review

Cheerleaders get down and dirty in DARE ME by Megan Abbott

Publisher: Back Bay Books
Received From: Purchased
Genre: Thriller, Noir

Addy Hanlon has always been Beth Cassidy’s best friend and trusted lieutenant. Beth calls the shots and Addy carries them out, a long-established order of things that has brought them to the pinnacle of their high-school careers. Now they’re seniors who rule the intensely competitive cheer squad, feared and followed by the other girls — until the young new coach arrives.

Cool and commanding, an emissary from the adult world just beyond their reach, Coach Colette French draws Addy and the other cheerleaders into her life. Only Beth, unsettled by the new regime, remains outside Coach’s golden circle, waging a subtle but vicious campaign to regain her position as “top girl” — both with the team and with Addy herself. 

Then a suicide focuses a police investigation on Coach and her squad. After the first wave of shock and grief, Addy tries to uncover the truth behind the death — and learns that the boundary between loyalty and love can be dangerous terrain. 

The raw passions of girlhood are brought to life in this taut, unflinching exploration of friendship, ambition, and power. Award-winning novelist Megan Abbott, writing with what Tom Perrotta has hailed as “total authority and an almost desperate intensity,” provides a harrowing glimpse into the dark heart of the all-American girl.

Initial Thoughts: I have had the pleasure of meeting the author at a book festival which led me to consider giving her latest release a try.

Review:  I really enjoyed this psychological thriller and you have to get over the fact that these teens are some pretty dark characters. The theme of this novel is manipulation and just who exactly holds the upper hand. Told from Abby Hanlon’s perspective she is second in command to head-hauncho, Beth Cassidy, of the military like structure  within the female ranks of cheerleaders. Beth’s control is threatened by a new cheer coach who seems immune to the manipulative powers of the head cheerleader. Abby is pulled between her loyalty to her best friend and the intriguing life of her new coach. There are some great exchanges in this novel, in their bleakness and the things that are said by the characters. Abbott does a great job of pulling the reader into lives that seem pretty superficial on the outside. Isn’t that was cheerleaders are to most of us? Superficial and symbolic of an unattainable ideal? The language was the highlight of this novel for me. We are completely within Abby’s world and her method of expression is unique and provocative.  As the story develops, their world disintegrates and the characters descend further into darkness, destroying the lives of those around them. Don’t mess with these teenagers, they are power-hungry, privileged and cutthroat.

Quote: “She was the one who showed me all the dark wonders of life, the real life, the life I’d only seen flickering from the corner of my eye. Did I ever feel anything at all until she showed me what feeling meant? Pushing at the corners of her cramped world with curled fists, she showed me what it meant to live.”

Overall: Dark, edgy, and emotionally tense throughout turn this all-American setting  into a scintillating and murderous world.

Rating: 4 stars

About the Author

Megan Abbott is the Edgar Award-winning author of five previous novels. She received her Ph.D. in literature from New York University and has taught literature, writing, and film at NYU, the New School, and SUNY-Oswego. She lives in New York City.

http://www.meganabbott.com
@meganeabbott

Purchase: Amazon Indiebound – B&N

More Vampires?! Order of the Sanguines: INNOCENT BLOOD

Author: James Rollins & Rebecca Cantrell
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 448
Release Date: December 10th
Genre: Gothic, Thriller, Paranormal

A vicious attack at a ranch in California thrusts archaeologist Erin Granger back into the folds of the Sanguines, an immortal order founded on the blood of Christ and tasked with protecting the world from the beasts haunting its shadows and waiting to break free into the sunlight.  Following the prophetic words found in the Blood Gospel–a tome written by Christ and lost for centuries–Erin must join forces with Army Sergeant Jordan Stone and the dark mystery that is Father Rhun Korza to discover and protect a boy believed to be an angel given flesh.

