Books are cheaper than heroin, but they DO add up....

Amy, Carrie, Chanin and Sarah buy (and read and review) their own stuff. They've been known to shop around from dealer to dealer looking for the best price. If you're interested in slipping them something to try out, just contact us.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks

I could sit in that chair
for days.  With coffee, of course.
This is for all of you Nicholas Sparks lovers out there.  You are out there, aren't you?  I love his stories.  They are chock-full of emotion, feeling, connection and love.  But they are also chock-full of sadness.  Heavy, heavy sadness.  That is why I can only read one of his works every year or so.

This year I decided on The Best of Me.  It features two high school sweethearts with the odds HEAVILY stacked against them.  Dawson is from the wrong side of the tracks and hails from a family known for violence and numerous run ins with the law.  Amanda comes from money and a family that expects her to marry nothing less.  After a  mostly secret courtship during high school, Dawson pushes Amanda to go to college and forget about their relationship.  The pain endures over the years as Dawson  endures a stint in prison (for a traffic accident that killed a man) and as he performs his lonely duties on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean.  Amanda on the other hand, fulfills her families wishes, marries well and goes on to have three children.  Her adult life is consumed by child rearing and charity work with Dawson always in the back of her mind.  And then one day they are both summoned back to Oriental, their hometown.  Unbeknownst to each of them, a man they had in common in their past included them in his will with very specific instructions.  Their feelings and desires are still present after all of the years apart and their future will be determined by the how they spend the next 48 hours.

For those of you that are frequent Sparks readers, this book will not disappoint.  It has all the marks of a classic Sparks tale.  You have your love, your serene surroundings for more love, and the tell-tale family drama for even more love.  What I do love about Nicholas Sparks is his ability to paint such a clean, clear picture.  Whether it was the dusty garage where Dawson and Amanda would sit for hours and talk while Dawson fixed old cars or if it was the field of wildflowers they discovered hidden away next to a flowing stream, I was there.  It was THAT real.  And I'm not sure how he does it time after time, but his characters are also always so very real.  He creates such seemingly normal people.  Could I picture myself as Amanda?  Totally.  Is it easy to imagine falling for a guy like Dawson?  Again, yes.  And that is what I think makes this book (and all of his others) so hard for me to read.  If I can put myself there, then it could actually happen!  I don't want to have someone I love taken from me.  I don't want to live a life full of regret.  And I certainly don't want to live through having to make such heart-wrenching choices over and over again.  The sadness is just too overwhelming!

Every time I read a Nicholas Sparks book I cry my eyes out.  This time was no exception.  I can't imagine what would happen if I actually watched one of the movie adaptations.  I think I will stick to reading them in the privacy of my own home....once a year. Pin It

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Devil's Corner by Lisa Scottoline

My first autograph from a
non-baseball player.
I'm somewhat of a book nerd.   Ok, who am I kidding?  I blog about books I've read.  I'm not SOMEWHAT of a book nerd, I AM a book nerd.  Need more proof?  Check the picture.  That's right.  That is an autograph (and an 'xoxo' thank you very much) from one of my new favorite authors,  Lisa Scottoline.  She was at the National Book Festival in September and when I was supposed to be in the Mary Pope Osborne line with my kids, I snuck over to see her.  Her line was relatively short (everything was short compared to Ms. Magic Treehouse), my kids had water, and their aunts were kind enough to wait with why not?  She relayed to me some of her personal experiences surrounding her work in Save Me and even gave me a hug! A hug! It was pretty cool, if I do say so myself.

I swear I had already reviewed Save Me here at TFA, but it seems I did not.  (Ugh, I hate getting old and forgetting things.  I'll have to review it in the next month or so.).  But anyway, after meeting her and having my book signed, I wanted more. Meeting an author does that to you, I think.  I went to the library the next day and checked out Devil's Corner. 

So did I like Devil's Corner as much as Save Me?  Yes.  Possibly even more.  Devil's Corner is Scottoline's 12th novel and tells the story of US Attorney Vicki Allegretti in the midst of her most recent case.  The book opens with Vicki and her ATF partner Morty, calling on an informant for a scheduled interview.  The informant is home but so are the thugs who are robbing her.  Vicki then falls victim to a robbery, watches her partner die in the ensuing firefight and finds her pregnant informant dead upstairs.  All of that is just in the first two chapters, my friends.  The deeper Vicki digs however, the more she finds that Morty's death may have not been an accident.  Her findings lead her to one of the most notorious drug rings in Philadelphia.  There, she finds an unlikely accomplice/ally in an ex-con just released from prison.  oh, and did I mention she gets the added pressure of trying to suppress her deep desire for a married man who is also her best friend?  In short, Vicki is one busy gal.

This book reminded me of some of the older Patricia Cornwell novels that featured Kay Scarpetta, only with less technical jargon and more likeable characters.  With Scarpetta I got a rough-around-the-edges feel versus a tough but also more sensitive vibe from Allegretti.  I like the tough and sensitive better.  I thought it was refreshing to let your lead female character show her vulnerabilities every once in a while without letting it sacrifice her professionalism.  Allegretti also had the influence of her parents (both lawyers) in the story.  That was an interesting twist that allowed us to see a more complete picture of Allegretti.

I am pretty sure (Google told me) that this is the only one of Scottoline's novels that features Vicki Allegretti.  I'm bummed, but maybe I shouldn't be.  There are plenty of other Scottoline novels out there that sound like they would make for some great reads.  I will probably save some of those to read next summer.  For now, I'm researching who will be attending the 2013 installment of the National Book Festival.  Who needs a hug?

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

Anyone frantically looking for a place to let their attention rest while the talking heads on TV pretend they know what's going on with this election?

Me, too.

I voted, and I hope you did, too.  I just CAN NOT STAND the part of Election Night where everyone tries to predict an outcome with only 3% of precincts reporting.  So in the vein of providing you something else to think about, I give you Toby Daye.

Or, rather, Seanan McGuire gives you Toby Daye.

(If that author names sounds familiar it's because I reviewed the first of her InCryptid novels here.)

Toby Daye is a changeling, which in Toby's world means one parent is fae while the other is human.  She's a fairly weak changeling for her kind, and at the beginning of the Rosemary and Rue things aren't going well for her. In the human world, Toby is a private investigator, but in Faerie she's a knight-errant.  Her liege sends her on a mission that uses her P.I. skills, and unfortunately, Toby gets turned into a koi.  Yes, you read that right.  Toby becomes a big goldfish.

She spends 14 years this way before, inexplicably, she changes back.  By then the human world has moved on without her, and she's furious with Faerie for all she's lost.  The loss of a fae friend and ally pushes Toby back into the fae world so she can identify her friend's murderer.

I actually started Rosemary and Rue twice.  Toby is at a loss when the book opens.  I don't blame her; if I spent 14 years of my life in a pond I'd probably be a bit aimless, too.  But this makes for a dreary opening for a story set in a really interesting world.  There are bridge trolls and selkies and Cait Sidhe.  So? Interesting.  There's also well justified bitterness (well, ruefulness, more likely) in Toby, and she's basically ignoring everything but her cats.  So? Dreary.  That made is easy to set Toby aside for me.  Finally, though, based on my love of Discount Armageddon I went back to Rosemary and Rue, and I'm glad I did.

Toby is tough and loyal and smart, and she takes you on a crazy journey into the magic of Faerie trying to solve the murder of Countess Evening Winterrose.  Rosemary and Rue is a mystery, and a fantasy, and the opening of redemption story all rolled into one.  If you like your mysteries served amidst a world of Daoine Sidhe, this is the story for you.

