Monday, March 30, 2015

Bettyville by George Hodgman

When George Hodgman leaves Manhattan for his hometown of Paris, Missouri, he finds himself—an unlikely caretaker and near-lethal cook—in a head-on collision with his aging mother, Betty, a woman of wit and will. Will George lure her into assisted living? When hell freezes over. He can’t bring himself to force her from the home both treasure—the place where his father’s voice lingers, the scene of shared jokes, skirmishes, and, behind the dusty antiques, a rarely acknowledged conflict: Betty, who speaks her mind but cannot quite reveal her heart, has never really accepted the fact that her son is gay.

As these two unforgettable characters try to bring their different worlds together, Hodgman reveals the challenges of Betty’s life and his own struggle for self-respect, moving readers from their small town—crumbling but still colorful—to the star-studded corridors of Vanity Fair. Evocative ofThe End of Your Life Book Club and The Tender Bar, Hodgman’s New York Times bestselling debut is both an indelible portrait of a family and an exquisitely told tale of a prodigal son’s return.

I loved the way the novel opens up, with the author explaining about names of towns in the state (Missouri) he grew up in and explaining how he tries to remember them at night. Right away I noticed he was revealing a little part of himself from the very beginning and I instantly felt like I would like the story he had to tell.

I know that this novel was a memoir about Mr. Hodgman going home and helping to take care of his mother and their experiences together, but there times where I could imagine myself in his position and having to make decisions for my mother. I could imagine the frustration and sadness Mr. Hodgman must have felt at realizing how old and dependent his mother really was. Although the “elephant in the room” was about his being gay;

 I can imagine any child and parent having unresolved issues while at the same time trying to love and care for them; whether the issue is being gay, being pregnant, getting divorced, etc. Although Mr. Hodgman and his mother “Betty” had unresolved issues I liked how they still got along and how he had a lot of wonderful memories of her. I really enjoyed how he mentioned some of the memories along with what was going on in the present.

I like the way the author did the dedication in the front of the book. Not only did he dedicate it to his parents, but also to his grandmothers, great aunts, and aunts. Throughout this book I laughed, cried, and even felt a little nostalgic about my family, and I really enjoyed the author’s story. I admire Mr. Hodgman for being willing to write a memoir about his mother and the little bit of time they had left together. I give Bettyville and George Hodgman a “10.”

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Tiffany

Friday, March 27, 2015

Spirits of Vengeance: The Stone of Spirits by Andrew John Rainnie

In the distant land of Enara, the religious zealot Lord Malenek marches across the continent of Amaros, cleansing the world with his army of Vengeance Spirits. Standing in his way is an unlikely adversary, Kamina Elloeth, a young tree elf who is inadvertently entangled in Malenek’s plans. She embarks on a quest with her ghostly brother and a mysterious Ishkava Ranger to find an ancient artifact that may be the only way to stop Malenek’s destructive schemes. Facing her fears, Kamina will travel over oceans and deserts, fight through swamps and jungles, and battle with legendary monsters to unearth the power hidden within the Stone of Spirits. 

I was enraptured by this book. I could not put it down once I got into the story. Andrew John Rainnie does such a wonderful job illustrating with words that I could smell the storms in the badlands, and feel the sting of the dust storm in the desert. He takes his readers on a roller coaster of highs, lows, and loops never letting the interest lull. It is well written and very captivating. 

The main characters in this story are two young tree elves named Kaiden Elloeth and his younger sister Kamina Elloeth. He dreamed of adventure while she dreamed of a peaceful existence in their secluded tree village with their older sister that was more of a mother after the loss of their parents, far from the wars of men. 

War as it is want to do, consumes all in its path.Desperation breeds insanity, and power breeds corruption.  Kaiden and Kamina are ripped from their peaceful existence by a self fulfilling prophecy told to a corrupt priest that in his desperation for peace, skirts insanity. Lord Malenek knows his plan cannot be stopped except by an ancient artifact, currently lost to mankind.

