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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

Title: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
Author: Lawrence Wright
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publish Date: January 17, 2013
Source: Library






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "A clear-sighted revelation, a deep penetration into the world of Scientology by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the now-classic study of al-Qaeda's 9/11 attack, the Looming Tower. Based on more than two hundred personal interviews with both current and former Scientologists--both famous and less well known--and years of archival research, Lawrence Wright uses his extraordinary investigative skills to uncover for us the inner working sof the Church of Scientology: its origins in the imagination of science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard; its struggles to find acceptance as a legitimate (and legally acknowledged) religion; its vast, secret campaign to infiltrate the U.S. government; and its dramatic efforts to grow and prevail after the death of Hubbard."

My Two Cents:

"Going Clear" is Lawrence Wright's fascinating and well-researched look at Scientology. In this book, Wright investigates Scientology's origins and how it came to be so firmly entrenched in Hollywood. If you have ever wondered what Scientology actually is and why it seems to be getting so much publicity, especially when it comes to celebrities, this book should be able to shed some light on it.

This book is fast-paced and all of the fascinating detail that Wright includes got me interested from the starting blocks. I really liked all of the sections on L. Ron Hubbard. It is hard to talk about Scientology without looking at Hubbard's life and how it may have helped him develop Scientology. He had an extremely interesting and a very much drama filled life. Wright explores his personality and his family life. His life almost reads like a soap opera in a lot of ways. You can't help but to read on.

I also really liked how Wright explored the psychological aspect of the religion. It is easy to see why Hubbard was able to draw so many people towards him both during and after his life. It was also really scary. I thought the sections on how Hubbard was able to get so many Hollywood people involved was also interesting.

It is apparent that Wright did a lot of research on the subject but the book never felt like it was simply a repetition of facts. Wright really weaves everything together nicely. This was a very compelling read!


 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

HF Virtual Book Tours Guest Post and Giveaway: The Queen's Exiles

Today, I am very excited to welcome Barbara Kyle, author of The Queen's Exiles to A Bookish Affair today.


We all have our favorite TV series. It might be the elegant Downton Abbey or the blood-and-passion drama of Game of Thrones. You may, like me, be a fan of both.

Writers of TV series face intriguing challenges. Before writing full time I enjoyed a twenty-year acting career, and one of the TV series I starred in a daytime drama called High Hopes. Its writers kept a story "bible," a record of the myriad details that had to be consistent from show to show concerning the dozens of characters.

It's a wise practice for the writer of a book series too.

My Thornleigh Saga books follow a family for three generations so it's easy to forget facts about a character that were covered three or four books ago. So I keep a "bible" that tracks the characters' ages, occupations, marriages, love affairs, children, ages of their children, homes, character traits, and physical details like color of hair . . . and missing body parts! Richard Thornleigh loses an eye in The Queen's Lady (Book 1) yet in later books I would often start to write things like, "His eyes were drawn to ..." So I keep that "bible" near.
Here are a few more things the author of a series needs to keep in mind

Each Book Must Stand On Its Own

An author can't assume that readers have read the previous books in the series. My agent always reminds me of this when I send him the outline for a new book in the Thornleigh Saga. "Many readers won't know what these characters have already been through," he wisely says. So each book has to give some background about what's happened to the main characters in the preceding books, enough to fill in new readers. However, it can't lay on so much back story that it bores readers who have followed all the books. Getting the balance right is tricky.

I like the way episodes of a TV series start with a recap: "Previously on Downton Abbey . . ." It refreshes the memory of viewers who've seen previous episodes, and is just enough to tantalize those who haven't and fill them in. I wish I could have an announcer give a recap at the beginning of my Thornleigh books! The point is, each book in a series has to stand on its own. It must be a complete and satisfying story for any reader.

Consistency Can Yield Rewards

When I had a brute cut Fenella Doorn's cheek in The Queen's Gamble I never expected Fenella to reappear in a future story. Two books later, when I brought her back in The Queen's Exiles, I could not ignore the fact that she would have a sizable scar on her cheek. So I used that scar to enrich her character.

She had been a beauty at eighteen, relying on men to support her, but when her cut face marred her beauty she realized that it was now up to her to put bread on the table and clothes on her back. I made her aware, even grateful, that the scar freed her from the bonds of beauty; it made her independent. And she became a successful entrepreneur.

Let Characters Age

It's hard for readers to believe that a hero can fight off bad guys like a young stud if the decades-long timeline of the books he appears in make him, in fact, a senior citizen. J. K Rowling was smart. She let Harry Potter and his friends grow up.

I've enjoyed letting my characters age. Through six books I've taken Honor Larke from precocious seven-year-old to wise grande dame as Lady Thornleigh. Her step-son Adam Thornleigh's first big role was in The Queen's Captive where he was an impetuous seafaring adventurer, but by the time of The Queen's Exiles Adam has become a mature man, a loyal champion of his friend Queen Elizabeth. He has been through a loveless marriage, adores his two children, and falls hard for Fenella.

I'm grateful that Fenella Doorn insisted I feature her in The Queen's Exiles. (By the way, that's her on the cover.) I'm already hearing from readers and reviewers that they love her. I hope you will too.

Giveaway:

You have a chance to win this great book (U.S./ CAN)!



