival I knew there was no way I would be able to review it. Not because I didn’t like it, or because it wasn’t worth my time.  Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact. How do you review or critique the work of your literary idol? Therefore, we aren’t calling this a review. Instead, it’s a reflection upon my reading experience. There will be no summary of the book, no spoilers to be alerted to. Simply my experience in reading this novel (ok, devouring it the moment the ebook hit my iPad).

To say I am a fan of Stephen King is an understatement. I’ve devoured everything he’s written. I impatiently and anxiously await each of his novels. Each year, as I prepare for my annual Halloween blog feature, I write King’s publicist hoping, this one time, King will agree to a guest post or interview.  It’s not just because he’s the king of horror, for he wasn’t just handed that title randomly. Stephen King doesn’t write novels. He crafts them.  It’s known that King isn’t big on plot. To him, the most important thing are the characters and the journey (inwardly or outwardly) they embark upon.

All of this rings true again with Revival. Months leading up to its release, teasers hinted at the horror contained within its pages. I did my best to avoid reading any pre-publication buzz about the book. I wanted to go in as blind as possible, discovering each and every plot point and character on my own. As is with every King novel, as I embark upon the journey of reading it, I don’t know what to expect, yet the moment I closed the book upon reading it, I knew all my expectations and desires were captured. It’s like King has this eerie ability to read the minds of his readers, pulling out their deepest desires, and inserting them into everything he writes, creating a wholly individual, intensely crafted reading experience.

With Revival, I was alarmed as I began to read. This didn’t feel like a particularly horrifying read.  I actually flipped to the beginning of my ebook, certain I had downloaded the wrong book. When I realized I hadn’t, I was alarmed even further. Just what was happening here!? This didn’t feel like anything of King’s I’d read before. I couldn’t possibly stop reading. I had to continue. This is Stephen King, after all. He has intent, the revelation of each character and storyline deliberately calculated.  Something is going to happen that totally wins me over as a reader. And it did.

I never got to that really horrifying scene.  Granted, there are some scenes that made me cringe, or cry, to scream out in terror or send shivers down my spine.  Yet what was it about this novel that won me over as a reader?  King inserted himself into this novel, more than in any other, in my humble opinion. As I read about Jamie, the protagonist, with his love of rock & roll and struggles with addiction, I felt as though I was reading about King himself.  So I continued, completely drawn in to what may come next.  The characters, in true King form, start as perfectly normal and average individuals. Then they each take a different route. They may continue along that perfectly normal path. They may take a route that reveals them as superb or extraordinary. Then there is the trademark WTF path in which they evolve into something completely horrifying.

So as I got to the end of the book, I couldn’t speak. I didn’t want to; I had to sit quietly for nearly an hour, contemplating my feelings. And then it hit me. With each reading of a King novel, no matter the plot or storyline, it’s always the same experience. I begin, not knowing what I wanted out of the novel. I continue, wondering what I was going to get out of the novel. I finish, getting more than I could have possibly wanted.  It wasn’t the horror novel I thought it was going to be; it was so much more.

And then…I got to see Stephen King, in person. You know, when you have an idol, you kind of build up a perception of what this individual is like, in person. You hope, upon meeting them, that your perception isn’t shattered. So when I “met” King, the experience was so much more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. He’s an outstanding speaker, full of witty stories about his wife and children, advice for writers, and corny jokes (“two jumper cables walked into a bar…”).  Even better, he’s not conceited, not full of himself. He’s the freaking king of horror. He can pretty much say or do what he wants (would you want to try to stop him?). He could probably be a complete ass and get away with it. But he’s not. Despite years of successful writing, he still worries about the success of his novels. This is what makes him such a tremendous and talented writer. He doesn’t let his fame and prestige get ahead of him. He treats each novel like it is the first. Sometimes he tucks manuscripts away in a desk for a few years, or tosses them in the trash for his wife to rescue. This is what makes him an outstanding author and a truly admirable man.

As he talked about Revival, he confirmed many of my suspicions, including the autobiographical bit. He shared why he wrote it, where he wanted it to go. But what made him so passionate was the how; how it got there.  I’m not going to reveal much more for fear of ruining the reading experience. I’ll simply leave it at this: the evening I got to “meet” Stephen King was unforgettable. I wasn’t able to snag one of the random signed copies. But attending that event, and reading this book, was invaluable.  So, kudos to you, Stephen King, King of Horror! Rock on!

Introducing 2014 Cozy Mystery Week!

 photo 2014CozyMysteryWeek_zpsf41b9dd1.jpg

The fall/winter months are times of year best spent curled up with a blanket and a nice book. Even better, a cozy mystery! Cozies are certainly one of my favorite types of books that, unfortunately, I don’t have the opportunity to read as much a I’d like. So, what better reason to read about them than a week-long celebration of cozy mysteries?

