Review: Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult (July 31, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780670016389
  • Source: Publisher

Ten years ago, Janie Jenkins was convicted for the death of her murder. Now, released on a technicality, Janie alters her appearance and goes on a rouge mission to discover the identity of her mother’s killer. The challenge: Janie isn’t exactly sure that person isn’t her.

Traveling to an small South Dakota town, Janie uncovers an old photograph, an abandoned home, and a diary that tie her mother back to this small unknown town. As the townspeople become more wary of her identity, Janie struggles to hide from the press and the police as she digs deeper into her mother’s (and ultimately her own) history. She soon discovers that her mother, known for her striking beauty and trail of wealthy husbands, is more like her than she could have ever imagined.

This stunning debut thriller held my attention from beginning to end. For once, I was thrilled to be on a business trip for it afforded me several hours of uninterrupted in-flight reading time.

Little creates a vivid character in Janie Jenkins, one that, despite her many faults, you can’t help but root for. Janie is an unlikely heroine, a truly self-destructive character who, if you met on the street, you’d likely rush to avoid her.  Additionally, Little creates a well-developed cast of secondary characters, rich in their own secrets and faults. This, along with the expertly crafted plot twists all adds up to a truly outstanding read.

While there were aspects of the story that were unbelievable, if readers can suspend disbelief and allow themselves to become immersed in the storyline, they will be taken on a whirlwind read of epic proportions. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (August 12, 2014)
  • ISBN: 978-0385538152
  • Source: Publisher (egalley)

After an unknown cousin commits suicide, twenty-something A. finds himself owner of a beautiful, yet slightly ominous, estate in Point Bless, Virginia.  Questions surround his cousin’s death; he jumped out of the same 3-story bedroom that his father had before.

Joined by his mute companion, Niamh, A. arrives in Virginia to find that Axton House is riddled with mystery. Locals declare that it is haunted, a fact that is soon confirmed. Employing the use of surveillance devices, including voice recorders and video cameras, A. and Niamh attempt to track down the root of the secrets of Axton House.

Told in a series of journal entries, security tape transcripts and newspaper articles, the author quickly reveals all is not as it seems, a characteristic readers will soon realize a well. What appears to be a chilling ghost story is not; while it has some supernatural elements, at its very core The Supernatural Enhancements is more of a thriller or mystery.  The identity of the entity that roams the great home is quickly determined, leaving the focus of the storyline on the other mysteries and secrets that remain.  Mentions of a annual meeting of a secret society at the home send A. and Niamh on an intense hunt to find the answers to the dozens of questions before them.

Despite being set in present day, the setting and overall tone of the story gives this novel a Gothic feel. Had it not been for the technology Niamh and A. use to capture evidence, it would be easy for readers to assume this story to be set at the turn of the century.

Although the format of this novel prevents readers from connecting with the main characters, the captivating storyline is guaranteed to capture the attention of a wide variety of readers. A stunning and surprising ending wraps up this truly fun and remarkable novel. Highly recommended.

 

Guest Post: Stacey Graham, Author of Haunted Stuff: Demonic Dolls, Screaming Skulls & Other Creepy Collectibles

Yesterday, I reviewed Stacey Graham’s latest book, Haunted Stuff: Demonic Dolls, Screaming Skulls & Other Creepy Collectibles Today, I’m pleased to welcome her to the blog for a guest post about how she gains inspiration to write about the ghoulish and ghastly!  First, a little about Stacey:

I’m a multi-tasking mother of five whose early jobs included faking a British accent for tourists at a historical mansion, and speaking with Italian men over the phone for far too long while working at a travel agency in Portland, Oregon.

I have degrees in history and archaeology/anthropology from Oregon State University and may or may not have seen Bigfoot at an off-campus deli. It was Oregon, it’s hard to tell. I enjoy writing terrible zombie poetry and baking delicious granola that my husband refuses to eat. I currently live on the tippy top of a mountain outside of Washington, D.C. where helicopters hover overhead when the President gets his groove on to visit Homeland Security’s secret bunker.

