The Kiss Quotient

The Kiss Quotient
The KIss Quotient by Helen Hoang

Black Cherry

Black Cherry
Christmas at Black Cherry Retreat by Angela Britnell

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Paris Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal- Feature and Review



ABOUT THE BOOK:

Maggie Hope has come a long way since serving as a typist for Winston Churchill. Now she’s working undercover for the Special Operations Executive in the elegant but eerily silent city of Paris, where SS officers prowl the streets in their Mercedes and the Ritz is draped with swastika banners. Walking among the enemy is tense and terrifying, and even though she’s disguised in chic Chanel, Maggie can’t help longing for home.

But her missions come first. Maggie’s half sister, Elise, has disappeared after being saved from a concentration camp, and Maggie is desperate to find her—that is, if Elise even wants to be found. Equally urgent, Churchill is planning the Allied invasion of France, and SOE agent Erica Calvert has been captured, the whereabouts of her vital research regarding Normandy unknown. Maggie must risk her life to penetrate powerful circles and employ all her talents for deception and spycraft to root out a traitor, find her sister, and locate the reports crucial to planning D-Day in a deadly game of wits with the Nazi intelligence elite.

LISTEN TO AN EXCERPT:





MY REVIEW:

The Paris Spy (Maggie Hope Mystery #7)

The Paris Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Paris Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal is a 2017 Bantam publication.


I admit I have been hoarding this book. I read the first six in rapid succession, but when I realized I only had one left and there could be a long wait before book eight, I decided to hold on to this one a little while. But, my willpower gave out- LOL!

When we last touched base with Maggie, she was headed to France with fellow SOE agents Hugh and Sarah. After a dull and dreary waiting period, she finally assumes her new identity and moves to the Ritz where she meets the infamous Coco Chanel. But, big trouble is brewing, and Maggie is desperate to find a SOE member she’s lost contact with and of course she’s still holding out hope that she might locate her sister.

Intrigue is a constant hallmark of this series, with each installment becoming more and more intense as the world war becomes increasingly brutal and people have begun to sacrifice integrity for victory at any cost.

This episode is a real nail biter! There is a lot going on, as always, and Maggie must be sharper than ever to keep from being found out. There are a few gut wrenching developments, but also some rays of hope where Maggie’s sister is concerned.

I was on the edge of my seat for the last quarter of the book! It was action packed, emotionally draining, and unbearably suspenseful!!

The ending is the only gripe I have because it is a serious cliffhanger and I will have to wait all the way until August to find out what happens next! UGH!!

However, I am positive it will be well worth the wait!!




GET YOUR COPY HERE:

https://www.amazon.com/Paris-Spy-Maggie-Hope-Mystery/dp/0399593802/

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-paris-spy-susan-elia-macneal/1126290586

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


The next book in the Maggie Hope series, THE PRISONER N THE CASTLE, is scheduled to be published on August 7, 2018.

Susan Elia MacNeal is the author of The New York Times, Washington Post, Publishers Weekly and USA Today-bestselling Maggie Hope mystery series, starting with the Edgar Award-nominated and Barry Award-winning MR. CHURCHILL'S SECRETARY, which is now in its 22nd printing. She is currently at work on THE PRISONER IN THE CASTLE, the eighth novel in the series.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

An American Marriage- by Tayari Jones- Feature and Review


ABOUT THE BOOK:

Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding. As Roy’s time in prison passes, she is unable to hold on to the love that has been her center. After five years, Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, and he returns to Atlanta ready to resume their life together.

LISTEN TO AN EXCERPT:


 



MY REVIEW:




An American MarriageAn American Marriage by Tayari Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones is a 2018 Algonquin Books publication.

Well drawn characterizations and a thought provoking and timely topic combines to make a potent blend, which kept me riveted to the pages of this book.


Roy had done everything right, is successful, married to a beautiful woman, living the American dream- until he is falsely accused of rape and sent to prison.

Celestial finds her comfortable life turned on its axis after Roy is incarcerated. She remains loyal to her husband, but as the years pass, her life continues to move forward, while Roy’s stagnates behind bars, and her feelings for him begin to wane, prompting her to seek comfort from another man.

Meanwhile, lawyers are working round the clock to get Roy’s conviction overturned- which miraculously, after serving five years, it is!!

But, Roy, soon learns that easing back into his former life and resuming his marriage with Celestial is easier said than done.

What stands out for me in this novel, are the little nuances. Roy, who opens the dialogue in the first chapter, drew me in with his honesty, and humor, which was occasionally sheepish and self- deprecating, even though I disapproved of some of his actions.

Celestial was, for some reason, a character I found difficult to warm up to at first, but upon reflection, I think her character may have gone through the most productive growth of all.

