TLC Book Tours: Woman with a Gun by Phillip Margolin

208698684 of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to the publisher and TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review!

Woman With a Gun starts with the story of Stacey Kim, a talented writer, who is having trouble with ideas for her first novel. She dropped everything to move to New York and become successful, only she hasn’t been able to do that yet. One day, on her lunch break she goes to the Museum of Modern Art and stumbles upon the photo, “Woman with a Gun” by famous photographer Kathy Moran. Stacey is immediately intrigued and inspired to write a novel loosely based on the story behind the photo – the only problem is that no one knows the story. Stacey eventually finds out that the photo is of Megan Cahill, the wife of Raymond Cahill who was brutally murdered in their home on the night of their wedding. So begins her journey to learn more – Stacey interviews the lead detective on the Cahill murder, Jack Booth, and the story quickly jumps back to the Kilbride case, which happened several years before the Cahill murder, and explains Kathy Moran’s background and Jack’s connection to her. As Stacey is uncovering the truth about these cases, she begins to put the puzzle together that no one has been able to before and ends up finding herself in danger also.

So we have three main plots: the present where Stacey is investigating the photo, the Cahill case, and the Kilbride case. However, unlike a lot of books with subplots in different timelines, Woman with a Gun does not jump back and forth incessantly. For this reason, I loved it. The fact that each story is told almost independently adds a lot of suspense and keeps you guessing who the Cahill killer is until the end.

I’ve seen other reviews that say this book was difficult to get into and that it didn’t keep the reviewers attention since it is difficult to see how the different crimes are connected until the very end. Yes, the connections are not there in the beginning, but the stories are written without fluff, almost like a detective is presenting you the facts. So, in my opinion, the writing style is perfect for this story.

Throughout the entire book, I was prepared to give a 5-star rating – The premise of the story being based on a photo is amazing; the story keeps your attention; the characters are developed just enough to make you interested in all of their outcomes but not too much to detract from the actual whodunit plot. I did slightly lower my rating at the end though because I’m a snob when it comes to mystery and I don’t like when I am able to guess who the killer is. Although, I only guessed in the last couple of chapters.

If you want a quick mystery (this book literally took me less than one day to read), then I highly recommend Woman with a Gun. This was my first time to read Phillip Margolin, and I was definitely not disappointed.

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TLC Book Tours: Beyond Coincidence by Jacquie Underdown

I have a confession… I’ve always been somewhat anti-romance – not necessarily a romance basher, but just someone who always passed by the romance section in search of better books. I’ve only read a couple in my life, and I thought they were poorly written and super cliché/cheesy. I, therefore, assumed that the entire romance genre is not for me. So when Lisa from TLC Books Tours asked me to join the tour for Beyond Coincidence, I was hesitant but eventually decided that I should maybe give romance another try. And well… I learned that I should take it a little easier on the romance genre. So thank you to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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4 of 5 stars

Beyond Coincidence is the story of Lucy who takes a solo trip to France after being heart broken by the man that she thought was the love of her life. While there she discovers that she is the only person who can see Freddy, a dead soldier whose remains have recently been dug up and who needs help having his remains identified so he can finally be laid to rest and have peace. He says to Lucy that he doesn’t quite know why but he feels like she was meant to be the one to help him. Freddy goes back to Australia with Lucy and begins the journey of learning about the life he never got to have. Lucy is able to track down Freddy’s last remaining relative, Nate – his great grandson, who has recently had some heartbreak of his own. They are immediately drawn to each other and up being inspirations to each other and to Freddy.

From the summary on the back of this book, I was somewhat scared that Lucy was going to fall in love with a ghost and then end up with a tragic, cheesy love story that would just make me gag. But it’s apparent after the first couple of pages that that is not the case. Also, after the first chapter, it’s pretty easy to guess what’s going to happen, but then again… that’s what I’m looking for in romance – a feel-good story, but one that’s real life without the romantic scenes being forced. Jacquie Underdown does a wonderful job of focusing on plot development while still delivering the romance. She also does a fantastic job with the magical realism of Freddy’s ghost – I completely believed that Lucy speaking with Freddy was something that was absolutely normal.

What really kept me interested in the entire story was the slight suspense of what Freddy and Lucy’s actual connection would end up being and if Freddy would find the rest that he was seeking. And everything connected beautifully in the end. This is definitely a cozy story of different types of relationships that make us who we are and enrich our lives. The only reason I give this book 4 instead of 5 stars is that the dialogue seems a little bit forced at times, but not so much that the story still didn’t feel sincere.

I will definitely be giving Jacquie Underdown’s other books a shot whenever I need to take a break from all my long fantasy series and read something a little lighter. I would recommend this book to anyone who is overwhelmed with a longer series that you’re in the middle of like I was or needs a quick genre switch to break up the monotony.

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TLC Book Tours: GI Brides

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4 of 5 stars

Hi everyone!! There has been a very severe and sad decline in the amount of time I have had to read lately because of my new job, but I did have time to read this one after being accepted to join TLC Book Tours. I otherwise would not have even known about this new release, and I’m so glad that I did find out about it. So thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

GI Brides is the true and personal story of four very different brides of WWII veterans – Sylvia who was excited to serve the “Yanks” as a Red Cross volunteer, Margaret whose family was extremely suspicious of the yanks, Rae who was a tomboy and herself served in the English army, and Lyn who was a shy and naïve younger woman as the war began. All of these women fell in love with men who were stationed in England during the war and eventually followed them to America when the US government transported upwards of 60,000 GI Brides. The chapters switch back and forth between their stories of how their marriages and lives changed after moving to America. Ultimately, this nonfiction story ends up reading like fiction because of the details and dialogue included in each woman’s story.

I’m not normally a person who picks up non-fiction unless it is labeled as a memoir, and the only reason I chose to be on the tour for GI Brides is because I am a military spouse and thought I would be able to identify with it. I did not expect this book to be so narrative based and to draw me in the way that it did. By the end, I was so invested in these women’s lives and cried with them in the happy moments and the sad. This definitely is my kind of non-fiction!

I love how the authors took the time to seek out some of the GI Brides who had different experiences, who led very different paths after they left England, and chose to tell their stories in a way that a lot of women can identify with and can enjoy reading about. I’ve read several historical romance fiction novels written in the WWII era, and I think this book rates right there with some of the best of those. It’s insightful and afterwards heartwarming and inspiring because you know that you have read about real people’s lives. I actually learned a thing or two that I didn’t already know about WWII, how the Americans reacted to the influx of GI Brides, and the difficultly that some of the women had with transitioning cultures.

I would recommend this book to any of you who like to read about love stories, especially those set in wartime, and to anyone would also like to be surprised by a non-fiction story.

Check out the GI Brides website for more info on the brides in this story and some new brides featured in upcoming short stories, author bios on Nuala Calvi and Duncan Barrett, and pictures and blog posts from the GI Brides.

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New Releases: How to Tell Toledo vs. One Plus One

Hi all!! Sorry I’ve left you all so lonely for so long. I forgot how crazy the moving process is. Things are finally starting to slow down again, so I’m back to reading and reviewing. I finally got internet hook-up today, therefore we begin the long process of catching up on reviews.

First… two books released today that I realized after reading have much of the same features – a quirky girl with a different outlook on life, a nerdy but lovable guy, some family drama, and a little bit of romance – with slightly different plots. I received both of these books through NetGalley in return for an honest review. I’ll give you a little info and let you pick the better summer read for yourself.

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3 of 5 stars

How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky is the story of Irene and George, two astronomists with completely different outlooks on life. George is a dreamer – far more than you would ever think a scientist would be – and a lover, and I mean sleezy, womanizer sleeps-with-his-students type lover because he’s searching for the girl that he “used to dream about but can’t quite remember”. Irene is an anti-lover and doesn’t believe that love even truly exists. She ran away from her drunk mother to pursue her dream of discovering the make-up of a black hole and therefore creating a black hole to revolutionize science. The only outlet she has in life is lucid dreaming where she can visit with the sober version of her mother.

Sound weird? My first thought about 5 pages in was “WHOA”. Here’s what I expected based on the book summary: a Rosie Project type story with some smart people romance and a different twist because their parents organized the entire thing. What is not mentioned in the book summary is that there is also some pretty deep philosophical details involving gods (somewhat Greek but more modern), destiny, soul twins, and other astrology related things. The story switches between Irene’s mom – Bernice, George’s mom – Sally, Irene, and George’s points-of-view to explain the set-up and key events from George and Irene’s childhoods. There are also lengthy philosophical breakdowns about the stars and destiny. I kept reading through the end of the book still trying to figure out if it is good weird or bad weird… and I finally decided – GOOD weird.

The plot, even with all the philosophical speak, is still pretty fast moving. It starts with Irene and George meeting as adults and then goes back from there to learn the details of their set up. There is a lot of adventure with George – he’s a very spontaneous and carefree man, and a lot of brooding from Irene. The love story is a bit cheesy, but this is still a good quirky read. This book is honestly the weirdest book that I have ever read.. it is unlike any other. Was it lacking in some areas? Yes. Good or bad? At the end of the day, I end up choosing good because the philosophical aspects make you think. I hear that’s good for you!!

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4 of 5 stars

One Plus One is an entirely different type of geeky love story – Ed is a wealthy half-owner of a software company who has a lawsuit looming over his head because accidently gives away insider trading details for his company. Jess is really a large mess – she has two children that she busts her butt for but just can’t make ends meet. Her daughter, Tanzie, has been accepted to attend an elite math school, and the Math Olympiad with a $5000 prize is their only hope of paying he tuition. Not to mention, the problems with her son, Nicky, getting beaten up at school over and over. Thus, ensues a brilliant adventure where Ed’s and Jess’s lives are tangled together and they go from silently tolerating one another to sparking romance in just a few days during one road trip with enough mishaps to last a lifetime.

This is the definition of a romantic comedy – and one that was well written. There is substantial character development. Jess’s life has had so many things go wrong that you can’t help but hope with your whole gut that something goes right for her. Ed also has so much riding on his shoulders – when the story begins, he is merely trying to do something to help someone else in order to forget his own troubles. And Tanzie and Nicky’s voices add perfectly to the story to bring an outside view into Jess and Ed’s world.

The only drawback to this book, is the intensity with Jess and Ed’s romance. It was 0 to 60 in about a day. I guess this is slightly excusable because they were stuck in a car together 24/7.. but it still bothers me. However, not enough to not enjoy the rest of the story. It’s just a great feel-good summer read… all the way down to retaliation against the boys who continue to beat Nicky. It makes you laugh out loud at Tanzie’s quirkiness and cry right along with Jess during her heartbreak at her life’s circumstances. I was 100% invested in all the characters. Oh and I read it in less than a day… I definitely wouldn’t mind a sequel!

Hope this helps with your New Release picks! Happy summer reading! Any other new summer books that I need to know about??

Glitter and Glue: Hold on to your heartstrings

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4 of 5 stars

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion. 

Your father may be the glitter, but I’m the glue.

Whoa…when I say hold on to your heartstrings, I mean… really tight! This book is an emotional roller coaster – but a great read for anyone who has a mom… so EVERYONE. I found myself tearing up often with memories of my own mom. Glitter and Glue is a beautiful tribute to the mother-daughter relationship.

Kelly Corrigan is a really great writer. I’ve never read anything by her, and I picked this one up solely because I love memoirs about mother-daughter relationships. She writes the story in first person, so it reads like fiction and is very entertaining. Also, Kelly Corrigan must have (1) been keeping insanely detailed journals her entire life, or (2) exaggerated some details in this story, or (3) have superhuman abilities for remembering details. I’m going to guess it’s number one. So notes to self: KEEP JOURNALS, WRITE IN FIRST PERSON – if I ever decide to write a book. Although I think I’ll just stick with blogging.

The first 85% of the book is about her experience with nannying in Austrailia and how it made her appreciate her mother. It’s vividly written with details of the Tanner family’s loss and Kelly’s emotional responses. I LOVED this part. She struggles with winning the love of Milly who just lost her mother to cancer, and she realizes that she hears her mother’s voice with everything that happens and finds herself becoming her mother – like a lot of us do.

I thought she was going to have some splendid reunion with her mom… but she didn’t. The end goes into hyper speed mode and does not give much detail about how Austrailia actually changes her relationship with her mother. It was kind of a let down, but did not ruin the beginning of the story that was so beautifully told – It reminded me somewhat of the writing style of Cheryl Strayed in Wild.

Overall, a great read that I would recommend to someone who wants to reminisce about their childhood and have lots of memories pulled out that they forgot existed

A Monster Calls: Phenomenally Heartwrenching

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4 of 5 stars

If you’ve heard of A Monster Calls, then you’ve most likely heard the story behind it: Siobhan Dowd began the story after she was diagnosed with cancer, but unfortunately cancer never let her finish. Patrick Ness finished it after finally giving in to the request of her publisher. In the introduction, Ness says that he was reluctant until he read her notes, started having more ideas, and felt her saying “Go. Run with it. Make trouble.”   I usually adamantly stay away from “cancer books”, but the story behind this one was so moving.. I checked it out from the library the day first I heard about the book.