Inspiration is a fickle wench

I love horror. I love to roll around in it until my fingers get all pruney from the gore and I feel the need to look under my bed before I turn off the light at night. But as a horror writer, sometimes the urge to do terrible things to people doesn’t come easily. How can you jumpstart creativity when it would rather sit on the couch and binge-watch Sleepy Hollow?

• Read: And not just your usual genre — read histories of great kings, children’s books, news articles of what’s going on behind closed doors in the scientific community, and your grandmother’s cookbooks. There’s a story idea in unexpected places and your job is to find it, exploit it, and make your readers angry that you didn’t add another chapter.

• Social media: What the heck is your neighbor whining about this week on their wall? Find the nefarious in the normal, and make them pay for not returning your weed trimmer.

• Exercise: I am not an athlete – not even close. But every morning I hike with my husband up Suck Mountain and back again with the reward of creamy clouds in my coffee – and a new twist to a story. To take my mind off of the pain in my butt, I work on plot holes and marketing ideas. Sometimes they’re awesome, and other times I get distracted by swallowing a bug, but by the time I drag myself back into the kitchen, I usually have a plan for the day.

• Sheesh, Stace, get it together: Organize! When planning my blog or guest posts, I whip out my Google calendar at the beginning of the month and start filling in ideas. I brainstorm first on a yellow legal pad (who doesn’t) and try to have a good mix of business, goofiness, and promotional posts. Then I’ll transfer them to my online calendar in color-coded goodness. When on deadline for a book, my methods are similar but there’s a whole lot more legal pads, mind maps, and Excel spreadsheets – but that’s a blog post for another time.

• Use your smart phone as a mobile idea machine: To save space in my purse, I use a note app and the voice recorder to get ideas down instead of a notebook. Have an idea while waiting for the train? Do a quick Google and get the bones down in your notes app before you throw some elbows for a seat. There are tons of apps available to use for notes, one of the most popular being Evernote, so try a few that work best with your habits and get crackin’.

I find that inspiration hits hardest right as I’m finishing a book. I have loads of ideas – and little time to work on them due to edits for the contracted book. No problem: write them down, make a Pinterest board, email ideas to yourself, paper a wall with Post-Its, sharpie it on the back of your toddler – whatever you have to do to get it down. Don’t let it slip away.

“Write or don’t write,” to shamelessly misquote Yoda. It’s your time — go ahead and call yourself a Timelord if that’s what you’re into — and what you choose to spend it on is what makes you awesome. If you need another level of Candy Crush, go crazy, I’ll be outside sucking up bugs.

Thank you, Stacey! Please be sure to visit Stacey on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and her website

Review: Haunted Stuff: Demonic Dolls, Screaming Skulls & Other Creepy Collectibles by Stacey Graham

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Llewellyn Publications (August 8, 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 0738739081
  • Source: Author

There’s a reason so many of us find dolls to be creepy. Their uncanny likeness to human children. Their lifelike eyes and expressions. Horror movies often pick up on this fear, manipulating our terror by focusing on a demonic doll that torments anyone that crosses its path.

Sometimes, however, our fears are validated when we learn of dolls and other inanimate objects that seem to have a ghostly presence tied to it. In Haunted Stuff: Demonic Dolls, Screaming Skulls & Other Creepy Collectibles, Graham examines a host of reports of haunted objects and places, from skulls refusing to be removed from their homes to portraits that transform right before one’s eyes.

As a fan of antique stores, flea markets, and yard sales, I’ve always been wary of sinister feelings I experience when I handle a particular object. Graham has evidence to prove that objects close to a person can hold on to their essence long after that person has passed.  Some of the more chilling segments hit me quite close to home…hauntings that take place in the very town in which I live, or sites that I have visited myself.

As an avid reader and viewer of anything remotely ghostlike, I was familiar with a few of the objects Graham featured.  A startling number were new to me. Unlike other books of this sort, Graham provides readers with advice on how to deal with haunted objects they experience and provides testimony by the victims of these haunted objects. Each segment is brief yet vivid with detail. Additionally, Graham inserts her own experience in ghostly matters, adding a wholly personal and therefore believable spin to this haunting collection. All in all, Graham provides a truly captivating and chilling read.