By the end of the book, Toby's bitterness isn't limited to her feelings about her time as a koi, so this isn't an easy book.  It is, however, an good introduction to an amazing series.  (You know I couldn't just offer up one book to you, yeah?) There are currently six books in the Toby Daye series, and I devoured all six of them since the beginning of the school year.  Toby grows a lot across the series, and right now, after six, she's in a pretty good place.  If you want to find her there, you'd best pick up Rosemary and Rue. Pin It

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Shining by Stephen King

Scary; in a completely different way than the books
we've been reviewing this month.
So.....anyone want to talk about the weather?  Anyone? Yeah, me neither.  Hurricane Sandy was comparatively kind to us in Maryland, though my in-laws are struggling with her wrath in New Jersey. I just want to say that I'm very grateful that we have advance warning, emergency service providers, and sturdy structures here.  It's not like that everywhere in the world, and I'm grateful that I didn't have to experience a hurricane any other way than I just did.  I'm sending positive thoughts and prayers for quick recovery to parts of the East Coast that are just now able to assess the damage.

Enough about Frankenstorm, let's talk about scary books.  You may have noticed that I'm an official fan of Stephen King.  I think he's a master at building a mood and scaring you with the mundane to then later terrify you with the other-worldly.  I've been known to read some of Mr. King's stories with only one eye open (those of us not capable of reading braille really can't read with both of our eyes closed) while curling up into a tight ball and squealing.  I'm not too proud to admit that.  Of course, I haven't yet thrown my book in the freezer either.  And if you don't know what I'm referencing, watch the clip below.  (Lobster, I know you need no explanation.)  In honor of All Hallow's Eve, I present to you my all-time scariest Stephen King book.  All of his stories are scary in some way; like pee-a-little-in-your-pants scary and even I-didn't-realize-I-was-clenching-every-muscle-in-my-body-and-my-fingernails-may-never-come-out-of-my-palms scary.  Some of them will haunt you and some of them will ruin your dreams for a couple of nights.  That's what makes them fabulous. The Shining was Stephen King's third novel and first hardback bestseller.  It was adapted into a movie and later a mini-series.  I have read it twice, seen the movie four times, and watched the mini-series.  I know this story.  There are no more surprises in it for me.  Yet it still makes me want to turn on all the lights and make the dog stay indefinitely at my side.

Yep.  He looks crazy.
I'm sure you saw my pick for the culmination of our scary books month coming from a mile away.  And there's a reason for it.  It's mad scary.  And don't just watch the movie, cause that's not even the half of it.  From the animated topiary to stealthily stalking fire extinguishers and ballrooms filled with spirits and madness from years past, this book made me re-evaluate my feelings about elevators and vacations.  The back story: A struggling writer, Jack, gets hired as a care taker at a mountain resort for the winter.  The resort closes when the weather no longer allows access to the rest of civilization, and someone must remain there in order to keep an eye on things and dump the massive boiler system that must run to keep the pipes (and any inhabitants) from freezing.  So Jack packs up his wife Wendy and son Danny, and all their different forms of baggage (Jack is a recovering alcoholic with a tendency to rage: he was scared into sobriety after he broke Danny's arm in a drunken rage.  Jack took the job as a way to re-connect with his family and finish his book.  Then there's Danny who happens to be telepathic, though his parents are unaware of that.) and heads to Colorado.

When the family arrives, Danny realizes that the hotel itself, The Overlook, has a spirit of its own and it's not a good kind of spirit.  The chef there sees that Danny has a rare ability that he shares, and he takes Danny aside and explains to him that the hotel can only show him "pictures" that aren't dangerous.  Halloran, the chef, is leaving for his winter gig in Florida but Danny will be able to communicate with him through "the shining" that they share.  Things quickly go sideways for the family.  Danny realizes that the hotel is trying to use him as a way to feed its need for death and destruction.  Danny is strong enough to ward off the increasingly aggressive and spooky power plays (party hats how up in elevators, animal topiary chase him through the hedgerow maze, some kids who haven't actually been alive for years show up in the know, all in a day of haunting and possession), so The Overlook changes its focus.

Even the original cover is creepy!
Jack has been struggling with several things.  The book is not going well.  The insane amount of snow has forced the family indoors and cabin fever is setting in.  Jack is trying hard to stay calm but he has inherited a great deal of anger and it's about to split him at the seams.  The hotel knows a good opportunity and makes some things happen.  Though the hotel was void of alcohol when the Torrance's arrived, Jack mysteriously finds a fully-stocked bar in a ballroom that he didn't know was there.  Not in the mood to over analyze, Jack starts drinking away his troubles.  He is so successful that he doesn't question it when he notices that he's no longer drinking alone.  The bartender keeps the drinks flowing and the sympathetic ear open: Of course, Jack is angry. His wife is completely unappreciative and his son is annoying.  As a matter of fact, that sort of thing happens in the hotel all the time.  And there are things Jack can do about it.  The hotel understands. The hotel can help if Jack will let it.

Turns out that another caretaker had the same sort of issue one winter.  That caretaker murdered his family and then took his own life, so that caretaker never really went anywhere.  And now that other caretaker is happy to pour drinks for Jack Torrance and let him in on all the things he should be doing to take care of his familial problems.  First, Jack should disable communications (goodbye radio).  Then take out the only way down the mountain (snowcat gets dismantled).  Make sure the boiler gets dumped (we would hate for the hotel to blow up since it's being so nice and all).  Then explain his frustrations to his wife and kid.  With a mallet.  Or a knife.  Whatever gets them to listen.  Jack is all too eager to put this particular plan in motion.

When Danny realizes that his dad really isn't his dad anymore, he sends out a distress signal to Halloran.  Then he goes about doing his best to keep his mom and himself out of Jack's way as jack slips further and further into madness.  Then finally Jack snaps.  Halloran shows up only to be grievously wounded by Jack.  He goes after Wendy.  She manages to lock him in the walk-in pantry and run away.  Unfortunately, The Overlook doesn't give up easily and Jack is freed from the pantry by none other than the ghost of Delbert Grady, friendly bartender and murderous caretaker.  Jack manages to wound and Wendy and goes after Danny who appeals to any part of his father that may still be present.  Jack then wounds himself in an effort to give Danny time to get away from him.  Danny reminds Jack that the boiler needs to be dumped; the pressure has been building all this time.  Jack goes down to safe the hotel (essentially trying to save himself as he is now completely possessed by The Overlook) and Wendy, Danny, and Halloran escape to the snowcat Halloran used to get to the hotel.  Jack tries to dump the pressure in the boiler system but he's too late.  The boiler explodes, taking Jack and all the other spirits who were loathe to leave the hotel with it.

OK.  So now I have cold sweats just writing about this.  It's that scary.  And I read a twitter rumor that there will be a sequel(esque) that visits an adult Danny Torrance.  The possibilities!  Did he inherit his father's predilection to drink? Or his quick and vicious temper?  Is he haunted by what happened?  Does he still have the shining?  I hope the rumor is true.  I hope I get to meet Danny again.  And if I do, I hope there's room in my freezer.  Happy Halloween!

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Perfect Husband by Lisa Gardner

Scary books are not my thing.  In all honesty, scary anything is not my thing.  Just ask my husband about the time he made me ride Stitch's Great Escape (formerly known as Alien Encounter) at Magic Kingdom.  The "Happiest Place on Earth" was not so happy that day.  So when I had this brilliant idea we decided to make October all about scary books here at TFA, I didn't think I would have much material to contribute.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the book that I was currently reading (I Googled scary books and it was one that came up!) would end up qualifying for a review this month.