Celestial’s needs and expectations are different from Roy’s ideals, some of which can be attributed to male/female roles and expectations in a marriage, and others to their own individuality. But, throw in a HUGE live altering test of the marriage and it will either strengthen or fall apart. Which way did things go for Roy and Celestial?

The other timely topics explored have to do with racism and mass incarceration. Prison life is fraught with danger and loneliness, and of course Roy missed his former life, but it was simple things, things we so easily take for granted that makes the bleakness of his situation come alive.

Despite their flaws, and each party has their fair share of them, they were basically ordinary people thrown in an extraordinary circumstance and left to cope with those circumstances as best they could. They were both human, with real needs, desires, hopes, and dreams. Both made excuses, both played the blame game, but both have a bond together they find hard to break free of.

The epistolary parts of the novel were well done, which exposes both the closeness and the awkwardness of the marriage, but also the way time robbed them of the growth marriages need to survive.

The secondary characters were added depth and conflict and were also very well drawn, and equally affected by the outcome of Roy and Celetial's marriage.

While the book is not filled with action or suspense, or even, despite the heaviness of the situation, is it melodramatic, with one exception, that, to be honest, almost had to happen, to break the tension that boiled to the surface. There were a few tense moments that made me pretty uncomfortable, but mostly the author just allowed the characters to flow, to take charge, and dictate the pacing. This approach sounds understated and maybe even underwhelming, but this story was incredibly absorbing, and I have to say the conclusion was surprising- but at the same time- not. Despite some misgivings and mixed emotions about how the characters ended up, overall, I think they may be exactly where they need to be, both as individuals and as a couple. It may be tempting to take sides, but I can’t say I would do better or worse in that same situation, but I did struggle with passing judgments on occasion.

Either way, this is a well written examination of relationships and human foibles, and how otherwise normal, well intentioned, good people face adversity and come out on the other end of it changed, for better or worse.

GET YOUR COPY HERE:

https://www.amazon.com/American-Marriage-Novel-Oprahs-Selection-ebook/dp/B01NCUXEFR/

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/an-american-marriage-tayari-jones/1125369918




ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Tayari Jones is the author of the novels Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling, Silver Sparrow, and An American Marriage (Algonquin Books, February 2018). Her writing has appeared in Tin House, The Believer, The New York Times, and Callaloo. A member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, she has also been a recipient of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, Lifetime Achievement Award in Fine Arts from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, United States Artist Fellowship, NEA Fellowship and Radcliffe Institute Bunting Fellowship. Silver Sparrow was named a #1 Indie Next Pick by booksellers in 2011, and the NEA added it to its Big Read Library of classics in 2016. Jones is a graduate of Spelman College, University of Iowa, and Arizona State University. An Associate Professor in the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark University, she is spending the 2017-18 academic year as the Shearing Fellow for Distinguished Writers at the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Silent Fountain by Victoria Fox - Feature and Review



ABOUT THE BOOK:

Something terrible happened here...Hollywood, 1975: Tragedy sends troubled film star Vivien Lockhart into the arms of Giovanni Moretti, and it seems her fortunes have finally changed. Until she meets his sister, and learns that her new husband's past holds dark secrets. Tuscany, Present day: Everyone in London is searching for Lucy Whittaker - so Lucy needs to disappear. But her new home, the crumbling Castillo Barbarossa, is far from the secluded paradise it seemed. Across the decades, Vivien and Lucy find themselves trapped in the idyllic Italian villa. And if they are ever to truly escape its walls, they must first unearth its secrets... 


LISTEN TO AN EXCERPT:




MY REVIEW:




The Silent Fountain



The Silent Fountain by Victoria Fox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Silent Fountain by Victoria Fox is a 2017 Mira publication.

This is a moving, heartbreaking story written with shades of Gothic mystery and romance.

In the 1970s, after escaping an abusive home life, Vivien finally got her big break as an actress, but the price of success comes at a big cost. After a horrific accident, Vivien is nursed back to health by the handsome Dr. Giovanni Moretti. The couple falls madly in love, but secrets from the past could stain their lives together, while tragedy tears away the remaining shreds of happiness left in their relationship.


Fast forward to present day and we find the aging and haunted Vivien living in Tuscany, on the Castillo Barbarossa estate, which is only a shadow of its former glory. Needing help, Vivien hires, Lucy Whittaker, a young woman who needs a change of scenery after a finding herself at the heart of gut wrenching scandal.

But, once Lucy arrives, she feels ill at ease in the old house, which is full of strange noises, and the neglected courtyard fountain seems to hold the knowledge of horrifying crimes. Lucy is compelled to figure out all of Vivien’s secrets, but, she never would have imagined the ghastly truths she would uncover, which will more than explain why Vivien has been living a reclusive life, while Lucy, discovers a few truths about herself and what is really important in life.


This story is an emotional tale, full of dark family secrets, sadness, cruelty, and heartbreak, but is also a story of redemption, closure and new beginnings.