Haunted Stuff is the perfect reading material for the upcoming Halloween season, or to read at a campfire late at night. The cover alone sends chills down my spine! As a writer “about the spookier side of life,” Graham has degrees in both history and archaeology/anthropology. She knows her stuff when it comes to haunted history.

If you are looking for a book that will give you goosebumps, sending chills down your spine, Haunted Stuff: Demonic Dolls, Screaming Skulls & Other Creepy Collectibles is the book for you. A must read this Halloween season. Highly recommended.

Come back tomorrow for a spooktacular guest post from Stacey Graham herself!

A Month in Review: July 2014

 

Wow! I can’t believe it’s August already. Where did the summer go!? In just a few weeks, my boys will be going back to school and we’ll be back to our insanely busy schedule.  I need to get going on my reading!  First, let’s look back on what happened on the blog in July.

Books Reviewed

Total books reviewed: 12

Pick of the month: Why do I even bother? When was the last time I picked just one book? So this month, I won’t even narrow it down to my top two or three. They were all excellent!

Special Events

What books am I looking forward to in August?

Summer Book Preview: August 2014, Part I
Summer Book Preview: August 2014, Part II

SubscriberBonus

You may remember my post mentioning I wanted to do something to give back to my subscribers: hosting a monthly giveaway of all the print books reviewed that month. Well, here is your opportunity!

Now, many of the copies I review are electronic and unfortunately there is no way for me to share those titles. So, following are the print copies the selected winner will receive:

How do you enter to win? Simply fill out the form below. You must be a subscriber of this blog in order to win (I will check before selecting the winner).  I don’t care if you’ve been a subscriber for years or if you just signed up. The winner will be contacted next Friday, August 8. Since I am paying for the shipping, open to US & Canadian residents only. Good luck!

Review: A Better World by Marcus Sakey

  • Series: The Brilliance Saga, Book Two (Book 2)
  • Paperback: 390 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (June 17, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9781477823941
  • Source: Publisher

The world first became aware of the brilliants in 1980. Approximately 1% of the world’s population were born with gifts that set them apart from everyone else. At a young age, children are tested for special abilities. If found to be gifted, they are sent off to an institution where their powers are fine-tuned. For the last three decades, tension has been growing between the brilliants and the “norms.”  A battle is raging. A terrorist led by the brilliants cripples shipments to three major cities. Without power and the most basic of supplies, citizens are scared and confused. Barricades prevent them from seeking refuge elsewhere.

Nick Cooper is a brilliant, his ability to read a person’s mannerisms to predict their actions has given him a high-level position with a secretive government agency that eradicates violent brilliants.  In a new role as advisor to the President of the United States. Cooper has a difficult time gauging which side he should belong to. Individuals he was once fighting against have proven themselves to be adversaries. Unfortunately, there is little time to devote to proving one’s allegiance; a group of radical brilliants known as the Children of Darwin are attempting to take down the US government.  Nick Cooper is one of the select few who can put a stop to the chaos and prevent the third World War from commencing.

Let me start off by saying that I don’t review titles published by Amazon. I just don’t. It’s a personal preference that I really don’t sway from. Except in the case of Marcus Sakey. Known by many as a truly talented crime fiction author, Sakey shocked hundreds of readers by leaping into the world of science fiction. Admittedly, I was quite wary of this decision. Yet when Brilliance was released, I was knocked into stunned silence.

Sakey has managed to create a truly brilliant (no pun intended), wholly unique series. Other reviewers have likened the world that Sakey has created to that of X-men, yet I tend to believe it is far more terrorizing. The brilliants Sakey has created are far more plausible and believable than any comic book creation.

In A Better World, the story picks up right at the end of the previous novel. A battle is raging between the brilliants and the norms. It’s hard not to pick up on the social commentary Sakey has weaved into this series. Individuals, born different than others, torn away from their parents’ arms at a young age to be raised in an institution? It isn’t difficult to find parallels in the history of our country.

The intensity of this novel hits you from the start, unrelenting through nearly 400 pages. Like the characters, readers will question whose side they should take, questioning everything they’ve learned so far. Ending with a powerful cliffhanger, Sakey leaves readers with a quick tease as to what is yet to come.