But an enigmatic enemy of immense power and terrifying ambition seeks the same child–not to save the world, but to hasten its destruction.  For any hope of victory, Erin must discover the truth behind Christ’s early years and understand His first true miracle, an event wrapped in sin and destruction, an act that yet remains unfulfilled and holds the only hope for the world. 

The search for the truth will take Erin and the others across centuries and around the world, from the dusty plains of the Holy Land to the icy waters of the Arctic Ocean, from the catacombs of Rome to an iron fortress in the Mediterranean Sea, and at last to the very gates of Hell itself, where their destiny–and the fate of mankind–awaits.

With The Blood Gospel, the first novel in the Order of the Sanguines series, James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell breathtakingly combined science, myth, and religion and introduced a world where miracles hold new meaning and the fight for good over evil is far more complicated than we ever dreamed. In Innocent Blood they again take us to the edge of destruction . . . and into the deepest reaches of imagination.

Initial Thoughts: I’m familiar with James Rollins but not Rebecca Cantrell (isn’t this how co-writing usually goes?)

I continue my track record of reading the second installment in a series without having read the first. What can I say? I like to jump into the thick of things and I suppose if the second book doesn’t hold up that says a lot about the first one. By the end of this review you should have a solid idea of whether to start at the beginning or pass it by.

What I liked:

The prologue It opens during the crusades and we learn that the sanguinists (vampires that take a holy vow to serve the church) are helping obliterate the muslims. I love these sorts of scenes, it whets my appetite for an explanation for the arc of impact that these moments have on the future.

Historical Fact/Fiction: James Rollins is a master at seamlessly weaving historical fact and possibility into a fictional tale. This book doesn’t hold back, with fallen angels, uncovering the first miracle of Jesus Christ and  the unleashing of Satan, the plot is a rich tableau that should spark a curiosity about these historical events.

Sanguinists/Strigoi: The creation of the Sanguinists, a holy order of vampires, was intriguing and well done. The strigoi are vampires as popular culture tends to portray them – bloodthirsty and revelers of the nighttime. Sanguinists subsist on the blood of Christ and because of this they are able to tolerate the sun. the conflict between these two sects of vampires actually helps to humanize the creatures and delve into why some vampires chose to become sanguinists and others remain strigoi.

Locations: From California to Rome, Turkey (and everywhere in between) the authors have done a spectacular job of transporting the reader and making the past and present come to life on the page.

What I didn’t like (as much):

Wishy-washy rules for the supernatural: It’s almost too complicated to make sense for some characters and it’s never fully explained. There are many different aspects of the supernatural explored, from angels to immortal characters, and of course the vampires. Jordan is seemingly killed by a bullet, but a few droplets of blood from the First Angel boy revive him. There is an allusion. The conclusion seems to have become, it happens because it is useful for the plot of the story and rules can bend depending on their role.

Love Triangles  Erin and Rhun, a sanguinist have a strange bond- the result of Rhun having revived Erin with his vampire blood in the first book. Rhun is cursed by his love for Elisabeta, who he turned into vampire.  Their bond flutters through the minds of pretty much every character bu it’s never addressed outright and there is no development beyond that. This connection may have a larger influence in the next book.

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Overall:  Paranormal meets thriller and the journey of the characters through history and their present trials is a vivid and compelling ride.

About the Authors 

James Rollins is the New York Times bestselling author of the Sigma Force series and other novels. Blending science and history, his action adventure novels have been praised as “enormously engrossing” (NPR) and “smart, entertaining adventure fiction” (New York Journal of Books). Before pursuing a writing career, Jim obtained a degree in veterinary medicine and established a successful veterinary practice in Sacramento, CA. He currently resides in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

http://www.jamesrollins.com
@jamesrollins

New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Cantrell’s novels have won the Bruce Alexander and the Macavity awards and been nominated for the Barry, Mary Higgins Clark, APPY, RT Reviewers Choice, and Shriekfest Film Festival awards. She and her husband and son just left Hawaii’s sunny shores for adventures in Hannah Vogel’s hometown–Berlin.

http://www.rebeccacantrell.com
@rebeccacantrell

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Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher for an honest review

Treasure Hunt Mystery : Pirate Vishnu

Author: Gigi Pandian
Publisher: Henery Press
Release Date: Feb. 11, 2014 (Paperback)
Genre: Mystery, Women’s Fiction
How I got a copy: NetGalley

 A century-old treasure map of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast. Sacred riches from India. Two murders, one hundred years apart. And a love triangle… Historian Jaya Jones has her work cut out for her.