I loved the Gothic undertones in this story. The old estate, the reclusive actress, the buried secrets and crimes helped to create a taut, atmospheric tone, full of suspense and danger. There were a few weak spots in the story right there at the beginning, where events were glossed over, perhaps to propel the story onwards, but other than that, the reader will be easily drawn in by all the mystery and the romance surrounding Vivien and will worry about Lucy’s involvement and her current predicament as the press begins to zero in on her private location.

The tale is bittersweet, and in some ways a little moody, and melancholy, but I loved the way things turned out for Lucy, which was a very pleasant and upbeat way for the book to conclude.

Overall, the author did a great job of capturing a pure Gothic tone while weaving a mesmerizing tale of suspense, love and loss. This book was right up my alley! I really do wish there were more books written like this one!

GET YOUR COPY HERE:

https://www.amazon.com/Silent-Fountain-Victoria-Fox-ebook/dp/B06X18JMBK/

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-silent-fountain-victoria-fox/1125530272


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Victoria Fox lives in Bristol with her husband and young daughter. She used to work in publishing and is now the author of seven novels. Visit her at victoriafox.net and on Twitter @VFoxWrites.

Victoria's favourite things are blustery walks, golden retrievers and Argentinean red wine.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Memoirs of Two Young Wives by Honore De Balzac- Feature and Review


ABOUT THE BOOK:



Two very intelligent, very idealistic young women leave the convent school where they became the fastest of friends to return to their families and embark on their new lives. For Renée de Maucombe, this means an arranged marriage with a country gentleman of Provence, a fine if slightly dull man for whom she feels admiration but nothing more. Meanwhile, Louise de Chaulieu makes for her family’s house in Paris, intent on enjoying her freedom to the fullest: glittering balls, the opera, and above all, she devoutly hopes, the torments and ecstasies of true love and passion. What will come of these two very different lives?

Despite Balzac’s title, these aren’t memoirs; rather, this is an epistolary novel. For some ten years, these two will—enthusiastically if not always faithfully—keep up their correspondence, obeying their vow to tell each other every tiny detail of their strange new lives, comparing their destinies, defending and sometimes bemoaning their choices, detailing the many changes, personal and social, that they undergo. As Balzac writes, “Renée is reason. . . Louise is wildness. . . and both will lose.” Balzac being Balzac, he seems to argue for the virtues of one of these lives over the other; but Balzac being Balzac, that argument remains profoundly ambiguous: “I would,” he once wrote, “rather be killed by Louise than live a long life with Renée.”


READ AN EXCERPT:



MY REVIEW:

The Memoirs of Two Young WivesThe Memoirs of Two Young Wives by Honoré de Balzac
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Memoirs of Two Young Wives by Honoré de Balzac, (Jordan Stump translator) is a 2018 NYRB Classics publication. This book was originally published under the title Mémoires de deux jeunes mariées in 1841.

When NYRB Classics sent out an email announcing the release of this classic epistolary novel, which is not, as the title suggests, a memoir, I was intrigued enough to request a purchase of it for my Overdrive library, which they were kind enough to do.

What an interesting story! Told strictly via letters exchanged between two friends who met while attending a convent school together. They remained friends, throughout their entire lives, despite the very vast differences in the paths their lives took in adulthood.

Renee chose a traditional life, marrying for comfort and companionship, to boost her husband’s morale and confidence, and for the pleasure of motherhood. Although she loves her husband in a way, theirs is not an all consuming love affair.

Louise, lives for love, passion, society, and glamour. She is not in any way tempted by domesticity, nor does she display the slightest maternal instinct. She loves passionately, takes risks, attends social galas, and seems to love every minute of her dramatic life. But, she may pay a heavy toll for her choices.

While each wife regales the other with their ups and downs, heartaches, trials, and triumphs, often urging each other to accept or acknowledge the benefits of the life they have chosen.

The reader will see both sides clearly, and will, without much nudging from the author, decide which wife has made the best choice. Will they come to regret those decisions? Are they secretly envious of each other in big or small ways? Wistful perhaps? Which life would you choose to lead? Renee's or Louise's?


This is a variant on the ‘coming of age’ trope, and while the story is tragic, what really stands out is the bond between Renee and Louise. They often disagree, go through long periods without correspondence, but love each other, despite the obvious chasms between them.

I love my books, and really, really get involved with them on occasion, prompting me to do Google searches or ‘further reading’ if a topic interests me. In this case, I was a little afraid I might be completely out of my element, so I did a little research, and discovered some interesting facts about the book and the author, which was very helpful since I don’t ordinarily read French novels, although it seems I may be the only person on the planet unfamiliar with Balzac.

Originally, this French language epistolary, was serialized in a French newspaper. It was first translated in 1902.

It has been noted that the author did an amazing job of giving these women a voice, writing from the female perspective, with acute sensitivity for a man. He provided social commentary throughout and touched on the various forms of love, romance and marriage.