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Follow the Rest of the Tour:

Monday, June 16
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, June 17
Excerpt & Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court
Friday, June 20
Guest Post & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Monday, June 23
Review & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, June 24
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Thursday, June 26
Guest Post at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Monday, June 30
Review at HF Book Muse-News
Review & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Wednesday, July 2
Guest Post & Giveaway at HF Book Muse-News
Monday, July 7
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Wednesday, July 9
Review at Historical Tapestry
Thursday, July 10
Guest Post & Giveaway at HF Connection
Friday, July 11
Review at Dianne Ascroft Blog
Monday, July 14
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Wednesday, July 16
Review & Giveaway at Luxury Reading
Thursday, July 17
Review at Griperang’s Bookmarks
Friday, July 18
Interview at Griperang’s Bookmarks
Monday, July 21
Review at Always with a Book
Wednesday, July 23
Guest Post & Giveaway at Always with a Book
Thursday, July 24
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Friday, July 25
Review at Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Monday, July 28
Review at A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, July 29
Review at The True Book Addict
Wednesday, July 30
Guest Post & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Thursday, July 31
Interview at Passages to the Past
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Review: Confessions of a Qantas Flight Attendant: True Tales and Gossip from the Galley by Owen Beddall

Title: Confessions of a Qantas Flight Attendant: True Tales and Gossip from the Galley
Author: Owen Beddall
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Random House
Publish Date: July 1, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Want to know what really goes on on an aeroplane? Let's go behind the scenes and fly high with these tall tales and gossip from the galley!

Everyone wants to be a flight attendant, or at least they want to know about the cushy lifestyle they lead – flying to exotic destinations, swanning about in five-star hotels, daytime lazing around the pool and night-time tabletop dancing with Bollywood stars. At last the lid is lifted. Come on board a real airline with a real flight attendant and find out what really goes on.

In Confessions of a Qantas Flight Attendant – True Tales and Gossip from the Galley, Owen Beddall dishes the dirt – he tells you the things you always wanted to know (and maybe a few things you didn't) about the glamorous world of flying. This book is packed with cabin crew adventures and misadventures in and out of that smart uniform in far flung places. There's sex, drugs and lots of celebrity gossip; Katy Perry, Lily Allen, Kylie Minogue, Venus Williams and Cate Blanchett – are all in the galley having a gossip with Owen.

Confessions of a Qantas Flight Attendant is a hilariously bumpy ride around the world with a very funny man."


My Two Cents:

In "Confessions of a Qantas Flight Attendant," the author takes his readers on a worldwide journey aboard Qantas Airlines, a carrier out of Australia, as you may well know. Beddall recounts how he became a flight attendant and what really goes on with the crews of those planes that take us all over the world. He shows the highlights (and sometimes the lowlights too). If you're a traveler and if you like funny and/or entertaining stories, this might be a good pick for you!

The book is organized by location, which I really enjoyed. Beddall recounts stories that happened to him to and from each of these places. Most of the stories are really, really funny. The way that the stories are written are very casual and you almost feel like you're hearing stories from a friend after a couple drinks. Beddall has the chance to meet a lot of famous people and he definitely dishes on them, which I really enjoyed a lot.

This book definitely gave me an appreciation for what flight attendants have to deal with. You have the really nice passengers. There are really interesting ones. Then there are, of course, the crazy passengers that you wish that you would have never had to deal with in the first place. Being a fan of traveling, I loved getting to see the other side from the perspective of those that get us to and from all of those vacation destinations. This book makes for a good read!


 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Review: The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin

Title: The Fortune Hunter
Author: Daisy Goodwin
Format: ARC
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publish Date: July 29, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "In 1875, Sisi, the Empress of Austria is the woman that every man desires and every woman envies.

Beautiful, athletic and intelligent, Sisi has everything - except happiness. Bored with the stultifying etiquette of the Hapsburg Court and her dutiful but unexciting husband, Franz Joseph, Sisi comes to England to hunt. She comes looking for excitement and she finds it in the dashing form of Captain Bay Middleton, the only man in Europe who can outride her. Ten years younger than her and engaged to the rich and devoted Charlotte, Bay has everything to lose by falling for a woman who can never be his. But Bay and the Empress are as reckless as each other, and their mutual attraction is a force that cannot be denied."


My Two Cents:

In "The Fortune Hunter," Charlotte Baird knows that she has her life planned out for her. Heir to an innumerable fortune, she knows that she can have any man she would like (and many come begging at her door but she fears that it is mostly due to her fortune). So when Bay Middleton (yes, if you are wondering - he is indeed related to the current Duchess of Cambridge distantly) enters Charlotte's life and he seems to truly be interested in her and not her money, Charlotte falls for him hard. There plan to be married until Sisi, the infamous Empress of Austria comes to England. This is a great historical fiction with lots of big personalities and courtly intrigue. I ate it up!

I loved Charlotte's character. She is very much her own woman and seems to understand that with or without a man, she can successfully live her own life due to her great wealth. She gets deeply into photography and art and loves making it even when others consider it to not be a worthwhile passion for a lady of good breeding.

I also really loved Sisi. Sisi is made up of the stuff of legends and was so much fun to read about. She apparently had hair that went down to the floor and had to sleep with it tied to the ceiling in order to keep it untangled. She also had a penchant for using raw (yes, RAW) veal steaks on her face in order to keep it looking fresh (so gross but sooooo intriguing). If tabloids existed in her day, Sisi would have made the front covers of all of them.

Bay is pulled in between these two forces of nature. He was a famous horseman in his day and was well-renowned for his skill. He could have just about any woman in the world and he finds two of the most intriguing bachelorettes. It was really interesting to me to read about how he was pulled between them and what he liked about each of these totally different women!

This was a great book to get lost in. The characters are vivid. The historical detail is fantastic. The drama and action throughout the book kept me thoroughly entertained!