As this is the second book in a series, I do recommend that you start at the beginning with Brilliance. While Sakey does provide a bit of backstory, new readers will have a difficult time catching up with all that transpires. Trust me, it’s well worth the read!

Bottom line: the Brilliance series is a must read for readers of all varieties, from science fiction to thriller to dystopian. You’ll devour the books in no time, counting down the days until the next book is released. Highly, highly recommended.

Review: This Is the Water by Yannick Murphy

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (July 29, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780062294906
  • Source: Publisher

In a small New England town, preparing for the next swim meet is of utmost importance. Young girls struggle to shave seconds off of their race time, squeezing into too-tight swim suits for an extra advantage. Too busy watching their daughters compete, or their minds straying to issues in their personal lives,  no one is aware of the dark-haired man with a severely wrinkled brow in the audience.  It isn’t until a girl from the swim team is brutally murdered at a rest stop that the parents begin to take notice of the world around them.

Annie is the mother of two girls on the swim team. She is married to Thomas, a man who hasn’t shown her affection in years. Added to her emotional turmoil is her brother’s suicide a few years ago.  Her attention is spent worrying about her marriage, obsessing over her brother’s death, and Paul, the father of another girl on the swim team. Despite her own (albeit strained) marriage and the fact that Paul is married to her friend Chris, Annie becomes obsessed with the attention Paul gives her, despite her graying hair and crow’s feet. After a competition, sharing a dinner alone with Paul, he shares with her a secret from his past with chilling similarities to current events.

In an obvious attempt to shift her attention elsewhere, Paul’s wife, Chris, becomes obsessed with uncovering the killer’s identity.  The serial killer’s actions hit close to home for her family, and Chris goes so far as contacting other families of previous victims in an attempt to get more answers.

As shocking secrets unfold, these callous parents are forced to question their allegiances, forced to make irreparable decisions based on gut instinct in order to prevent any further deaths.

Told in a wholly unique second person narrative, Murphy delves into the chaotic and troubled lives of a small community. The parents (and in many cases, the children) of this swim team are brutal and unrelenting. This is not only an intense and uniquely portrayed thriller, it is a exploration of what happens when obsession takes a dangerous turn.

When I finished reading this novel, I was certain that the formatting ruined it. Initially, I had a hard time concentrating on the storyline, instead focusing on the formatting traits that irritated me. Murphy starts many statements with “This is…” a unique style that had me questioning whether or could, in good conscious, recommend this novel.

As I began to write this review, it suddenly became apparent that the formatting actually added to my experience rather than detracting. It forces the reader to be an outsider, never truly getting inside the minds of the characters. I wouldn’t say we were casual observers, for the detail Murphy uses in her prose, including the personification of everyday objects, forces the reader to become immersed in the setting. The writing style, initially of-putting, soon becomes hypnotic, dialing up the intensity to explosive levels.

Adding to my interest in this unique thriller is the fact that only the reader knows the identity of the killer. The intensity and the tension develops as we follow characters as they get closer and closer to the answer, a finish line of sorts.

Bottom line: While the formatting of this novel may sway readers from truly embracing a genuinely unique thriller, I implore you to embrace it give the novel the patience it is due. It won’t take long before you become transfixed by this truly spectacular thriller.  Highly recommended.

Thank you to TLC Book tours for providing me the opportunity to review this title. Be sure to check out the other stops in this tour.

Joint Review/Discussion: The Young World by Chris Weitz

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (July 29, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780316226295
  • Source: Publisher

A mysterious sickness has struck the population. The only survivors are teens; the only thing preventing their death are the hormone binding proteins that ravage the teen body but level out as they reach adulthood. Children under the age of puberty and adults who have passed this stage in life fall victim to this sickness.  The survivors not only have to deal with surviving in a post-apocalyptic world alone, but the knowledge that they too will face the same demise.

Two years later, in New York City, survivors have formed tribes under  a new social order.  Three teens, part of Manhattan’s Washington Square Tribe, decide that rather than sitting around waiting to die, they must find the cause, and eventually a cure, for the sickness. On a visit to the New York Public Library they uncover a scientific journal describing a scientific study that may explain the origins of the sickness.  The location of this study is just a few hundred miles away and the tribe leaves relative safety of their home in an attempt to save society as they know it.

