Saturday, July 20, 2013

Giveaway Winner Notified

Just a quick note to let you all know that I've notified the winner of the book giveaway that I held here on the blog for a copy of The Never List by Koethi Zan! Thanks to all of you who entered!

Review: Tampa by Alissa Nutting

TampaTampa by Alissa Nutting
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I knew going into reading this book that it would be an uncomfortable read - one that certainly wouldn't be enjoyable in any way. I was fairly sure that I knew exactly what I'd be walking into with this book. But, I have to say that I was still completely and utterly shocked by what I read. Which I think is partly the genius of this novel - how it gets in your head, making you think about things in new ways. I really liked the way that Nutting uses this novel as an exploration of female predatory behavior. It certainly made me think about it in a new way. This novel helped me begin to think through how we view male predators in our culture versus how we view female predators.

This is a really well written novel. Alissa Nutting is obviously a talented writer. She has created one of the most horrifying and captivating narrators that I can recall in all of my years as a reader. Being in her head for the duration of the book is one of the most difficult reading experiences that I've had. The descriptions of sex are jarring and unsettling. The narrative is engaging when it should make the reader want to run screaming. And that is the genius of Alissa Nutting's writing! To make me want to keep reading despite the disturbing content. I cannot say enough how effectively Nutting puts the reader inside the head of this woman, this sexual predator. There is no holding back of anything - the reader gets all entwined in her every thought, fantasy, and compulsion. You are taken deep into her darkest thoughts and its as disturbing as anything I've ever read.

This book is definitely not for everyone. If you're offended by sexual content, then this is not going to be a book that you should read. It's raw and dark and extremely disturbing. I tend to be very open minded and not particularly disturbed by much content and I found myself taken aback while reading this novel. But, in the end, I'm glad that I read it. It has definitely given me a new framework from which to think about sexual predators and how our society tends to view them. I found this novel to be absorbing, disturbing and thought provoking. I suspect this novel will disgust many readers and get quite a bit of criticism from some corners. But, those who are able to get beyond the difficult content may find themselves surprised at how effectively Alissa Nutting brings the reader to think about the intersection of sexual predators, the media and gender roles.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Review: The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton

The Edge of NormalThe Edge of Normal by Carla Norton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found this book to be a good, solid read. There seem to be a slew of books about kidnapped girls coming out recently (and in the near future), probably due to recent cases in the news. And since I'm personally fascinated with the psychological experience of abduction and abuse, I'm naturally interested in reading these sorts of books. And this one is a good one.

My primary disappointment with this book is that I wish there had been more about the psychological aspects of the kidnapped girls. Although it's there, the focus is much more on the mystery and what I'd call the thriller aspects of the story. The psychological aspects felt almost brushed over given how key they seem to be in the descriptions of the book. Don't get me wrong - it's there but I was hoping for more.

Overall, I found the story itself to be a good one. Although many of the typical/predictable mystery/thriller tropes are present, the author did find a few areas to explore that were new and different. I love the idea of a woman who has been victimized in the past coming to the aid of the victim of a similar crime. To work on getting past her residual issues in an effort to help someone else get through the pain and suffering. And, I think that was effective in this novel primarily due to how well drawn the main character (Reeve LeClaire) is in this novel. She really came alive for me which helped me to overlook a few of the things that I didn't necessarily add up. I love that Reeve is so smart and interesting! (Note to the author - a series built around Reeve would be fantastic!)

I thought that this book was definitely worth reading. I'm glad that I took the time to read it. I think its a well paced and well written novel that definitely made my heart race at times! I think for fans of this type of fiction, this will be a big win! There were a few things that I didn't love and others that just didn't feel realistic but they didn't kill the book's overall experience for me. I recommend this one to fans of the genre and to those interested in books built around the kidnapping experience. I definitely think it's worth a read!

NOTE: This book will be published in September 2013. Thanks to the publisher, St. Martin's Press, for sending me the Advanced Readers copy to read!

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review: The Never List by Koethi Zan

The Never ListThe Never List by Koethi Zan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Never List is a fantastic psychological thriller that had me on the edge of my seat for the entire novel! What a page turner this one turned out to be! I stayed up late into the night, not wanting to put it down!

I loved how Koethi Zan really examines the psychological impact of the very harrowing experiences of the women in this novel. I felt that the story delves into each of their individual reactions in a very realistic and honest way. This helped to really give the novel a sense of realism. It is the realism that really helped me to care about the story and the characters! Each of these women felt real to me, in part because of the fact that they are flawed and experiencing things in very unique and believable ways!