Follow Daisy Online:




Twitter: https://twitter.com/daisygoodwinuk
 

Review: Cry of the Fish Eagle by Peter Rimmer

Title: Cry of the Fish Eagle
Author: Peter Rimmer
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Self-published
Publish Date: March 20, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the PR; however, this did not affect my review.






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "The heart-breaking and mostly forgotten African period in history of Rhodesia to present day Zimbabwe, is told in this wonderfully written book, CRY OF THE FISH EAGLE.

It’s the story of Rupert Pengelly who first heard the CRY OF THE FISH EAGLE when he was stationed in Rhodesia for six months during the Second World War. As he was to find and as the saying goes, once you have heard the CRY OF THE FISH EAGLE, you will always come back to Africa!

It is during that first six months, Rupert searches for Sasa, the orphaned daughter of his friend, Rigby Savage. Rupert was honouring a promise made to Rigby to care for Sasa if anything did happen to him. To complicate the search, Sasa's eccentric grandfather, Kobus Loubser, had taken the young orphan into the bush prospecting for emeralds.

The search is unsuccessful and Rupert returns to the war, with intentions afterwards of farming the family estate in Cornwall. However a distant cousin, George Geake, conspires to cheat him out of his inheritance and Rupert loses his beloved home. His only option is to return to Rhodesia to begin a new life as a tobacco farmer and to continue his search for Sasa.

Although their destinies are bound together, it is many years before Rupert and Sasa meet but meanwhile, Kobus acquires a business partner in Lewdly Jones, a remittance man, who develops a passion for Sasa.

The years pass and Rupert triumphs over adversity. But another war is looming. The irrepressible tide of Black Nationalism is sweeping through Africa and a new generation of men like Tererai Ndoro and Lovemore Ngwenya have joined the struggle for Zimbabwe. All their lives are about to change forever. But still, they are all enslaved by the CRY OF THE FISH EAGLE."


My Two Cents:

 "Cry of the Fish Eagle" is the story of a changing time in the history of Rhodesia, which is now the country of Zimbabwe. Set against this changing time, the characters struggle both with each other and with the changing country. The characters are really the stars of this tale with the historical detail providing a lush and interesting backdrop for the action of the story.

This is story really fits into the vein of an epic story with Rupert Pengelly at the center of it. During WWII, Pengelly finds himself in Rhodesia looking for Sasa, the daughter of his friend. Pengelly knows that he must find her and his journey will take him all over the countryside into places that are facing very difficult times. This journey will change Rupert's perspective and himself over and over again as the story progresses. I really enjoyed reading about him. He is driven to do what he first promised, no matter how difficult it gets. The secondary characters also made for interesting reading as well, especially Sasa. Sasa exemplifies the hardship that so many others are going through during this time of change and turmoil.

The pacing of the book worked well for the most part. It did get a little confusing with the time changes and I kept having to go back to figure out where in the sequence of events the narrative was. There were some parts of the book that could have been slimmed down. My fellow historical fiction lovers are going to love all of the detail, which really helps to bring the story to life.

If you all have read my blog before, you know how much I love traveling different places through books. This book provides the reader with a great opportunity to travel to the heart of Africa!



Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: Prototype by M.D. Waters

Title: Prototype
Author: M.D. Waters
Format: ARC
Publisher: Dutton
Publish Date: July 24, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the PR; however, this did not affect my review.






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads: "Emma looks forward to the day when she can let go of her past—both of them. After more than a year on the run, with clues to her parents’ whereabouts within her grasp, she may finally find a place to settle down. Start a new life. Maybe even create new memories with a new family.

But the past rises to haunt her and to make sure there’s nowhere on the planet she can hide. Declan Burke wants his wife back, and with a little manipulation and a lot of reward money, he’s got the entire world on his side. Except for the one man she dreads confronting the most: Noah Tucker.

Emma returns to face what she’s done but finds that the past isn’t the problem. It’s the present—and the future it represents. Noah has moved on and another woman is raising their daughter.

In the shocking conclusion to M.D. Waters’s spectacular debut, Emma battles for her life and her freedom, tearing down walls and ripping off masks to reveal the truth. She’s decided to play their game and prove she isn’t the woman they thought she was. Even if it means she winds up dead. Or worse, reborn."


My Two Cents:

Okay, first things first, "Prototype" is a fantastic conclusion to the epic sci-fi story that M.D. Waters started in "Archetype." The book takes place awhile after "Archetype" left off. Emma is on the run. She knows that she needs to try to find her parents. She knows she must stay away from Declan, the husband that married her under false pretenses. The problem is that she isn't sure where to search and she is not sure where she will be safe. She thinks she will be safest with Noah, her first husband that she was torn away, from but their relationship has obviously changed. Filled with a lot of action and fantastic world building, this book thoroughly and utterly engaged me. If you are looking to read a book that packs a punch, this is a great pick!

You really should read the first book in this series or you may not understand "Prototype." It would be best for you to read these books together if possible so that you can see Emma's story all the way through right from the start!

I was so excited for this book after loving "Archetype" so much. One thing I love about sci-fi is when it has really good world-building and this book definitely has it. You can see the turmoil of Emma's world. You fully understand what happened in order to get the world to the point it's at. I loved all of the detail that the author included as it really helped me be fully engaged with the book.

The main character, Emma, continued to be a fantastic character in this book. Emma lives in a world where women can literally be bought. Need a wife? You can have your perfect Stepford beauty made to order, if you'd like. She is a former resistance fighter who still yearns to help change the world, even after all that she has been through. I loved her strength and resilience! She is definitely a character to root for!

