Kim’s Review of Before I Go by Colleen Oakley

bigcoA few years ago I read a novel entitled The Replacement Wife. It had a similar premise to this one: a woman with cancer searches for a replacement spouse for her husband. This entire idea intrigues me because I feel like if I were to become terminally ill, my first thought would be for my spouse and his future well-being and happiness. The Replacement Wife turned out to be one of the worst books I’ve ever read, and generally made me nervous to read any novel with a similar plot line in the future. For some reason when I heard about Before I Go by Colleen Oakley something niggled in my brain to give it a chance and I’m so glad that I did. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year to date.

Plot from Goodreads:

A heart-wrenching debut novel in the bestselling tradition of P.S. I Love You about a young woman with breast cancer who undertakes a mission to find a new wife for her husband before she passes away.

Twenty-seven-year-old Daisy already beat breast cancer three years ago. How can this be happening to her again?

On the eve of what was supposed to be a triumphant “Cancerversary” with her husband Jsack to celebrate three years of being cancer-free, Daisy suffers a devastating blow: her doctor tells her that the cancer is back, but this time it’s an aggressive stage four diagnosis. She may have as few as four months left to live. Death is a frightening prospect—but not because she’s afraid for herself. She’s terrified of what will happen to her brilliant but otherwise charmingly helpless husband when she’s no longer there to take care of him. It’s this fear that keeps her up at night, until she stumbles on the solution: she has to find him another wife.

With a singular determination, Daisy scouts local parks and coffee shops and online dating sites looking for Jack’s perfect match. But the further she gets on her quest, the more she questions the sanity of her plan. As the thought of her husband with another woman becomes all too real, Daisy’s forced to decide what’s more important in the short amount of time she has left: her husband’s happiness—or her own?

When starting out reading a book like thisyou have to prepare yourself for the tumultuous ride of emotions you’ll be taken on. Before I Go was one of the most heart-achingly beautiful journeys I’ve ever had the pleasure (and privilege) of reading. In a way the book isn’t about a specific plot, but more about the emotional journeys that the characters take with themselves as well as each other.

Front and center is Daisy. Cancer survivor patient. Wife. Best friend. Worrier. Keeper of socks. She puts forth great effort in making sure her charming husband eats, has clean clothes, and exists socially outside of work. She worries that when her cancer wins he’ll be devastated and defeated. Her single most important job and function becomes finding him a new partner. Little does she realize that undertaking this quest will shake and test the very foundations of her marriage (and also her friendship with BFF Kayleigh). Daisy’s attempts to be stoic, strong, and self-sufficient backfire. Her inability to let Jack see how weak the cancer is making her and how much his comfort would give her strength pushes him away from her. He ultimately stops pushing her, which in turn begins to make her anxious and doubtful that finding him a new wife would solve everything. This back-and-forth emotional tug of war will have you crying, laughing, and learning from beginning to end. And while Daisy eventually figures out that it’s ok to grieve for yourself, it’s not ok to let that grief make the grief of your loved ones any less important.

Through Daisy, Oakley teaches us extremely valuable lessons. Live your life to the fullest. Spend time with the people you love. Do things that make you happy. Life offers us no guarantees. We never know which day will be our last, so live up to the potential every day offers. Oakley’s masterful and emotional storytelling will have you recommending this book to everyone and adding her to your favorite author lists in quick succession.

5 out of 5 Stars

Special thanks to Gallery Books for my review copy via Netgalley!

Before I Go by Colleen Oakley
Gallery Books (2015)
Hardcover: 320 pages
ISBN: 9781476761664

Kim and Sam’s Review of Landline by Rainbow Rowell

lrrSo if you haven’t heard of Rainbow Rowell yet, let staffer Sam and I gush over her for you. She’s an author who writes both Adult and Teen contemporary fiction. She champions the people whose voices aren’t always heard. The voices of the different. The small. The people who sometimes need a push in the right direction. Her stories take you on emotional journeys that irrevocably change you (you can read my gushing reviews of her teen novels Eleanor and Park here and Fangirl here.) Today, Sam and I are discussing her latest adult venture, Landline.

From Goodreads:

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems besides the point now.