It is my understanding that compared to Balzac’s most famous work, this one barely made a blip when first published, but now, after taking it out and dusting off, it seems to be a rare and poignant discovery, even if it is not exactly what those familiar with his work are accustomed to.

As for me, with nothing else to compare it to, I was thrilled to discover this ‘lost’ classic and happy to see that is now in digital format.

It is a unique epistolary book, I am happy I took the time and extra effort to obtain. Needless to say, this has been an interesting, and pleasant learning experience for me. Although the story does end on a rather somber note, it does provoke thought and did indeed have me thinking about these two women, both of whom lived life on their own terms, for better or worse.

4 stars

GET YOUR COPY HERE:

https://www.amazon.com/Memoirs-Young-Wives-Review-Classics/dp/1681371251/

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/memoirs-of-two-young-wives-honor-de-balzac/1101562375

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Honoré de Balzac was a nineteenth-century French novelist and playwright. His magnum opus was a sequence of almost 100 novels and plays collectively entitled La Comédie humaine, which presents a panorama of French life in the years after the fall of Napoléon Bonaparte in 1815.

Due to his keen observation of detail and unfiltered representation of society, Balzac is regarded as one of the founders of realism in European literature. He is renowned for his multi-faceted characters; even his lesser characters are complex, morally ambiguous and fully human. Inanimate objects are imbued with character as well; the city of Paris, a backdrop for much of his writing, takes on many human qualities. His writing influenced many famous authors, including the novelists Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Gustave Flaubert, Henry James and Jack Kerouac, as well as important philosophers such as Friedrich Engels. Many of Balzac's works have been made into films, and they continue to inspire other writers.

An enthusiastic reader and independent thinker as a child, Balzac had trouble adapting himself to the teaching style of his grammar school. His willful nature caused trouble throughout his life, and frustrated his ambitions to succeed in the world of business. When he finished school, Balzac was apprenticed as a legal clerk, but he turned his back on law after wearying of its inhumanity and banal routine. Before and during his career as a writer, he attempted to be a publisher, printer, businessman, critic, and politician. He failed in all of these efforts. La Comédie Humaine reflects his real-life difficulties, and includes scenes from his own experience.

Balzac suffered from health problems throughout his life, possibly due to his intense writing schedule. His relationship with his family was often strained by financial and personal drama, and he lost more than one friend over critical reviews. In 1850, he married Ewelina Hańska, his longtime paramour; he died five months later.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

By the Book by Julia Sonneborn- Feature and Review


ABOUT THE BOOK:

An English professor struggling for tenure discovers that her ex-fiancé has just become the president of her college—and her new boss—in this whip-smart modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic Persuasion.

Anne Corey is about to get schooled.

An English professor in California, she’s determined to score a position on the coveted tenure track at her college. All she’s got to do is get a book deal, snag a promotion, and boom! She’s in. But then Adam Martinez—her first love and ex-fiancé—shows up as the college’s new president.

Anne should be able to keep herself distracted. After all, she’s got a book to write, an aging father to take care of, and a new romance developing with the college’s insanely hot writer-in-residence. But no matter where she turns, there’s Adam, as smart and sexy as ever. As the school year advances and her long-buried feelings begin to resurface, Anne begins to wonder whether she just might get a second chance at love.

Funny, smart, and full of heart, this modern ode to Jane Austen’s classic explores what happens when we run into the demons of our past...and when they turn out not to be so bad, after all.
 


READ AN EXCERPT:




MY REVIEW:


By the BookBy the Book by Julia Sonneborn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

By the Book by Julia Sonneborn is a 2018 Gallery Books publication.

A splendid, modern day version of Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’.

Anne Corey is trying to make tenure, write a book, and care for her father, with whom she has a tenuous relationship. All this is enough to keep Anne occupied, along with the exploits of her best friend, Larry. But, life throws Anne another unexpected curve ball when she learns her former fiancé, Adam, has been named president of her college!!

Despite the awkwardness of running into Adam from time to time, Anne has thrown herself into a torrid affair with a famous writer who has a sordid past. But, Anne still finds herself keeping up with what is going on in Adam’s life, and can’t stop herself from thinking about him, or wondering what he thinks of her.

In the meantime, hilarity ensues, along with some emotional drama, as Anne faces one challenge after another, while attempting to cover for her friend Larry, who is involved in a scandalous, clandestine affair.

Are Anne and Adam star crossed lovers or is there a possibility they might get a second chance at love?

Re-tellings can be tricky, but the author did an amazing job with modernizing the classic romance novel by Jane Austen.

This book is one of those utterly captivating feel good stories that will cure whatever ails you. The atmosphere is perfect, the dialogue is witty and sharp, and the characterizations are spot on. This book made me laugh, cry, and sigh with romantic satisfaction with what had to be THE best ending to a book I’ve read a in a long, long time.