The writing of the book continued to be really good. I loved the way that the author kept the book moving at a quick clip. The book definitely has nice pacing and you can almost feel Emma's desperation through the words. Overall, this was a great book and one that I know that I'm going to want to revisit in the future!


HF Virtual Book Tours: The Queen's Exiles by Barbara Kyle

Title: The Queen's Exiles
Author: Barbara Kyle
Format: ARC
Publisher: Kensington
Publish Date: May 27, 2014
Source: HF Virtual Book Tours






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "1572. Europe is in turmoil. In the Netherlands the streets are red with the blood of those who dare to oppose the brutal Spanish occupation. A vengeful faction of exiled English Catholics is plotting to overthrow Queen Elizabeth and install her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne. But amid the unrest, one resourceful young woman has made a lucrative enterprise ...

Scottish-born Fenella Doorn rules like a queen over a privateer's haven on the Isle of Sark. Her success at salvaging crippled vessels affords her gold and security, and it is on one of these ships that she meets wealthy Baron—and privateer—Adam Thornleigh. Secretly drawn to him, Fenella can’t refuse when Adam enlists her to join him in war-torn Brussels to help find his traitorous wife, Frances—and the children she’s taken from him.

But Fenella’s own bold actions have put a price on her head. Now Adam and Fenella’s lives are in peril as they race across Europe in an attempt to rescue his young ones, defend the crown, and restore the peace that few can remember."


My Two Cents: 

"The Queen's Exiles is the sixth book in Kyle's Thornleigh series. The books take place during Elizabethan times. Each book can be read as a standalone story. "The Queen's Exiles" has a really fascinating setting and takes place in Spanish occupied Netherlands. I actually did not realize how thoroughly entrenched Spain was in that area and those details made this book really interesting to me!

The book centers on Fenella Doorn. Born in Scotland originally, she has made a good life for herself salvaging ships on Sark, one of the Channel Islands. I really enjoyed reading about her. Kyle does note that Fenella is a wholly fictional character but you really do get a good sense of how people were living as exiles during that time period. We get to see just how chaotic things were during that time period.

I've said it before and I will say it again, but one of the things that I most love about historical fiction is how you can learn something new from it. This book was very much in that vein for me. I really did not know much of anything about what was happening in the Netherlands during this time period. Kyle included a lot of good detail. I wish that we would have gotten to see a lot of the action more first hand as it was usually told through recounts and remembrances.

Overall, I enjoyed this story. The detail makes it a treat for my fellow historical fiction fans.  



Follow the Rest of the Tour:


Monday, June 16
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, June 17
Excerpt & Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court
Friday, June 20
Guest Post & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Monday, June 23
Review & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, June 24
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Thursday, June 26
Guest Post at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Monday, June 30
Review at HF Book Muse-News
Review & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Wednesday, July 2
Guest Post & Giveaway at HF Book Muse-News
Monday, July 7
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Wednesday, July 9
Review at Historical Tapestry
Thursday, July 10
Guest Post & Giveaway at HF Connection
Friday, July 11
Review at Dianne Ascroft Blog
Monday, July 14
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Wednesday, July 16
Review & Giveaway at Luxury Reading
Thursday, July 17
Review at Griperang’s Bookmarks
Friday, July 18
Interview at Griperang’s Bookmarks
Monday, July 21
Review at Always with a Book
Wednesday, July 23
Guest Post & Giveaway at Always with a Book
Thursday, July 24
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Friday, July 25
Review at Sharon’s Garden of Book Reviews
Monday, July 28
Review at A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, July 29
Review at The True Book Addict
Wednesday, July 30
Guest Post & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Thursday, July 31
Interview at Passages to the Past
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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Review: Portobello Road: Lives of a Neighbourhood by Julian Mash

Title: Portobello Road: Lives of a Neighbourhood
Author: Julian Mash
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Ltd.
Publish Date: July 25, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.





What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Designed as a series of snapshots, told through the eyes of those who have lived it, this is the alternative history of a street rich in diversity, full of fascinating voices and unlikely encounters. Portobello Road and the surrounding neighbourhood is perhaps the most important source and barometer of social and cultural change in Britain over the last fifty years. Themes of slumification, gentrification, London as a melting pot, vintage fashion, independent record labels and the life and death of record shops emerge from these street-level accounts of the dealers and DJs, film-makers and fashionistas, punks, politicians, producers and poets who make the street what it is. In four sections covering the market, the music scene, the Carnival and the changing local population, Julian Mash weaves together their extraordinary stories."

My Two Cents:

"Portobello Road" is a travelogue that brings to life the sights and sounds of London's Portobello Road area. After reading this book, I know that this is an area that I would absolutely love to visit the next time I happen to be in London. This is a great collection of stories about the people and places that make up this vibrant neighborhood!

I love to travel and when I can't travel, books are definitely one of the best ways to visit a new place without leaving my favorite chair. Hurray for armchair traveling and hurray for travel writing! This book doesn't only give you a good sense of place but it gives you a good sense of people too. Mash spent many, many hours interviewing a lot of people that live and work on Portobello Road. He didn't just interview them about the place but also about some of their life stories. The care that he took in curating the interviews is definitely apparent in this book. I loved some of these stories.

The book is broken into different stories. Some of the stories cover various places along Portobello Road. Some of them cover the merchants that have made their living along the road. One of my favorite stories involves the little bookstore on Portobello Road (I know, so typical Meg). The bookstore, which is now called the Notting Hill Bookstore, was the inspiration for the adorable bookstore in the romantic comedy "Notting Hill" (ah yes, I love that movie).