I was surprised to learn that this is Koethi Zan's first novel. She definitely writes like a seasoned writer in every way! This is a very well written novel with excellent (and effective) pacing. Pacing can be such a difficult balance in this sort of novel. But, Zan effectively plays with tension in a way that keeps the plot moving forward while keeping the reader interested and inquisitive. The twists and turns that this story take are fantastic! There are several revelations along the way, but the final revelation was fantastic for me! I really enjoyed that final twist and how the novel ended which is often not the case for me with these sorts of books. I found this ending to be quite satisfying.

Although this is certainly a dark novel, I think that the author handled the violence very well - making it's existence real but not gratuitous! I think this is a novel that would actually be enjoyable to readers of a variety of genres, not just the thriller genre! I really enjoyed this book and cannot wait to see what Koethi Zan brings to us next!

NOTE: Thank you to Viking/Penguin for providing the ARC for me to read and review.

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Guest Post: Koethi Zan (Author of The Never List)

I am very excited to present our first guest post by Koethi Zan who is the author of The Never List which is available TODAY in the US and Canada!

How a Cult Tried to Get Me by Koethi Zan

When I was eighteen years old, my college roommate and I were lured into a cult.  It isn’t what you might imagine.  We didn’t move to a commune somewhere in Texas with some charismatic leader who had a cache of weapons and multiple wives.  They were much too sophisticated for that.  They drew us in slowly with very innocent “study sessions” that were part self-help, part group therapy, and part meditation class.

It started with my college boyfriend’s parents who had been involved with this “philosophy study group” for many years.  They urged my boyfriend to go so my roommate Ann and I decided we’d tag along.  We were up for anything and curious about what we’d heard. 

There were five of us at the first session, one of whom was a stunningly beautiful girl about my age.  She had an ethereal quality about her and was very close to reaching the next “level” in the study group.  I was convinced my boyfriend would end up in her group too—without me.  I had to get to the higher level too, and fast.

Like many cults, this one had a mystical text, a dynamic long-dead leader, and an almost corporate organizational structure.  They were practiced at the slow seduction.  Their main scripture contained a bizarre and complex cosmology that made no sense whatsoever.  We studied only a page or two each week, carefully dissecting its strange logic and arcane symbolism.  I was getting nowhere with it.

Study sessions began with a long meditation, in which the teacher would ask us to focus on each individual body part until we felt it tingle.  I had a hard time sitting still that long.  Then we would work on our main objective: learning to be “present in the moment.”  Each week we would leave with specific tasks to practice:  upon entering a room, look at the ceiling, or eat meals using the non-dominant hand.  Eventually, our sessions involved learning the art of bookbinding, which seemed a bit odd, but I mildly enjoyed that part at least.  It reminded me of being in the Girl Scouts.  All in all, it seemed harmless enough.

Then, just as Ann and I were getting bored with the whole thing, we were informed that we had reached a high enough level to go to a special weekend “retreat.”  An important leader from New York City would be presiding.  The group had bought a house that needed work, so naturally there would be “work sessions.”  We were flattered.  We went.

The first thing they did was set us to work scraping the floors of the house—for hours.  That was a mistake.  Not my cup of tea.  Next we had an extensive presentation about the cosmology.  I was bored out of my mind.  Then after lunch, we were instructed in special “movements” at a school gym they’d rented out.  We would hold out our arms and spread our legs, and then, in time with ominous chords of piano music, we would have to jump suddenly into the next position.  I was starting to freak out a little.

Up until that point, no one had mentioned money to us.  They were clever enough to know we’d see that as a warning sign.  But back at the house that afternoon, I overheard the fancy leader from New York City pressuring a young member to make his contribution.  That was just about the final straw.  So when, in our next session, we were seated in rows for an hour-long meditation session, I feigned illness and was excused to the other room.  I realized I had to get out of there.  I tried to signal to Ann through the doorway, but she was in a deep state of meditation.

Without telling anyone, I slipped out the front door, hoping Ann would figure it out and follow me when she finally opened her eyes.  She did, and we reunited back at the dorm that day to celebrate.  Needless to say, we never got to the next level.

You can find out more about Koethi Zan and her novel, The Never List, at her website, on Twitter and on Facebook!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Review: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie ProjectThe Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a charming and engaging novel! I wasn't sure what to expect from this but I love books with a unique voice and this one definitely delivers characters with very unique voices! I found this to be a very clever and amusing take on relationships!

Although on the surface this novel may appear to be a light, funny read, I was pleased to find that it was quite a bit more. It's an exploration of differences and how people can grow into themselves and other people. This novel takes a touching look at finding love and friendship, how we open ourselves to people and how we can often get in our own way.