1906. Shortly before the Great San Francisco Earthquake, Pirate Vishnu strikes the San Francisco Bay. An ancestor of Jaya’s who came to the U.S. from India draws a treasure map…

Present Day. Over a century later, the cryptic treasure map remains undeciphered. From San Francisco to the southern tip of India, Jaya pieces together her ancestor’s secrets, maneuvers a complicated love life she didn’t count on, and puts herself in the path of a killer to restore a revered treasure.

Initial thoughts: A treasure hunter and Indian pirates seems like the perfect combination. Even though I haven’t read the first in the series, the premise is intriguing enough.

My Take: Jaya Jones was introduced in the first installment ARTIFACT. She is a historian who somehow gets herself embroiled in treasure hunts in the vein of a female Indiana Jones. With one adventure under her belt, Jaya has returned to San Francisco to return to her scholarly pursuits and the hope that she will be taken on as faculty by the college.

Her office is invaded by a frantic lawyer named Steven Healy. He begins asking Jaya about her long lost relative who died in the San Francisco earthquake. Or did he? This is when the treasure map that has been passed down through his family comes to light. Healy gives the treasure map to Jaya and she thinks nothing more of the map than as a vestige of a bygone era. Her casual interest in suddenly heightened when Steven Healy is discovered dead and the police begin questioning her possession of his map.

The only instance that I wished I had read the first novel, was Jaya’s attempts to connect with Lane, who had apparently broken ties with her. His distance is a real mystery at first, and it was hard to understand why Jaya was trying to hard to find him. Their relationship was a part of ARTIFACT, but in this book Lane is just an elusive character that for some reason is avoiding Jaya. He does appear during her trip to India, and we realize he does have her best interests at heart. Until then, I found myself scratching my head about Lane’s purpose in this book.

Jaya has a side gig as a musician at a local restaurant, the first sign that she identifies with her Indian heritage. She also has a good friend, Sanjay, who is a magician and has an assistant named Grace, he is the little bit of comic relief needed in this tale. The attraction between Jaya and Sanjay is hinted at but never expressed outright. His concern for Jaya is heartwarming but in a big brother sort of way. As a reader I wasn’t sure which guy to root for and I sort of like that tug and pull of affection Jaya has for Lane and Sanjay.

There are a lot of threads within this story with characters dropping in then disappaering for a bit. And with the plot shifting back in time every few chapters, there was a lot to keep track of but Gigi wrote it in a way that made it easy for the reader. We learn The Pirate Vishnu wasn’t always a pirate but an immigrant who made a few friends in the lowliest parts of San Francisco and fell in love with a girl. The chapters told at the turn of the century kept me entertained and while I can’t judge the historical accuracy myself, it seemed to reflect some research on the author’s part.

My favorite section was Jaya’s journey to India. Though dropping everything and flying to India seems easier said than done. It was an opportunity for the book to get some real adventure in a new and exotic place. I’m glad that it was included, and while their trip only seemed to confirm little, and they returned knowing little more than before they left, I felt it was essential if only for the excitement India lent to the storytelling.

My suggestion is to get into this series from the beginning and you’ll thoroughly enjoy the entire journey of Jaya by the time this book releases. Looking forward to the next installment!

Rating: 4 Stars

Overall: Jaya Jones channels Indiana Jones on a quest across continents and backward in time. Readers will enjoy the lighthearted mystery and the multitude of characters that spice up the story along the way.

