Tuesday, January 28, 2014

QUICK REVIEW: The Troop by Nick Cutter


Lord of the Flies meets The Ruins in this frightening novel written in the bestselling traditions of Stephen King and Scott Smith.

Boy Scouts live by the motto “Be Prepared.” However, nothing can prepare this group of young boys and their scoutmaster for what they encounter on a small, deserted island, as they settle down for a weekend of campfires, merit badges, and survival lessons.

Everything changes when a haggard stranger in tattered clothing appears out of nowhere and collapses on the campers’ doorstep. Before the night is through, this stranger will end up infecting one of the troop’s own with a bioengineered horror that’s straight out of their worst nightmares. Now stranded on the island with no communication to the outside world, the troop learns to battle much more than the elements, as they are pitted against something nature never intended…and eventually each other.

Hardcover, 368 pages
Expected publication: February 25th 2014 by Gallery Books (first published January 1st 2013)
ISBN  1476717710 (ISBN13: 9781476717715)


My Thoughts
Simple premise. A boy scout troop on an isolated island off Prince Edward Island. A contagion spreads rampant across the island.

I'd initially wondered whether this was going to turn out to be a story for pre-teens. Uh, no. While it was mainly about kids, it was vulgar and violent at times, and definitely not geared toward kids.

My final word: Creepy and gross with a Dean Koontz-esque kind of feel, I really enjoyed this story. It's a quick read, fun and will make your skin crawl! It's rare that you find a horror novel that not only has a good plot, but is so well executed and written. And I love that cover!

My Rating:


I received a copy of this book to review through Netgalley and the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Introducing...The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein

Introducing books through the first chapter or so...

The climb felt almost arduous, the engine juddering and restarting four times during the creaking ascent up. But when they reached the top it was worth it, as it had always been worth it: they were so far above the ground that the poor, patched and battered world seemed as small and harmless as a toy train set.

It was as close a thing to flying as he could imagine.

-- The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

TLC BOOK TOURS and REVIEW: Our Love Could Light the World by Anne Leigh Parrish


You know the Dugans. They're that scrappy family that lives down the street. Their yard is overgrown, they don't pick up after their dog, their five children run free - leaving chaos in their wake - and the father hasn't earned a cent in years. The wife holds them together on her income alone. You wouldn't want them for neighbors - but from a distance, their quite entertaining.

Of course, alcohol is an issue. You can tell from the empty bottles lying under the bush out front. You can hardly blame the wife for leaving one day. Without her at the helm, the rest carry on the best they can.

Their strong sense of family keeps them going. They help each other, and in some cases, rescue each other. They struggle for a better life. While they never follow the rules, or completely conquer adversity, they stare it down, meet their challenges, and earn some much needed respect. They might even make you proud.

Set in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, the twelve linked stories in Our Love Could Light The World depict a dysfunctional family that's messy and rude, cruel and kind, and loyal to the end.

Paperback, 202 pages
Published June 3rd 2013 by She Writes Press (first published March 23rd 2013)
ISBN13 978938314445

About the Author
from her website

Since 1982, Anne Leigh Parrish has called Seattle, Washington home. A native of the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, Anne spent her high school years in Princeton, New Jersey, and then made her way west.

Anne from the University of Colorado, then moved once more to Seattle to attend graduate school at the University of Washington. After earning her MBA, Anne realized her first and only love was writing, which she has pursued relentlessly for many years.

Check out the author's website
Follow the author on Twitter
Like the author on Facebook

My Thoughts
The old lady had died some time that spring.
We all have some "Dugans" in our neighborhood, or have known them at some point. Poverty-stricken and their home and yard in a shambles. On the outside, they seem to be a wreck and loveless. But you don't know what's going on behind the scenes. You don't see the warmth and love that exists there in those flawed human beings.

The Dugans consist of parents Potter and Lavinia, and their five children.

Potter is an alcoholic who does construction and the like off and on. He isn't of much use to anyone, least of all himself, but he has a kind heart.

Lavinia is responsible and does her best to keep things together. She wears a suit to work and carries a suitcase, but none of the neighbors are sure what she does for a living. She can be selfish and mean-spirited.

Eldest child Angie is overweight and sports a nose ring and spiky green hair. She is described as ruling her siblings "with a steady stream of insults". But underneath it all, she is all heart.

Timothy is second oldest, followed by twins Marta and Maggie (Marta is harsh and scornful while Maggie is quiet, but full of deep longing and desire.). Sweet Foster with the crippled leg is the baby of the family at eight years ("The name was based on a statement Mrs. Dugan made, that if she had any more children they'd end up in foster care").