Maybe that was always besides the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

Sam: I must start by saying that I have yet to meet a Rainbow Rowell book that I didn’t like (thanks to Kim). That said, there was something about Landline that was EXTRA awesome. What I liked most is that Rowell used her YA formula with a married couple on the brink of big changes and decisions. I found Neal and Georgie more than relatable, they were parts of myself in a way I haven’t seen in a book. Not for a long time at least.

Kim: I think what made this book SO special for us, Sam, is that we’re married, and have been with our partners for several years. So we immediately could relate to the ups and downs of Neal and Georgie’s marriage.

Anyone that’s been in a long-term (read: very long) relationship will tell you that at some point you feel comfortable with your partner. That honeymoon period doesn’t necessarily end, but it evens out. There isn’t a crazy mad dash to spend every second of your day with your other half. You feel comfortable in silences. You can wear your sweats and yoga pants with them. Your love becomes more than that immediate infatuation present with new love. However what keeps a marriage together is making sure that comfort doesn’t become laziness.

For Neal and Georgie their marriage has become a bit TOO comfortable. They don’t talk about their hopes and dreams and wishes anymore. It’s become a focus almost solely on Georgie’s hopes and dreams and wishes. When Neal takes the kids to Nebraska for the holidays and leaves her behind, she is finally faced with what her life would be/could be without them. And when her old landline gives her the opportunity to talk to a young version of Neal, she finds that the person she swore the rest of her life to might be the one with all the answers.

Sam: I think that Young Neal in particular is such an interesting character because to me he represents  a typical 18-year-old faced with the dilemma: “what am I going to do with the rest of my life?” So, here is this kid from Nebraska who sets off for the West Coast to study marine life because he has never seen the ocean. (There is something poetic about going too far away to study something so “romantic.”) Then he hates it. Because at 18 who knows what they want to do? BUT he meets this girl. And maybe he doesn’t know who he wants to be, but he knows who he wants to be with. THEN their relationship gets so comfortable that they marry , have children, and still he’s never figured himself out, so he stays home. He falls into the homemaker role, becomes the center of his kids’ universe, a universe that Georgie admits is hard to be part of. I do appreciate that by the simple fact that Present Neal LOVES his kids, he ends up doing exactly what he wants.

Kim: I totally agree with you! Young Neal puts all his faith for his future into his love for Georgie. It doesn’t matter to him early on that he’s unsure of his future. His future IS Georgie, and that’s enough for him. I can seriously relate to Young Neal because when I met my husband I was just like Young Neal. Sure I had dreams for my future, but everything got completely reworked once he entered the picture.

This is another thing married people would probably agree with us on. As important as your dreams and future hopes are – finding a way for your partner to be part of them will always matter more. In this we see how selfish Georgie is/has become. Present Neal is a homemaker so that Georgie can see her dreams come true. But what dreams does Georgie ever help Present Neal accomplish?

Sam: Yes. I agree, though I think the subtlety is that she never helps him uncover a dream. In many ways he’s still lost because his world is so wrapped up in hers. What’s worse: a dream never accomplished or one never found?

Kim: Damn. Good question.

Sam: Then there’s Georgie. She’s been able to pursue every dream she’s ever had and she’s found success in it. With her best (awful) friend, Seth, they have found success in the TV comedy writing world. What I like about Georgie’s relationship with Seth is that you can tell it’s hard. I liked seeing Georgie struggle with him because it amplified the feeling that her moments on the phone with Young Neal were easy.

Kim: UGH Seth. I have SO many thoughts on him.

Sam: I try not to.

Kim: HAHA! My first thought is, “how blind is Georgie that she can’t see that Seth doesn’t have her best interests at heart?” Like HOW can you consistently call someone your best friend who doesn’t care that your marriage is ending? Like Georgie tells Seth that Neal has gone to Nebraska with their kids and he sees her falling apart a little more each day without them. All Seth cares about is writing their show.

At what point do you ask yourself is my dream worth my best friend’s downfall?

Sam: My blood is boiling just reading that. He’s not a good person and his influence on her is sad. He knows how to manipulate her. The way he speaks to and about her is alarming and the fact that she can’t see it despite the lovely things that Neal says and does and draws is baffling.