Are you looking to do some good armchair traveling? Pick up this book and get to know the people and places of "Portobello Road!"


 

Friday, July 25, 2014

#SRC2014 Review: My Last Kiss by Bethany Neal

Title: My Last Kiss
Author: Bethany Neal
Format: ARC
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Publish Date: June 10, 2014
Source: BookSparks Summer Reading Challenge






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "What if your last kiss was with the wrong boy?

Cassidy Haines remembers her first kiss vividly. It was on the old covered bridge the summer before her freshman year with her boyfriend of three years, Ethan Keys. But her last kiss--the one she shared with someone at her seventeenth birthday party the night she died--is a blur. Cassidy is trapped in the living world, not only mourning the loss of her human body, but left with the grim suspicion that her untimely death wasn't a suicide as everyone assumes. She can't remember anything from the weeks leading up to her birthday and she's worried that she may have betrayed her boyfriend.

If Cassidy is to uncover the truth about that fateful night and make amends with the only boy she'll ever love, she must face her past and all the decisions she made--good and bad--that led to her last kiss.

Bethany Neal's suspenseful debut novel is about the power of first love and the haunting lies that threaten to tear it apart."


My Two Cents:

In "My Last Kiss," Cassidy dies at her birthday party. The circumstances are mysterious and no one is really sure what happens. Cassidy doesn't understand how she died and as a ghost, it's up to her to figure out what happened. The police rule it as a open and shut case of suicide but Cassidy knows better even if she can't put her finger on it as to why she knows that didn't happen. She can't remember and nothing is making sense. She needs to figure out what happened to her before she is allowed to go to the great beyond. Her beloved boyfriend, Ethan, is still able to see her and together they hope that they can find out what happened so that Cassidy can have her peace. This is a good YA mystery with a lot of paranormal activity. I was a little unsure of the premise but it really worked out and I enjoyed this light read!

There were a lot of twists and turns in this book. Any time there is a mystery in a book, I love being able to not figure out what happened until the very end. You definitely get that in this book as Neal leads the readers astray a lot of different times. Cassidy is able to follow her circle of friends, even if she can only communicate with Ethan and she finds out that a lot of them were hiding secrets too. Cassidy was hiding secrets as well, such as cheating on Ethan with outcast Caleb, and she thinks that might have been why she died.

The characters in the book weren't exactly likeable except for Ethan and Cassidy's friend, Aimee. Even Cassidy herself did some things that made her unlikeable but you can still sympathize for her situation. I thought it was really cool how Neal was able to give Cassidy that sort of gray area. It definitely made for a more interesting story.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! 



 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: Eat Now; Talk Later by James Vescovi

Title: Eat Now; Talk Later
Author: James Vescovi
Format: Ebook
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publish Date: May 1, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the author; however, this did not affect my review.






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Prepare yourself for a feast consumed in delicious bites. Stories in this collection can be read before bed, on a lunch hour, or waiting in line. They can even be shared with friends who complain they have enough to read. Together they ask the question, “How do you make modern life run smoothly for parents or grandparents who grew up when oxen were used for plowing, children left school after third grade to tend chickens, and meat was eaten only on religious holidays?

When Tony and Desolina Vescovi arrived in America,they collided with the 20th century. Born around 1900, they were stumped by telephones, banks, fast food, TV wrestling, and supermarkets. It was up to their only child, a son, to serve as their shepherd, and it wasn’t easy For example, how to explain that his job was taking him and his family 700 miles away when, in their day, sons stayed put to work the family farm? Or that it wasn’t wise to hide $10,000 in the bedroom? Or that the ice cream they just tried and enjoyed is called ‘Chubby Hubby’?"


My Two Cents:

"Eat Now; Talk Later" is a family memoir that James Vescovi wrote with his beloved grandparents at the center of it. These stories are bite size and many of them are only a few pages along. This would be a great book to consume a little bit at a time and really savor the stories (if you can help it and not devour it like I did). Because the stories are so short and really good, I kept saying to myself "Just one more" and would end up reading at least three more. No. Self. Control. If you like warm family stories and short stories, this would be a great pick for you.

I have a fascination with immigrant families. My own family has only been in the States since the 20th century for the most part and I love reading about families that came here with nothing and through a lot of hard work and in this case, a lot of family support are able to do some really wonderful things. You definitely get a sense of Vescovi's grandparents and how brave they must have been in order to give up some place so familiar in order to come to the States.

Perhaps you could tell from the cover but if you couldn't, the family at the center of the book is Italian and that, of course, means a ton of yummy food. The book even includes a couple family recipes at the back of the book, which was a touch that I really enjoyed. Another special touch is the family pictures that the author included!

And while this did not affect my review, I have to tell you all how much I like the cover of this book. It is really cute and definitely captures the title as well as all of the big family meals that appear in the book. This is a great cover!


 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

#SRC2014: Serenade by Emily Kiebel

Title: Serenade
Author: Emily Kiebel
Format: Ebook
Publisher: SparksPress
Publish Date: July 15, 2014
Source: BookSparks Summer Reading Challenge






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Lorelei Clark's only concern was her future as a classically trained soprano, that is, until the day her father was tragically killed. Shattered by his death, she hesitantly accepts an invitation from a mysterious aunt to visit her lavish oceanside home in Cape Cod. She quickly discovers that her aunt and the two women who live with her are harboring a frightening secret they are sirens, terrifying mythical creatures responsible for singing doomed sailors to their deaths. Even more astounding, Lorelei is one of them.

In this new world where water comes alive at her touch and an ancient power pulses beneath the tide, the most important rule Lorelei must learn is that a siren never interferes with fate. When she breaks this rule by rescuing a handsome sailor who should have died at sea, the sirens vow she must finish the job or face grave consequences. Finding herself inexplicably attracted to him, she must fight to keep him safe from the others, even if it means risking her own life, and her heart, in the process."


My Two Cents:

Lorelei only thinks she has to worry about doing well at school with her singing. She has a bunch of natural talent but come to find out, that natural talent may not be so natural after all. This is a paranormal story where nothing is as it seems. Lorelei may actually come from a line of sirens. The sirens are, of course, those mythological creatures who are beautiful and potentially dangerous. As the myth goes, they have beautiful voices that they can potentially use in order to draw men deep into the sea.

Once I got into this book, I really enjoyed it. It opened a little slowly as we learn about Lorelei's time at her school and her singing practice. Once the mythological elements start coming into play, the book really picked up. Then things start to happen and Lorelei is forced to focus on something more than school (I don't want to give to much away). Lorelei begins to find out more about her family legacy once she goes to visit an aunt who can shed more than a little light about where Lorelei's family really comes from. It is definitely not anything that Lorelei expects. I liked how Kiebel did not show all her cards at once with the book. You get a little detail at a time to keep you going.

I really liked that Kiebel chose to write about sirens. I am absolutely fascinated by them. They definitely made for a good subject for a book. Kiebel adds a lot of detail so that even if you are not familiar with sirens, you will still understand the story and you will learn about them in the process.

Definitely a good paranormal read!


 

Review: Jex Malone by C.L. Gaber and V.C. Stanley

Title: Jex Malone
Authors: C.L. Gaber and V.C. Stanley
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Merit Press
Publish Date: June 18, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Bored out of her mind during a summer with her police detective father in Las Vegas, Jessica (aka "Jex") Malone starts doing what she does best--snooping. When she meets three new friends who share her passion for crime, from the geek to the fashionista, suddenly, the stifling desert days don't seem so long.

Her dad is never around, just like when her parents were married. But Jex's crew, the Drew-Ids, take the pledge of eternal secrecy and then get down to the good stuff--digging through the cold-case files in Dad's home office.

One of them, the thirteen-year-old case of Patty Matthews, is still a mystery. Finding Patty, who vanished into thin air, became such an obsession for Jex's father that it destroyed the Malones' marriage. So not only is this a big deal, it's personal.

Jex is determined to find out what really happened, and her excitement is contagious. Soon her friends are all on board and so is the missing girl's brother, the hunky Cooper Matthews.

But as they dig up more and more troubling information--more than the cops ever did--they also get the clear message that someone out there wants to prevent the truth from coming out. That somebody is also prepared to do anything, absolutely anything, to prevent it."


My Two Cents:

Jessica "Jex" Malone is not happy about being shipped off to her dad's house for the summer. After her parents' messy divorce, the judge orders her to live with her father, a police detective, for the summer. Jex is sure that it's going to be horrible and boring. Luckily, she meets new friends and being as nosy and curious as she is, she and her new friends decide to see if they can solve one of her father's cold cases. Hey, at least it's something to do!

This was a really fun read and I think it will appeal to a lot of YA readers. This book is very much in the vein of a Nancy Drew novel - there is enough action to keep you excited and into the book but the subject matter is still pretty tame. I loved the mystery in the book and I loved how the authors were able to keep the readers guessing about what happened with the girl whose disappearance Jex and her friends decide to take on.

The other thing that I really liked about the book was Jex's voice in the story. There is a lot going on in her life besides just solving the disappearance. She is trying to figure out how to have a relationship with her father as she feels that he was mostly an absentee father and may have only wanted her to live with him for the summer to spite Jex's mother. Jex has a super smart voice that was very original too! I loved following her adventures in the book.

I flew through this book! The characters were good and I loved the twists and turns. This was a thoroughly fun read!


 

Review: Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal

Title: Dollbaby
Author: Laura Lane McNeal
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Publish Date: July 3, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "When Ibby Bell’s father dies unexpectedly in the summer of 1964, her mother unceremoniously deposits Ibby with her eccentric grandmother Fannie and throws in her father’s urn for good measure. Fannie’s New Orleans house is like no place Ibby has ever been—and Fannie, who has a tendency to end up in the local asylum—is like no one she has ever met. Fortunately, Fannie’s black cook, Queenie, and her smart-mouthed daughter, Dollbaby, take it upon themselves to initiate Ibby into the ways of the South, both its grand traditions and its darkest secrets.

For Fannie’s own family history is fraught with tragedy, hidden behind the closed rooms in her ornate Uptown mansion. It will take Ibby’s arrival to begin to unlock the mysteries there. And it will take Queenie and Dollbaby’s hard-won wisdom to show Ibby that family can sometimes be found in the least expected places."


My Two Cents:

Ibby isn't sure what to expect when her mother takes her to New Orleans to stay with her eccentric grandmother, Fannie (who is white), and her grandmother's cook, Queenie (who is black), and Queenie's daughter, Dollbaby. It's the 1960s and Ibby has a lot to learn. This is a good coming of age story with fantastic historical detail that I really enjoyed!

One of the highlights of the book for me was really the characters. Ibby doesn't know much when she is unceremoniously deposited at her grandmother's house. She is young and ignorant of the way that the world works in a lot of way. I also loved Fannie, Queenie, and Dollbaby. They were really good characters and I loved the way that McNeal was able to bring them to life. I loved the way that their conversations were written. I thought that was really key in making them feel realistic. Even though it is really Ibby that is doing the most growing in the book, we do see each person change in their own way.