Cozy Mystery Week is scheduled for December 8-13.  Each day I will focus on a favorite series of mine, both new and old.  A fan of cozies yourself? Join me! Link up below or indicate your interest in the comments below. Also, I’ll create a link-up the beginning of cozy mystery week,  so feel free to link up any cozy mystery posts you’ve written. The best part? They can be from any time period, not only Cozy Mystery week.

 

So, get your comfortable reading spot, a nice warm blanket, a cozy mystery or two, and join me for Cozy Mystery Week!

Help out others participating; comment below with your favorite cozy mystery series!



Review: First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; 1ST edition (October 16, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780525427247
  • Source: Publisher

Sophie Collingwood inherits a London home after her Uncle Bertram passes away. Both were avid book lovers, Sophie recalls time spent in his library discussing their love of books. Unfortunately, her uncle’s library is sold off to recover debt and Sophie finds herself at a loss as to how she will ever replace Bertram’s library.  So, she seeks solace in the one thing that comforts her – books- and begins working at an antiquarian bookstore she and Bertram frequented.

When two customers are simultaneously asking for the same obscure book, Sophie’s interest is piqued.  She immediately begins an investigation into the background of the book, the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield.   What she discovers might tarnish the name of her favorite author, Jane Austen, and immerse her in a dangerous and thrilling mystery that threatens her life.

Told in dual narratives, alternating between Sophie’s hunt for the allusive volume (and two alluring suitors) and Jane Austen’s friendship with cleric Richard Mansfield, First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen is a charming novel about the love of books and reading and the enduring power of family and friendship.  While I typically go out of my way to avoid retellings involving my favorite classic author, Jane Austen, I was compelled to read this one. Perhaps it was the hint of mystery that grabbed my attention or the raves of the author’s previous work. No matter the reason, I quickly became enamored with this novel, a true tribute to books.

While I appreciated nearly every aspect of the book, from the dual narratives to the fictional retelling of Jane Austen’s process in writing some of her most classic novels, there were some things about the book that nearly drove me insane. The “relationships” Sophie formed with one of the characters seemed forced and unnecessary.  Frankly, I nearly  threw the book when I saw what was to happen. That said, I can easily overlook it if I weigh it against the many positives. The concept of love as a whole, not romantic but…familial, was heartwarming and rewarding.

I realize I’m quite vague in my summary and description of this book. This, of course, is intentional as it should be the reader themselves who uncover the wealth of beauty contained within the pages of this novel. First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen is a must-read for a variety of readers, from fans of Jane Austen and her work to general lovers of books. The underlying mystery will take hold of readers’ interest quite immediately, only releasing its hold when the truth is eloquently and expertly revealed.  A perfect gift for that reader in your life (or  yourself!), this is a book that will be cherished and appreciated by many. Highly recommended.

Frightful Friday: Zombie Fallout by Mark Tufo

Frightful Friday is a regular meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.This week’s featured title is Zombie Fallout by Mark Tufo:

  • Listening Length: 10 hours and 30 minutes
  • Program Type: Audiobook, Unabridged
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio (March 26, 2012)
  • Source: Personal copy
  • Narrated by: Sean Runnette

As the  H1N1 virus runs rampant throughout the country, people line up to receive the vaccine.  Unfortunately, the rush to get the vaccine to the market didn’t allow time for testing.  Within days, those who obtained the vaccine have died, only to rise again.

Michael Talbot is a ex-marine and self-proclaimed survivalist. He’s been preparing for a situation like this all of his life and has an inventory of food rations and weapons at the ready. Tucked in the save haven of Little Turtle, their neighborhood community the Talbots, joined by Walmart greeter Tommy, prepare to face the unknown.  Tommy isn’t as physically capable to withstand the zombies as the others in this motley group, yet the foresight he brings through the voice in his head (Ryan Seacrest), saves the group on several occasions.  One such threat is a female zombie who appears to be vastly more superior than the rest of the walking dead around her. Why is she obsessed with the Talbots? Is she there to help, or to hinder, their survival?

I know, I know. Reading the summary and this sounds like the most ridiculous book ever. However, this book (the first in a long, successful series) is likely to be my favorite zombie series every. Tufo creates a wholly terrifying world in which a simple flu virus wipes out the population. It doesn’t get any scarier than that, right? Add to that a cast of characters so genuine and believable, so much so that you want to know them in “real-life” and you have the recipe for a truly stellar series.

Michael Talbot is, by far, one of my favorite protagonists ever. I mentioned that he’s a former marine, but he’s also a severe germaphobe.  He adds a level of hilarity, paired with compassion and a deep love for his family and friends.  Without his character, I feel this novel would be severely lacking. One moment I’m laughing, the next I’m terrified at the fate that befalls this family.

Tommy is another endearing character you can’t help but love. Tommy worked with Talbot’s son at the local Walmart. They just happened upon him during a rescue and quickly realize it is fate that brought them together. Tommy’s passion lies in what he will eat next (likely a PopTart) but within him resides a power to see the future.