Scary.  But good.

Gardner writes a disturbing tale of marriage gone horribly wrong.  After she uncovers that her husband Jim is a serial murderer, Tess takes matters into her own hands and goes to the police.  Jim, a respected police officer, is eventually jailed but he escapes (of course..don't they always in scary-type stories?).  Tess knows that Jim will stop at nothing to kill her once he is released so she finds a safe place to hide her young daughter and treks across the country to hire and train with a present-day mercenary.  As an ex-Marine, J.T. is perfect for the job.  He's fit.  He's tough. Yeah, he has a drinking problem, but that is a minor detail.  At least Tess hopes it is.

So where is the scary?  Everywhere. Just the fact that she might not convince J.T. to help her train/get stronger is scary because he is her ticket to staying alive.  What if Jim finds where she hid their daughter?  Would he use her to lure Tess to him before she was ready?  What if J.T.'s sister, a FBI agent, blew her cover?  The biggest scare factor, though, is that Jim had a police background.  He had old uniforms, he knew the vernacular, he could assimilate himself into virtually any situation unnoticed.  I feared every new character Gardner introduced because I was certain that Jim was going to appear at any moment and continue his killing spree.  When the police found a severed head of one of their own in the ceiling duct of the headquarters conference room, things got particularly eerie.  Jim was a master of disguises too, which didn't help my nerves.

All in all, my first venture at reading a scary novel was a success.  It wasn't so scary that I had to quit reading it but it was scary enough that I had to take short breaks between chapters.  So, I think that means I may be ready for more scary books.  That does not mean however, that I am ready to ride Stitch's Great Escape (formerly known as Alien Encounter) again.  Dumbo ride, anyone?

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

This is a blog post wherein I demonstrate that I know nothing about graphic novels.

Keep reading, and I'm quite sure you'll figure that out for yourself.  This review is, in part, about the Locke & Key series, and, in other part, about how a book-nerd first encounters the comic book world.

First, let's review a few established facts:

  1. I'm an incessant reader.  And a darn good one at that.
  2. I read a little bit of everything, but I've never read comic books or graphic novels.
  3. I'm a self-proclaimed nerd.
  4. The Family Addiction is reviewing "scary" books for October.

When you put those first three facts together, as I did awhile ago, it raises an interesting question.

Q.     What self-respecting nerd ignores an entire genre of books?
A.     Not this one.
I'm not a fan of being uninformed.

So I cozied up to my Amazon Prime account and ordered two that were well-reviewed.  (Fun Home: A Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel we'll save for another day.)  Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez was the first one I read.  I've been ruminating on the experience and how to review it for months.  It just so happens that the Locke & Key story is freaky as all get-out, so it's a good story to review for TFA's October scare-athon.  In the opening of Welcome to Lovecraft, two teens and their kid brother are reeling from the violent death of their father.  With their mother, they move across the country to live in the house where their father grew up.  Normally, an opening involving two deranged and homicidal killers would be the part where things get weird, but it actually reads like the most straightforward piece.  Once the family arrives in Lovecraft, reality goes off its rails.  One of the killers manages to break out and hitchhikes across the country.  The kid brother discovers a door that actually allows your spirit to leave your body.  There might be someone trapped in the wellhouse.  Oh, and mom copes with her grief by self-medicating.  As the story unfolds, the tension and sense of danger crank up until, at the end, the characters get a moment's peace. Not a happily ever after, just a pause in the drama as the first volume ends.

How do I review a story the likes of which I've never read? I don't know how to be fair and thorough about this without some backtracking.

First, see Fact 1.  I read a LOT.  All that reading works for me because I have a vivid imagination.  Someone else puts words down on a page, and my brain neatly fits the words together like a puzzle to give me mental image of the scene I'm reading.  One of the reasons I find reading so engrossing is because piecing together the mental image is an involving process.  I'm one of those readers who doesn't hear you call my name when I'm deep in a story.

Second, I'm an inpatient reader. No author publishes fast enough to my way of thinking.  I pointed out to a few of you that Ilona Andrews is self-publishing a free serial at:  (If you haven't read it yet, DO IT.  Go THERE.)  I love it. And I hate it.  I want the full story RIGHT NOW.  I'm jonesing for the next installation, and I'm not amused by that.

Scary story.
So, how does a reader who happily creates her own mental images of stories and who unhappily waits for new books and new parts of serials respond to her first graphic novel--a story complete with detailed pictures and meant to be shared piece by piece?  Initially? Not well.  But upon further review (and after finishing the second volume of the series), I think I can do this.  In fact, I NEED to do this because the Locke & Key storyline has totally sucked me in.

But initially, I struggled.  I liked was intrigued by the story.  ("Like" is a pretty soft and squishy word for a storyline as dark and fantastical as Welcome to Lovecraft.  Let's go with intrigued instead.)  But I felt a little lost.  I didn't need to create my own mental image. Gabriel Rodriguez had done an absolutely stunning job creating the images for the reader.  I really wasn't sure how to "read" the story. Sure, I can read the words.  It's English. I've got that covered.  But do I read the words & then dive into the picture.  Do I try to do both at once?  Where does my eye start? Where does it go next?  I'm 40 years old, and I felt like I was learning to read all over again.

So there was confusion, and more than a little bit of disconnect.  I didn't feel as involved because I didn't need to create those mental images, and because the story was the first of five volumes, you only get the introduction.  (An introduction with a LOT of action, but an introduction nonetheless.)  I finished the story, and I wasn't sure what to think.

Intrigue? Yay! Disconnect? Boo.

My social scientist nerdiness kicked in, though, and I knew I couldn't judge an entire genre or even an entire series with an n of one. So I picked up the second volume, Locke & Ke: Head Games, in order to give the experience another try.

And now I'm hooked.  Not on graphic novels in general.  The jury is still out on that one.  (An n of two isn't really any better than an n of one.). But I am completely hooked on the Locke & Key storyline.  I'm quite annoyed that someone else has checked out the third volume from the Decatur Public Library.  I need it RIGHT NOW.

So here's my advice.  If you like graphic novels and horror stories, read Locke & Key.  If you like horror stories and want to give graphic novels a spin, read Locke & Key, but be sure to give yourself a chance to adapt to the new format.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Doesn't look scary at
all.  Or does it?!
Yesterday I was home sick with the stomach flu.  It wasn't pretty.  When I wasn't sleeping or getting sick, I was watching some old Dr. Who episodes.  I'm a latecomer to this BBC version, but I like it quite a bit.  It's the right combination of sci-fi and creepy and witty banter to make me happy.  Yesterday I saw two episodes that reminded me (in different ways) of The Turn of the Screw.  The first was a Christmas episode featuring Charles Dickens and some spirits living in the gas pipes of funeral home and the other featured an "empty child" in 1941 London.  The "empty child" episode gave me goosebumps (might have been the fever, but I don't think so) and the Dickens episode made me wonder if Carrie's head exploded when she watched it.  You may have noticed that she's not a fan of Charles Dickens.  Anyway they're both good episodes, it's a good series, and it's available on Netflix should you ever find yourself stricken with the stomach flu.  But don't watch them until you've read this novella, cause it's pretty great a creepy way.

It starts out in London on Christmas Eve with a group of friends gathered around a fireplace exchanging ghost stories (this is the part that the Dickens Dr. Who brought to mind).  One gentleman says he has a written account of a governess, no longer living, who was convinced she and her wards were plagued by ghosts.  The governess was informed that she was not to communicate with the children's uncle (their guardian) and would be in a country estate with a maid, Mrs. Grose, and the children, Miles and Flora.  The governess meets Flora first, as Miles is on his way home for the summer from boarding school.  The governess is charmed by the children and begins to feel at ease around the house and with her new job.  However, things quickly go sideways.  Suddenly there are sightings of a strange man, and later a woman, around the estate.  The governess goes to the maid about these strangers on the grounds and Mrs. Grose offers that they might be the old governess and former valet.  That wouldn't be that unusual except Mr. Quint and Miss Jessel and both deceased.  And the new governess appears to the be the only one that sees them.

As the days progress, the situation around the house grows ever more odd.  The children seem to always be in odd places whenever the ghosts appear.  Mrs. Grose finally relents to the governess that Mr. Quint and Miss Jessel were entirely "too free" with one another and the children.  What that means exactly is up for interpretation.  The children refuse to discuss the ghosts even though the governess is convinced that the apparitions are in some way controlling the children.  Eventually, Flora demands to go away from the governess.  Miles takes the opportunity to play some soothing music until the governess realizes that Flora has left the house and her whereabouts are unknown.  After searching the house with no success, they find her in a clearing in the woods.  The governess sees the ghost of Miss Jessel there as well.  Soon Flora takes ill and it's decided she'll go to London to be with the uncle.  Later  that evening, the governess spies Mr. Quint in the window watching Miles.  The governess places herself between Miles and the ghost and informs Mr. Quint that he no longer has any hold on the boy.  Mr. Quint leaves but at the same time Miles drops into the governess's arms; dead.

The best part about this story is that it is so ambiguous.  Are there really ghosts?  Or is the governess off her rocker?  Are the children just vacant vessels being manipulated by former house staff who had too much freedom with them (this is the part that was similar to the "empty child" episode)? Or are the children just being children?  Is the governess the only sane person who is trying to fend off maleficent spirits?  Or is she slightly mad herself?  Is there something wrong with the estate or something wrong with the governess?  It's wonderfully written so that the reader must make their own inferences.   While the story is told on Christmas Eve, I recommend you read it now in the season of Halloween.  Nothing quite like a psychological thriller to make all those trick-or-treaters seem a wee bit scary!  Has anyone else read and loved this one? Let me know!

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I'm clearly slacking in my old age.

The American Library Association keeps track of the most commonly challenged books and happily sorts them by decade.  Of the top 100 books that "concerned citizens" tried to restrict from library shelves in the 1990s, almost 30 of them found their way into my hands.  Of the top 100 books most commonly challenged in the 2000s, only 20 made my reading list.

(Using the same evidence, I could also claim that I'm becoming more conservative.  I'm a kind soul, though, and don't want to force any of you into a spit-take.  I'll stick to my slacker claim.)

It probably helps that many of the books from the '90s list I actually read in the '80s.  Those would be the Judy Blumes and Stephen Kings.  Those would be my middle school and high school years.  That's actually when I read 1984 and The Color Purple, too.  Apparently, I'm a rebel from WAY back in the day.

Heh. I crack myself up.

ANYWAY, in looking for a book to review that fulfills both the decision to review "scary" books in October and my desire to promote awareness of book censorship during Banned Book Week, I settled on The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

The main character, Offred, is actually only one of many handmaidens.  She lives in a world where war, technology and chemicals have left everyone all but infertile.  The social and military leaders take drastic action to try and assure the continued existence of their people.  Offred was once actually a wife, a mother, and a gainfully-employed and fully-contributing citizen.  Now she's a handmaiden, living in the household of a Commander, assigned to menial tasks and assigned to help the Commander breed.  She remembers the time before when she had access to information, to books, and her own opinions.  First, she lost her possessions, then her family and her freedom.  Now, you see, handmaidens are forbidden from learning.  Offred's place in the Commander's house is dependent upon the fact that she once conceived and might again.  Her value is entirely in her womb.

The Handmaid's Tale isn't scary like the frequently banned Stephen King books I've read.  It has more in common with George Orwell's 1984.  It's frequently called a dystopian novel which is a smarty-pants way of saying that the society depicted in the story is the opposite of a utopia, the opposite of a perfect society. The online Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines a dystopia as a society characterized by human misery and oppression.  It's in this view of the world that the story becomes quickly, easily scary.  Nothing goes bump in the night, and there's no on-stage slaughter.  But the things this book makes you think?  The "what if?" and the "could they?" and the "could WE?"  Those are scary thoughts indeed.  It's also those questions and the oppression and the mandatory sex meant to eke out whatever viable reproduction is left in this society that lands this tale on the frequently challenged list.

It's not a comfortable read, and it's not fun.  It is, however, well-written and thought-provoking.  It's MEANT to make us uncomfortable, to make us question our actions, and our acceptance of the actions of others.  It shouldn't be banned.  It should be discussed.  The thoughts it raises shouldn't be avoided--just any social movement that could lead us to that dystopian reality.  That kind of reality is the very worst kind of bogey-man.

It was also made into a movie with an A-list cast.  The trailer is below.  It's doesn't shy away from the breeding efforts, so watch with caution.

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Monday, October 1, 2012

Beloved by Toni Morrison

This week happens to be Banned Books Week.  I thought I should draw a little attention to that because censorship is not at all ok with us here at The Family Addiction.  Not to mention some of the books on the list are amazing.  As it turns out, I read a lot of banned books.  Without really knowing it.  I'm a rebel like that.  And then, Carrie and Amy had the genius idea that we should review some scary books.  As it turns out, I read a lot of scary books.  And then, I found a book that fits both categories.  I'm awesome like that.

You may have noticed that I've reviewed two other Toni Morrison novels.  I think (and I'm not alone, you don't get to be a best-selling author by just having one person as a fan) she's one of the best at setting a mood.  In Beloved, the mood is heavy, frantic, desperate, and woeful.   In this story, like many of Miss Morrison's, focuses on the lives of slaves and how they lived as slaves and as free people in the northern parts of the United States.  Sethe has found her way across the Ohio River to her mother-in-law's house in Cincinnati.  She's fleeing the plantation in Kentucky where she's been enslaved for years.  Once in Cincinnati, she lives with her mother-in-law and her four children until the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 gives the owners of the plantation the right to "reclaim" her and her children.  When Sethe sees men from the plantation appear, she takes her children to the tool shed and tries to keep them safe.  Safe from the men who are there.  Safe from going back to a life where there is no chance of being anything other than someone's property.  Safe from never having a voice.  Safe from never being human.  Safe from constant work with no reward.  Safe from the physical world.  Sethe tries to kill her children because that's the only way to keep them safe.  She succeeds in killing her two year-old, who is later buried in a grave marked only as 'Beloved.'

That's a heavy kind of love.  It's the kind of love that doesn't go away.  And neither does Beloved.  She becomes the haunting spirit in the house in Cincinnati.  She throws two-year old tantrums and chases people from the house.  Sethe's boys run away from home as soon as they are old enough, and so it is Sethe and Denver (Sethe's other daughter) who bear the stigma of this heavy love that won't leave.  But when Paul D shows up at the house, as a connection to the old plantation life, things start to change.  Paul D gets the family out in public for the first time in years.  He helps Sethe see that Denver, who is alive but might not be well, won't be able to live any kind of life if they constantly try to appease the whims of an invisible two year-old.  Beloved is no longer the focus.  And like any two-year old who is being ignored is wont to do, Beloved brings the focus back to her.  She shows up.  It is creepy and heart-breaking and terrifying.  

I'm not going to tell you the rest.  You need to get a copy and read it for yourself.  Beloved is often banned from classrooms because it contains seriously difficult concepts.  It does not treat slavery with kid gloves.  Beloved talks openly and sadly honestly about the parts of slavery that are even more difficult to discuss than living conditions and cruel conditions.  The book tackles the psychological impact of being seen and treated as sub-human and how that way of thinking leads to horrific things. But it's an amazing book, and banning it won't erase that part of history.  So go get a copy.  Read it with all the lights on and then look at the other books on the Banned Books list and read one of those too.
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Monday, September 24, 2012

Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood

This isn't Phryne; she's more glamorous.

A few weeks back, Jenny Crusie was asking for recommendations of television series with strong female leads.  Someone mentioned the Australian series, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries.  I was intrigued, I researched, and I hit the jackpot!

The television series is actually based on a series of books.  AN ENTIRE SERIES!!!

(Okay. Deep breath.)

You know how I love me a good series.

Miss Fisher is Phyrne (pronounced Fry-nee) Fisher, a titled, wealthy woman who dresses well, flies a plane, drives her own car, and rubs elbows with the masses.  She does all this in the late 1920s.  She's probably about 50 years ahead of her time, but she's clever and observant and puts her talents to good use.  She, as the series title suggests, solves murder mysteries.

Cocaine Blues, the first in the series, is actually a not-quite murder mystery.  Phryne first travels from the U.K. to Australia to investigate a mysterious illness that affects the daughter of an acquaintance.  The illness seems life-threatening at times but oddly absent at others.  In investigating this not-yet-death, Phryne identifies and arranges for the arrest of an illegal abortionist who rapes the women that come to him before he'll perform the back-alley procedure, meets some displaced Russian ballet dancers, and takes down the head of a cocaine ring.  That makes her sound rather busy, but most of the story lines are intertwined, so it's not disjointed or distracting.

I started the series expecting something like Carola Dunn's Daisy Dalrymple mysteries or Elizabeth Peter's Amelia Peabody mysteries.  Both of these series are based on modern, intelligent women in historical settings.  Both Daisy and Amelia speak their minds within the genteel, cultural norms of their times.  Phryne is also a modern, intelligent woman, but she pretty much breaks all the rules about speech, adventure and sex.  After I adjusted my mindset, I just settled in and enjoyed the series.

For the mystery fans out there, I strongly recommend Kerry Greenwood's Cocaine Blues.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern

Laugh out loud funny. 
But lots of swearing.
Are we allowed to swear on this blog?  I failed to ask my co-bloggers before I wrote this review so I guess I will err on the side of caution and keep the swearing to a minimum.  Even though there is A LOT of swearing in this book.  Funny swearing, but a lot nonetheless.  (Side note: my mom once told me that if you are quoting something that someone said it is okay to swear. I was in 6th grade and standing in the kitchen and had just retold her something that happened at school that day.  It kind of blew my mind that she let me say sh*t in front of her).   Now, on to the review.

This review is short for two reasons.  One, I am a day late on posting.  No excuses, just late.  Two, the book is short.  It's only about 150 pages and reads super fast.   Sh*t My Dad Says was written by Halpern after he was dumped by his girlfriend and forced to move back in with his parents.  At the age of 28 he found himself working (writing for a magazine) from his childhood home while his retired dad, Sam, looked on.  His idea for the book came after he tweeted some of his dad's irreverent one liners and words of advice.  In less than one month he found himself with over 300,000 followers and requests for tv interviews.  The book is a compilation of those tweets with chapters about his earlier life mixed in.  The chapters comprise most of the book, but it was the quotes that made me have to leave the room (I was laughing too loud and my kids were trying to watch the newest episode of Good Luck Charlie.  How rude of me, right?).

These were some of my favorites that did not involve multiple curse words:

On curfew:  "I don't give a sh*t what time you get home, just don't wake me up.  That's your curfew, not waking me up."

On his son's bloody nose:  "What happened?  Did somebody punch you in the face?  ...The what?  The air is dry?  Do me a favor and tell people you got punched in the face."

On shopping for presents for his birthday:  "If it's not bourbon or sweatpants, it's going in the garbage...No, don't get creative.  Now is not a creative time.  Now is a bourbon and sweatpants time."

On slumber parties:  "There's chips in the cabinet and ice cream in the freezer.  Stay away from knives and fire.  Okay, I've done my part.  I'm going to bed."

If all of this sounds familiar that may be because there was a tv series based on the book that ran for a short time in 2010 on CBS.  William Shatner starred as Sam and although 18 episodes aired, the series was cancelled in February of 2011.  I can't speak for the tv series but I can (and will) speak for the book. It's hilarious.  Yes, it's full of swear words.  And no, it's not serious subject matter.  But it is one man's take on his childhood and upbringing at the hands of a caring yet tough father. And it's funny.  And that was enough for me. 

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Practical Demonkeeping by Christopher Moore

This is not what Llama Llama looks like.
It's not even what my kids look like.
But it's what a llama looks like.
I know, I know!  This is the fourth book by Christopher Moore book I've reviewed.  I can't help it, I REALLY like him.  You might be thinking that I actually am Christopher Moore assuming an alternate identity to anonymously hock my own books.  For one thing I have yet to write anything negative about any of his books.  Not to mention I loved Sacre Bleu so much I nearly wrote a love letter instead of a review.  But trust me, I'm not Christopher Moore.  For one thing, I just had to tell my tell my kids to stop fighting over the Llama Llama Time to Share book (oh the irony) and I'm pretty sure Christopher Moore doesn't have the foggiest clue about Llama Llama.  But mostly you know I'm not Christopher Moore because these reviews would be a lot funnier if I were.

Practical Demonkeeping is not a new book.  It was Moore's debut, and the more (pun not intended but still fun) I read the more I realized I had already read this book before.  You know, back in my former life when I wasn't a Llama Llama referee.  I had forgotten the name of the book but I hadn't forgotten that I really liked the story and the humor and the absurdities and the fancifulness.  In the small community of Pine Cove, California, things are mostly the same day in and day out.  The locals know everyone and everyone's business, and how to hustle a tourist.  But when a handsome twenty something that seems older than his looks and with a penchant for talking to the air around him shows up, Pine Cove is in for some surprises.  Travis is in town on his quest to find some important candlesticks.  He's been looking for them for about 70 years.  He really wants those candlesticks.

This is what the book looks like.
Travis mostly wants the candlesticks to rid himself of his road companion Catch.  A demon bound to Travis and under his control.....well, mostly under his control.  Catch gets hungry sometimes and when he eats he becomes visible to others.  Which would be a problem if he didn't eat the witnesses.  In Pine Cove, Travis runs into a number of characters including a pretty, newly divorced waitress with an unknown connection to his past.  Then there's Augustus Brine, the hardware store owner who really just wants to enjoy his red wine and go fishing without being pestered by the King of Djinns (who can literally swear a blue streak).  And of course, there's the reason Travis shows up with his demon in the first place; Effrom and Amanda.  They just might have those candlesticks.

There are a lot of characters, a lot of plot twisting, and a lot of fun.  I'm surprised I forgot I had read this before.  But I'm not surprised that I liked it twice.  And I'm sure you won't be surprised the next time I review another Christopher Moore book. Pin It

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Where'd you go?



Anybody there?

Right, there's been no one here for the last week because the Mayan calendar ran out.