Kaiden and Kamina are helped on their unlikely quest to find the Stone Of Spirits, to stop their world being consumed by evil, by a host of heart wrenching characters and more then a few twists and betrayals that will keep you on your toes.  I highly recommend this book to anyone that loves fantasy and adventure. 

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Brenda

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Secret of a Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip

Set against the vibrant and intrigue-laden backdrop of 1930s China, Mingmei Yip's enthralling novel explores one woman's defiant pursuit of independence. Spring Swallow was promised in marriage while still in her mother's belly. When the groom dies before a wedding can take place, seventeen-year-old Spring Swallow is ordered to become a ghost bride to appease his spirit. Under her in-laws' protection, she will be little more than a servant, unable to know real love or bear children. Refusing to accept her fate as a "bad-luck woman," Spring Swallow flees on her wedding day. In the city of Soochow, Spring Swallow joins a community of renowned embroiderers. The women work for Aunty Peony, whose exquisite stitching once earned her the Emperor's love. But when Aunty Peony agrees to replicate a famous painting--a lucrative assignment that will take a year to complete--betrayal and jealousy emerges within the group. Spring Swallow becomes entangled in each woman's story of heartbreak, even while she embarks on a dangerous affair with a young revolutionary. On a journey that leads from the remote hillsides around Soochow to cosmopolitan Peking, Spring Swallow draws on the secret techniques learned from Aunty Peony and her own indomitable strength, determined to forge a life that is truly her own. 

I am definitely glad I stuck it out because the beginning of the book was a complete turn off. The story is set in a 1930’s remote village in China but the voice of Spring Swallow sounds more like an insolent Brooklyn teenager. It all start with Spring Swallow running away after her wedding to a ‘ghost’; the boy she was promised to while their mothers were pregnant. Soon she is in another town where she is taken in by a house of embroiders. She eventually ends up getting married four times while she is either running away or people are kicking her out or abandoning her.

 The story is superficially engaging enough to keep you reading but it feels superficial. There is no great depth to Spring Swallow’s story. Although terrible things happen to her and those around her, she and the story seem aloof and somewhat removed from the tragedies. But once I lowered my expectations, I enjoyed the story enough to recommend it while on vacation or at the beach.

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Roberta

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Kennedy Connection: A Gil Malloy Novel by R.G. Belsky

Half a century after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, someone is killing people on the streets of New York City and leaving behind a bizarre calling card of that tragic day in Dallas.  In this bold and entertaining thriller from a true media insider, discredited newspaper reporter Gil Malloy breaks the story of the link between seemingly unconnected murders—a Kennedy half dollar coin found at each of the crime scenes. At the same time, a man emerges who claims to be the secret son of Lee Harvey Oswald and says he has new evidence that Oswald was innocent of the JFK killing.   Malloy, who has fallen from grace at the New York Daily News and sees this as an opportunity to redeem himself as an ace reporter, is certain there is a connection between the Oswald revelations and the NYC murders, but first he has to get someone to believe him. Convinced that the answers go all the way back to the JFK assassination more than fifty years ago, Malloy soon uncovers long-buried secrets that put his own life in danger from powerful forces who fear he’s getting too close to the truth.   Two tales of suspense fuse into an edge-of-your-seat thriller as Malloy races to stop the killer—before it’s too late. 

WOW this book was amazing.  The Kennedy Connection had more twists and turns than any suspense/mystery I have ever read, but boy I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.   
Gil Malloy is trying to pick up his life after a disastrous story that tore it apart.  An old friend asks him to look into the death of a childhood friend.  What starts as a story of trying to find redemption, by solving the death of a former gang member; ends with Gil finding himself and a new way to live his life. 

Gil is then given a story that will find a new ending to the JFK Assassination.  However this whole adventure is just a cover up of the real story that Gil had uncovered.  At first I thought this book would be just a rehash of old news, but the storyline takes you in a different direction.  You get a great glimpse at a story that has been told many times over the last 50 years and gives you a possible different ending.  But along with the assassination story, is the story of a man trying to find truth, not just about the death of a young man, but the truth of his own life. 