This story was totally character-driven, and what wonderful characters they were. I think Angie wound up being my favorite. She was the one that I had the most hope for. She had her mother's toughness, but also a strength inborn in her that both parents lacked. Her mother Lavinia may have been tough, but she wasn't strong.

I loved the writing. Easy to read and captivating, the author draws you into this spirited and offbeat family. It was different than I expected. I had thought it would be different perspectives of a brief period of time or event. Instead it was alternating perspectives on the life of a family, and covers probably about a decade. It is always fascinating to see an event from one perspective and gain an opinion about it, and then have it flipped and see it from the other side. This happens repeatedly in this story.

I did note that the book seemed to end rather abruptly. But after rethinking it, I found it a rather suitable ending for this family.
I would like to thank TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. Check out the website for the full tour schedule:

Monday, January 6th: Bibliophiliac
Tuesday, January 7th: Knowing the Difference
Wednesday, January 8th: girlichef
Thursday, January 9th: Lavish Bookshelf
Friday, January 10th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Monday, January 13th: Good Girl Gone Redneck
Tuesday, January 14th: 5 Minutes for Books
Wednesday, January 15th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Thursday, January 16th: My Bookshelf
Friday, January 17th:  Too Fond
Tuesday, January 21st: You Can Read Me Anything
January 22nd:  Cheryl’s Book Blog
Thursday, January 23rd: Kahakai Kitchen
Monday, January 27th:  Booksie’s Blog
Wednesday, January 29th: Broken Teepee
Monday, February 3rd:  A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Monday, February 10th:  The Lost Entwife.

My final word:  Sweetly touching, affective and provocative, I just found this story very charming. It makes me think back on those Dugans I've known in the past, and realize that this is probably a lot like what it was like inside their walls. There was a lot of love bound up within those crumbling walls-- and a lot of longing and regret, and hope.
Inside the house, a telephone rang and rang. What a lonely sound, she thought. Unless someone was calling with bad news. In that case, the emptiness of the place was a mercy.
Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble

My Rating:


I received a copy of this book to review through TLC Book Tours and the publisher, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.

Friday, January 3, 2014

2013 Top Ten List

I'm a few days late with this, but here is my top ten list from the books I read in 2013. This is in order the books were read, not in order of preference
  1. The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin (A- Rating)
  2. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (A Rating)
  3. A Dual Inheritance by Joanna Hershon (A Rating)
  4. A Far Piece to Canaan by Sam Halpern (A Rating)
  5. Sea Creatures by Susanna Daniel (A Rating)  
  6. The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara (A- Rating) 
  7. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent  (A Rating)
  8. Leaving Haven by Kathleen McCleary (A Rating)
  9. Rules of Civility by Amor Towles (A Rating) 
  10. NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (A- Rating)  
As to my favorite for the year, I think it may be a toss up between A Dual Inheritance by Joanna Hershon and Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. 

QUICK REVIEW: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles


On the last night of 1937, twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent is in a second-rate Greenwich Village jazz bar with her boardinghouse roommate stretching three dollars as far as it will go when Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a tempered smile, happens to sit at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a yearlong journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool toward the upper echelons of New York society and the executive suites of Condé Nast--rarefied environs where she will have little to rely upon other than a bracing wit and her own brand of cool nerve.

Wooed in turn by a shy, principled multi-millionaire and an irrepressible Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, befriended by a single-minded widow who is a ahead of her time,and challenged by an imperious mentor, Katey experiences firsthand the poise secured by wealth and station and the failed aspirations that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her life, she begins to realize how our most promising choices inevitably lay the groundwork for our regrets.

Hardcover, 335 pages
Published July 26th 2011 by Viking Adult (first published 2011)
ISBN  0670022691 (ISBN13: 9780670022694)

About the Author
from his website

Born in 1964, Amor Towles was raised in a suburb of Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Yale College and received an M.A. in English from Stanford University where he was a Scowcroft Fellow. From 1991-2012, he worked as an investment professional in New York. He continues to live in Manhattan with his wife and two children and serves on the boards of the Library of America, the Yale Art Gallery and the Wallace Foundation.

Mr. Towles is an ardent fan of early 20th century painting, 1950’s jazz, 1970’s cop shows, rock & roll on vinyl, manifestoes, breakfast pastries, pasta, liquor, snow-days, Tuscany, Provence, Disneyland, Hollywood, the cast of Casablanca, 007, Captain Kirk, Bob Dylan (early, mid, and late phases), the wee hours, card games, cafés, and the cookies made by both of his grandmothers.

His novel, Rules of Civility, was published by Viking/Penguin in July 2011 and reached the bestseller lists of The New York Times, the Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times. The book was rated by The Wall Street Journal as one of the ten best works of fiction in 2011. The book’s French translation received the 2012 Prix Fitzgerald. The book has been published in 15 languages. In the fall of 2012, the novel was optioned by Lionsgate to be made into a feature film.