A Monster Calls is truly a heartwrenching story – simply but powerfully told. After Conor’s mother begins treatments, a monster in the form of an elm tree visits Conor and tells him three stories, with the deal that at the end Conor has to tell him his story.. his TRUTH. At first, Conor (and the reader) has a hard time figuring out if the monster is real or if he is only dreaming . Then Conor comes to expect the monster and finds comfort in his presence, in his stories, which are ultimately leading Conor to actually face his truth. Everything in the story is tied together so perfectly… there is beautiful symbolism with the elm tree, the monster’s timing, and Conor’s dreams.

The story is about grief and how people handle it so differently – how people make themselves believe something else when the truth is too hard, how they think things they wouldn’t normally think. I think the true message of this book is to let yourself feel and then to give yourself a break. It was truly touching – not to mention, tearjerking.

You do not write your life with words, the monster said. You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.

Since A Monster Calls deals so closely with the monster that took Siobhan Dowd’s life, it ends up being a beautiful tribute to her life. Well done, Patrick Ness! Stories don’t end with the writers, however, many started the race.

The Godborn by Paul S. Kemp – New Fantasy Authors

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The Sundering #2 – 4 of 5 stars

I received this book for free from Wizards of the Coast publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Confession: I have a problem when it comes to the fantasy genre of sticking with my tried and true authors – mainly Tolkien, R.A. Salvatore, J.K. Rowling (of course), and Terry Goodkind (although after reading what he really thinks about himself, I’m pretty sure I’m off that train – see this interview).

So after doing a little bit of research on The Sundering Series, I figured it would be the perfect way to discover new fantasy authors because (1) The series is headed off by R.A. Salvatore who I know I love. (2) The books are considered stand alone as each of them are about about a different world within the Forgotten Realms. (3) Wizards of the Coast chose the authors they consider to be their best to participate in this series. Sounds perfect to me!

The Godborn was, therefore, the first book I read by a fantasy author that I am unfamiliar with. I feel really accomplished right now!

The story starts with Varra (great name, right?) She’s running from something, and she’s pregnant. She ends up in a wildflower field where a shadowwalker touches her stomach and “changes” the baby. Then, she suddenly is able to magically wish herself to safety. The place that she unknowingly wishes herself to is 70 years in the future at the Abbey of the Rose. She dies in childbirth, and baby Vasen is left for the people of the light to raise. Skip ahead 30 years – Vasen is one of the First Blade, the protectors of the Oracle and very powerful with his gift of the light. He was born of shadow but studies the light – it is this that makes him the key to saving the world and also sought by powerful evil for an end to their means. So the journey begins with our hero Vasen Cale..

This book is extremely well written – I was literally getting a vocabulary lesson the entire time; however, it did not distract from the story. This story was darker than the typical fantasy that I go for – there was a lot of brutal and vivid killing, and the fighting scenes were explained in gory detail – but I found it essential to the story. The characters, even the small ones, were developed in such a way that you get to really know the plight of the people living in darkness and you truly understand the extent of the evil that is threatening to end the world.

I’m sure that a fantasy author trying to write a standalone novel is not an easy task, because most authors develop their world throughout several series and have so much rich, imagined history woven in. I had to read this book slowly at the beginning to make sure I wasn’t missing any details, but for the amount of backstory that had to be told, Kemp did an amazing job. I never felt lost or confused.

Vasen Cale is the type of character that draws you in and keeps you rooting for his outcome. I loved the combination of light and darkness. Vasen himself is a contradiction and proves that what is considered “bad” is not always bad. Perceptions are not always correct. There is tue evil in the world and then there are just prejudices.

He didn’t know how much more apetite he had for any of it. The things he’d seen…

The Godborn is rich in detail, action, character development, and vivid themes. It will make your soul hurt for the people suffering but smile with the victory throughout. Overall, I’m intrigued and will continue on in The Sundering series.

2013 Top Five Countdown #5: What Alice Forgot

After much contemplation, I think I’m finally ready to write about my top 5 books from 2013. I picked my favorite five books that I read in 2013 (not necessarily published in 2013) and will post one review per week until we get to the top.

My number five pick is What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. It ranks up there because of the emotion that it was able to draw from me. I really connected with Alice and her sister and was sucked into the story from the very beginning.

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4 of 5 stars

My review written in September 2013:

What Alice Forgot is an outstanding story about a woman who wakes up to find that she no longer recognizes herself, not even a little bit. She finds out that her husband hates her, she is mean to her children, and she isn’t even friends with her sister. Out of all the books I have read in the past couple of months, this one ranks up there with the most outstanding character development… for everyone, not just Alice.