The Kennedy Connection is a fast paced, amazing book.  R.G. Belsky weaves his tale in and out of the different story lines in this book, and in the end you get a great glimpse of a person who just wants to do the right thing. His characters are flawed, but people you would want to get to know.  Even his villains are charming and charismatic, not evil and in the end they are human.   

I would recommend this book to anyone.  Actually I would suggest you pick it up right away.  I loved this book and as I said it was amazing.  I thought it would be a carbon copy of the usual murder mysteries but this one wasn’t.   

R.G. Belsky is an author of crime fiction and a journalist in New York City. His new suspense thriller, THE KENNEDY CONNECTION, was published by Atria in August. It is the first in a series of books from Atria featuring Gil Malloy, a hard-driving newspaper reporter with a penchant for breaking big stories on the front page of the New York Daily News. The second - an eBook novella titled THE MIDNIGHT HOUR - will be published in February A third Gil Malloy book, SHOOTING FOR THE STARS, will come out in August 2015. Belsky himself is a former managing editor at the Daily News and writes about the media from an extensive background in newspapers, magazines and TV/digital news. At the Daily News, he also held the titles of metropolitan editor and deputy national editor. Before that, he was metropolitan editor of the New York Post and news editor at Star magazine. Belsky was most recently the managing editor for news at - where he worked closely with Nightly News with Brian Williams, the TODAY show and oversaw all digital news content on the NBCNews website. His previous suspense novels include PLAYING DEAD and LOVERBOY.  

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Stephanie

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Gunpowder Alchemy (The Gunpowder Chronicles #1) by Jeannie Lin

Jin Soling leads a happy childhood in Peking, China during the Qing Dynasty of the 1840s.  Her father, a respected chief engineer, is able to provide for his family well.  Concerns linger, however, about the foreign ships in the harbor.  Their iron ships, access to opium, and influence in some quarters of the country makes them a threat.  The Emperor, considered infallible, seeks to blame someone for his vulnerability.  The person who receives that blame is Soling’s father, who is led away and killed.

            The engineer’s family is forced to flee the city and live in poverty.  Jin Soling, the daughter who learned much at the feet of her father, her mother, an opium addict, and her young brother barely scrape by with meager rations.  Soling’s mother is unable to help because of her addiction and Soling is only able to contribute what she makes as a doctor’s assistant.  

            When Soling comes across an intricate box that her father made, she knows that it is the only thing of value that she has left to sell.  She travels to the city to sell the box, but no one will buy it.  Instead, she is taken to a government official who demands her assistance.  She is compelled to do as he asks.  What follows is an adventure through local rebellions, pirate ships, and scientific advances to reunite Soling’s family and to restore calm to the city.

            Having read most of Jeannie Lin’s books, I can testify that what she has done well in previous books, she continues to do well in Gunpowder Alchemy.  The beauty of the Chinese culture and traditions is on display here, as is the concept of honor and integrity.  The nuances between differing regions of China are spotlighted, as the reader learns the contrasts between imperial China and the more rural towns.  In addition, the impact of the English and their influence upon Chinese culture is touched upon and is fascinating to read.

            Jin Soling is a capable narrator, and her insights spur the book along.  With her former husband-to-be, Chang-wei, by her side, Soling and Chang-wei are able to use engineering and science to get themselves out of several scrapes.  They encounter pirates, a lady rebel leader, and a rebel force as they seek to be reunited with Soling’s family.  The steampunk in the novel is “steampunk lite”, not difficult to understand an
d is interesting to anyone—even those with little interest in science.

            In some places, Gunpowder Alchemy, got bogged down with detail or the “on the road” aspect of the story.  I would have appreciated more character development and less rush onto the next plot point.  Some of the plot threads were not fully developed, such as the tainted opium in the city, or what will happen with the outlaw friend who has turned his back on his loyalty to the Emperor.  I can only assume that these are questions that will be answered in the next book in the series.

            If the romance in Lin’s books is usually a slow burn (and it really is, in a wonderful way), then the romance between Soling and Chang-wei in Gunpowder Alchemy moves at a glacial pace.  Short of a sweet kiss and a few stolen accidental touches, their romance remains strictly chaste.  