Kim: Completely agree. Present (and Young) Neal is a complete foil to Seth. Seth provides Georgie with NOTHING that she needs. Neal, on the other hand, is unconditional in everything he offers her. It’s heartbreaking to see how blind Georgie has become to that.

Sam: My heart hurt when Neal’s late dad picked up the phone that first time. How wonderful to get a moment with someone after you thought there wouldn’t be another. I think it’s amazing that Georgie was the one to hear his voice an extra time because it’s that reminder that sometimes the last time you see someone, or talk to them, or tell them you love them is the last time.

Kim: SUCH A GOOD POINT. Georgie takes her comfortable marriage and her comfortable husband for granted. Something I’m sure we’ve all done to a loved one at some point. Talking to her deceased father-in-law is one of those “come to Jesus” moments that really makes Georgie evaluate her present path.

I also think that seeing her younger sister falling in love for the first time with the pizza delivery person is another “come to Jesus” moment. To realize that love can be fleeting and to grasp it when you’re luckily given the chance to….well it all helps Georgie realize how important and necessary Neal is in her life.

Sam: So the pizza delivery person might be the most badass and swoonworthy character in the book (not counting Neal…of course.) Side note: I LOVE the expression “come to Jesus” and will now use it at least twice this month. Double side note: I would really LOVE to read a whole book about sister and said delivery person…

Kim: LOL to your first side note. And YES YES YES YES to your second.

Dear Rainbow,

Sam and I would REALLY love for you write that story. Like omg please do it.


Kim & Sam

Sam: *whispers* This is where you have your “come to Jesus” moment.

Kim: In the end what makes this story so amazing is its bottom line: True love always offers you a chance at redemption.

Sam: That and the fact that it is so damn magical. To truly rediscover all of the best parts, maybe long forgotten parts, of your person is such a beautiful idea. After reading Landline my eyes were open once again to the amazing, loving, sweet person that I get to spend every day with. That’s a gift. Thanks for the magic, Rainbow Rowell.

Kim’s Rating: All the stars in the universe for this book.

Sam’s Rating: What Kim said.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin’s Press (2014)
Hardcover: 320 pages
ISBN: 9781250049377

Jen’s Review of The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

tkdjmThey say “normal is just a setting on a dryer” (with the exception of my dryer, I guess.) However, more to the point: what is normal, exactly? In The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry this question is explored.

From Goodreads

After the unexpected death of her parents, painfully shy and sheltered 26-year-old Ginny Selvaggio seeks comfort in cooking from family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning (“do no let her…”) before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.

A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister, Amanda, (aka “Demanda”) insists on selling their parents’ house, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents’ belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn’t sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn’t know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father’s photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there’s only one way to get answers: cook from dead people’s recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them.

Honestly, I was very disappointed in this book. It received rave reviews on Goodreads, so maybe I set my expectations too high.

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry is about a young woman, Ginny, who is living with (undiagnosed) Asperger’s Syndrome. The book is written from her point of view, so you spend a lot of time in her head. Her parents pass away unexpectedly and as a result you read much about how she copes with this. Her sister, Amanda, wants to sell the house Ginny has lived in all her life and tries to make Ginny be more “normal,” or at least realize how abnormal she is. I did not like Amanda at all. Her characterization was very one-dimensional.

Cooking is Ginny’s passion and coping mechanism. She suddenly has the ability to conjure up ghosts by preparing the deceased person’s recipes. I was very intrigued by this but wound up being disappointed when it had little to do with the storyline, with the exception of perhaps her parents. As far as the “secrets” went, there aren’t really any, at least in my opinion. One could skip over much of this portion book without losing the story.

I did find myself relating to Ginny having to find a new “normal” since I deal with social anxiety and chronic illnesses. I liked Ginny’s view that everyone has their own “normal,” and to not label mental health issues as abnormal, but instead a different variant of normal. Because really, what IS normal?

Sadly, the plot really fell flat. I was not motivated to keep reading to see what would happen and it took me longer to finish because I had to force myself to read it. If you are looking to learn what it’s like to be inside the head of someone with Asperger’s, you may enjoy this book. But if you want a more exciting plot, skip this.

2 out of 5 Stars

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry
Gallery Books (2011)
Paperback: 304 pages
ISBN: 9781451648508

Special thanks to Gallery Books for my review copy!

Sam’s Review of The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe by Mary Simses

tibbacmsI have to admit that going into The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Cafe by Mary Simses I was a bit skeptical. I first heard of the book when I had the pleasure of going to an event with Kim and Jess at the adorable RJ Julia bookstore in Madison, CT. Here, we heard quite a bit from author Mary Simses who, while charming and delightful, had no reservations in reminding her audience that a certain famous author became her mentor, titled her book, and made a few calls.

This immediately put a bad taste in my mouth to say the least. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a try. The cover is beautiful, a work of art. The title is, of course, flawless. The same could also be said about the incredibly inviting passage that Simses selected to read as part of her presentation.

In the story we meet Ellen Branford, a career driven New Yorker who has recently gotten engaged to Mr. Career Driven New Yorker. On paper he is perfect: good looking, excellent job, and a go get ‘em attitude.  Following the death of her grandmother, Ellen heads to Maine from Manhattan in order to deliver a letter to her grandmother’s first and true love.

The exciting opening scene describes Ellen standing on an old seaside dock trying to snap a picture. She falls into the ocean and is swept out to sea by the strong current. Luckily, Ellen is saved by a strong and handsome local man, Roy, who swims her to safety.

Over the course of the book Ellen begins to discover things about her grandmother’s past that lead her to extend her trip and neglect her fiance in New York. Ellen delves deeper and deeper into the relationship her grandmother had with the man she loved and in the process, Ellen finds herself.

As you may have already guessed, she also finds herself increasingly drawn to Roy. As the novel progresses we discover that Roy is in fact a small part of the past that Ellen is trying to piece together.

Though I was skeptical of the book at first, I did enjoy it. It was predictable and at times slow but well written and thoughtful enough to keep my interest. I have always enjoyed stories about finding yourself in unexpected places, though this story doesn’t really change the script on the basic plot: girl has great guy who should be perfect for her, girl finds attractive working class boy, they fall in love and girl decides…well I won’t give it away!

As a main character Ellen suits the reader just fine. She is a nice mix of strong and vulnerable, and as a reader I cared about her journey of self discovery and found myself identifying with her a great deal, which is what I always look for in a well-rounded character.

One MAJOR problem that I had with this book is that no where, not even once, did the author suggest a fantastic blueberry muffin recipe. I expected to turn the last page and find the irresistible blueberry muffin. Unfortunately, I had to settle for the one on the back of the Betty Crocker package.

I read this book over the summer at the beach, which is where this book belongs. As we enter a new season I suggest picking up this title to enjoy on a cool autumn day with a cup of tea and a blueberry muffin.

3 out of 5 Stars

The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe by Mary Simses
Little, Brown, & Company (2013)
Hardcover: 344 pages
ISBN: 9780316225854

Jess’s Review of The Things We Never Said by Susan Elliot Wright

ttwnssewRecently, I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of The Things We Never Said by Susan Elliot Wright from Simon & Schuster UK.  After checking out the summary, I was really excited to dig in to this gem from across the pond. Reading a book that hasn’t yet been released here in the States is like being in a secret club, and I am excited to be able to share my thoughts with all of you.

While The Things We Never Said comes in at just under 400 pages, it is so jam-packed with drama and scandal that the bookbinding was almost popping off. The plot has rape, deception, love, amnesia, heartbreak, longing, and electroshock therapy! Some of these themes usually draw me into a book, keeping me up to the early morning hours.  Surprisingly not even the promise of a good electroshock therapy tale could keep me up past my bed time.

The story opens in 1964 with Maggie waking up in a mental institution. At first, Maggie has no recollection of why she is there, but as time goes on little pieces of her own story come back to her. She remembers only small things at first, but it is not until she leaves the institution that she begins to pick up the pieces of her badly shattered life. The tragic story of how Maggie wound up institutionalized highlights the strength of the human spirit and how there is always the hope of a better tomorrow.