When I first heard about this title several months ago, I knew it would be a book that my teen son would enjoy. He’s just branching out into reading young adult and is a big fan of survivalist stories.  I handed over my review copy and he devoured it in a matter of days. He couldn’t stop talking about it. He bugged me to read it so we could discuss it. So I did. What follows is our discussion of this book (not edited):

 

Jenn: So, John-John, why did you enjoy this book?

John-John: What’s not to enjoy! I mean, a world in which only teens have survived? No adults or younger siblings? Ok, so the fact that all the parents and younger kids are dead is kind of sad. I mean, I guess it would be fun for a while but once it all set it I would be pretty sad. Also: New York City! Ok, I know I’ve never been but if I had to survive a post-apocalyptic world I think I would want to do it in New York City. Or maybe out in the country where no one else could bother me. One of the two.  Think of it: all these well-known tourist spots, free to visit whenever you wanted with no traffic? Sounds pretty exciting to me!

Jenn: It certainly is a unique premise. I’ve read quite a few books (John-John: Understatement of the year!) in which society has fallen for one reason or another. I really liked this one because it’s obvious the author put a lot of thought and research into this explanation. Also, the survivors are only temporary. They too will eventually fall victim to the same fate.  What happens when they all age out of puberty?

John-John: Yeah, that is a bummer. I mean, you have no idea when you are going to die. It could be tomorrow or in a few weeks, or even a few years. Your body is a ticking time bomb, giving no warning to when it’s going to just…stop.

Jenn: So you like the idea of having free reign over New York City? Even with all the other tribes running around?

John-John: Ok, take the fun out of it, Mom!  Yes, all the tribes running around are kind of scary. Maybe at first it would be fun, but the constant fear of a fight is pretty scary.

Jenn: I thought the new social classes that rose up were interesting. They were called tribes, but reminded me of modern-day gangs.

John-John: Yeah, it was pretty scary and intense.  While I liked the idea of a world without adults, the thought of only teens running the world is kind of terrifying. I mean…teens are moody!

Jenn: (Laughs)Understatement of the year! So, let’s talk about what they discovered when they reached the lab. No spoilers, though, ok?

John-John: Ok, spoiler free: Intense. Scary. I don’t know if I felt more hopeful then or more terrified. I can’t wait for the sequel!

Jenn: Exactly. I felt relieved when they reached the lab but what they discovered wasn’t exactly what they were anticipating!

Ok, time to wrap up our feelings about this book. We need to give readers our reason for reading it. I’ll go first!

I really enjoyed reading this because the premise is so unique. I don’t know of another young adult novel like this one.  I also liked the multiple points of view.  We view this new world through the eyes of two survivors, Jefferson (definitely more level-headed and contemplative) and Donna (certainly more emotional and a little on the flaky side) and so we get two very different viewpoints on what has transpired.

John-John: Yes! I don’t think I’ve read anything like this yet.  I really liked the characters. I don’t think Donna was necessarily flaky. I think you think that because you are an adult. I think she was emotional because this was a pretty emotional time. Not only is she concerned about her own survival, her body is going through all kinds of crazy things. I think her behavior is completely understandable.

Jenn: Good point. Looking at it from a teen reader, I see how you could be more sympathetic to the characters!  Any warnings you would like to give to potential readers?

John-John: Ok, I know if I don’t mention it you will. Foul language. There’s quite a bit of it. But honestly, it’s not like I haven’t heard it before. There were some things I didn’t understand or had questions about, but I just asked you. So, if parents are reading this, be prepared to answer questions.  The language used can be intense, but it’s completely understandable given that, you know, the world is over and only teens have survived.  I wouldn’t expect anything different.

Jenn: Very well put.  Yes, I would recommend parents reading along if they have a young teen (John is fourteen) to help explain some of the terminology/what transpires. There is foul language. Quite a bit of it. If you don’t think/want your child to be exposed to this, perhaps this isn’t the book for them. I’m really glad you asked me to read this with you, John. It was certainly a fun experience!

Any last thoughts, John?