Oh, wait.

That's not right.

The beginning of the school year upended your friendly TFA calendar keeper and left her, uh, apparently writing about herself in third person.

Sorry, y'all.

We'll be back on schedule and back in first person on Monday.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

I don't know what my problem is lately.  For the past month or so, every time I go to pick out a new book the only ones that look good to me are ones about animals.  I reviewed A Dog's Purpose back in June.  I read War Horse one afternoon last week.  And now I read this.  For whatever reason, books about animals totally appeal to me right now.  So if they don't appeal to you, I apologize.  I will try very hard to make my next book review to be animal-free.

I couldn't resist.
Enzo is a special dog.  And what's funny is that he knows it.  He walks the earth with the spirit of a human trapped in a dog's body. And oh how he wished he had thumbs!  He watches TV (he loves to watch racing), hears private conversations and experiences true emotions.  He knows he is trapped in his canine form, but that doesn't stop him from doing his best to soothe, comfort and stand by his human family.  His master, Denny, is an up-and-coming race car driver with a wife and small child. When Denny's wife is diagnosed with cancer, Enzo is her comfort.  When a subsequent custody battle over the daughter ensues, Enzo is a soothing constant for the girl as well as a faithful friend for Denny.   Enzo sees from Denny that just as in racing, it isn't always about speed.  As he sees it, it is more about the big picture.  Humans should focus on what is ahead and the techniques they need to get there (just like race car drivers do on the track) that makes this life easier and more rewarding to navigate.  Enzo is positive that he will return in his next life as a human and cannot wait to explore the human world as a human instead of a four-legged creature.

If I gave away too many more details I would be spoiling some of the best parts of the book.  I will say that the special relationship Enzo maintains with each different family member was remarkable.  He knew when to play gentle with the toddler, how hard or soft he should nuzzle Eve after she returned home from one of her cancer treatments and even how to offer solace to a grieving husband and father.  The Art of Racing in the Rain makes it seem totally plausible that animals (well, dogs) can understand our conversations and even our relationships.  The absurdity of a dog processing human language and interactions takes a back seat to the profound insight being offered.  Loyalty, love and even some humor make this book a wonderful lesson in what is important in life. All through the eyes of  a dog, that is.

While researching the book, I found that Garth Stein used to be a documentary film maker.  It was in his role as a film maker that he heard about a famous legend in Mongolia.  It is a legend about what happens to a dog once it dies.  It was this legend that lead Stein to write this book some ten years after he initially heard it.  I think when an author has something gnaw at him or her like that for such a long time, it usually leads to something extraordinary.  You can click on the video book trailer below and see for yourself.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt

Yes, this is kind of a cheater post.  I have already reviewed this book for our other book blog BeTween Books, but it's good enough to review again here.  Plus, the emergency plumber just left, my kids are still awake and I'm day one into a 30-day Paleo diet challenge.  Cheater post beats no post at all, right?

My good friend Sharlene politely shoved this book at me loaned me this book to read.  Being that her living room is literally three walls of bookcases (and it even contains this really cool lamp made out of books) when Sharlene says a book, "is something every human being on this planet should read" I take note.  I also make note to hurry up and finish said book because along with Sharlene's book recommendations come Sharlene's timelines.  I got right to work and finished this one in three days, although I could have read it in one.  Please don't tell Sharlene.

Written in 2007, The Wednesday Wars is about an 11-year-old  boy growing up in Long Island.  The year is 1967 and because Holling Hoodhood is neither Catholic nor Jewish and does not have a Hebrew or Catechism class to attend on Wednesdays, he finds himself the only student in 7th grade.  Just Holling the Presbyterian, and his teacher, Mrs. Baker every Wednesday for the entire school year.  At first, Mrs. Baker has him keep himself busy by cleaning the classroom, the coat room and even worse, the desks.  But as time passes, she has him start reading Shakespeare and writing essays.  Clearly annoyed and starting to hate her even more, Holling has no choice but to comply.   His compliance leads to an eventual appreciation of Shakespeare which in a round-about way gets him the starring role in a local play.  Although he must wear tights as the star of the play, the rest of his year is filled with normal 7th-grade-boy things.  A girl crush.  Sneaking away from school to watch Yankee baseball games.  A love/hate relationship with his older sister.  But what is not normal and the most wonderful part of the book is the warm and inspiring bond he forms with Mrs. Baker.  They navigate the year together one Wednesday at a time and find that more often than not they are all each other has.  They are exactly what the other one needs during some of the most difficult moments in their lives.  It is a beautiful relationship and a very well-written book.

One major highlight for me was Holling and his love of baseball. I couldn't help but think of my dad as a young Holling. I was reminded of the baseball stories my dad would tell me about when he was growing up around the same time.  Being a baseball-aholic myself, I loved that Holling and his teacher shared their love of the game. 

As I mentioned before, the book is set in 1967.  That means the Vietnam War was center stage as were air raid drills and telegraphs from the front.  Mrs. Baker's grown son is serving his first tour, air raid sirens go off almost daily and telegraph deliveries arrive at the school way too often.  Again, the war part of this book touched home to me but it was also extremely relevant to the time period.

I can't say enough good things about this book.  It's touching and sweet and appropriate in so many ways.  My almost 5th-grader did read it last summer without me knowing and absolutely loved it. However, I wish she would have waited a year or two.  She is an advanced reader, so that was not the problem.  The problem was that a lot of the book went right over her head.  She had no clue what Vietnam was (sadly, she just figured it was another war like the ones we are in now), thought the air raid drills were something they made up, and didn't see what all the fuss about the main character meeting Mickey Mantle was all about  (obviously I have failed her in the baseball history department).  Basically, the historical parts of the book were wasted on her.  I think for that reason it is more appropriately suited for 12-18 year-olds.

The Wednesday Wars has secured a spot in my Top Five Favorites of all time.  Yes, it really is THAT good.  Read it.  Or I will tell Sharlene. Pin It

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

And the winners are...

Congratulations to Kate, Helen and Celia!  They are the winners of our Worlds Apart by Kate Mathias giveaway. 

Many thanks to those who entered.  Please check back for more contests and giveaways this year.  We have more fun in store for all of you.

Thanks again to Kate Mathias for her support as well! Pin It

Monday, August 20, 2012

Shadow Show edited by Sam Weller & Mort Castle

I finished reading Shadow Show on the train ride back from Tahoe.  That was at the very beginning of August.  I thought I'd review it right away, but I couldn't.  I went into it with rich expectations, on a high from re-reading The Illustrated Man, but the reality of finishing it was a slog.  It wasn't horrendous, but it was work, and I struggled to rectify how anything written in the spirit of Ray Bradbury could be work.  But it was, so I put it away.

With a heartfelt sigh, I pulled it back out today so that I could write a review.  After all, we didn't start this blog just to act as relentlessly perky cheerleaders (and I have years of cheerleading camp under my belt so I know of which I speak). We started it so we could share recommendations, from the sublime to the simply awful.  With that sense of duty, I picked Shadow Show up again.

And, I realized that if I could sum up the book in one phrase, it would be this:

That's Italian for "so-so".

Shadow Show is anthology of short stories written by authors who credit Ray Bradbury as an inspiration and a mentor.  It's meant to celebrate his life and his works. As with any collection of stories penned by different hands, it's uneven.  Some of a stories are delights that I would recommend you read even without the Bradbury association.  The rest? Well, they elicited responses ranging from indifference to indignity.  I suppose it was that uneven performance that made reading the book feel like such work to me.  As we've pointed out in reviews of The Illustrated Man and Something Wicked This Way Comes, reading Ray Bradbury is easy and beautiful.  Shadow Show has it's moments, but typically misses that mark.

Had the book been printed without a single Bradbury reference, I might have liked it more, I think,  because I would have expected less.  But with the build-up as a tribute to Bradbury's influence, the few stories that did him--in my humble opinion--a disservice overwhelmed my appreciation from the truly good stories.

Now, if you aren't the total Bradbury fangirl that I am, you might react more favorably, but I strongly discourage your from reading anything Bradbury right before you pick this up.

With that said, here are the names of the short stories that really worked--on their own and as Bradbury tributes:

"The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury" by Neil Gaiman
"Headlife" by Margaret Atwood
"Heavy" by Jay Bonansinga
"By The Silver Water of Lake Champlain" by Joe Hill
"Children of the Bedtime Machine" by Robert McCannon
"Conjure" by Alice Hoffman
"Backward in Seville" by Audrey Niffenegger
"Hayleigh's Dad" by Julia Keller

For those of you wondering, there are 27 tales all told, so this list comprises one-third of the total count. So, again, not horrendous, but overwhelmingly not Ray.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Worlds Apart Book Giveaway!

Who's excited?  We are!

Enter to win!
Today we are giving you the chance to win one of three autographed copies of Worlds Apart by Kate Mathias.  If you missed the review of Worlds Apart yesterday you can click here.  Follow the directions below to be entered to win.  We are giving you FOUR ways to win!  Good luck!

1.  "Like" The Family Addiction on Facebook.  Click here to get to our page.  That is one entry. *If you already like us on Facebook, leave a note in the comment section of this blog post. 

2.  "Like" Kate Mathias, author on Facebook.  You can get to her page by clicking here.  Leave a comment on this post saying that you liked her.  That is one entry.

3.   Follow The Family Addiction via Google Friend Connect.  (Look on the right hand side bar of this page and click on the light blue box that says, "join this site."   Leave a comment on this post saying that you joined our site.  *If you already follow us via GFC, just let us know.  That is one entry.

4.  Follow  us @FamilyAddiction on Twitter.  Leave us a comment on this post letting us know you are now following us on Twitter.  That is one entry.

The contest ends Monday, August 20, 2012 at 5pm EST.  Winners will be announced Tuesday, August 21, 2012 on the blog, Facebook and Twitter.

Good luck!

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Worlds Apart by Kate Mathias AND author Q&A

Every once in a while, all of the time I spend on Facebook pays off.  This is one of those times.   You see, I am Facebook friends with someone I swam with in high school. (If you are picturing bad 90's hair, too much chlorine and the dreaded swimsuit photos for the annual yearbook, that would be pretty accurate).   I saw in my news feed a couple of months ago that Josh's (the guy I used to swim with) wife (Kate) was writing a book.   Say what?!  Hoping Josh would not think I was crazy for Facebook stalking him, I messaged him and told him about our little blog and offered to write a review.  Thankfully, he didn't think I was crazy, told me to go for it and so I did.  Last week, I downloaded Kate's newly released book, read it in two days and am excited to announce that I really liked the book AND that an author Q&A with Kate follows this review.  I think I may start Facebook stalking more often!  But first, the review.

Stay tuned.  You could win a copy!

Piper Reynolds is an energetic teacher, loyal daughter and fun-loving aunt.  Pregnant with twins and ready to start a new life with soon-to-be husband Joe, things are going great for Piper.  So why does Piper keep coming face to face with Pip, a woman who looks just like her in some sort of parallel reality?  Over time, Piper and Pip discover that they are drawn to each other during their greatest times of need.  Their recurring "jumps" into each others lives serve as the foundation for a bond that seems to lasts a lifetime.  Pip is there when Piper delivers the twins and again when one of the twins is diagnosed with leukemia.  Conversely, Piper is there for Pip when Pip is the victim of an attack.  The "jumps" aren't permanent, however, and they never know how long they will stay in each others lives.  When Pip turns up as a "perfect match" bone marrow donor for Piper's son, it's almost too good to be true.  But can she stay in Piper's world long enough for the donation?  Will her own husband Joe still be understanding and waiting for her if and when she returns back to her own reality?   And the biggest questions of all:  can their bond withstand a fatal car accident?   Sorry to leave you hanging, but you will have to read it for yourself to find out. 

Loyal readers of this blog may be surprised to learn that I really, really liked this book.  I'm not so much a fan of para-anything.  I don't have the best imagination and it's hard for me to get excited about something I don't think could actually happen in real life.  This book proved me wrong.  Why?  I think because the plot was SO unexpected (I can't stress enough how original the storyline is) and the numerous twists and turns kept me wondering what would happen next.  Normally, I would find numerous twists to be tiresome but in this case all of the twists were actually believable.   Everything that happened to the characters was something that I could actually imagine taking place.  And something about the characters made me want to keep reading to find out what happened next.

Speaking of characters, Mathias did a great job of letting us get to know the characters with just the right amount of detail.  (I do so love an author that gets in and gets to the story!) I can't really point to any character I didn't like (besides the guy that attacked Pip, of course).  As a matter of fact, the entire cast of characters seemed relatable and strong.  Kind of refreshing compared to some of my latest reads.  Worlds Apart is a quick read as well, which is always a bonus for a mom with two kids on summer vacation.  I only had to ignore them a few times to finish this book.  :)

Kate Mathias
As an extra bonus we are also featuring our very first author Q&A!  Read below to find the answers to some of our questions for Kate. 

1.  What book are you currently reading?

I just started reading Double Clutch by Liz Reinhardt.  I am enjoying it so far!  I usually read about 2-3 books a week.  I read daily while working out on my elliptical and love to support my fellow indie authors by reading their books. 

2.  How do you balance your work with family time?

If you ask my husband, sometimes I don't feel like I balance it very well!  :)  I am a stay at home mom to three children, ages 4, 6, and 9.  We were transferred to Phoenix two years ago with my husband's job.  At that time, I started to stay at home full time because he travels heavily.  I got so caught up in trying to be a good mom and wife and started to feel like I was losing a part of me.  In January, I decided that I needed to make time for myself and started to write Worlds Apart.  I would write from nine to midnight every night after I got the kids to bed and cleaned up the house.  I would also take my laptop and write when I was at my children's sport practices.  Any time I had a few extra minutes, I would write.  My characters consumed me and I needed to get my story that had been stuck in my head for three years down on paper.  I felt guilty at first for taking the time to write and worried that my writing would take away time from my family, but found as my story was coming to life that I too felt fulfilled.  My husband and children have been so supportive of my writing and I never regret the decision that I made that day to start writing Worlds Apart. 

3.  Now that you have been through it once, what advice do you offer
for authors interested in self-publishing?

I would tell other authors to go for it and follow their dreams.  I have had a really positive experience with self-publishing and would encourage others to explore that option.  I wanted to get my novel out in the public and this has been an exciting journey so far.  Self-publishing certainly has its ups and downs.  I have been solely in charge of my own marketing of the book.  I have poured over every website and information I could get my hands on.  This path has been challenging, but is very fulfilling.  I would suggest three things to think about before I would self-publish again.  First, I did try and go the traditional publishing route and sought out to find a literary agent.  The process of writing a query letter to agents was a learning experience in itself.  I would still like to be published traditionally.  I feel as though I exhausted this publishing route before I decided to self-publish.  Secondly, I came up with a marketing plan on how I would get my book in the public since I would be responsible for its ultimate success or failure.  Thirdly, I researched the social networks and writer's groups online like WAE Network, Facebook, and Goodreads.  I reached out and tried to get myself established among them.  I am currently still working on this last one!  :)

4.  As a former elementary teacher, do you have any favorite books you
recommend for parents trying to encourage their kids to read?

I taught 4th grade so we read chapter books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Bunnicula, and Where the Red Fern Grows.  I loved Where the Red Fern Grows and even named our first dog after Little Ann.  By the time that my students got to my class, they already knew how to read, but some still didn't have the love of reading instilled in them.  I would encourage parents to continue to read aloud to their children nightly even in the upper grades.  My oldest son and I read chapter books together nightly, each taking turns to read aloud.  He and I look forward to that quiet time where we can get lost together in a book and discuss what we think is going to happen.  Some parents think that their children are too old to enjoy reading with their parents, but I think they would be surprised at how much both the child and parent enjoy reading together and bonding over a good book.

5. What can we expect from the next installment of the Silver Oaks Series?  

Spoiler alert!!  Don't read this if you haven't read Worlds Apart.  I have already started writing the second book, Hiding in Plain Sight.  The prologue starts about twenty years in the future where we find Graham in a situation involving Pip and his half sister, Palmer.  The experience he has in the run down shack trying to save the important women in his life from a man who relentlessly threatens their safety, pushes Graham to evaluate how his actions have molded him.  While Worlds Apart is Piper and Pip's story, Hiding in Plain Sight is primarily about Graham and how he struggles with his identity after losing his mother and taking a man's life.  The first chapter then goes back and begins exactly where Worlds Apart ends with Graham "jumping" to Pip's world.  The second book of the series is darker and has some shocking twists that the readers won't see coming.  I believe in pushing the boundaries just enough to hopefully make the reader put down the book and still be thinking about certain scenes a few days later.  Hiding in Plain Sight will make you question whether or not that really just happened, but will make you read on because you will want to find out where Graham is hiding and exactly whom he is hiding from.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Don't make Carrie slap you.
Read it!
As you all know, Ray Bradbury passed away in early June of this year.  When that happened, Carrie and I were discussing some of his work (Carrie has read more than I have and I'm pretty sure she's a card-carrying member of his fan club) and I mentioned that I had yet to read this particular book.  Carrie eye-slapped me for this gross oversight and we found ourselves at the poor excuse for a book store in my previous location's metro area to rectify the situation.  If you've read any of my other reviews, then you've likely read a review of something Stephen King authored, and Carrie informed me that Something Wicked This Way Comes would appeal to the dark and mysterious genre I enjoy.  She was right.

The carnival rolls into town a week before Halloween in the middle of the night.  All manner of things seem not quite right, but not completely wrong; the steam engine seems to be a relic, there was no advanced advertising, the music from the carousel calliope seems to be running backwards, smells waft through the air downtown several miles from the carnival itself, and all of that happens before the carnival is open for business.  But two boys know.  Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade bore witness to the carnival's entrance to town, not just because they saw it with their own eyes but because they sensed it to a certain degree.  Will and Jim live next door to one another and best friends the way only twelve year old boys know how to be best friends.  They are inseparable.  They can communicate without words.  They know their way around town in the dark as well as they know the way in full daylight.  They keep no secrets from one another and their pockets are full of the world's forgotten treasures.  As they grow up they are becoming more aware that they might not be the same, and then the carnival comes to town and that becomes more evident than ever.

Jim and Will go to enjoy the carnival and end up discovering more than they want to know.  Some of the attractions are too real.  There's a maze of mirrors with true reflections.....of the days past or the days ahead.  There is, of course, the sideshow tent with its myriad traveling population: The Skeleton, The Dwarf (who looks all too familiar), The Dust Witch blind by all-seeing, and The Illustrated Man whose tattoos are much too real to be the product of needles and ink.  But most disturbing of all is the after hours ride the boys see one of the owners take on the carousel.  As the ride spins backwards, so do the years from the man riding it and he leaps off the carousel as twelve year old boy.  The boys realize that one of their teachers is being played by the new twelve year old and go after him.  A chase ensues and the boy ends up back on the carousel, this time to replace the years he took away and then deal with Jim and Will as an adult, but the boys break the carousel's control panel.  The co-owner ends up spinning and spinning on the magic carousel and ends up ancient and unable to move.  Now the Jim and Will know too much and are enemies of the carnival.  But who can help them with such a fantastic chain of events?

Don't worry, the boys find a friend and hero in Will's father.  They all learn many things about themselves and how the world of the "autumn people" works.  Most importantly they learn that life is only worth the living they do.  Though the story is (wonderfully) frightful, sometimes I found myself admiring the prose more than the plot.  Mr. Bradbury had an unparalleled way with words.  I would re-read passages just to hear the words in my head one more time.  And this was his way of describing the dark actions taking place, not pastoral scenery or love scenes.  Basically, it was a great story told greatly.  That's probably why it's a classic.  That's definitely why I should have read this sooner.  And you?  Have you read this?  Are you a Bradbury fan? Pin It

Thursday, August 9, 2012

That Thing Called Love by Susan Andersen

Do me a favor?  Pretend I posted this LAST Monday.
Blogging Jedi mind trick:
this post is not uploading
on the day you think it is

Can you do that for me?


It turns out that I've read 20+ of Susan Andersen's books.  I guess that makes me a fan.  I wish I could say that I was a bigger fan of the "hero" in That Thing Called Love because I really liked the setting, the heroine, her best friend, the teen characters, and the hero's brother.  But, Jake, the main male character is a little too whiny and angst-y for me to really connect to him.

I'm probably getting ahead of myself.

The book opens where Jenny (our heroine) is helping Austin (one of the teen characters) cope with the mourners after his grandfather's funeral.  Jenny and Austin aren't related, but they act like siblings. Austin's grandparents gave Jenny a job and a surrogate family years ago when her own family fell apart, and she's watched Austin grow up as his maternal grandparents have raised him.  Now that both grandparents have passed, Jenny will be Austin's guardian until the estate attorney can determine if Austin's wayward father will show up.

Jake does make an appearance, and he's determined to make up for the disappearing act he's pulled for the first 13 years of Austin's life.  And, of course (this is a romance, after all), he's attracted to the woman he needs to help ease his transition into Austin's life.

Jake is hot.  Jake is talented.  Jake loves his son.
The first of a new series
from Susan Andersen.
I have high hopes
for the second one.

I still don't like Jake.

He's blind to his own self-absorption, and he's overly focused on what happened when he was in junior high.  Jenny, on the other hand, has been dealt a similarly crappy hand, but she's worked to build her life.  She has friends.  She's created her own family.  She works hard.  She's happy.

Jake doesn't deserve her, and I was frustrated by her "I fell in the love with the potential of him" behavior.

I'm getting grumpy in my old age--if you haven't noticed.

Now, That Thing Called Love is the epitome of a redemption story.  The "hero" isn't much of a hero when the story opens, but he changes.  He does, literally, save the girl in the end.  The HEA (happily ever after) does happen, and if you like stories where love saves the damaged character, you'll probably like this book.  After all, I did love the setting, the heroine, her best friend, the teen characters, and the hero's brother.

This is the first of series, and I'm looking forward to Max's (Jake's half-brother) story.  He's wound pretty tight, but he doesn't whine.  Also, if you're looking for a good contemporary romance, I'd recommend Andersen's Bending the Rules, because that one includes a hero I can really get behind!

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