Wright presents the plot in alternating chapters between Maggie’s story in 1964 and that of Jonathan in 2008. We meet Jonathan and his pregnant wife Fiona as they prepare for the changes and challenges that parenthood will bring. Early in the story Jonathan learns about the death of his father, with whom he had a rocky relationship. In attempting to console his mother, Jonathan finds that strictly guarded family secrets emerge. When a detective rings Jonathan’s doorbell days later he is forced to face these family secrets head on.

Slowly, Maggie and Jonathan’s stories intertwine to reveal the dark past they share (don’t worry, there aren’t any spoilers here!)  Wright’s prose reads like a poem and flows very smoothly, especially as she connects the past and the present through Maggie and Jonathan’s stories. Family secrets are far from a new theme in the literary world, but Wright throws curveballs which keep the storyline fresh and push the reader to turn the page.

Overall I found the plot very slow-moving, and despite the highly emotional content I failed to connect with any of the characters. I’m not completely sure if it is the self-loathing nature of the characters or the inability of the author to truly develop the characters that caused me to experience this disconnect. Personally, I really like to be able to root for characters when I read a book, and I felt like I had to keep turning the page just to get to the point. I think it took a little too long for the two stories (Maggie’s and Jonathan’s) to really connect. For most of the first half of the book I was a little frustrated waiting for the two lives to converge.

I think Wright’s work it is absolutely a worthy read as she is able to breathe new life into the theme of family secrets. However, I don’t suggest it as a “beach read” on a sunny weekend afternoon. I would definitely recommend this book as a good rainy day read. Don’t be fooled by that absolutely stunning cover featuring a young lady in a red dress gazing out to the ocean.  It’s definitely a somber read due to the sullen nature of the plot. I encourage you to stick with it though despite the slow start, the pay off is well worth it!

3 out of 5 Stars

The Things We Never Said by Susan Elliot Wright
Simon & Schuster UK (2013)
Paperback: 400 pages
ISBN: 9781471102332

Special thanks to Simon & Schuster UK for my review copy!

Todd’s Review of When Smiles Fade by Paige Dearth

14624366Back in November I had the opportunity to review Paige Dearth’s first novel, Believe Like a Child.  Later, she gracefully agreed to an interview with me, which you can read here.  Now, after some great anticipation, I’ve gotten to read her latest book, When Smiles Fade.  Taking place during roughly the same time as her first book, When Smiles Fade follows a young girl named Emma as she attempts to make her way through a tough childhood in Pennsylvania.

Emma and her sister, Gracie, have grown up in an extremely oppressive household.  Their father, Piper, is a drunk that takes out his anger on the two of them, with Emma bearing the brunt of the assault in order to protect Gracie, who is younger and far more delicate than Emma.  Despite Emma’s attempts to limit the abuse to herself only, one day Piper beats Gracie and leaves her to die in the basement of their home.  That’s when Emma decides to do something to stop these abuses, but sadly it is not enough to stem the flow of abuse that she suffers from others during her life.  She and Gracie eventually are able to run away and begin a new life on the streets of Philadelphia, meeting others along the way that aid them and help them to survive.  Emma begins dancing at the same club that Alessa did in Believe Like a Child, and their stories overlap briefly.  Just like Alessa, Emma is struggling to survive with the cards dealt to her, and is able to find a strength that she didn’t know existed deep within her.  Will she and Gracie be able to find a new life outside of the abuses they both share?

When I began to read When Smiles Fade, I immediately noticed a lot of parallels to Believe Like a Child, in that a child/teen is abused in a shocking manner and must fight for survival in a very difficult environment.  While Believe Like a Child outlined Alessa’s story and touched on Alessa’s life as a dancer and prostitute, When Smiles Fade painted a broader picture of what life on the streets was like for Gracie and Emma.  Emma is a strong character, and uses her strength to protect herself and her sister, even if it means committing grave crimes in order to do so.  This brought up the question as to the legality of the choices that Emma makes in order to save herself and her sister.  On one hand they are subjected to brutal attacks that leave them incredibly battered, but there is also an element of premeditation to Emma’s crimes in order to remove the sources of abuse in her life altogether.  Although they may have not been legal, they were most certainly morally right in my opinion, as the suffering both girls had endured because of these people was too great to ignore.