I loved the ending, I’m talking love love love. It boosted my rating to 4 stars instead of 3. It kept you guessing until the very end to what Alice would choose, and what would happen with Libby’s situation, even tricked you throughout the book… I literally did a happy dance when you find out who the one she woke up next to in the last chapter was. I love how the book shows the struggles that there are in marriage. Depending on your point of view, the ending was pleasantly happy, but I didn’t feel it was cheesy at all.

The only complaint that I have about the story is that it seemed to drag out in some chapters, although not bad. It could have been just as great if it was shorter, though.

Overall, I loved this book. It left me with a satisfied joy that life can turn out the way you choose, and that it’s never too late to change who you are. It really made me examine my life… If I woke up tomorrow and didn’t remember the last 10 years of my life would I recognize myself, and would I actually like myself? Not a bad thing to ask yourself every now and then.

Looking back, I still remember all the feels from this book and the richness of the characters. I will definitely be buying a copy for my comfort bookshelf and reading it again soon.

Stay tuned for #4 next week…

My love-hate relationship with The Book Thief

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Surprisingly, 4 of 5 stars.

My experience with The Book Thief was a roller coaster, to say the least… I picked it up obviously thinking it was the best book ever because of all the hype, and at first I was genuinely impressed – Zusak’s writing style in this book is truly unique, phenomenal even, and the choice of Death as the narrator is pretty genius. So I was immediately sucked in. Then a few chapters later, I realized I was really bored. The story didn’t have much depth, and it was turning into more of a character study with a few stolen books thrown in. I started speed reading so that I could get done by the library due date and not have to go back to the end of the 90 person wait list. Well… I didn’t make it. About a week later, I found The Book Thief at the thrift store (score!!!), so I immediately finished it. The story never really sucked me in again until about the last 80 pages (not really much for a 560 page book). Usually, my opinion of a book is not swayed specifically by the ending but, in this case, it was completely different. The ending is beautiful, sad but beautiful, and it have the rest of the book a purpose.

The ending was so perfect that I literally sat there for 30 minutes after I finished and just had to think before I could do anything else. Though The Book Thief did drag in the middle, it ended up being a tribute to a little girl who made lives better, who faced loss but in the end kept her strength. Throughout the story, Death seemed enthralled by Liesel Meminger. It amazes me what humans can do, even when streams are flow down from their faces and they stagger on, coughing and searching, and finding.

The story skips around and leaves holes in places, but at the end you realize this is because Death was with Liesel Meminger often taking people away from her, but he was not always there. So you see the pieces as he would have seen them, and hear about them simply from his view. I am haunted by humans. Death was haunted by the strength of humans, specifically that of Liesel Meminger, during a time of profound loss.

From the very beginning, Liesel loses her mother and brother. The Hubermanns become her foster parents, and she falls in love with them. They take in a Jew named Max, and she falls in love with him while her family hides him. She also comes to love Rudy Steiner and Ilsa Hermann. All of these characters are so well developed that you see the tragedy of loss during World War II, from a personal view.

Really all I can say is that this book is just a beautiful, sad song.. one that I will surely read again.

Thriller that’s actually THRILLING: In the Blood by Lisa Unger

In the Blood

4 of 5 stars

I received a pre-release copy of this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley. This is the first I have read by Lisa Unger, but do not worry I will be reading more.

In the Blood is about Lana Granger, a deep deep character who reveals herself, the good and the bad, gradually throughout the book and keeps you wanting more. The book begins with her as a child hiding under her bed after coming home to find her mom dead and her dad making her help him bury her. From there, the story skips to the present. Lana is in college and very close to her mentor/adviser who encourages her to find a job, specifically one working with Luke Kahn, a very messed up somewhat psycopathic little boy. Then her roommate goes missing and Luke asks her to play a scavenger hunt with him… hmm. The roller coaster of who exactly is involved and who is playing who in the psychopathic cat and mouse game never slows down from there.

I really really liked this book. I knew there was a twist so I was making up all sorts of stories in my head the entire time and couldn’t put it down. I still ended up not guessing the actual twist. Lisa Unger so gradually unveils the whole truth in such a perfect way. There were moments where my heart was pounding… this was actually the feeling I was hoping to get when I reading Red Dragon that I knew existed somewhere out there.

I admit I don’t read many thrillers, but this was a very well written majorly suspenseful psychological thriller. I especially loved Lana’s character development and questioning of her own behavior and the weaving together of everyone else in her life in a very unique way.