Although Anne is the star of the show, keep your eye on Larry, because he almost steals her thunder a time or two. But, mainly, it’s Adam, who has a big come from behind win that will knock your socks off!! LOVED IT!!

This! This is what a good romance should be like!





GET YOUR COPY HERE:

https://www.amazon.com/Book-Novel-Julia-Sonneborn-ebook/dp/B074ZPWLHH/ref

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/by-the-book-julia-sonneborn/1126511855


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Julia Sonneborn is an English professor and a Los Angeles native. After heading east for college and graduate school, she hightailed it back to California, where she now lives with her husband, two kids, two cats, and a dog. When she’s not reading, writing, or talking about books, she enjoys trying new restaurants, reading online gossip blogs, and throwing dinner parties. She is the author of By the Book.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Everything Here is Beautiful - by Mira T. Lee - Feature and Review


ABOUT THE BOOK:

Two sisters: Miranda, the older, responsible one, always her younger sister's protector; Lucia, the vibrant, headstrong, unconventional one, whose impulses are huge and, often, life changing. When their mother dies and Lucia starts to hear voices, it's Miranda who must fight for the help her sister needs — even as Lucia refuses to be defined by any doctor's diagnosis.

Determined, impetuous, she plows ahead, marrying a big-hearted Israeli only to leave him, suddenly, to have a baby with a young Latino immigrant. She will move with her new family to Ecuador, but the bitter constant remains: she cannot escape her own mental illness. Lucia lives life on a grand scale, until inevitably, she crashes to earth. And then Miranda must decide, again, whether or not to step in — but this time, Lucia may not want to be saved. The bonds of sisterly devotion stretch across oceans, but what does it take to break them?

Told from alternating perspectives, Everything Here Is Beautiful is, at its core, a heart-wrenching family drama about relationships and tough choices — how much we're willing to sacrifice for the ones we love, and when it's time to let go and save ourselves.


LISTEN TO AN EXCERPT: 





MY REVIEW:


Everything Here Is BeautifulEverything Here Is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T. Lee is a 2018 Pamela Dorman Books publication.

Both breathtaking and heartbreaking-

This is a novel about the bonds of sisterhood, of familial duty, of love, all tested by the drain and strain of debilitating mental illness.

While the story is exquisitely painful and is not a book I’d recommend for someone feeling depressed or who may be in a bad place, it is also a beautifully written story, very powerful, and realistic, yet poignantly sensitive, without becoming maudlin.

The reader is given insight into Lucia’s thoughts and feelings, which are often free spirited, determined, and all told, relatively normal… until they are not.

When the illness takes over, she loses the ability to function and being inside her mind during the throes of a schizoid episode is a very scary place to be. It is both incredibly sad and horrifying to watch the metamorphosis.


Miranda is Lucia’s sister, her caretaker and the decision maker when it comes to making choices about her health. Miranda feels powerless, suffering as much as Lucia, but in an obviously different way, since she is left making very painful choices about what is best for her sister. Lucia is often bitterly resentful of Miranda’s role, disrupting the balance and nature of their relationship, as Miranda struggles to live and enjoy her own life.

While Miranda takes a traditional, stable path in life, Lucia’s relationships are more complicated, as she copes with the challenges of living outside her own country, motherhood, and the shadow of her illness haunting her and her loved ones. But, her fierce determination to live life to its fullest, and to be a good mother, are inspiring, despite the odds against her.

The drain mental illness takes on the family is emphasized, as even those who start out being involved and supportive, lose their tenacity, and fall away, like casualties or collateral damage.

The health care system is flawed, as are our many misguided and misinformed concepts of mental illness. It’s hard to understand. It’s not like a physical disability where people can see the obvious effects on the body. Having to cope with the stigma associated with mental disease and the treatments which are often difficult to adhere to, can impede progress or completely shut it down.

While watching the family dynamics morph from a typical sisterly relationship into one of obligation and bitterness, it’s hard to miss the sinister hold such a serious disease has on the lives of these characters.

But, mental illness is not the only subject addressed as the author quite adeptly paints a realistic portrait of immigration from different perspectives. The time Lucia spends in Ecuador, is as telling as Manny’s in America, with the pressure to assimilate, which also adds rich cultural details and diversity to the story.

This book is grave and somber, with a moderately upbeat epilogue, and I admit, I felt a bit melancholy for a while after reading it, but it brings a new awareness to its readers in an emotional and heart wrenching way that is necessary and real, and in such a way you will most assuredly find it hard to forget. This is a topic we need to center more conversations around, and this book could be a great segue to bringing these uncomfortable subjects out in the open. My hope is that these characters will touch a nerve, will open your heart, make you think, make you more sympathetic, more understanding, better informed, and more involved.