Besides these darker parts, this book has brighter spots, such as when Gracie and Emma meet another homeless teen named Sydney who helps them find shelter and a sense of belonging with her group of friends.  Sydney is a great representation of all the good that people can do to help others when they truly have nothing left.  It should be everyone’s goal to be more like Sydney and realize that even though someone is without a place to stay, they are still entitled to just as many rights and basic human needs just like all of us.  In short, Dearth’s book is a great continuation of her look into the life of those who are abused and neglected.  It is a great wake up call for all of us to help those in need, so go volunteer your time and help those who are less fortunate than you.

4 out of 5 stars

When Smiles Fade by Paige Dearth
CreateSpace (2013)
Paperback: 470 pages
ISBN: 9781475096927

Special thanks to Paige Dearth for my review copy!

Todd’s Review of A Case of Redemption by Adam Mitzner

redemption-pressAs those of you who regularly read the blog know, I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Adam Mitzner’s debut novel, A Conflict of Interest, last year.  It was a great read, and I eagerly awaited his sophomore follow-up, A Case of Redemption.  Although we are leaving the law firm of Cromwell and Altman behind (apparently we revisit it in his third novel), we get to follow an equally interesting lawyer named Dan Sorensen as he tries the greatest case of his life.

Dan Sorensen thought that he had it all: the perfect wife, a beautiful young daughter, and a prestigious job as a partner at the law firm of Taylor Beckett.  All that stopped, however, when he learned that both his wife and daughter were killed by a drunk driver.  Having devoted most of his adult life to the pursuit of his profession, Dan is wracked by guilt over not having spent enough time with his family and begins a downward spiral of self-loathing and drinking.  He is abruptly and reluctantly pulled from this timeline by a woman named Nina Harrington, whom he met at a Christmas party and drunkenly promised to help handle a murder case against a rapper known as Legally Dead.  L.D., as he is known to his friends, is charged with the murder of his girlfriend, Roxanne.  Roxanne is famous in her own right as a pop superstar, and the case has made headlines for months as one of L.D.’s songs specifically references killing someone with a baseball bat, which is precisely the way in which Roxanne was killed.  Now, not only does Dan need to convince the jury that L.D. is innocent despite all the circumstantial evidence, he must also embark on a journey of self-discovery and healing.  The trial is much more than just a job, it’s as if Dan’s very sanity hangs on the outcome.  Will he and Nina (who is acting as co-counsel) be able to pull off the impossible?  What will happen to Dan now that he has a purpose?

As I stated in my review of Mitzner’s earlier work, I loved how he was able to make a court proceeding so exciting.  This also rang true for this work, although there was a lot more that went on “behind the scenes” so to speak that the reader became privy to.  We got to see much of the pretrial motions and meetings that Dan and Nina had to work on, as well as the scenes in which they built their defense.  This work had a similar plot structure as A Conflict of Interest, and it seems as if it works well for Mitzner, as it kept me coming back for sure!  His character development is quite good, as Dan’s grief seems palpable and his rebound is not quick or unbelievable.  His interactions with Nina seemed genuine, and I became fully invested in his character.  Of course, this made the plot twist at the end all that much more of a surprise!  I won’t tell you what happens, but suffice it to say that Mitzner has twice now blindsided me with great plot twists that I never see coming!  Additionally, Mitzner made it more than easy to hate the book’s antagonist, Matt Brooks, but then again all good books have a character that you love to hate.  So, when putting everything together, from the plot twist, character development, and exciting legal drama, you have a great recipe for a suspenseful and engaging book that is impossible to put down.  I can’t wait until Mitzner’s third book (tentatively called A Fall From Grace) is released!

5 out of 5 Stars

A Case of Redemption by Adam Mitzner
Gallery Books (2013)
Hardcover: 322 pages
ISBN: 9781451674798

Special thanks to Gallery Books for my review copy!

Todd’s Review of Resurrection Express by Stephen Romano

ResurrectionExpress_CoverAs you probably can tell from my review history on Reflections, I’m quite the fan of a good action novel.  If it involves the adjectives death-defying, pulse raising, nail-biting, etc, I’m in.  I understand that a lot of times I don’t turn to these books to satisfy a need for an in-depth analysis of complex topics or multi-dimensional themes, instead I just look for a solid story that will make me turn the pages and keep me hooked from the beginning to end.  Therefore, at least in the context of action/adventure books, my needs are simple.  And so, when I received a copy of Resurrection Express by Stephen Romano, I expected no different.  I opened the book and prepared for a good story that hopefully wouldn’t keep me up too late at night.  And boy, was I wrong.