John-John: Read this book! It really made me think about a world without my parents and how terrifying that would be. I wanted you to read it so you can experience it with me. Now I want all my friends to read it, too. It has a lot of action, a lot to keep readers excited about reading this book. Most of all, it’s not a “girl book” or a “boy book.” Its a book I think all readers will enjoy!

Jenn: Well said!  I also highly recommend this book, with the disclaimers mentioned above!

 

Week in Review: July 27, 2014

I missed posting a week in review last week. We were in Hampton, VA for my husband’s family reunion. Not a lot of reading time, but plenty of time to enjoy family and some pretty excellent food.

This week, I’ve continued to work on “renovating” our home office. If you missed it, a few weeks ago I repainted a bookshelf to give it a new life. We picked up a reading chair for Justin. The moment he saw it, he had to have it. He thought it looked like a throne!  I think he likes it, what do you think?

JustinReadingChair
After picking up the chair, the next project was working on the wall art. I could only find a few items in stores that I liked (including the “Talk Nerdy to Me” canvas Justin is holding.  So, we decided to make our own!  I printed off some of my favorite bookish quotes and images and framed them using a simple photo mat.  What do you think?

Wallart.jpgCrafty

Next up, a new chair for the desk my husband and I share.  It’s a bit of a challenge for I want antique looking chair that matches our library theme.  John wants a big comfortable desk chair. Hopefully we can find something we both like! The final piece to the redecorating is bookish curtains my mom started making a few years ago. They just need a little more work before I can hang them. I’m thrilled to see it all come together!

In case you missed it, here’s what’s happened on the blog in the last few weeks:

How was your reading week?

Review: The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harlequin MIRA (July 29, 2014)
  • ISBN: 9780778316558
  • Source: Publisher

Mia Dennett is the daughter of a prominent Chicago judge.  As the black sheep of the family, she doesn’t necessarily have the strongest of relationships with her parents.

One night, Mia waits at a bar for her boyfriend. When he doesn’t show, she instead opts to go home with a stranger, Colin Thatcher.  That decision puts into motion a series of events that will change her family’s life forever.  Within moments of arriving in Colin’s apartment, he changes from a smooth-moving potential one-night stand to a gun-wielding threat.

It’s Colin’s responsibility to abduct Mia and deliver her to his employer. Yet as they are driving to the rendezvous point, Colin suddenly changes his mind, instead taking Mia to a secluded cabin in Minnesota. Evading the police as well as his employers, Colin soon realizes he can never return to his life. Instead, he and Mia camp out in the cabin, both soon realizing they will never be able to return to the life they once knew.

Meanwhile, Mia’s mother Eve and the detective assigned to the case, Gabe Hoffman, desperately try to find answers to questions about Mia’s disappearance. What they eventually uncover will shatter the Dennett family…forever.

Told from the points of view of each of the key players, the novel alternates between “Before” and “After” Mia’s abduction.  Mia spends their time isolated in the cabin to reflect back on her own life as well and the actions that led to her less than stellar relationship with her parents.  Eve, shattered by her daughter’s disappearance, reflects on her relationship with her daughter, also focusing on the decisions and actions that caused their relationship to shatter. Readers are even given a rare glimpse inside the head of Colin, Mia’s abductor, a rare opportunity to understand his motives and what led him to the position he is currently in. Unlike many other thrillers, readers will have a difficult time not sympathizing with Colin’s situation. Always with the best of intentions, circumstances in his life forced him to take a darker path in life.

The truly genuine nature of the characters are one of the many characteristics that make this thriller shine. They aren’t perfect, yet they aren’t particularly horrible either. They are truly well-meaning individuals forced to make unwise decisions due to circumstances in their lives.

From the beginning, readers know the basics of Mia’s abduction.  We know how, and when, but the why is left unanswered until the final mind-blowing pages.  This novel is often compared to Gone Girl, and unfair comparison in my mind. There was nothing desirable or endearing about the characters in Gone Girl, the only similarities are the shocking revelations made throughout the novel. And, unlike Gone Girl, I didn’t want to hurl the book at the wall when these big revelations were made. They made sense to me, not angering me but instead making me appreciate the author’s writing even more.

Bottom line: if you are looking for a twisty, contemplative thriller, The Good Girl is the book for you. Highly, highly recommended.