           

GET YOUR COPY HERE:

https://www.amazon.com/Everything-Here-Beautiful-Mira-Lee-ebook/dp/B072KYN7LV/ref

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/everything-here-is-beautiful-mira-t-lee/1126270832

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Mira T. Lee's debut novel, EVERYTHING HERE IS BEAUTIFUL, was recently named a Top 10 Debut of Winter/Spring 2018 by the American Booksellers Association. Her short fiction has appeared in journals such as the Southern Review, the Gettysburg Review, the Missouri Review, Harvard Review, and TriQuarterly, and has twice received special mention for the Pushcart Prize. Mira is a graduate of Stanford University and lives in Cambridge, MA.



Monday, February 19, 2018

MONDAY'S MUSICAL MOMENTS: Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Star- by David Hepworth


ABOUT THE BOOK:

The age of the rock star, like the age of the cowboy, has passed. Like the cowboy, the idea of the rock star lives on in our imaginations.

What did we see in them? Swagger. Recklessness. Sexual charisma. Damn-the-torpedoes self-belief. A certain way of carrying themselves. Good hair. Interesting shoes. Talent we wished we had.

What did we want of them? To be larger than life but also like us. To live out their songs. To stay young forever. No wonder many didn’t stay the course.

In Uncommon People, David Hepworth zeroes in on defining moments and turning points in the lives of forty rock stars from 1955 to 1995, taking us on a journey to burst a hundred myths and create a hundred more.

As this tribe of uniquely motivated nobodies went about turning themselves into the ultimate somebodies, they also shaped us, our real lives and our fantasies. Uncommon People isn’t just their story. It’s ours as well.
 

READ AND EXCERPT:






MY REVIEW:


Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars 1955-1994Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars 1955-1994 by David Hepworth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Uncommon People: The Rise and Fall of the Rock Stars -1955- 1994 by David Hepworth is a 2018 Transworld Digital publication.

A nostalgic, historical homage to the innovators, artists, writers, performers, and musicianship that created the great rock star mystique.

The title of the book had me wondering which kind of approach the author would take in relaying the meteoric rise of the rock star and what his thoughts would be on what brought about their swan dive back down to earth, where they must now walk among us mere mortals.

While the book didn’t exactly read quite like I would have imagined, this book ended up being a nice nostalgic look back at the history, not of rock music, but of rock stars.

I was pleased, so very pleased, with the author’s approach to rock’s beginnings by making his first featured artist Little Richard, and not Elvis. The blues, of course, is where rock originates, but once it was firmly rooted, during the fifties, the British Invasion changed the landscape and opened the doors for a wave of creativity that touched the pulse of a generation, skyrocketing the influence, power, and prestige of the rock star into the stratosphere, turning them into otherworldly beings riding high at the top of the world for decades to come.

The author touches on the psychology of the rock star, how groups like The Rolling Stones found themselves mingling with glamorous movie stars, how stars like Bowie created on stage ‘characters’ like ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and how outright worship of these stars, helped create the rich, lucrative market rock music eventually succumbed to.

But, mostly, this book was an homage, where the author picked the game changers, the most creative, the most influential, and successful, for either their cult followings, or innovations, or longevity. Obviously, The Beatles, The Stones, Jim Morrison, Black Sabbath, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John, and Bruce Springsteen are profiled, as are others who made the biggest impact as musicians and artists.

At the end of each chapter the author includes a playlist for the year just discussed, which was fun and reminded me of some great tunes and artists I had not listened to in a long while.

I do wish the book had touched on the corporate influence and its role in rock’s demise, which is where, looking back through this book you can really see the cracks in the veneer start to show. I have reflected over the years on the power and fascination we allowed rock musicians to hold over us. As I got older I felt it got a little out of control, especially when rock stars began meeting with presidents to discuss policies or special interests. But, I digress.

Everyone’s popularity was judged by how they might compare to rock stars. I remember years back proclaiming ‘authors are my rock stars’, as a way of expressing my complete loyalty to books and writers in a way people would relate to. Somewhere along the way, rock stars became the measuring stick by which we judged the impact of someone’s popularity, almost to point where it became of parody. The ultimate breakdown coming after corporate rock settled in, and with MTV, and the oversaturation of hair metal bands. But, then Kurt Cobain barged onto the scene pounding all that over produced glitz into the ground, which was a good sign. But then...

Some may argue this point, but I won’t be swayed- Kurt Cobain was the last rock star. No one else since, has had that kind of influence or impact on a generation. With his death, hip hop gained a strong hold, and along with the internet, cell phones, and social media stripping away the last vestiges of mystique, we are left only with those surviving artists who paid their dues, and still pack auditoriums and stadiums. When they are gone there will be no one there to pass the torch, no one who will ever cast that kind of spell, weave that sort of magic over people, nor will anyone experience that stronghold of power to last for generations like the Stones or Springsteen. We already know all there is to know about the artist of today, which has weakened their influence, and will most assuredly shorten the length of their massive popularity.