The characters are so fascinating and interesting to read about from the moment that the novel opens. The characters and how Simsion develops them throughout the novel is really the best thing about this entire novel. They take what could have been an OK book and made it come alive! Don Tillman, the main character, is such an interesting man! I kept thinking of him as a cross between Forrest Gump and Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. His quirky yet loveable nature is so well done in this novel. Simsion finds such a great balance with this character which I found made him simply come alive. He wasn't a cardboard cut out in any way. He was well rounded, interesting and ultimately endearing. And Rosie! Well, Rosie just crept into my heart with her tough, independent nature. She is such a complex, multifaceted character. And putting Don and Rosie together is just golden!

Quirky, enjoyable, engaging, humorous and thoughtful are all words that I could easily use to describe this book. It's definitely a well written and extremely readable novel that will resonate with a lot of different readers.

Note: This novel will be published in the US in October of 2013. Thank you to the publisher, Simon and Schuster, who offered me an Advanced Readers copy to read.

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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Giveaway Reminder - The Never List by Koethi Zan

REMINDER - there are a just a few more days to enter in the giveaway for The Never List by Koethi Zan! You can find the details on the original post here! Thanks for entering!

Review: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

NOS4A2NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I suspect that Joe Hill is going to soon be joining that list of authors that I consider 'go-to' authors, the writers that time and time again exceed my expectations. Because I have to tell you that he is really fantastic ... his stories are unique and compelling, his writing is fantastic and his characters are so real that they practically walk off of the page.

I want to say upfront that the primary reason that I'm not giving this novel 5 stars is that I think it could have used some editing. There were some sections that I felt could have been condensed in order to make this novel even better! The only other flaw that I found in the novel is that I'd like to have gotten a bit more information about the history of a few of the characters/items and how they came to be how they came to be (specifically, Charlie and the car). With that said, however, this is a fantastic read and is truly unlike ANYTHING that I've ever read.

Joe Hill appears to see the world in a very unique aqnd interesting way, coming up with some ideas and concepts for this novel that I thought were frankly just outstanding. He could have gone predictable in a number of places in the novel but instead came up with some really interesting and even 'out of the box' things. The story itself is unique and not predictable in any way. The basic horror tropes are here but he takes them to new and unusual places. Great places. Places that made me squirm. Places that made me feel a little sick to my stomach yet unable to stop reading because I had to know more!

This is a book that I find difficult to explain in a way that really makes sense - it's almost like reading it is the only way to truly understand what's happening. Every description that I've read is fine but none really capture the essence of this novel for me. All I can say is READ IT. If you can handle horror and darkness, pick this one up. It's immensely readable and will keep you fascinated for six hundred pages.

It's a vampire book that is like no other vampire book out there because it's really not a vampire book ... it's something more than a vampire book, something better. Don't expect the usual vampire stuff you can read anywhere - expect Hill to take the vampire thing and re-make it into something unrecognizable and yet completely familiar. It's got the stuff you expect from horror - some gore, lots of action, great pacing, complex characters ... and yet, it's so much more than horror. It's even got some humor and some irony rolled into it.

Anyway, I highly recommend this novel, particularly to fans of horror, good writing and good storytelling. I suspect that Joe Hill is going to just get better and better over time! I can't wait to see what he brings to us next!

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Friday, July 12, 2013

Review: Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo

Sworn to Silence (Kate Burkholder, #1)Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this first book in the Kate Burkholder series and will plan to continue on with the series. The juxtaposition of the Amish and the 'outside world' is a unique way to look at things and I think this angle adds something new to the books that are typical of this genre! I really liked the characters and the storyline, overall. There were some things that struck me as odd but nothing that I couldn't overlook. I really liked the Kate Burkholder character. I found her to be really charismatic and multifaceted.

I figured out who had done it pretty early on but I don't think that ultimately took away from the novel as a whole. The story and the character development were done well enough that who did it was less important than where the story arc itself was going! Really strong start to the series!

I definitely recommend this book. Very good first in a series. I look forward to reading more of this one in the future!

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Review: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver

The Execution of Noa P. SingletonThe Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am really struggling with reviewing this novel because I just didn't love it as much as most of the others I've talked to who've read it have. I didn't find myself connecting with this book at all. I usually LOVE an unreliable narrator but I never cared enough about Noa to care what happened or why. Which is a pretty big deal since the entire novel is about her and what happened.

I also didn't love the writing style of the author which I think was part of the reason I wasn't loving this book. Something about her style just never worked for me. I'm still having a hard time pinpointing WHAT it was ... but I can't seem to identify what exactly it was beyond the ambiguous 'it's not working for me'. The story itself was fine, nothing earth shattering or particularly compelling but it was OK. Maybe I've been spoiled by other novels that gave me more - novels like Gone Girl, for example? I'm not sure. I just know that this one didn't work for me.