I loved the historical element of the book. 1960s New Orleans seems like a really fascinating time period to have lived in. Things were starting to change but rascism still played a prevalent role in society. This book explores some of that, which was fascinating to me. It is especially fascinating with regard to the characters in the book! You can see the city clearly through the author's descriptions!

Overall, this was a good pick!


 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review: Wanted: Dead or in Love by Kym Brunner

Title: Wanted: Dead or in Love
Author: Kym Brunner
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Merit Press
Publish Date: June 30, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.





 What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Impulsive high school senior Monroe Baker is on probation for a recent crime, but strives to stay out of trouble by working as a flapper at her father's Roaring 20's dinner show theater. When she cuts herself on one of the spent bullets from her father's gangster memorabilia collection, she unwittingly awakens Bonnie Parker's spirit, who begins speaking to Monroe from inside her head.

Later that evening, Monroe shows the slugs to Jack, a boy she meets at a party. He unknowingly becomes infected by Clyde, who soon commits a crime using Jack's body. The teens learn that they have less than twenty-four hours to ditch the criminals or they'll share their bodies with the deadly outlaws indefinitely."


My Two Cents:

The premise for "Wanted: Dead or in Love" is fascinating. Monroe, a teen, who is at risk of developing a rap sheet for herself becomes inhabited by the spirit of Bonnie Parker, as in the Bonnie from Bonnie & Clyde. Her new friend, Jack, becomes inhabited by Clyde. Neither one of them are sure of what is happening to them but they realize early on that they need to put a stop to it before they get in more trouble. This is a highly imaginative young adult read that will have you flipping the pages quickly.

I really liked how the author split up the narrative. Part belongs to Monroe and part belongs to Clyde. I thought it was a really interesting choice to only have one member of the present duo and one member of the past duo narrate. It was interesting to see their take on each other's times and stories. I especially liked reading how Clyde was seeing things from within Jack's body. It was a really interesting perspective.

This book is a lot of fun. The story line is very different and will appeal to many different kinds of readers. I loved that it had both a present element and a past element (you all know how I love my historical fiction). You also have an almost sci-fi/ fantasy element with the whole spiritual inhabiting. I loved how Brunner was able to capture Bonnie and Clyde's language and way of speaking. You can almost picture them saying the things that they were saying in the book. I love when characters' voices are that vivid! It really makes for fun reading!


 

Review: The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman

Title: The Confidence Code
Authors: Katty Kay and Claire Shipman
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: HarperBusiness
Publish Date: April 15, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the PR; however, this did not affect my review.






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "Confidence. We want it. We need it. But it can be maddeningly enigmatic and out of reach. The authors of the New York Times bestseller Womenomics deconstruct this essential, elusive, and misunderstood quality and offer a blueprint for bringing more of it into our lives.

Is confidence hardwired into the DNA of a lucky few—or can anyone learn it? Is it best expressed by bravado, or is there another way to show confidence? Which is more important: confidence or competence? Why do so many women, even the most successful, struggle with feelings of self-doubt? Is there a secret to channeling our inner confidence?

In The Confidence Code, journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman travel to the frontiers of neuroscience on a hunt for the confidence gene and reveal surprising new research on its roots in our brains. They visit the world's leading psychologists who explain how we can all chose to become more confident simply by taking action and courting risk, and how those actions change our physical wiring. They interview women leaders from the worlds of politics, sports, the military, and the arts to learn how they have tapped into this elemental resource. They examine how a lack of confidence impacts our leadership, success, and fulfillment.

Ultimately, they argue, while confidence is partly influenced by genetics, it is not a fixed psychological state. That's the good news. You won't discover it by thinking positive thoughts or by telling yourself (or your children) that you are perfect as you are. You also won't find it by simply squaring your shoulders and faking it. But it does require a choice: less people pleasing and perfectionism and more action, risk taking, and fast failure."


My Two Cents:

Are confident women made or born? In this well-researched book, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman look at the factors that affect confidence, specifically in women. They look at confident women like Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and how she copes with being a confident woman in a man's world. They look at scientific and psychological research to find out whether or not some of us might be more predisposed to confidence than others. They also look at themselves as two female journalists who have preconceived notions of what it means to be confident and where confidence is found.

Now that I'm a full-fledged adult in the workplace, that recurring nightmare that I had during school where I forgot about writing a huge paper until the night before it was due (this nightmare will incite fear amongst my fellow type-A friends) has been replaced by a nightmare in which I have to do any sort of public speaking in front of a crowd. While I never forgot about a paper in all of the years that I was in school, I do have to do quite a bit of speaking at work and it is scary! I know that I'm not alone in this fear but it doesn't make it any easier to drum up my confidence to say what I know I need to say! This book explores whether we are born with confidence or if it is something that we can work to develop.

This book also looks at not only how to develop your own confidence but also how to develop confidence in those you care about. There is a whole section about how to develop confidence in female children, which I thought was very interesting.

I thought this book was well-written and well-researched. I know that it is a book that I will go back to time and time again!


 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: Expecting by Ann Lewis Hamilton

Title: Expecting
Author: Ann Lewis Hamilton
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publish Date: July 1, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "A mom, a dad, a baby...and another dad.

Laurie and Alan are expecting, again. After two miscarriages, Laurie was afraid they'd never be able to have a child. Now she's cautiously optimistic -- the fertility treatment worked, and things seem to be different this time around. But she doesn't yet know how different.