About the Author

Gigi Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. After being dragged around the world during her childhood, she tried to escape her fate when she left a PhD program for art school. But adventurous academics wouldn’t stay out of her head. Thus was born the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series.

Gigi’s debut mystery novel, Artifact, was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant and named a “Best of 2012″ Debut Novel bySuspense Magazine.

http://www.gigipandian.com
@gigpandian

Get the first book in the series: Amazon – B&NPowell’s

Book Review: Far From Here

Far From Here

Author: Nicole Baart
Publisher:  Howard Books
Release Date: February, 2012
Pages: 352
Genre: Fiction


Danica Greene has always hated flying, so it was almost laughable that the boy of her dreams was a pilot. She married him anyway and together, she and Etsell settled into a life where love really did seem to conquer all. Danica is firmly rooted on the ground in Blackhawk, the small town in northern Iowa where they grew up, and the wide slashes of sky that stretch endlessly across the prairie seem more than enough for Etsell.  But when the opportunity to spend three weeks in Alaska helping a pilot friend presents itself, Etsell accepts and their idyllic world is turned upside down. It’s his dream, he reveals, and Danica knows that she can’t stand in the way. Ell is on his last flight before heading home when his plane mysteriously vanishes shortly after takeoff, leaving Danica in a free fall. Etsell is gone, but what exactly does gone mean? Is she a widow? An abandoned wife? Or will Etsell find his way home to her?

Danica is forced to search for the truth in her marriage and treks to Alaska to grapple with the unanswerable questions about her husband’s mysterious disappearance. But when she learns that Ell wasn’t flying alone and that a woman is missing, too, the bits and pieces of the careful life that she had constructed for them in Iowa take to the wind. A story of love and loss, and ultimately starting over, Far From Here explores the dynamics of intimacy and the potentially devastating consequences of the little white lies we tell the ones we love.

Initial Thoughts: This was acquired through an acquaintance who recommended it. I trust her judgement.

My Take: Danica met handsome and charismatic Etsell in high school. We learn that she gave up any ambition beyond living in Blackhawk, Iowaa when Etsell proposed. She effectively tied herself to his life, but Etsell was not tied to his home the same way she was.  As a pilot, he was a man of land and air and Dani’s fear of flying cut her off from that part of his life. (I also have a fear of flying, so can’t imagine ever tying myself to someone like Etsell even if he was the hottest guy in the town.)

We learn that Etsell’s plane is missing in Alaska. Our viewpoint of Etsell is entirely filtered through Dani’s perspective. Her flashbacks are meant to provide a window into their love but Dani most times comes off as dependent on Etsell. No wonder he felt compelled to escape to Alaska.

Dani and Hazel (Etsell’s mother figure) decide to travel to Alaska just to make sure that yes, his plane really is missing. They learn that another person named Samantha may also have been in the plan with him. Dani begins to question his fidelity, asking around about this mystery woman. Once again, Dani is ineffective, trapped by her grief. While I’ve never been in this position myself, reading a female character with little to no conviction can be frustrating. Sam is found and questioned but they leave Alaska knowing little to no more about this woman or where Etsell may have gone down.

With Etsell’s death pretty much settled, Dani must wade through her grief with a dysfunctional family by her side. The mother and sister characters were my favorite simply because their love for Dani seemed in earnest. This is when we come to know Benjamin, her neighbor a little better. If you’re going to introduce a potential love interest to a mourning woman, it needs to be done carefully. Their friendship is centered around the garden- a good metaphor for the time and love that must go into creating something new.

Dani’s deals with her grief in many ways through the novel, and I liked the many outward steps that she took to begin her new life. From the garden and her hair salon to Dani’s refurbishing a trestle table. Baart showed us instead of telling us about her journey. The reappearance of Sam later in the novel provides a revelation that will test Dani who is trying to move forward.