Unfortunately, this isn't a novel that I can recommend. However, I will point out that plenty of others have really enjoyed it so if it's appealing to you, it's worth a shot since so many have liked it quite a bit. Sadly, I didn't love this particular novel as much as some others have.

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Monday, July 8, 2013

Review: the Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore

The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-EatThe Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat by Edward Kelsey Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a fun little novel that I really liked quite a bit! I was really surprised to find that this book was written by a man given how well he writes female characters!

This book focuses on three friends, the men in their lives and the journey's they've taken throughout the years of their friendships. The characters were all pretty well developed, the dialogue was strong and the story itself was compelling. Very funny at times - even laugh out loud funny. This is a very readable book with interesting characters and stories!

I will say that it took a bit of time for me to get into the flow of the novel and the core stories, once I did, the story moved effortlessly. I think it was challenging to fully tell each of the main characters apart for about 50 pages but once I did, I was very immersed in their stories & lives. This novel was at times heart-warming and at others heart-wrenching.

I really enjoyed this book and had fun reading it! It's definitely one I'd recommend, particularly if you enjoy fiction about women and friendship!

(This was probably more of a 3 and a half star novel for me but I'm rounding up to 4 since it did make me laugh a number of times!)

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Giveaway: The Never List by Koethi Zan

Hi everyone! I recently read a fantastic book that I cannot wait to tell you about (my review is coming soon ... ) - it will be available on July 16th and the publisher has generously offered for me to giveaway a copy of this book to my readers! YAY! I have included some details about the book as well as details about the giveaway below. Good luck! This is a book that you don't want to miss out on!

About The Never List -

For years, best friends Sarah and Jennifer kept what they called the “Never List”: a list of actions to be avoided, for safety’s sake, at all costs. But one night, against their best instincts, they accept a cab ride with grave, everlasting consequences. For the next three years, they are held captive with two other girls in a dungeon-like cellar by a connoisseur of sadism.
Ten years later, at thirty-one, Sarah is still struggling to resume a normal life, living as a virtual recluse under a new name, unable to come to grips with the fact that Jennifer didn’t make it out of that cellar. Now, her abductor is up for parole and Sarah can no longer ignore the twisted letters he sends from jail.

Finally, Sarah decides to confront her phobias and the other survivors—who hold their own deep grudges against her. When she goes on a cross-country chase that takes her into the perverse world of BDSM, secret cults, and the arcane study of torture, she begins unraveling a mystery more horrifying than even she could have imagined.

A shocking, blazingly fast read, Koethi Zan’s debut is a must for fans of Karin Slaughter, Laura Lippman, and S.J. Watson.

Giveaway Details -
  • Giveaway is open to US addresses only (no PO boxes, please)
  • You must be 18 or older to enter
  • You must enter via the form below by 12 p.m. EST on 7/15/2013
  • This giveaway is courtesy of Penguin and they will will be sending out the book to the winner!
  • I will contact the winner via the email address you leave in the form so be sure that it's correct before you submit!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Review: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More FunThe Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I'm not sure what to even say about this one. It was ok, it was fine. But, I didn't find anything remotely earth shattering here. Just a lot of common sense, honestly. Since I've been doing some work in the area of my own happiness, I was hoping this book might offer me some insight into areas to explore. And I guess it did that but I just felt like the areas explored in this book were pretty obvious and not remotely new to me. Anyway, it was certainly an easy read that I was able to dip in and out of as I could since I read it on my phone when I was waiting for things or found myself without a book. But, all in all, I think there are other books I'd prefer to have read than this one. Not a bad read just not a very memorable read!

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

Review: The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

The EngagementsThe Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really loved this novel ... the newest by J. Courtney Sullivan. I met her briefly at BEA this year when she signed my copy of this novel. She was very sweet and kind during our brief meeting. I'd already really enjoyed her second novel, Maine and am eager to read her first which is on my bedside table waiting for me to pick it up. All in all, after this book and Maine, I think it's safe to say that I am a J. Courtney Sullivan fan!

This novel is one of those that has a series of stories that appear unconnected but ultimately come together into a cohesive story. And I believe this one is particularly well done! I was very taken with the characters and their stories, I couldn't wait to hear what was coming next. I love the way that Sullivan integrates the "A Diamond Is Forever" history and the story of Frances Gerety and her role in making diamonds a tradition for engagements.

All in all, Sullivan has written a beautiful exploration of love and marriage. The relationships explored int he novel are very realistic and honestly showcase the struggles and uniqueness of individual relationships and marriages.

I highly recommend this novel. It's well written, easy to read and one of those novels that I just didn't want to end!

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