To say this series is addictive is an understatement. The moment I finished the audio for this title, I downloaded the next. I’m thankful there are several more books to this series but also fearful as to how I will deal once I reach the end.  The idea is almost as terrifying as a zombie apocalypse.

As mentioned, I listed to the audio production of this book. I don’t know that I would have the same experience had I read it.  The narrator’s (Sean Runnette) voice closely resembles that of Richard Romano (Everyone Loves Ramond). While I was unfamiliar with his voice work before, I can no longer imagine anyone else narrating this series.  His voice has the uncanny ability to be completely series one moment and in a flash switch to something outrageously crude or hilarious, without skipping a beat. He honestly adds an element to the overall reading/listening experience that truly makes this series a success.

Bottom line: if you are looking for an addictive and unique piece of zombie fiction, you can’t afford to miss out on this one. Highly, highly recommended!

Review: The Remedy for Love by Bill Roorbach

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books (October 14, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781616203313
  • Source: Personal copy

When Eric, a small town lawyer in Maine, hears a prediction for a “storm of the century,” he closes his office early and heads to the grocery store to stock up on supplies. There he comes across Danielle, young woman unable to cover the cost of her overflowing cart of groceries. Feeling charitable, he pays for her groceries and offers her a ride home.

As they arrive at her “home,” it is quickly apparent to Eric that she can’t possibly weather this storm without his help.  Danielle has been squatting in a remote cabin deep in the woods. Without electricity, plumbing, water or firewood, there is no chance she can survive the storm, much less a long, cold winter.  Despite Danielle’s protestations, Eric lends aid to at least get her through this storm. As he goes to leave, he finds his truck has been towed, cell phone inside, and no means of communicating with the outside world.  Reluctantly, he trudges back to Danielle’s cabin. Furious, she reluctantly allows him to come indoors. Forced to rely on one another, Eric and Danielle must seek safety, and ultimately comfort, in one another if they are going to survive this storm.

The Remedy for Love is certainly not the type of book I would typically be drawn too. Two vastly different characters, forced together by an act of nature, really not my sort of thing.  Yet dozens of people were talking about it and how quickly they were captivated by its embrace. Stuck in a week-long reading slump, I was desperate. I picked it up. I didn’t put it down until a few hours later as I turned the last page.

Roorbach’s eloquent and truly breathtaking prose captivated me.  The way he describes the most mundane things gives them the appearance of something that far exceeds their actual identity. He has crafted a story of two vastly different people, drawn together seemingly by circumstance. The ultimate realization that it is fate, not a winter storm, that brought these two people together, takes this novel to a completely different level.

Eric and his wife are separated. Their initial attempts to meet up once a month to work on their relationship has failed. He still goes on with hope that their relationship will be rekindled, that their time apart will come to and end.  His warm and caring character is the complete opposite to Danielle’s rough, and caustic one. She, too, is married. Alone after her  husband is sent to fight in the war, she struggles to get by after losing her teaching job. While Eric is more upfront and open about his life, Danielle only shares what she thinks is safe. It isn’t until she opens herself up completely to Eric that it quickly becomes apparent that these two individuals are fare more similar than they could have imagined. Both in denial about a loss in their lives, it’s just not the storm they need to ride out and survive but the acceptance that the life they had known is never going to recover. The cabin, their shelter as they weather the storm, is a symbol of the life they each have built up to withstand the battles of life. Under the weight of the storm, both the cabin, and the resolve and denial they have built up over time, slowly groans and crumbles.

I cannot recommend this title enough. It won me over instantly, not only helping me overcome my reading slump but forcing me to open my eyes and embrace a novel I normally wouldn’t have picked up on my own. Its message and beauty are inspiring, a lasting and moving story that will resound within me for some time. Without a doubt this novel will top my favorites of not only this year, but of all time.  Highly, highly recommended.

Thankfully Reading Weekend 2014

 photo ThankfullyReading_zps031c0cce.jpg

Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away. Can you believe it? I’m pleased to announce that I will once again be hosting Thankfully Reading Weekend, November 27-30! Want to avoid the crowds & shopping on Black Friday? Plan on spending a nice, quiet holiday at home? Join us!

Just what is this Thankfully Reading Weekend I speak of?  Here are the details:

There are no rules to the weekend, we’re simply hoping to devote a good amount of time to reading, and perhaps meeting some of our reading challenges and goals for the year. We thought it’d be fun if we cheered each other on a bit. If you think you can join in, grab the button  and add your sign up post to the link-up below. If you don’t have a blog, you can sign up the comments or sign up using a link to your Twitter account or Faceboook page!

Want to host a challenge? Email me directly at jennsbookshelf@gmail.com.

We’ll also be checking in on Twitter using hashtag #thankfullyreading. Join in for the weekend or for only a single day. No rules, no pressure!