I didn’t really learn anything new by reading this book. As a person who grew up in the pitch perfect awesomeness of rock music in the seventies and eighties, I pretty much knew everything the author shared about the artists, their music and the way the public responded to it. But, it was fun looking back over rock history, the trends, the pitfalls, the imagination and creativity, the fantastic writing, and stage shows, and how much it all meant to their audiences and the way the people responded to them. Mostly, the author stuck with the legends, names easily recognizable, and explained why they were influential, aka controversial, and what part they played in creating the rock mystique. There were a few groups or individual artists I might have added because they were cultural phenoms, or I might have thought twice about featuring an artist that was more of a pop singer than a rock star, but overall, the author chose his subjects wisely and I agreed that these artists were the ultimate trailblazers, true rock stars, a part of an unstoppable force, and will at least leave behind a lasting legacy.

This book did remind me of all the good times I spent with friends, listening to albums, holding long, meaningful conversations about our favorite bands, the instruments they played, the meaning behind the lyrics, debating the which songs were the best,  what were the best album covers, best guitar player, and best stage shows, and all the rest. The music meant something to us, these stars were idols to us, more than they should have been, perhaps, but they held court majestically, and it was through them and their bravery, we found an outlet to express our individuality, our ideas, rebellion, and creativity, and they urged us to stand for something, to work for what we wanted, to question the answers, to have fun, to love and accept. They started fashion trends, music trends, influenced movies and television, as well as social issues and politics, and never ever shied away from controversy.

Rock is dead-

Long live rock and roll- and the stars who made it great.

GET YOUR COPY HERE:

https://www.amazon.com/Uncommon-People-Rise-Fall-Stars-ebook/dp/B06W5GQPBD/

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/uncommon-people-david-hepworth/1125825834

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:




David Hepworth is a music journalist, writer, and publishing industry analyst who has launched several successful British magazines, including Smash Hits, Q, Mojo and The Word, among many others. He presented the definitive BBC rock music program Whistle Test and anchored the BBC's coverage of Live Aid in 1985. He has won the Editor of the Year and Writer of the Year awards from the Professional Publishers Association and the Mark Boxer Award from the British Society of Magazine Editors. He is the radio columnist for the Saturday Guardian and a regular media correspondent for the newspaper.

Friday, February 16, 2018

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- Gone ,Baby, Gone By Dennis Lehane- Feature and Review



ABOUT THE BOOK:


Boston private detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro are hired to find four-year-old Amanda McCready, abducted from her bed on a warm, summer night. They meet her stoned-out, strangely apathetic mother, her loving aunt and uncle, the mother's dangerous, drug-addled friends, and two cops who've found so many abused or dead children they may be too far over the edge to come back. Despite enormous public attention, rabid news coverage, and dogged police work, the investigation repeatedly hits a brick wall. Led into a world of drug dealers, child molesters, and merciless executioners, Patrick and Angie are soon forced to face not only the horrors adults can perpetrate on innocents but also their own conflicted feelings about what is best, and worst, when it comes to raising children. And as the Indian summer fades and the autumn chill deepens, Amanda McCready stays gone, banished so completely that she seems never to have existed.
Then another child disappears. . . . Dennis Lehane takes you into a world of triple crosses, elaborate lies, and shrouded motives, where the villains may be more moral than the victims, the missing should possibly stay missing, and those who go looking for them may not come back alive.
READ AN EXCERPT:










MY REVIEW:



Gone, Baby, Gone (Kenzie & Gennaro, #4)Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gone, Baby, Gone by Dennis Lehane is a 2009 William Morrow publication. (originally published in 1999 by Harper)

I must make a few confessions up front:

1: I saw the movie version of this title a long time ago and it was so good, I’ve always wanted to read the book, because, of course, the book is always better.

2: I haven’t read as many books by this author as I thought.

3: This is my first foray into the Kenzie & Gennaro series. In fact, I didn’t even know this book was a part of a series, until now.

I make these confessions with shaking hands since I’m sure my admission is tantamount to religious sacrilege to some folks, but hey, you have to start somewhere.

I was immensely curious how the book would differ from the movie, since Hollywood is notorious for taking liberties and on many occasions they flub the whole thing up. But, surprisingly the book and movie matched up, with only a few differences.

All the same, the book was better, as I knew it would be, as it paints a far more detailed and emotional rendition, which had me enthralled, and gave me an even greater respect for this author.


When Amanda disappears, her Aunt Beatrice hires the PI team of Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro to find her.

The case winds up consuming the couple to the point of obsession, always at the forefront of their lives,  and then another child goes missing…

Well, what can you say? This was one incredible story and one that has sparked some rather heated debate in my household, all of us holding strong feelings on how the situation could have been handled.