Resurrection Express begins with a man, Elroy Coffin, in jail.  Although he doesn’t exactly look the part, he is a trained martial artist and hacker that has been involved with crime and an “alternate” lifestyle for as long as he can remember.  Growing up he worked with his father, Ringo Coffin, a legendary safe-cracker whom Elroy was eventually slated to replace and take over the “family business”.  However, this was before David Hartman happened.  Elroy and Ringo had worked for Hartman for a long time, but Hartman had become too obsessed with himself and his own empire to care about them any longer.  Now, Elroy is in jail after barely surviving a gunshot wound to the head, and his father and wife, Tori, are presumed dead all because of Hartman’s power-hungry attempts to destroy Elroy for good.  However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, when a “concerned citizen” visits Elroy in jail and gives him proof that his father and wife are in fact still alive.  She can coordinate his release from jail and protection in exchange for his full cooperation on her team.  Their goal is to recover something that she lost that is now owned by Hartman and his empire.  At the end of his rope, Elroy agrees, and enters into a whirlwind of action and adventure that is unrelenting to the very end.

Like I said before, I was expecting a pseudo-stereotypical plot to emerge from this novel.  From the beginning, Romano’s writing style reminded me of a gritty crime novel, short on verbiage but long on description and comparison.  He throws a lot of information at you, fast, and doesn’t allow much time for digestion.  I felt as if I was on the run along with Elroy, dodging bullets and only partially filled in on the overall plan by this “concerned citizen”.  One of my favorite passages was when Romano wrote, “a .375 Korth revolver, 38 caliber, the kind of gun that giants with big hands use when they wanna blow holes in nouns.  That’s people, places, and things.”  Slightly poetic, but very badass.  To be honest, I kept picturing Max Payne when reading this novel, as it had a similar feel and flow as the video game.  I loved the slightly disjointed nature of the plot at times, which made me think and connect the dots with little assistance.  Therefore, when it all came together in the end, it was even more eye-popping.

Perhaps it’s just because I’m a big fan of film noir and old crime movies like Double Indemnity, but I couldn’t get enough of Romano’s story.  It was a departure from the typical smash and grab crime novel, and there were few clichés to be found.  Overall, I thought it was an extremely strong offering from Romano that has definitely left me seeking his other novels.  This one is definitely worth a try!

5 out of 5 stars

Resurrection Express by Stephen Romano
Gallery Books (2012)
Hardcover: 437 pages
ISBN: 9781451668643

Special thanks to Gallery Books for my review copy!

Christine’s Review of Under the Same Stars by Tim Lott

utsstlI think there are two kinds of books in this world. The first kind knows exactly what type of book they are, whether it be fantasy, romance, literary, or contemporary fiction. They embrace what they are and try to be the very best book they can be. Sometimes they are great, sometimes they are good, and sometimes they are terrible, but at least they know what book they are.

The second kind of book doesn’t know what it is. Very often, it wants to be another type of book so badly but just doesn’t measure up, so it fails at being the book it should be as well as the one it wants to be.

In my opinion, Under the Same Stars falls into the latter category.

From the publisher:

It is late summer 2008 and, as the world economy goes into meltdown, forty-year-old Salinger Nash, plagued since adolescence by a mercurial depression, leaves the London house he shares with his girlfriend, Tiane, for his older brother’s home in the Garden District of New Orleans. Carson Nash has persuaded Salinger they should find their missing father, Henry- last known location Las Cruces, New Mexico. But it is with a sense of foreboding that Salinger sets off with his brother. Painfully aware that their own relationship is distant and strained, will dragging up the past and confronting their father going to help or harm them? Meanwhile back in London, Tiane isn’t answering Salinger’s increasingly urgent messages. Why? Tender, funny, unflinching, this is a road trip story in the great American literary tradition and an exploration of sibling rivalry that harks back to Cain and Abel. A vivid glimpse of a Britain’s ‘brother country’ through the eyes of a skeptical outsider, a profound exploration of fraternal love and a gripping journey of the soul.