            I look forward to reading the next installment of this series.  I know that I will be immersed in a fascinating world, and I would love to see what happens next to these characters.

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina

Friday, March 13, 2015

Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick

Danger is hard to resist in this sexy thriller from Becca Fitzpatrick, the New York Times bestselling author of the Hush, Hush saga.

Brit Pheiffer has trained to backpack the Teton Range, but she isn't prepared when her ex-boyfriend, who still haunts her every thought, wants to join her. Before Britt can explore her feelings for Calvin, an unexpected blizzard forces her to seek shelter in a remote cabin, accepting the hospitality of its two very handsome occupants;but these men are fugitives, and they take her hostage.

Britt is forced to guide the men off the mountain, and knows she must stay alive long enough for Calvin to find her. The task is made even more complicated when Britt finds chilling evidence of a series of murders that have taken place there and in uncovering this, she may become the killer's next target.

But nothing is as it seems, and everyone is keeping secrets, including Mason, one of her kidnappers. His kindness is confusing Britt. Is he an enemy? Or an ally?

Black Ice is New York Times bestselling author Becca Fitzpatrick's riveting romantic thriller set against the treacherous backdrop of the mountains of Wyoming. Falling in love should never be this dangerous.

This book was a thrilling ride right from the start. No sooner are Britt and Korbie, two high school seniors, driving to a cabin in the woods when they are unexpectedly stranded by a blizzard. Trying to find shelter, they come across a cabin and what they first thought was salvation. It turns out that it’s actually two strangely acting convicts on the run from the law. Britt is soon taken hostage and forced to lead the men to the nearest main road. 

The reader (and Britt) must then try to figure out if one of the guys friendliness is just an act. Just when you think you have it all figured out, another twist is thrown into the story. The book is very well written in that the action just flows. The only bump for me was the epilogue – the ending was just a little too perfect. It reminded me of a teen/youth romance novel. Regardless, make sure you start reading the book early enough so you are not up all night trying to finish it!

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  Roberta 

Monday, March 9, 2015

This Girl (Slammed #3) by Colleen Hoover

This Girl, by Colleen Hoover, is the third book in The Slammed Series.  Since I had not read the first two books in the series, I decided to read them before reading This Girl.  I thought this would make the third book a more pleasurable read, since I would know the characters, the story arc, and the backstory.  Unfortunately, my strategy completely backfired on me.  My enjoyment of Slammed and Point of Retreat made This Girl an echo of the reading pleasure I experienced in the first two books.
         The plot of The Slammed series centers around Will and Layken.  Will is a twenty-one year old teacher who is raising his younger brother.  When new neighbors move in, Will becomes attracted to Layken, the seventeen-year old daughter.  In Slammed, their relationship begins.  It is complicated by children (Layken also has a young brother), Layken’s mother, some unexpected news, and Will’s position as a schoolteacher.  Woven through these obstacles is Will’s love of poetry slams (hence, the title of the book).  I found Slammed to be engaging, unique, and creative.
         Point of Retreat moves the relationship between Lake and Will forward.  Once more, they are faced with renegotiating life in the midst of family and career changes.  While not as engaging as Slammed, I still liked Point of Retreat.  The poetry, familiar characters, and the growth of Layken and Will made the book fun.
         This Girl, instead of being a continuation of the series, was more like a rehash of Slammed.  It is Slammed, but rewritten from Will’s point of view.  (Layken was the narrator of Slammed.)  This might have worked had there been many new insights that Will would give, or if there were some plot points that had been unknown in the first book.  Unfortunately, this was not the case.  It felt to me like I was listening to someone retell their love story—for the fiftieth time.  What I had enjoyed so much in Slammed, now read more like a tedious, immature mess of a relationship.
         I am not sure how much I would have liked This Girl had I not read the other books in the series first.  I probably would have put it down and gone to find Slammed, since it seemed to be a retelling of that novel anyway.  So, I am not sure how to rate this one.  If you want to read Colleen Hoover’s best book, read SlammedThis Girl might add to your collection or might satisfy your need to have series closure, but otherwise, I would say skip it.

*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina