Thursday, September 29, 2011

Kathryn Stockett - The Help - Review

When a book becomes a phenomenon, it means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Kathryn Stockett's The Help, the mega-bestselling novel and blockbuster movie, is no exception. It is beloved and reviled, cherished and scorned. This conglomeration of chick lit, race relations and historical fiction is not an easy book to categorize. It crosses boundaries with a white author speaking for an African American narrator. It opens hearts to the plight of hardworking maids in a segregated South. At the brink of the 1960s civil rights movement, three strong women rise above the fray giving a voice to a moment in time.

Skeeter is an open-minded, white girl just out of college. Single and focused on her writing career, she stands out like a sore thumb among her married, child-rearing friends in the ultra-conservative town of Jackson, Mississippi. They're Junior League members concerned about the hygiene of having to share their powder room toilets with their black maids. She's about writing an expose in order to reveal their hypocrisy and cruelty. When a New York publisher expresses interest in the idea, she recruits Aibileen and Minnie to her cause.

Aibileen is the soul of the story. A maid her whole life, she is utterly alone after the tragic death of her only son. She fills her existence with the love she instills into her young charges, especially her latest, Mae Mobley. Her sole purpose is to build up the confidence and shape the character of the white children in her care. With a deft touch, she teaches them about equality, respect and dignity. The most touching passage in the novel is when Aibileen builds up a shattered Mae Mobley's self-esteem by telling her, "You a smart girl. You a kind girl." Her own mother might not value her, but Aibileen is determined to let the know the child know that she does.

Minnie is Aibileen's closest friend and fellow maid. Where Aibileen is calm, cool and collected, Minnie is feisty, outspoken and brash. She has a household full of her own children and an abusive husband to boot. She's not afraid to voice her grievances against her housewife employers, but it often ends in her termination. After taking on "Queen Bee" Hilly Holbrook, she stumbles into the employ of the Marilyn Monore-esque bombshell, Celia Foote. Minnie's dedication and devotion to her bumbling, but good-natured, mistress becomes apparent when she saves her life during a dangerous at-home miscarriage. Minnie may speak out against injustice, but her loyalty to those she cares about is paramount.

Together, Skeeter, Aibileen and Minnie collect the oral accounts of maids throughout the Jackson area. The danger surrounding their groundbreaking endeavor is ever-present. Violence is routinely afflicted on the town's black community. Beatings, shootings, lynchings are common place for those who dare question white authority. These women take a huge risk in putting their day-to-day living conditions into print. This cannot be emphasized enough. While ultimately a feel-good story, The Help addresses the amount of risk these women were willing to take to tell the world what was really going on in Jackson, Mississippi. They were willing to lay their lives on the line in order to have their voices heard.

This is book is built on so many levels. It's not fluff, but exhibits a profound depth. The secondary characters are just as well-developed as the primary cast. The conflict of Skeeter's mother as she tries to reconcile her daughter's liberal tendencies with her own fight against cancer. The fate of Skeeter's childhood maid, Constantine, unravels after she mysteriously disappeared. The false imprisonment of Hilly Holbrook's new maid, Yule May, who begs for a loan to send her twin boys to college only to be set-up for stealing a valuable ring. The disapproval of Skeeter's suitor, Stuart Whitworth, who feels she would jeopardize his father's political aspirations when he finds out about her role regarding the book. There are so many juicy subplots to The Help since it addresses the perspectives of all levels of society - young/old, black/white, male/female, rich/poor. These dichotomies might divide, but when bridged they form the strongest bond of all.

Overall, a book well on its way to becoming an American classic - the To Kill a Mockingbird of the 21st century.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett is available for $16.00 at and at

Thank you to Bermudaonion for recommending this book. Follow her fantastic book blog and Twitter posts.

Review copy provided by Valley Community Library.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

David Huffstetler - Blood on the Pen - Review

Visuals. Pictures in the mind. They're what an author lives and dies by. When all five senses come alive on the page, the reading experience is no longer a stationary activity, but one that becomes palpable and real. David Huffstetler's Blood on the Pen does just that. It startles with the violence of a gripping murder mystery and gets the pulse racing with the suspense of a heart-pounding thriller. You hear the inner thoughts of a killer fill your head. You feel the last breath leaving the body of a murder victim. You frantically turn the pages desperate to find out why.

Huffstetler's prose is direct and to the point. The first line states, "Someone was going to die that night." The narrative arc is established right off the bat since three paragraphs later that prophecy is fulfilled. Huffstetler does not delay in setting things in motion. Yet his text adequately sets a scene. Stiletto heels clatter, keys jingle and thinning hair grows wet with blood, but evocative details are not relied upon to establish a deeper undercurrent. There is more going on than meets the eye as provocatively demonstrated in the line, "The same hands that wrote prose on a computer keyboard now lashed a rope around the corner post of the banister." Who is this killer and how does the refinement of profession coincide with such heated aggression?

It's a classic cat-and-mouse game as the hard-driven Texas Ranger Jack Harden, pursues the sociopath killer, Eddie Carter. In a battle of wills, the chase plays out as the gory details of Eddie's rejected manuscript start coming to life becoming a game plan for mass murder. Jack, a widower who tragically lost his wife in a drunk driving accident, teams up with young reporter, Elsie Rodriguez. As the two begin to track down leads, Elsie gets beneath Jack's tough guy veneer providing a sense of comfort from his tortured past. As the body count mounts, they begin to wonder - who is the real Eddie Carter?

Blood on the Pen's psychological zaniness stems from Eddie's disproportionate feeling of rejection. When Eddie's amateur attempt at a publishable manuscript is refused by a literary agency, all hell breaks loose. Wounded pride is the impetus that drives the narrative. An uncontrolled sense of paranoia keeps this overly sensitive author from seeing the truth about the manuscript's level of quality. In a gruesome aside, Eddie feels that by becoming a mass murdering celebrity the book would finally gain an audience based on the fame of the author rather than on the substance of the work.

Available exclusively in ebook format, Blood on the Pen is sublimely suited for the Nook and Kindle. It's a fast paced read that alleviates the tedium of a doctor's waiting room or airport layover. It doesn't require a major time commitment and can easily be finished in one sitting. A final resolution to
Huffstetler's intrigue and deception is only minutes away.

Overall, literary agents should watch their backs before consigning an unstable author to the slush pile.

Blood on the Pen by David Huffstetler is available for $5.95 at and at

Review copy provided by David Huffstetler.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Julie Kagawa - The Iron Queen - Review

Technology is a double-edged sword. With it comes instant global communication, sanitary living conditions and ease of transportation. Yet it also brings emotional detachment, the destruction of nature and a reliance on machinery. But can it impede imagination? Can it dismantle the realm of fantasy? That's the case Julie Kagawa makes in her Iron Fey series. In the latest and third installment entitled The Iron Queen, the vivid imagery of both sides is presented through the fiery fumes of the Iron Kingdom versus the pristine wildness of the NeverNever. As an encroachment of creaking metal advances on the land of myth and legend, it is up to one girl to bridge the gap.

Who is this girl? She's Meghan Chase. The illegitimate, half-human daughter of King Oberon caught in a love triangle between the mischievous Puck and the gallant Prince Ash, son of the infamous Queen Mab. For the most part, these familiar characters are best known from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The combination of one of the greatest works in the literary canon and the modern elements introduced by a contemporary young adult author is pure magic. The battle between the lands of summer and winter is juxtaposed against the larger threat of technological annihilation. The eternal Seelie and Unseelie Courts must band together or perish. In Kagawa's estimation, their glamour cannot survive the insipid spread of the digital age.

Book lovers everywhere will rejoice at Kagawa's stand in support of the legends of old. She is passionate about defending the tales passed down for generations from losing their hold on the heart of humanity. She works to preserve their existence in the minds of young readers through her own writing. The free reign to give creative expression to one's inner fantasies is encouraged rather than tuning out and plugging in to a machine whether it be a iPod, DS or Blackberry. She encourages fostering one's thoughts instead of being told what to think. Fables that have been around for centuries withstand the test of time because they inspire discussion and interaction. Preserving their power to change lives is what the Iron Fey series is all about.

But to keep a teenage audience interested, there is a touch of forbidden romance. Queen Mab tried to kill Meghan, and Ash was banished for protecting her. His rigid demeanor begins to soften as he feels more and more comfortable expressing his love. He would ultimately risk everything for her, but Meghan isn't sure she wants him to. While on the other hand, her best friend, the wily comedian, Puck, is full of unrequited desire for her. Meghan doesn't want to hurt him, but at the same time she feels drawn to the unspoken connection they share. As always, the drama lies in the question - who will she choose?

Kagawa's development of plot has deepened and matured since her initial offerings, The Iron King and The Iron Daughter. The tone is less juvenile in nature relying more on interior character motivation and development rather than on weak dialogue and child-like scenes. She keeps adding layers of richness and texture to her continuing exploration of the NeverNever and the Iron Kingdom. Her main players and crucial settings are becoming more pronounced and recognizable as her own rather than a take on the Bard's. With each venture into the series, Kagawa is growing as a writer. The pinnacle of her endeavor is evident in the internal struggle waged inside Meghan as she fights to hold onto who she is while trying to adapt to who she is meant to become. A hauntingly beautiful depiction of the very essence of an adolescent's rite of passage.

Overall, Kagawa wages a full-scale battle for creative energy over technological numbness.

The Iron Queen by Julie Kagawa is available for $9.99 at and at

Thank you to Yara for recommending this book. Follow her fantastic book blog and Twitter posts.

Review copy provided by Valley Community Library.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ally Condie - Matched - Review

Perception is a tricky thing. What influences our choices - our free will or outside sources? Why do we like the things we do? Is it because we feel a genuine inclination toward something or are we subconsciously being led in a certain direction? Matched by Ally Condie examines the nature vs. nurture issue through the lens of teenage romance. Subtle manipulation is the marketing machine that drives any consumer driven culture. But what happens when it is directed toward matters of the heart? Can a young girl be effectively persuaded to fall in love with a preselected boy just because she is led to believe it is her destiny?

It all goes unquestioned until a technical glitch starts the unraveling of the brainwashing scheme. When Cassia is presented with the computer file of her future husband, Xander - who just happens to be her best friend - for a brief second the screen flickers with the image of another boy, the marginalized Ky. It is reminiscent of the technique used by drive-in movie theaters when they would briefly flash a picture of salty, buttered popcorn in the middle of a film to lure hungry patrons to the concession stand. Are they really hungry or do they only want the popcorn because their taste buds were stimulated by the crave-worthy visual? Cassia could be perfectly happy and content with Xander for the rest of her life, but that one brief second causes her to question what she really wants.

This personal revelation leads Cassia to reexamine the entire structure of their restrictive society. Her eyes are opened for the first time to the dictatorial elements imposed upon them. Their options are severely limited and selected by a ruling body that is viewed as a parental unit better equipped to make these kinds of important decisions. The average person considers themselves incapable of choosing the appropriate spouse. But the most shocking thing is that they believe this to be an indisputable, universal truth.

Cassia's private rebellion begins when she goes out of her way to get to know Ky better. Ultimately, she feels more of an attraction to the boy who is forbidden rather than to her betrothed. She actively courts the danger of the unknown over the security of the familiar. While prompted to consider Ky by an external consequence, once the hook is baited she pursues him out of her own volition. It is fascinating to observe how she completely upends her comfortable life in order to be with someone that before the glitch she would have never even considered.

Condie does an adequate job in forming her dystopian realm. It contains all of the heralded elements from an ever-watchful overseer mentality to the numbing anonymity of an industrialized worldview. There are nightly curfews. There are frequent search-and-seizure raids of residential neighborhoods. There are predetermined selections for job placement. Freedom does not exist. Privacy is a foreign concept. Hope is practically nonexistent.

What do these repressed teenagers do for fun? They go on guided nature walks. They watch censored movies in an auditorium atmosphere. They grab snatches of conversation on the front porch. Xander is the noble hero throughout. He loves Cassia so much that he is willing to let her go so that she can be truly happy. He understands what is going on beneath the surface and he does everything in his power to aid her developing relationship with Ky. He is the innocent victim in this psychological warfare. All he ever wanted was to marry his best friend, and that dream is snatched from his grasp.

Matched concludes with the forced separation of our star-crossed lovers. Will they be reunited? If the cover art of Crossed, book two of the series, is any indication - it appears Cassia is taking matters into her own hands. The cover of Matched shows her sitting demurely in a bubble wearing the green dress she wore to the ceremony where she was paired with Xander. The cover of Crossed shows her breaking out of the bubble and ready for action in a t-shirt and jeans. This chick is taking full ownership of her destiny.

Overall, a fascinating look at how subliminal messaging can influence love.

Matched by Ally Condie is available for $17.99 at and at

Thank you to Karoline for recommending this book. Follow her fantastic book blog and Twitter posts.

Review copy provided by Valley Community Library.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lauren Oliver - Before I Fall - Review

Lauren Oliver nails emotion in her writing. Her words make you achingly feel something in the core of your being. It is a gift not many authors possess, and when you come across such a talent, you treasure it. She provides the type of writing that remains lodged in your consciousness making you feel like you've learned something about yourself that you never knew before.

And sometimes that knowledge is painful. Before I Fall is not a feel-good novel. It may be aimed at a young adult audience, but it is not light and fluffy. It holds a mirror up posing the question, "Are you strong enough to do the right thing if it would make you the object of ridicule?" Most people would answer in the affirmative, but how many would be telling the truth? When push comes to shove, how many of us would slink away in order to save face? It is a fascinating look at a dilemma that everyone faces on a continual basis. While magnified in a high school setting, the ultimatum reoccurs throughout life. We're repeatedly presented with the act of deciding between building up our common humanity or protecting the image we strive to present to the world.

But sometimes, we run out of opportunities. When Sam, the lead character, is unexpectedly killed in a car crash, her choices have already been made. She opted for the shallow, superficial route. Dressing provocatively, humiliating others and advancing her social status were all she cared about. However, fate intervenes when she starts reliving the day of her death seven times in succession. Hindsight is a harsh taskmaster, but bit by bit she begins setting things right.

Oliver is adept at fashioning realistic teenage characters. Their dialogue rings true. Their obsessions are on target. Their interactions are believable. Sam's posse of friends hits the mark. They are bonded by their collective insecurities that they try to pretend don't exist.
They belittle, yet love each other. They're ferociously passive aggressive while at the same time fiercely loyal. You wouldn't want to mess with them because you'd want them on your side.

But the tender moments of the book occur between Sam and her childhood friend, Kent. They've occupied different social orbits during their adolescence. Sam confers to every aspect of the dogma of popularity, while Kent is brave enough to be his own man. Sam is embarrassed for his lack of coolness, while Kent is embarrassed for her lack of character. He challenges her to be a better person, and she resents him for it. Their interactions during Sam's seven days are utterly poignant. The depth of their bond is explored and reborn in a tragically beautiful way. The annoying self-absorption of Sam's friends serves as a perfect contrast highlighting to a greater degree the selfless nature of Kent's love. Oliver's writing shines in the passages featuring the unfolding of Sam and Kent's new-found relationship.

On the flip side is Lindsay, the character who shows the ugliness of Sam's personality. She is the girl that Sam's friends take delight in torturing. They view her as an empty vessel that they can use as their plaything. Little do they know how deeply their words cut and the level of pain they are inflicting on an innocent girl. The result of Lindsay's torment is the ultimate demonstration of what can happen when someone is pushed too far. She represents the painful cry of the bullied and the misunderstood who refuse to cower in the corner any longer. When that plea for help goes unanswered it can lead to unimaginable consequences.

For me, the book is the dual tale of both Sam and Lindsay. They represent two sides of the same coin. Sam is all about maintaining her status, while Lindsay has hers forcibly taken away. Sam is the perpetrator and Lindsay is the victim. However, on the spiritual seven day plane, they are inextricably bound together. They can't move on without first freeing the other. Fate is demanding a resolution to the actions that have been put in motion.

Overall, a fresh take on taking responsibility for bad decisions.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver is available for $17.99 at and at

I discovered this book through a story in my local newspaper. The Scranton Times-Tribune reported on Lauren Oliver's 2010 appearance and her tribute to a deceased local teen. To read the full account, please click here.

LEFT: Author Lauren Oliver signs a copy of her book, "Before I Fall," in the Children's Room at the Dalton Library. In the background is Greg Sandercock, father of the late Delaney Sandercock. The renovated room is in memory of Delaney, who died in a boating accident. Before Delaney died, she requested a copy of Ms. Oliver's book, "Before I Fall." Delaney never got to read the story. When Ms. Oliver heard about Delaney, she wanted to help. She donated money for the renovations and agreed to speak at the rededication ceremony and at a lecture series.

Delaney Sandercock

Review copy, personally inscribed by Lauren Oliver, provided by Valley Community Library.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Beth Revis - Across the Universe - Review

Selfishness. A human malady that can strike anytime, anywhere. But it is truly universal in scope when it festers in the mind of a teenage boy on a spaceship that's been hurtling through the galaxy for hundreds of years. Yes, author Beth Revis has a stellar imagination. Her sci-fi canon blasts off with spectacular imagery as she creates an entire world down to the last detail aboard the vessel, Godspeed. In her debut work, Across the Universe what anchors the story through this never-before-seen terrain is the motivations of its lead characters. A guy so desperate to be with the girl of his dreams that nothing will stand in his way, not even a cryonic suspension chamber, and a girl trying to salvage a life she was not meant to have.

Our heroine, Amy, is frozen in a capsule before being stored in a compartment on Godspeed along with the immobilized bodies of her parents. The process is cringe-inducing, bordering on barbaric. A tube is shoved down her throat and she is submerged in a tank filled with ultra-frigid preservation fluid. She is literally suffocated to sleep. Her terror as she claws at the confines of her glass prison is palpable in the extreme. What she endures is supposed to be worth the trauma - a reanimation when Godspeed reaches its new planetary destination - in 300 years.

However, the architect of this grand design did not count teenage infatuation into the equation. Elder is a young guy destined to rule the inhabitants of the ship. He's in training, but seems like he can never live up to the expectations of the current leader, the appropriately named, Eldest. They are thrown into a tizzy when Amy is mysteriously broken out of her capsule and almost dies. On-board pandemonium ensues.

But who are these minions Eldest is lording it over? The worker drones who keep the ship on course. They even have an artificial farming area to grow food. They've been doing this for generations. Yes, generations. They've become mechanized themselves. They're told when to breed, when to eat, when to speak. Those showing signs of an independent streak are placed in the hospital ward and deemed mentally ill. It is certainly not an open, free society.

Needless to say, Elder is forcibly attracted to Amy. She is the only girl on Godspeed his age. At first, Amy doesn't reciprocate his feelings to the same degree. She's distraught on being awakened 50 years before her parents. She fears that she will never see them alive again. She doesn't know who to trust. Who woke her up? And why?

There are many strange occurrences in this metallic city in the sky. The water system is tainted with medication to keep its inhabitants docile and obedient. Men and women engage in intimate relations in public. The star-studded sky is, for the most part, hidden from view while a false sun separates night from day by an over-sized light bulb. And things aren't exactly going according to plan. Is the ship on course? Is it on track to reach its final destination according to its scheduled time frame?

Issued as an on-going series, Across the Universe ends with a shocking betrayal. It will be interesting to see how the established relationships are affected moving forward. Will cataclysmic breaches be overcome? Will new leadership prevail? Will festering wounds be put aside so that all can work together in order to reach a common goal?

, human frailty is not limited to the confines of Earth.

Kudos, as well, to the design team that crafted the book cover. It is exceptional and conveys the message of the ill-fated love story and its deep space setting in one eye-pleasing image. The full scale of Revis' vision is articulated in this breathtaking, attention-getting package.

Across the Universe by Beth Revis is available for $17.99 at and at

Thank you to Jenbigheart for recommending this book. Follow her fantastic book blog and Twitter posts.

Review copy provided by Valley Community Library.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lauren DeStefano - Wither - Review

Lauren DeStefano's debut novel Wither is dystopian to the max. It embodies all of the genre's integral components - a lack of free will, an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, a foreboding sense of impending death. Our guide into this bleak, colorless world is Rhine, a 16-year-old girl who was kidnapped and sold into an arranged marriage. Her polygamist husband, Linden, sets her up in the lap of luxury. The kicker is - they'll both be dead in a few years since a genetic experiment gone wrong has infiltrated the population limiting the average lifespan to 25 years for males and 20 years for females. To keep the human race going, young girls must breed, and breed quickly. However, there's a problem - Rhine refuses to consummate their marriage.

What enfolds is a series of mind games between those with power and those without. The resident puppet master is Housemaster Vaughn, Linden's sociopath father and member of the long-living "first generation." As a manipulative mad scientist, his basement holds a chamber of horrors where he conducts fruitless experiments in a desperate attempt to extend his son's life. He is the one holding the keys to the castle. No one gets in or out without him knowing. He is a jailer, pimp and grandfather figure rolled into one.

The most intriguing interaction occurs between Rhine and her sister wives. Jenna, the eldest, is street smart. She's jaded, wary and under no false delusions that the world around her is fair. She knows in Linden's eyes she is just a body to impregnate. She gives in to his advances, but does not surrender her heart. Her aloofness is her only form of protection. While Jenna remains barren, the youngest wife, Cecily, becomes pregnant almost immediately. She fluctuates between extremes. On the one hand, she's a 13-year-old with a schoolgirl crush on her husband and on the other, she's a spoiled, demanding diva. While Jenna keeps secrets, Cecily tells them since she is willfully oblivious to the danger lurking behind every frilly dress and shiny candy wrapper.

The bright spot in Rhine's life is the servant, Gabriel. In him, she finds a confidant, and someone she is genuinely attracted to. It is her first experience with true love. She knows Linden does not love her, but is pining for his now-deceased first wife. In an attempt to compensate for his loss, he yearns for Rhine to occupy the physical space that she held. He wants to project his feelings onto her as a new outlet for his dormant affections. Rhine tolerates being a placeholder up to a point, but her heart belongs to Gabriel. While Linden might dress her up and show her off at fancy parties, Gabriel is the one who will risk everything to free her from her gilded cage.

As the first installment in a planned trilogy, Wither closes with a cliffhanger ending. Help comes from an unexpected source and the possibility of hope is reborn. However, what was once a defined waiting game turns into a frenzied hunt for prey. Some have already succumbed to the dreaded early death while others know it is only a matter of time before they too will wither and die. Will Rhine get to experience love, hope and freedom before it's too late?

, a call-to-arms to make the most of the time you've been granted.

Wither by Lauren DeStefano is available for $17.99 at and at

Thank you to GRGenius for recommending this book. Follow her fantastic book blog and Twitter posts.

Review copy provided by Valley Community Library.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Eleanor Brown - The Weird Sisters - Review

If realism in fiction is an art form, then characterization is the piece de resistance. Getting it right is oh so hard to achieve. Stereotyping is a common pitfall, one-dimensional personalities are abundant. But when the essence of a flesh and blood person is transferred to the page, the result is pure magic. Make no mistake, a fully actualized character does not have to be likeable. In fact, how many people are completely honorable when it comes to dissecting a real life? Would the sum total of anyone's actions, desires and motives pass such a litmus test? In Eleanor Brown's The Weird Sisters, a trio of adult women are brilliantly captured as living, breathing human beings - bitchy moments, bad decisions and all.

Perceived failure permeates the psyche. All three sisters feel that they are not living up to expectations. Over the course of a summer, they all return home seeking refuge from the world only to find that their mother is battling for her life. Her illness may bring them under the same roof, but they have a lot of individual issues to resolve before they can come together in any meaningful way.

Rose is terrified of change. She becomes immobilized when confronted with the dilemma of bravely starting a new life with her fiance or clinging to the safety of the familiar. She still lives and works in the same hometown as her parents, and her obstinate loyalty in remaining close to them hinders her ability for growth. Her dedication, while selfless, leaves her stifled. She would rather accept the consistency of a humdrum existence rather than push the envelope. Will she seize the opportunity for love and happiness or let it slip through her fingers?

Bianca, a.k.a. Bean, is a Manhattan socialite in retreat. Her designer handbag didn't contain the cash needed to maintain her expensive lifestyle. Drowning in debt, she leaves everything behind succumbing to depression. She pulls the covers of her childhood bed over her head in disgrace. Small town life does not sit well with her and her pride is further wounded when she ventures out to the local watering hole alone with disastrous results. While trying to keep her financial predicament a secret, she goes on to betray the trust of a longtime friend. Will she sink deeper into immorality or will she find the inner strength to rally and pull her life together?

Cordelia is the free spirit. Sometimes she doesn't wash. She is known to take off for months at a time with no one knowing her exact whereabouts. She's a wanderer, a drifter. Freedom is her religion. Being tied down isn't for her, until she realizes she is pregnant. Her new found sense of responsibility pricks her conscience. She's alone, and she's scared. For the first time, she wonders if she can make a sustained commitment to anyone or anything. Will she run again or will she finally put down roots - in of all places - her hometown?

Literary buffs will appreciate the varied allusions to Shakespeare throughout. From the girls' names to their father's frequent outpourings of soliloquy, the Bard, himself, is cast in a supporting role. His immortal words intertwined with Brown's modern approach fuse together forming a literary style all its own.

, reality is anything but weird.

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown is available for $24.95 at and at

Thank you to Jenn's Bookshelves for recommending this book. Follow her fantastic book blog and Twitter posts.

Review copy provided by Valley Community Library.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Melanie McDonald - Eromenos - Giveaway & Author Interview

My thanks to Melanie McDonald for stopping by Tribute Books Reviews & Giveaways for an author interview about her book, Eromenos.

1. How did you come up with the title?
The word eromenos in ancient Greek referred to the beloved youth in a relationship between a man and a youth, in which the older man of the pair, the erastes, also taught the younger the responsibilities expected of him as a citizen. Later, the aristocratic Romans often emulated this pair bonding; Antinous was the eromenos, and Hadrian the erastes, in their relationship.

2. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
No, there is no particular message, although it is a novel that addresses certain ideas or themes, such as questions of identity and self-determination, or how power affects love relationships and the individuals in those relationships.

3. How much of the book is realistic?

Most of the novel’s historical events and many of the characters are based in reality, including not only Antinous and Hadrian themselves, but also many of the individuals who make up the imperial court. Hadrian surrounded himself with philosophers, poets, physicians, artists and architects—those considered the brightest minds to be found in the empire. Characters such as Hadrian’s foster mother, Plotina, his wife, Sabina, and his mother-in-law, Matidia, also are real.

Some other characters and incidents, however, were invented in service of the story. For example, very little is known of Antinous’ family and early years before he joined the imperial court, so I only was able to attempt to imagine what his family and early childhood in Asia Minor (now Turkey) might have been. Antinous’ fellow students at the imperial school and many of the servants with whom Antinous interacts in the book are invented characters as well.

4. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?
No, I wouldn’t. I researched the era and the empire as thoroughly as I could, and then used the information I found to write the novel, and although a book once written never seems to be the quite the same work in reality as it seemed in the writer’s imagination, I tried to write the best book possible, given my own understanding and limitations, and that’s all I could do if I did it all over again.

5. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The ending was difficult to write, although more uplifting than I would have imagined before I began (perhaps I shouldn’t go into more detail here, in case there are any readers who may not yet be familiar with the historical account).

6. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Yes, I learned that research is a pleasure when a story has become an obsession; at times it felt tempting to just keep doing more research, rather than write.

7. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
When I was very small, I can remember being fascinated with the physical act of writing itself. I would scribble on sheets of paper and go show the scribbles to the nearest adult I could corner, often my mother or grandmother, hoping that this person who already could read would read it and tell me what I had written. I also drew in my books, either to redesign them to my satisfaction, or to add stories-in-pictures of my own. Thank heavens, the grown-ups were all very understanding.

8. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Oh, that is a hard question—there are so many writers whose books have given such pleasure, and from whom I’ve learned so much about writing. Instead of going through that pantheon, I’ll just mention one writer I discovered in junior high school, whose work held me in thrall. Saki was the pen name of H. H. Munro, a British writer who was a World War I hero besides. His stories are mordant, sly, brutal and funny, and he wrote about werewolves long before they became cool. The details of his own death during the war almost seem lifted from one of his stories. As an officer, one of his many battlefield duties included discouraging the enlisted men from a wartime habit of sharing scarce matches to light cigarettes—a practice that gave enemy snipers time to sight on the flare of the struck match and pick off the second or third man. The men in his unit were doing exactly this when Munro himself was killed by a sniper’s bullet. According to later eyewitness reports, his last words were, “Put out that bloody—”

9. Tell us your latest news.
A short story, “The Purple Hat,” just appeared in the first issue of a new online magazine, Fiction Brigade, on September 1. I was delighted to have my work accepted for the premiere issue. The website is

10. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you for reading Eromenos—it’s always a thrill to hear someone enjoyed it. Nicole, thanks for inviting me to Tribute Books during the Eromenos virtual book tour.

About the Book

Book Details:
Price: $14.99, paperback & $2.99, Kindle
Publisher: Seriously Good Books LLC
Published: March 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 176

Eros and Thanatos converge in the story of a glorious youth, an untimely death, and an imperial love affair that gives rise to the last pagan god of antiquity. In this coming-of-age novel set in the second century AD, Antinous of Bithynia, a Greek youth from Asia Minor, recounts his seven-year affair with Hadrian, fourteenth emperor of Rome. In a partnership more intimate than Hadrian's sanctioned political marriage to Sabina, Antinous captivates the most powerful ruler on earth both in life and after death.

This version of the affair between the emperor and his beloved ephebe vindicates the youth scorned by early Christian church fathers as a "shameless and scandalous boy" and "sordid and loathsome instrument of his master's lust." Eromenos envisions the personal history of the young man who achieved apotheosis as a pagan god of antiquity, whose cult of worship lasted for hundreds of years—far longer than the cult of the emperor Hadrian.

In Eromenos, the young man Antinous, whose beautiful image still may be found in works of art in museums around the world, finds a voice of his own at last.

I first encountered Antinous in Marguerite Yourcenar's novel Memoirs of Hadrian. Then I read that St. Athanasius described Antinous as a "shameless and scandalous boy." I decided to get to know him better.

At the Uffizi Museum in Florence, Italy, busts of Hadrian and Antinous reside along opposite sides of a long hall off one wing of galleries. What a shame to have separated them, I thought at first.

After a while, I saw what the museum curator must have known, as the river of museum visitors rushed past between them: how their relationship must have been affected, even eroded, by a constant torrent of people all seeking an audience with the emperor of eternal Rome, even before the two were parted forever by the Nile. The curator in charge of placement there in the great hall had got it right...

Creation, like compassion, calls for acts of imagination. The heart knows no gender or boundary, and lays claim where it will.

About the Author
Melanie McDonald

Melanie McDonald was awarded a 2008 Hawthornden Fellowship for

She has an MFA from the University of Arkansas. Her short stories have appeared in
New York Stories, Fugue, Indigenous Fiction, and online. An Arkansas native whose Campbell ancestors were Highland Scots, she now lives in Virginia with her husband, Kevin McDonald, the author of Above the Clouds: Managing Risk in the World of Cloud Computing.




About the Tour

Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Twitter Hashtag: #EromenosVirtualBookTour

Tour Participants:

Monday, July 18th

Author Guest Post at C.W. Gortner's Historical Boys

Thursday, July 21st

Monday, July 25th

Author Guest Post at Christy English's A Writer's Life: Working with the Muse
Review & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick

Friday, July 29th

Monday, August 1st

Author Interview at Unabridged Chick

Thursday, August 4th

Review at Bibrary Bookslut

Monday, August 8th

Thursday, August 11th

Review at Bonjour, Cass

Monday, August 15th

Thursday, August 18th

Author Guest Post at The Musings of a Book Junkie

Monday, August 22nd

Review & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

Thursday, August 25th

Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Author Guest Post at Nan Hawthorne's Booking History

Monday, August 29th

Review at The Book Garden

Thursday, September 1st

Author Guest Post at One Book Shy of a Full Shelf

Monday, September 5th

Author Guest Post at The True Book Addict
Review & Giveaway at One Book Shy of a Full Shelf

Thursday, September 8th

Review at The True Book Addict

Monday, September 12th

Review at Bibliotropic
Review at By the By Books

Thursday, September 15th

Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair

Friday, September 16th

Interview at Tribute Books Reviews

Monday, September 19th

Wednesday, September 21st

Author Interview at Historical Fiction Obsession

Monday, September 26th

Review at Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell

Congratulations to our winner: Colleen Turner!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Rebecca Rasmussen - The Bird Sisters - Review

The Bird Sisters. An intriguing name for Rebecca Rasmussen's critically acclaimed and much-beloved debut novel. What does it mean? Who are these sisters? Creating a beautiful metaphor for her two lead characters, Milly and Twiss, Rasmussen unveils a portrait of unconditional love. On the surface, these two elderly women are known in their small Wisconsin town as the healers of injured birds. But on a deeper level, as the summer of 1947 is revealed via flashback, an understanding and appreciation of their utter resiliency becomes apparent. They each carry their own internal wounds and scars, and the only balm they find is in each other. The other's presence is the sole elixir that alleviates the pain and loneliness of their quiet, isolated existence. They are kindred spirits to the nth degree - two halves of the same tortured soul.

Of course, their present condition is the end result of their parents' actions. A beautiful, but frustrated, mother. A jaded, cyncial father. A crumbling, distant marriage. Things weren't always like this, but in 1947 when their father gets into an accident and loses his job, despair takes hold of the entire family and never lets go.

Milly is a shy, yet natural, beauty. She begins to attract the attention of Asa, the son of a neighboring farmer. She is a quiet, gentle soul full of grace and dignity. Twiss, on the other hand, is a helter skelter tomboy roaring with energy and mischief. She bases her life around honesty and says what's on her mind. She expects people to be straight with her, and demands the truth, no matter how hurtful it may be, when they are not. Ultimately, Twiss yearns to get out and see the world, while Milly wants a family she can devote her entire life to.

Rasmussen has a deft touch for creating a pitch-perfect setting for the novel. You can feel the sun on your face as the girls float arms outstretched in the local swimming hole. You can smell the freshly cut grass behind the wheels of Asa's lawn tractor. You can see the light on in the barn where their father keeps his solitary vigil. You can hear the lure of the carnival barkers at the country fair. You can taste the sugary icing on Twiss' cake. The imagery is pure, down home comfort.

But it is not enough to keep the family in tact. Through an act of betrayal, it is up to the self-sacrifice of the sisters to set right a grievous wrong. They are both denied the lives they have dreamed about. Instead, they are left to pick up the pieces and band together under their shared sense of solidarity and loss. They gave up everything for the sake of preserving the dignity of others. They made the hard choice, and accepted the consequences of what came with it. All that remains for them, is the love that they have for each other. And even if it is not enough, it is what ultimately sustains them even as they enter their final years.

, sometimes you don't get what you want, you get what you need.

The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen is available for $24.00 at and at

Rebecca is a frequent Tweeter. Follow her @thebirdsisters.

Thank you to Bermudaonion for recommending this book. Follow her fantastic book blog and Twitter posts.

Review copy provided by Valley Community Library.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Kelly Hashway - May The Best Dog Win - Author Interview

My thanks to Kelly Hashway for stopping by Tribute Books Reviews & Giveaways for an author interview about her book, May The Best Dog Win.

1. How did you come up with the title?
The title, May The Best Dog Win, is actually humorous because the battle is between a dog and vacuum cleaner. But it suits the story since the dog, Dash, thinks the vacuum is a strange new breed of dog.

2. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes, the message is that everyone wants to feel loved. Dash thinks he loses his place in Mom's heart when Sweeper arrives. No child, or adult for that matter, wants to feel that way.

3. How much of the book is realistic?

The is actually based on my own dog's reaction to the vacuum cleaner, so there is some truth in the story.

4. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?
I don't think so. I was very happy with the final product. The illustrator and team of editors I worked with at FutureWord Publishing did a great job.

5. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
I find the actual writing to be the easiest part. The tough part is finding the right publisher for the story.

6. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned that picture books are definitely a 50/50 between the author and the illustrator. I had to give up control and allow the illustrations to tell the story with me.

7. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I've always loved books, and even at a young age, I wrote stories. I just have a lot going on in my head, tons of ideas that need to be written down.

8. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
There are so many great authors. I love Don Freeman's Corduroy books. Freeman makes that bear the most lovable creature.

9. Tell us your latest news.
I have other picture books in the works. A coloring book edition of May The Best Dog Win will be available in the very near future. I also have a book called The Purrfect Puppy set to release in October. In addition, I have two other picture books under contract.

10. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Keep reading because books are one of the greatest treasures we have.

About the Book
May The Best Dog Win

Book Details:
Price: $11.95, paperback
Publisher: FutureWord Publishing
Published: March 2011
Genre: Children's Picture Book
Pages: 30

Dash has the perfect life until the Super Sweeper 5000 shows up. Sweeper runs all over the house sucking up the leftover food scraps, and he even gets his own room! But Dash won't give up his place as the favorite dog without a fight.

About the Author
Kelly Hashway

Kelly Hashway, formerly Kelly Bradley, is originally from Vernon, New Jersey. Her love of reading and writing led to a degree in English. She taught middle school language arts in Blairstown, New Jersey for seven years before becoming a full-time writer and mother. Kelly has published over fifty short stories in various children’s magazines and anthologies. May The Best Dog Win is her first picture book. Kelly is a supporter of the ASPCA and the Humane Society. She resides in northeastern Pennsylvania with her husband, daughter, dog, and cat.




Book Signing Event

First time picture book author and local resident, Kelly Hashway, will be hosting a reading and book signing at The Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort’s Buckwood Café from 10:00am – 11:00am on Saturday, September 17th in celebration of her latest published work May the Best Dog Win.

The reading and book signing are free and open to the public. Refreshments and delicious treats will be available for purchase at The Buckwood Café. The week leading up to the event, signed copies of May the Best Dog Win will be available for purchase at The Buckwood Café.

For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact Jeromy Wo, the Shawnee Inn’s Public Relations Coordinator at tel: 570-424-4050 x1409 or e-mail:

About The Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort

The Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort, rich in breathtaking views, features 80 rooms in the historic Inn, 12 rooms in the Delaware Lodge, plus six suites and two cottages in Shawnee’s luxury accommodation, the Legacy Collection. Shawnee’s varieties of recreational facilities make it an ideal destination for any event. Choose from Shawnee’s 27-hole championship island golf course, golf lessons at the Tillinghast Golf Academy, nine-hole lighted Tillinghast Approach Course, skiing at Shawnee Mountain, mountain biking, or hiking on the scenic Appalachian Mountain trails, canoeing, rafting, fishing, kayaking, indoor pool, fitness room, tennis, professional theater, and Spa Shawnee and Salon.

The Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort is conveniently located 70 miles from New York City, 100 miles from Philadelphia, 150 miles from Albany, N.Y. and 200 miles from Washington, D.C. Three airports – Lehigh Valley International, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and Newark International – all are within easy distance of the property.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Becca Fitzpatrick - Crescendo - Review

Well, all you fan girls - hold onto your belt loops because Patch is back in Becca Fitzpatrick's Crescendo, the sequel to her New York Times best selling debut, Hush Hush. What could be hailed as the second coming of Edward Cullen is the dark, brooding guardian angel known as Patch and his forbidden romance with his all-too-human girlfriend, Nora. This bad boy known for his tight black jeans and chiseled washboard abs has teenage hearts aflutter across the country. And it's not just adolescents who are into this young adult phenomenon - female readers of all ages are propelling this paranormal series into the stratosphere.

So, what's all the hype about? Nora, a high-strung, emotional girl, is a bundle of nerves throughout the book. She is perpetually conflicted about Patch's true feelings for her. She wants to move on, but she can't. She can't have Patch, but she still wants him. She can't stand seeing him with other girls, but she makes sure to kiss other guys right in front of him. A typical high school relationship.

But where Nora and Patch differ is that they find themselves battling the elements of a supernatural realm. When Patch first met Nora, he was a fallen angel. Bad news. After he saved her life, he automatically became her guardian angel. Which sounds good, however his new role stipulated that he was not allowed to fall in love with his charge or he would earn a one-way ticket to hell. So who's keeping tabs of Patch's love life? The archangels. A group that monitors and enforces otherworldly law. They're watching Patch and Nora. To prevent a terrible fate from befalling her beloved, Nora after openly declaring her love, puts an end to their relationship. Chapters full of longing and heartache ensue.

Fitzpatrick knows her audience and her dialogue is spot on for the social media generation. Vee, Nora's BFF, perfectly represents this banter. She's worried about being too fat. She's obsessed with cute guys. She's on her cell phone, 24/7. You get the idea. While Scott, the new boy in town with a secret past, is the ideal model of the surly boy. He talks back to his mother. He throws spur of the moment drinking parties. He hangs out in the bad part of town. His wise guy persona masks an inner turmoil that he is failing to alleviate on his own. Will Nora put her feelings for Patch aside and be a source of comfort for her new admirer?

While full of Fitzpatrick signature scenes - car chases in the library parking garage, danger at the amusement park and make-out sessions in Patch's Jeep, the sequel takes a more serious note when Nora begins seeing her murdered father walking around town. Is he really dead? Is he really her father? Is he out to harm her? A new level of intrigue is introduced in regards to why Marcie Millar, Nora's archenemy and now rival for Patch's affections, is so obsessed with making Nora's life a living hell. While an unexpected twist has one character abruptly switching sides.

Overall, Crescendo is a bit long on narrative at over 400 pages - the on-again/off-again nature of Nora and Patch gets a little tedious and the paranormal terminology gets a tad intricate and confusing. But the multiple surprise revelations at the conclusion will certainly leave fans eager for the third installment of Fitzpatrick's uber-popular series.

Crescendo by Becca Fitzpatrick is available for $18.99 at and at

Review copy provided by Valley Community Library.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Neil Hanson - Peace at the Edge of Uncertainty - Giveaway & Review

Death is the final frontier. It is the destination of every person to walk the face of the Earth. It is unavoidable, inescapable, unknowable - yet it holds such a mysterious fascination. Any book examining death from a personal perspective immediately becomes universal in scope. We all seek to find out what lies beyond. We yearn for answers, yet fear what is impossible to discern. In Peace at the Edge of Uncertainty, Neil Hanson recounts the spiritually charged moment of experiencing firsthand his father's passing. In that hospital room, he witnessed the veil, separating life and death, briefly lift in his presence. It was a profound encounter that continues to shape his outlook on life.

Hanson wrote the book 15 years after his father's death. It is composed in letter format as he attempts to correspond with his father on a spiritual plane. He hopes that by expressing his thoughts and emotions on paper the message will reverberate to where his father's soul now resides. Hanson stresses two points. First, he says he's sorry for any stress his youthful misbehavior may have caused and that he forgives his father for not always being there for him when he was growing up. Second, he tells his father that he loves him. Contrition, forgiveness and love are what Hanson yearns to tell his father from the very depths of his heart.

The emphasis behind this communication is that Hanson's father was brought to the hospital in a coma from which he never recovered. The unexpected nature of the situation left no room for closure. Hanson was never able to talk with his dad again. While his body was still physically present for the remaining time they had together, his mind was not. This absence of words prompted Hanson to write this book. He longed to be able to communicate with his father one last time.

While Christian in nature, the book is pluralistic in tone. Hanson does not endorse any particular faith and in fact finds that many organized religions hinder people from connecting with the divine. He feels people are desperately searching for ways to experience God in their lives, and that they are not provided with the proper spiritual instruction on how to achieve this desire.

His own divine awakening began as a teenager at a high school wrestling tournament. When he was thrown to the ground during a match, he felt his soul leave his body. The atmosphere around him became suffused with light and harmony. Everything was silent, but for what seemed like a chorus of angels filling his ears. He felt a sense of peace he never knew existed. He had entered a state of utter bliss. It was magical, mystical. Until he floated up to the ceiling and noticed the dust on a light fixture, his soul with a pop immediately reunited with his body on the mat. Being able to notice something ordinary like dust, Hanson took to mean that he was still tethered to the ties of this world.

It wasn't until his father drew his last breath that this doorway opened to him again. Albeit, this time he was only allowed to peek through the keyhole and not walk through the door. The same immense feelings engulfed him as his father's soul became separated from his body. While ultimately feeling sad for their impending separation, Hanson also experienced an overwhelming sense of joy as he felt a divine presence enter the room. With his heart rapidly beating and tears streaming down his face, he was granted the privilege of witnessing his father cross the dividing line between life and death.

In a beautiful passage, Hanson recounts the joy of impending fathers in the hospital's maternity ward at the arrival of their newborn babies. What happiness to be there for your child on such a momentous occasion. As his father's soul slips away he realizes the circular nature of the journey. As the son is now there for the father as he returns to the place from which he was born.

Hanson beautifully relates the privilege of being able to witness the last breath of a loved one.

Peace at the Edge of Uncertainty by Neil Hanson is available for $17.95 at and at

Review copy courtesy of the Peace at the Edge of Uncertainty blog tour.

1 copy of the paperback version of the book to the FIRST person who leaves a comment on a blog along with an email address.

EBOOK GIVEAWAY (International)
Copy of the ebook version of the book (in choice of format) to EVERY person who leaves a comment on any blog review along with an email address during the month of September 2011.

All entrants will automatically be subscribed to Neil Hanson's email newsletter. Contact information is NEVER shared, and subscribers can unsubscribe at any time.

About the Book
Peace at the Edge of Uncertainty

Book Details:
Publisher: High Prairie Press
Published: May 2010
Pages: 132
Genre: Spirituality, Inspirational, Body/Mind/Spirit

In this story told in the first-person form of a letter from a middle-aged man to his deceased father, Hanson invites us to journey with him through the final days of the father’s life, finding a magical transition waiting at the end of that journey. The story weaves end-of-life reality and spiritual questioning into a sensitive and revealing tapestry of Truth and Wisdom. The tapestry is colored with true stories of mystical experiences that inform the spiritual path of the son.

Most of us will face difficult and painful end-of-life decisions with the most important people in our lives. The threads of this aspect of the story are sensitive, and Hanson reveals the struggles and destinations of the son as he wrestles deeply with the journey that he must walk in making these decisions for his dying father.

Paperback buy links:
Barnes & Noble

Ebook buy links:
Kindle - $2.99
Nook - $2.99
Smashwords - $2.99

About the Author
Neil Hanson

Neil Hanson lives and works in Colorado. Peace at the Edge of Uncertainty is his first book. He blogs actively and writes articles for periodicals. He is an avid outdoorsman, passionate about hunting and fishing. He spends a great deal of time bicycling the roads and trails of Colorado, and backcountry skiing in winter. His passion for gardening spills over into a joint venture with his oldest son, where they operate a landscaping and construction company in Colorado.

Neil Hanson's website:

Neil Hanson's Facebook:

Neil Hanson's Twitter:

Neil Hanson's blog:

About the Tour

Tribute Books Blog Tours

Tour Participants:

August 15
Marilyn's Musings

September 1

The Book Connection (author interview)
Live to Read

September 2
Dad of Divas

September 3
Crazed Mind

September 4
The Guide to Good Books

September 5
Dragonfly Essence
Moonlight, Lace & Mayhem

September 6
You Gotta Read Reviews Guest Blog (guest post)

September 7
Tribute Books Reviews & Giveaways

September 8
Tribute Books Mama

September 11
Literary R&R

September 12
Coupon Scribbles

September 14
Reading, Reading & Life

September 15
Splashes of Joy

September 17
Minding Spot

September 18
Everything Has a Purpose

September 23
CMash Loves to Read (guest post)

September 25
Reading Between the Lines

September 29
The Hurley Edition

September 30
Passionate Children's Servant
Putting Words Down on Paper