Mr. Towles’s novella, Eve in Hollywood, which follows one of the characters from Rules of Civility, was published by Penguin as an ebook in June 2013.

Mr. Towles’s only other published work is a short story cycle called “The Temptations of Pleasure” published in 1989 in Paris Review 112.

My Thoughts
On the night of October 4th, 1966, Val and I, both in late middle age, attended the opening of Many Are Called at the Museum of Modern Art-- the first exhibit of the portraits taken by Walker Evans in the late 1930s on the New York City subways with a hidden camera.
I'm doing a "quick" review of this book, only because I got sidetracked and didn't review this one quickly after reading it back in October, and now too much time has passed for me to do a thorough review (I can never remember details for long). And this is sad, because I really loved this book.

This book was the November selection for my book club, on the recommendation of a friend of mine. The characters were so well fleshed out, and there were layers to each of them. There were a lot of characters, yet all of them were invaluable to the story.

One of my favorite characters was that of Anne Grandyn ("godmother" to Tinker). A powerful and confident older woman, she runs into the main character Katey at the race track, and gives her a little advice. Pointing to a couple nearby, she tells Katey about Jake and his fiance Carrie, and how hard Carrie worked to get her position by Jake's side. In a day when women had fewer expectations or options in life than to be a wife and mother, or a decorative adornment on a wealthy man's arm, Anne advises Katey to have loftier pursuits.
"...But if I were your age, I wouldn't be trying to figure out how to get into Carrie's shoes-- I'd be trying to figure out how to get into Jake's."
That encapsulates Anne Grandyn perfectly.

There were many little tidbits that I felt showed brilliant insight into the human condition.
It’s a bit cliche to refer to someone as a chameleon: a person who can change his colors from environment to environment. In fact, not one in a million can do that. But there are tens of thousands of butterflies: men and women like Eve with two dramatically different colorings-- one which serves to attract and the other which serves to camouflage-- which can be switched at the instant with a flit of the wings.
There is an oft-quoted passage in Walden, in which Thoreau exhorts us to find our pole star and to follow it unwaveringly as would a sailor or a fugitive slave...the real problem, it has always seemed to me, is how to know in which part of the heavens your star resides.
“If we only fell in love with people who were perfect for us, he said, then there wouldn’t be so much fuss about love in the first place.”
And there was one passage that one of the book club members read out loud as one that struck a chord with her. 
If only someone had told me about the confidence-boosting nature of guns, I’d have been shooting them all my life.
Funny thing is that this was a quote that really struck a chord with the women in the club who have shot a gun-- even those that have always thought themselves pacifists. That includes myself.

My final word: I loved this book! The characters were so full and rich, that I mentioned at our book club that I could read additional books based on each of the other characters. Brilliant, sweeping, intriguing, fast moving. This is one grand tale!

Buy Now:
Barnes and Noble

My Rating:
The 110th Rule of Civility “Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience.” 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

QUICK REVIEW (incomplete): The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani


Before he can retire, Las Vegas detective Salazar is determined to solve a recent spate of murders. When he encounters a pair of conjoined twins with a container of blood near their car, he’s sure he has apprehended the killers, and enlists the help of Dr. Sunil Singh, a South African transplant who specializes in the study of psychopaths. As Sunil tries to crack the twins, the implications of his research grow darker. Haunted by his betrayal of loved ones back home during apartheid, he seeks solace in the love of Asia, a prostitute with hopes of escaping that life. But Sunil’s own troubled past is fast on his heels in the form of a would-be assassin.

Suspenseful through the last page, The Secret History of Las Vegas is Chris Abani’s most accomplished work to date, with his trademark visionary prose and a striking compassion for the inner lives of outsiders.

My Thoughts

Unfortunately this book expired before I had time to complete it, what with the busy holiday period. (I didn't realize you are given so little time to read the books from First to Read. It can be difficult to squeeze into a schedule of books you've already agreed to read/review by a certain date.) I only got about halfway through the book, but did enjoy what I read. There were a couple of moments that seemed a little ridiculous, but overall I thought that author Abani is a brilliantly captivating writer. My one big gripe is the lack of quotations in the dialogue, which always makes me go back and re-read the dialogue a second time, once I reach the end of the line and see something like "Salazar said", and realize it was dialogue and not thought or narration. I always sigh when I begin reading a book and discover the lack of quotations, because I know it will add an extra level of tedium to my reading. But generally a good story from what I read, and I will probably try to get my hands on the finished release at some point, to see how it all ends.


I received a free advanced copy of this book through First to Read, with no obligation to review it. The opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.