The story of Cain and Abel is an old one, and has been retold in many, many forms. I think it resonates with us because our human nature, as well as and how we react to jealously, rejection, and guilt, hasn’t really changed and we relate to it still. I think Under the Same Stars wanted to be a thoughtful, literary retelling of the Cain and Abel story, but it feels forced and relies on references to other books to explain itself. It’s one thing to refer to another book, so when Salinger (this book’s version of Abel) picks up a copy of East of Eden (one of the greatest Cain & Abel re-imaginings), I rolled my eyes. But when he then reads a very thoughtful, crucial, and philosophical conversation from East of Eden out loud to Carson (the Cain character), I laughed and immediately wanted to put the book down and re-read East of Eden.

There were a few other things I did not enjoy about this story, namely a horrific act of violence against a dog. I almost did not finish the book after that happened, but I wanted to see if I could understand why the author thought it was necessary to include that bit. Honestly, I understand why it’s there, he’s showing us Cain’s violent side, but I don’t think it served the story and felt it was written for shock value more than anything.

I do believe this book could have been an interesting exploration of America and a good contemporary road trip story, but instead it tried too hard to be too many things and I felt it failed at all of them.

2 out of 5 Stars

Under the Same Stars by Tim Lott
Simon and Schuster UK (2012)
Hardcover: 352 pages
ISBN: 9781847373052

Special thanks to Simon & Schuster UK for my review copy!

Christine’s Review of My Leaning Post by Lizzie Belle Quimby

9781468501209_p0_v1_s260x420In the short time I’ve been reviewing books, I’ve read a few self-published works. They have ranged from the good, the bad, to the so-so. My most recent read, however, has left me struggling with the best way to classify it. In fact, I’m not entirely sure how to rate it, or whether or not I would recommend it, because I’m not entirely sure I would call it a proper book or novel. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My Leaning Post, by Lizzie Belle Quimby, is a semi-fictionalized tale of a woman, Elizabeth Jeane, who describes the difficulties she faces throughout her life, and the faith she leans on while she struggles to understand the true meaning of her existence. Elizabeth’s life is not an easy tale to read. Her mother is distant and seemingly uncaring, while her father is having an affair with his live-in sister-in-law. Teenage Elizabeth finds herself pregnant, and although she is quickly married to the young alcoholic father, she cannot break free of the guilt and shame brought on by her Catholic upbringing. A few years later she is a divorced mother of two, abandoned by some friends and family and rejected by the church she desperately wanted to belong to, as well as becoming involved with a married man. Thus begins the long and abusive life Elizabeth finds herself trapped in, and which I struggled reading through.

My Leaning Post is definitely an interesting read for someone who is looking to get inside the head of a woman in an abusive relationship. Often I think we look at women in situations like Elizabeth Jeane and we just want to scream “Just leave! Just get up and leave him!” This book helps you understand why that seems so difficult and seemingly impossible to do. As a chronicle of what it’s like to be in an abusive relationship it is heartbreaking, but I don’t think it really worked as a novel. This is where it gets sticky for me as a reader and reviewer. My Leaning Post felt less like a book and more like an honest and matter of fact chronicle of one’s life one might write for family or friends. This is what happened, when it happened, what I was thinking, and how I felt. At times I felt like I was reading the author’s private letter to a friend or psychiatrist as she tried to sort out and explain her life. The ending was so abrupt I literally exclaimed “Wait…what?! That’s the end?” out loud and kept looking for one more chapter for a sense of closure.

At 240 pages, this isn’t a long read, but because of the subject matter and the way the story was told, I had a hard time finishing this book. Though Elizabeth Jeane does eventually break free of her abusive relationships and finds a new, deeper, more personal faith to lean on, this isn’t a light-hearted read. I wouldn’t recommend reading this unless you are looking to understand the psychology and mental state of someone in an abusive relationship.

My Leaning Post by Lizzie Belle Quimby
AuthorHouse (2011)
Paperback: 240 pages
ISBN: 9781468501209

Special thanks to Author Solutions for my review copy!