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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Pre-Release Review: Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof

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5 of 5 well-deserved stars

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

I would never have known about this book if it weren’t for NetGalley, and I’m so glad I found it. I noticed it because of the cover and title. Then I did a little research and discovered that Martha Woodroof is affiliated with NPR. I love love love NPR, so that’s all I needed. I requested and read it right away.

Small Blessings could definitely go into the literary fiction category, which isn’t usually my bag. But in this case, I really liked it because it wasn’t overly dramatic and drawn out.

This is the story of a cast of characters at a women’s college – Tom Putnam is a loyal, gentle-hearted man who has been taking care of Marjory, his mentally frayed wife, for 20 years; Agnes, Tom’s mother-in-law, is a quirky, stubborn lady who is searching for her new beginning; Russ Jacobs is a callous, egotistical alcoholic who hides behind his sarcasm and anger; Iris is a spunky red-head who likes to stir the pot but has no real friends. In walks Rose Callahan, an independent, wanderer who is so sure of herself that she makes others sure of themselves. She is the epitome of independence, but she is too guarded to let anyone really know her. Within the first few days after Rose’s arrival, Marjory dies, and Tom’s 6-year-old “son” that he never knew about turns up in town. (Don’t worry… not a spoiler… these happen at the very beginning.) What follows is a discovery of self for everyone involved and small blessings that some never thought they deserved.

This book was so beautifully written. Each and every character is so well developed, and the story line is also extremely well-developed but succinct. There are a couple of small surprises, but mostly you can tell where the story is going and where it will end up. In this case, though, the point was not the ending, the point was the journey. And it was a truly inspiring one. The title is perfect… this is a story about people saving each other, facing your demons, and finding the small blessings along the way.

And to add to that, what I love most about books are the small nuances that just make them different from all the rest, where the author puts some of their personality in. In this case, there are a lot of moments obviously dedicated to NPR. Here’s a little peek:

The Rolling Stones obligingly began shouting in her head about not always getting what you want but, provided you try, sometimes getting what you need.

As Van Morrison had put it: It ain’t why, why, why, why, why; it just is.

Plus, there’s just a lot of good old-fashioned wisdom sprinkled throughout this story too, with some slight humor to it:

“When the going gets tough, the tough suck it up,” Agnes said. “The rest get run over.”

You’ll always have a chance to give up, so why do it now?

I think what really makes this book so great is that it’s real life. It really could be someone’s true story. It’s not cheesy, it’s not far-fetched. It just is.. simple, true, and inspiring. I definitely recommend this book!! It is especially exceptional because it’s the author’s debut novel. And you don’t have to wait too long – it comes out on August 12th!!

For those of you who are audio book inclined, here is a 6-minute preview of the audio version of Small Blessings. Honestly, I’ve never listened to an audio book, but I  did  listen to this clip. Lorelei King’s voice and impression for Russ is spot on. A special thank you to  Esther with Macmillan Audio for providing the clip.

And for anyone in the Richmond, Virginia area, I found out that Martha Woodroof will be at Fountain Books on September 23 for a signing! Get excited!!


Sidenote: So I posted my review on GoodReads already. I think I was one of the first reviews, and well… Martha Woodruff actually read it and sent me a message thanking me for the “lovely review”. She also said that I completely understood her characters and motives for writing the book. Wow!!!! It makes me really excited that I accidentally made a debut author feel validated and excited about their work. I’m now even more excited about meeting her and hearing more about her book at the signing in Richmond!

Just wanted to share this with you as proof that Martha Woodroof seems like a truly genuine and awesome person. So I’m begging you… go read her book. I’m pretty sure you won’t be sorry that you did.

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??

Pre-Release Review: Goodnight June by Sarah Jio

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5 of 5 stars

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

Goodnight June is June’s story. June inherits from her great aunt Ruby a small, cozy children’s bookstore – Bluebird Books, where June spent her happiest moments as a child and learned to love reading. As a 35 year old, June is vice president of a large bank and in charge of foreclosing many small businesses. She has few important people in her life, anxiety problems, and a severe lack of satisfaction with herself. When she inherits Bluebird Books, June goes home to Seattle for the first time in 5 years and begins to reevaluate her life. She discovers a scavenger hunt that her aunt Ruby left for her in the bookstore of letters between Ruby and Margaret Wise Brown that explain the origin of Goodnight Moon and renew June’s passion for the bookstore. June discovers what it is like to be on the opposite side of the foreclosing business while she is trying to raise funds to save the bookstore, all with the help of the charming Gavin who owns the Italian restaurant next door.

I absolutely 100 percent love when an author shows his/her fangirl/fanboy side… And in this case, Sarah Jio’s fangirl flag is waving hard. The story behind the popular children’s classic Goodnight Moon is unknown because Margaret Wise Brown died shortly after writing it. I can tell that Sarah Jio truly loved Goodnight Moon because she uses so much imagination and heart to develop a very plausible origin of Goodnight Moon and uses the letters to tell the story with passion and creativity.

Also, June’s story is one that we can all identify with and could ultimately stand alone as its own story. She has to make the choice between living a life with passion or complacency. She has to forgive, and she learns to love. And she also discovers a few things she didn’t know about herself. Yes, it’s somewhat “chick flicky”, but its inspiring and sweet. I’m an avid hater of cookie cutter chick lit, so trust me when I say that this story is not that. Jane’s story is inspiring and leaves you contemplating your own dreams.

Right now is a time of major change in my life with moving and finding new job, etc., so I feel it was the perfect time to read this book. I probably a little biased since in the past year, I’ve somehow developed a dream of owning an independent bookstore and hosting authors/holding events to inspire budding readers. Reading is and always has been a huge part of my life, so I love to see that there are others who are still so inspired by reading and would rather pick up a book than a game or show on their iPad. I think Goodnight June is Sarah Jio’s confession to also being one of these people and her charge to go do something about it.

I literally blazed through Goodnight June in less than a day. It’s an easy read and would be perfect for sitting outside on a lazy summer day. And the great news is that its release date is May 27 – TOMORROW!!! So you only have to wait 2 short hours.. or 1 if you’re on the east coast. Ready. Set. Go.

I don’t think I’ve done it justice, but if you just go read it you’ll see what I mean. Thank you Sarah Jio for such a beautiful and inspiring story. It’s been a while since I’ve read a something this great.

I’ve had a couple of other books by Sarah Jio on my radar for a while, but this is the first one I’ve read. I’ll definitely be moving her other books up on my list.

The Winter People: Suspense-LESS

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2 of 5 stars

Bottom line: This book had a whole lotta hype for not a whole lotta reason.

The Winter People actually had a great creepy start that really captured my attention. So from the beginning, you are given the impression that there will be chilling ghostly happenings wrapped up in a suspenseful package. But then there isn’t.

So let the book bashing commence…

What happens is this (no spoilers, I promise): in the present day Ruthie’s mom goes missing… in 1908 Sara’s daughter dies and becomes one of the “winter people”… and a random guy named Gary stumbles upon the missing link to the story. The story is about figuring out what happened to Ruthie’s mom, what happened to Sara/Gertie, and what happened to Gary in conjuntion. The entire book is a wild goose chase of putting clues together. I really didn’t get any of the suspense that I wanted, and it mostly felt like Scooby Doo. Really.. Scooby Doo.

The chapters switched back and forth between the present and 1908, which is fine – I’ve read many books written this way and they were great! But McMahon repeats exact elements of the story when going back and forth and creates a very strong sense of deja vu. And you end up being confused if you read it already or if you just think that you read it already. Not okay.

Also, the sideplot with Gary and his wife Katherine was completely unnecessary and distracting. I believe the story would have been much better with further development of the main characters and elimination of Gary and Katherine. Plus, their story was left hanging at the end for no good reason.

This was the first time I have read a book by Jennifer McMahon, and I honestly disliked this book so much that I probably won’t read McMahon again. The story was too cookie cutter for me.. with no intrigue, no exceptional plot, and no major character development

Pre-Release Review: The Opposite of Maybe by Maddie Dawson

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3 of 5 stars

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

The Opposite of Maybe is your basic chick lit… Rosie’s long time relationship is falling apart because she and her boyfriend just aren’t the same anymore. Meanwhile, her grandmother who raised her is dying, her boyfriend moves away for his job leaving her with the handsome Tony, her grandmother’s caretaker, oh, and to top it off she finds out she’s pregnant. And yes… what you’re thinking happens is what happens. But that’s why I picked this one to read – I’ve been in a book rut for the entire month. I was getting frustrated with books not being what I thought they would be and taking me forever to get through. This one I knew what to expect, and I figured it would be a quick feel good read. For those reasons, I was not disappointed.

I really loved the characters in this story. they are all very relatable with their own very unique personality. They make you mad at times, but I always appreciate when an author can do that – tells me the characters have some depth. The plot is mostly cliché, but sometimes you just need something you can trust. I’m one who loves character-driven books over plot-driven anyway.

Overall, I don’t have super strong feelings about this book either way. It doesn’t leave any major imprint, but I would recommend it if you are looking for a quick pick-me-up read like I was, or if you need a lighthearted poolside/beach read.

So pick this up if you’re looking for that on April 8th when it’s released!

Pre-release review: The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

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1 of 5 stars

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

The Weight of Blood is the story of Lucy, a girl from Henbane, Missouri (sounds like the most creepy town ever.. right?). Lucy is feels guilty for not trying harder to figure out what happened to her friend Cheri whose remains were found a year after she went missing. She starts working for her uncle and stumbles upon some evidence of Cheri’s disappearance. Thus, ensues a search for the truth that Lucy discovers is connected to her own mother’s disappearance and also very strongly incriminates her uncle.

I requested this book from NetGalley because the description sounded really thrilling and the setting of Henbane seemed like it would lead to a great edge-of-your-seat scare-the-crap-out-of-you read. Sadly, I was able to guess the ending in detail from the third chapter, and I only kept reading to see if I was right. And there was not really any suspense or thrill – this was not for lack of trying, but the author was just unable to create the mood she was going for.