While there is the obvious black and white answer, there are surely those among you who fall into that gray area, where your mind and logic tells you one thing, while your heart is telling you another.

But, no matter which way you slice it, this is one very twisty rollercoaster ride, spotlighting human flaws, and what one does to cope with the world, and how there are never easy answers to many of life’s questions. Sometimes the wrong thing feels like the right thing, in a twisted way that only makes sense when you are living in that moment. Those choices could backfire, or not, depending on the situation, could lead to regret, or no regrets. But, a tangled web has been woven, and good people become unwitting pawns in a convoluted scheme, and a price must be paid, a very high price, as it turns out.

This story stayed with me a long time and I still run the details over in mind on occasion, still feel sickened by what happened, and still feel conflicted by the decisions made.

When a novel really grabs you, affects your emotions, plays tricks on your mind, and breaks your heart, leaving a lasting impression, well, that’s what great storytelling is all about, and this author sure knows how to weave a tale.







GONE, BABY, GONE MOVIE TRAILER:

GET YOUR COPY HERE:

https://www.amazon.com/Gone-Baby-Patrick-Kenzie-Gennaro/dp/0061998877/

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/gone-baby-gone-dennis-lehane/1100258485

https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/gone-baby-gone-1

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Dennis Lehane (born Aug 4th, 1966) is an American author. He has written several novels, including the New York Times bestseller Mystic River, which was later made into an Academy Award winning film, also called Mystic River, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, and Kevin Bacon (Lehane can be briefly seen waving from a car in the parade scene at the end of the film). The novel was a finalist for the PEN/Winship Award and won the Anthony Award and the Barry Award for Best Novel, the Massachusetts Book Award in Fiction, and France's Prix Mystere de la Critique. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin- Feature and Review



ABOUT THE BOOK:

If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?

It's 1969 in New York City's Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in '80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.


LISTEN TO AN EXCERPT:





MY REVIEW:

The Immortalists

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin is a 2018 G.P. Putnam’s Sons publication.

In a novel, so centered on death, there is a tremendous amount of life and living within these pages.


Beginning in 1969, the four Gold siblings boldly knock on the door of a fortune teller who then proceeds to impart to them the one thing nobody knows when they enter this world- the exact day you will die.

For better or worse, Varya, Daniel, Klara and Simon cope with this heavy information, but, their approach to life, their attitudes and actions could not be more different.

How will they decide to live their lives? By throwing caution to the wind, living every moment like it counts, or will they become a slave to the fortune teller’s predictions? What would you do if you knew the exact date of your earthly departure?

Each of the siblings will have a segment dedicated to their life story, beginning with Simon, the youngest of the four.

Getting through Simon’s story, the outcome of which is easy to predict, could make some readers a bit uncomfortable, as it is quite explicit. However, it is also very authentic and captures the era, the fear, the location, and atmosphere of the era perfectly. Simon’s story sets the stage for a riveting family saga that prompts the reader to wonder just how much of our lives are controlled by elements such as pure luck or destiny and how much control we have over our own future. Can we help dire predictions along- force them to happen when they may not have otherwise? Is too much information advantageous or does it work against us in the end?

It’s an interesting proposal and discussions about these concepts could be very deep, which would make this novel a fantastic book club read.

I did have some trouble with the plausibility or probability of certain events in the story, but looking past that, I was fascinated by the psychological effects obtaining information about the future had on the characters. The last segment is maybe the most revealing, and perhaps the deepest area of the story as the quest for longevity replaces the pleasure of really one’s living one’s life with gusto.

This story has some magical elements, but overall, it’s a family saga, one that is perhaps a bit heavy, a little mournful, but not necessarily bleak.

I put this review off for a little while unsure of how to relay my feelings about the book. I’m glad I read it, as it did challenge me, forcing me to consider deep, philosophical subjects about life and death, faith, destiny, our susceptibility to suggestion, just to name a few. But, for me, the prose and characterizations is what really makes this novel stand out.

I’m not sure if this is a novel I would ever revisit, or if these are subjects I want to address frequently, but, anytime a novel can take me into an unknown realm, one that is a little out of my element or comfort zone, I respect it, and give credit where credit is due.

GET YOUR COPY HERE:

https://www.amazon.com/Immortalists-Chloe-Benjamin-ebook/dp/B071D3D2ZX/ref

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-immortalists-chloe-benjamin/1126244293

https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/the-immortalists-3

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Chloe Benjamin is the author of the novels THE IMMORTALISTS--a #1 Indie Next Pick, #1 LibraryReads Pick and Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection--and THE ANATOMY OF DREAMS, which received the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award and was longlisted for the 2014 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. A San Francisco native, Benjamin is a graduate of Vassar College and of the University of Wisconsin, where she received her MFA in fiction. She lives with her husband in Madison, Wisconsin.