Jack can't seem to catch a break -- his parents are on his case about graduating from college, he's somehow dating two girls at once, and he has to find a way to pay back the money he borrowed from his fraternity's party fund. The only jobs he is qualified for barely pay enough to keep him in beer money, but an ad for the local sperm bank gives Jack an idea.

Laurie and Alan's joy is shattered when their doctor reveals that Laurie was accidentally impregnated by sperm from a donor rather than her husband. Who is Donor 296. And how will their family change now that Donor 296 is inarguably part of it?"


My Two Cents:

"Expecting" is the story of Laurie and Alan. All they want is to have a baby and it does not seem like it's going to come easy. After rounds of infertility treatment, the couple has a whole other issue when they realize that Laurie was impregnated by Jack, a sort of slacker, whose sperm gets mixed up with Alan's. This book explores what it means to be a family and how you deal with the unexpected.

The book took a little while to hit its pace. It unfolds as we see everything that Laurie and Alan have been through with their struggle to become parents through flashbacks. At first I did not really connect with Laurie or Alan, which made it really hard to get into the book. Once things started happening with Laurie getting pregnant by the donor, the book really started picking up speed.

I really liked how the book focused on different characters. You get to see Laurie's feelings about finally being pregnant (even if it is not by her husband). You see Alan's struggles to understand what it means that he's not the biological father of the baby. We even get to see Jack's feelings once he gets involved with Laurie and Alan. Watching the characters confront their feelings is definitely the most interesting part of the book. Overall, this book would be a good pick for those who like to think a little bit about all of the what-if's that there are in life!


 

Review: The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming

Title: The Family Romanov
Author: Candace Fleming
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Publish Date: July 8, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "From the acclaimed author of Amelia Lost and The Lincolns comes a heartrending narrative nonfiction page-turner—and a perfect resource for meeting Common Core standards. When Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, inherited the throne in 1894, he was unprepared to do so. With their four daughters (including Anastasia) and only son, a hemophiliac, Nicholas and his reclusive wife, Alexandra, buried their heads in the sand, living a life of opulence as World War I raged outside their door and political unrest grew into the Russian Revolution."


My Two Cents:

"The Family Romanov" is a non-fiction history book that looks at Russia's last Tsar and his family. The book is geared for young adult readers but I believe that readers of many different ages will get something out of this book. This book is not only the history of the Romanov family but Fleming also shows what else was going on throughout Russia and that is really the part that makes this a stand out book for those who want a better understanding of what happened to the Romanov family as well as the factors that led to their horrible demise.

It is obvious that Fleming did copious amounts of research in order to bring the Romanov family and Russia to life for the readers. Her effort is well worth it as it really gave this book an edge over a lot of other books that I have read on the Revolution. This book also marks one of the few books that I have read on the Romanovs that falls under the banner of YA non-fiction. I appreciated how Fleming was able to make the events in this book accessible to younger readers without dumbing anything down. I really liked how she looked at actual correspondence about and from the Tsar and his family. I really thought that added something special to the book and really brought the historical events to life for me.

I love books about history but it's really easy for those books to focus on the big historical event and you kind of lose the context of what else was happening during the same period. Tsar Nicholas II's Russia was a place of great turmoil. There was a lot of poverty in the country. The poverty and despair throughout the country led to the anger and the subsequent political upheaval in the country The world was staring down the barrel of the first World War. Fleming has sections in the book that focus on some of the everyday Russians that were dealing with poverty and unrest. It was really interesting to see the juxtaposition between the sheer opulence of the Romanov's lifestyle and that of the Russian peasants.

Overall, this was a really good look at an important historical event!


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Review: Dark Aemilia by Sally O'Reilly

Title: Dark Aemilia
Author: Sally O'Reilly
Format: ARC
Publisher: Picador
Publish Date: May 27, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.






What's the Story?:

From Goodreads.com: "The daughter of a Venetian musician, Aemilia Bassano came of age in Queen Elizabeth’s royal court. The Queen’s favorite, she develops a love of poetry and learning, maturing into a young woman known not only for her beauty but also her sharp mind and quick tongue. Aemilia becomes the mistress of Lord Hunsdon, but her position is precarious. Then she crosses paths with an impetuous playwright named William Shakespeare and begins an impassioned but ill-fated affair.

A decade later, the Queen is dead, and Aemilia Bassano is now Aemilia Lanyer, fallen from favor and married to a fool. Like the rest of London, she fears the plague. And when her young son Henry takes ill, Aemilia resolves to do anything to save him, even if it means seeking help from her estranged lover, Will—or worse, making a pact with the Devil himself."



My Two Cents:

Aemilia Bassano was a published poet, a major feat for a woman of her time (this story takes place during the height of the Elizabethan era). She also may have been one of the muses for the one and only William Shakespeare. The operative phrase here is "may have been." In this book, O'Reilly explores who Aemilia was and makes a conjecture as to what her relationship may be have been with Shakespeare. It is a fascinating look, which will interest my fellow historical fiction readers.

Aemilia is a very fascinating figure. Although she had many achievements for a woman of her time, her fate is still very much tied up with the men that she marries or loves. Although Aemilia may have been Shakespeare's muse, they do not share many scenes in this book. The book really focuses on Aemilia's life and Will almost plays a sub-role throughout the book. I wish that Will had been in the book more as I really love reading about him! I wish that there had been more of a focus on some parts of her life (maybe more about how her and Will's relationship started)than others but overall, you get a really nice overview of her story.

There was some really good writing here. O'Reilly tries and succeeds in capturing the sort of bawdy language that might have been bandied about during Shakespeare's time. It really added a nice air to the book!


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