There were a few things I didn’t like that I think really led to the lack of development:

  1. The chapters switched between two main characters, Lucy and her mother (Lila), and they were both in first person with the same voice. Therefore, difficult to distinguish and make into their own character. Also, because you are hearing the story from Lila’s point of view the entire time, there’s no suspense created besides the ultimate question of why she disappeared.
  2. The love interest between Lucy and the guy who is helping her investigate is extremely young-adultish and detracts from the rest of the story.
  3. The dialogue goes tries to sound hick… but it ends up being annoying. Mostly because of the phrase “fixing to”. No one says “cheer up darlin’ ” and “fixing to”. It’s “fixin’ to”. And it was all over the place.
  4. There was no resolution of what really happened to Lila’s mother. Just a vague answer to knowing whether she ran away or not. Extremely annoying!

Bottom line: This story looked intriguing and the idea behind it I still think could have been great. However, it just didn’t work. There isn’t much depth to the characters or plot. I honestly would not recommend this book.

The Weight of Blood will be released on March 11th, for anyone who dares to try it.

My Gentle Barn: Inspiration on a whole new level

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5 of 5 stars!

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

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started reading My Gentle Barn – I guess I thought it would be something that only farm animal lovers would identify with… just a Yay Animals!! happy story about saving the world. But I definitely got waaayyy more and was surprised with the first chapter starting off really heavy – the story of a childhood that you thought only existed in bad movies. I literally had to stop and take a few breaths before I continued.

In these pages is one of the most inspiring and beautiful stories that I have ever read. This is a vivid story of how Ellie Lak’s life comes full circle – she had a lonely childhood, she had a dream to save the animals who had saved her as a child, she chased her dream, and she found herself along the way. There is story after story of individual animals – their situation and their healing – and of individual children that the animals in turn come to heal.

But the most remarkable change took place inside of me… I was not alone after all; I was just a tiny current in the large, gorgeous flow of life.

It’s memoirs like these that keep me coming back for more and usually get me on a memoir train for a few months. There is so much emotion and so much honesty in this story of The Gentle Barn.. it’s overwhelming at times… but in such a good way – my soul feels cleansed. And I believe there is hope for humanity after all.

When I finished reading, I immediately found The Gentle Barn’s website and read more about Jay and Ellie and what they are doing now… I guess you could say I’m an instafan. I’m pretty sure I’m going to make a special trip to California just to visit  and see this place for myself one day – to be a part of the magic for just a moment.

My husband and I have a dream to build a successful farm and produce meat in harmony… to  be a small part of taking back the food industry from factory farms and to take care of the animals who in turn take care of us… so obviously I could be biased about this book. However, I don’t think you have to be an animal activist/hippy farmer to enjoy this story about a life that comes full circle and enriches other lives in return.

My Gentle Barn releases March 25th… prepare yourself.

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

The Perfume Collector: Yes.. It’s THAT good.

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4.5 rounded to 5 of 5 stars!!

I’m extraordinarily in love with The Perfume Collector. It is so romantically whimsical. I felt transported to another place and time – and it was about time – I read so many mediocre books in January that I was beginning to forget that feeling of getting lost in books. The world of Paris and perfume is romanticized so perfectly.. I mean… just look:

Perfume should tell a story – of who you are, who you might be, perhaps even of who you fear becoming.

Perhaps, it’s an invitation. Maybe we need to literally come to our senses, to return to our sense of taste, touch, sight, smell, hearing and find sustenance in them, inspiration. Life is, after all, a sexual experience. Our senses have the power to truly transport us but also to ground us. Make us human.

You could be laughing in public yet wear, right on the surface of your skin, a perfume ripe with longing, dripping with regret, shining with hope, all at the same time.

He dreamt in smells, he heard music in colours.

The story of Grace receiving a surprise inheritance from Eva d’Orsey is perfectly woven with the chapters of Eva’s past as Grace is trying to figure out who Eva is and why she left her everything. The entire book is a scavenger hunt with the perfect amount of detail. Eva was a brazen, independent woman as you find out through her chapters, and Grace is trying to learn how to be the woman that she feels instead on the social elite that everyone, including her husband, wants her to be. There are underlying themes of finding your place in life and following your heart that I really connected with.

There were also a couple of small twists/surprises in the story that made me grin because of how perfect they were, how Eva fit into Grace’s life in ways you wouldn’t expect. The plot was just so well thought out and developed. I loved every minute of reading this story. It’s full of so much passion, from all the characters involved.

I can honestly say that I have never been interested in going to Paris, but this book actually makes me want to go. This book is magic. I will be reading it again soon, and I can’t wait for Tessaro’s next book.

For all of these reasons, I highly recommend that you go read this. NOW.

Sidenote: There were an unusual amount of technical errors which is why I can’t justify a full 5-star rating… leaving out a/the.. slight mispellings, etc. I don’t usually find these type of errors to be too distracting, especially when I’m already enjoying the book so much, but if you are that kind of person… you have been warned.