Overall: A young widow must confront not only her husband’s death, but her future without him. Her journey to discover herself outside of her husband’s love serves to strengthen the bonds of family. With a great supporting cast of characters, the dramatic scenes between mother and daughters ring true. If you can get over Dani’s lack of independence, you will enjoy this book.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

 Quote:
“When she was seven, Dani had rescued a stuffed seal pup from the secondhand store in Blackhawk. She never named him, but her seal’s pebbled fur has been loved smooth in a decade of nighttime cuddling. Before she happened across the sleek pup, Dani hadn’t known that she forstered an enduring affection for animals who could live on and and sea, effortlessly part of two wholly different worlds. She would have loved to see a seal in real life; to touch the glass were water and air were divided in half in perfect cross section.”

About The Author:

Nicole Baart lives in a small town in Iowa and is the mother of three young sons. After the adoption of her second son from Ethiopia, Nicole discovered a deep passion for global issues and co-founded a non-profit organization, One Body One Hope, that works alongside a church and orphanage in Monrovia, Liberia. An accomplished novelist, she was a 2009 Christy Award finalist for fiction.

http://www.nicolebaart.com

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*This book was acquired on my own. All thoughts are my own.

THE GIRL WITH A CLOCK FOR A HEART


Publisher: William Morrow
Pub Date : February 4, 2014
Genre: Mystery Thriller
Pages: 304

On an ordinary Friday evening at his favorite Boston tavern, George Foss’s comfortable, predictable life is shattered when a beautiful woman sits down at the bar, a woman who vanished without a trace twenty years ago.

Liana Dector isn’t just an ex-girlfriend, the first love George couldn’t quite forget. She’s also a dangerous enigma and quite possibly a cold-blooded killer wanted by the police. Suddenly, she’s back—and she needs George’s help. Ruthless men believe she stole some money . . . and they will do whatever it takes to get it back.

George knows Liana is trouble. But he can’t say no—he never could—so he makes a choice that will plunge him into a terrifying whirlpool of lies, secrets, betrayal, and murder from which there is no sure escape.

Initial thoughts: Love the cover and the title!

My Take: George is still haunted by his first love. His  brief but passionate love affair with Liana as a college freshman still lingers. We meet him nearing mid-life as a man unable to sustain a stable relationship with a woman and feeling the failure of his life choices.

Some chapters are told from the perspective of George when he was an impressionable young adult. He knows Liana as someone else entirely until George learns she won’t be returning to college from FL because she died. George takes it upon himself to travel to Florida to meet the family, find closure and mourn. The cathartic journey only serves to open up a bag of worms when he learns that Liana is alive and may have been involved in the death of the girl whose identity she stole. She disappears for good leaving George to sort through the detritus of their love.

Fast forward twenty years, when George spots Liana in a bar. She is still alluring and impenetrable.  George is unable to see that his infatuation makes him the perfect prey for someone like Liana.  He agrees to do a favor for her and quickly is embroiled in a murder which leaves him questioning his decision to fall for her charms.  Is she really caught in a web of crime that she can’t get herself out of or did she use George to pull of the perfect crime?

I was caught up in sorting through the enigma of Liana. George however, seemed very hollow, lacking any substance that would lead me to feel anything deeper about his situation. George was simply the vehicle for Liana and for the author as well.

Overall: Plenty of sexiness and  intrigue work together to create a careful crescendo of tension that will have you gasping for breath at the end. You will be more perplexed by Liana on the last page as George was from the first.

Rating: 4 Stars – A promising debut

About the author:

Peter Swanson’s poems, stories and reviews have appeared in such journals as The Atlantic, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Epoch, Measure, Notre Dame Review, Slant Magazine, Soundings East, Rattapallax, and The Vocabula Review.  He has earned degrees in Creative Writing, Education, and Literature from Trinity College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Emerson College.  He lives with his wife and cat in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Author website:  http://www.peter-swanson.com

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*I acquired this advance copy through the publisher. All thoughts are my own.

Neighborhood Talk: Logan Square

There has been a lot of activity in Logan Square in the past year and the rest of the city (and country) is taking notice. David Tamarkin of TimeOut Chicago has taken his assessment of this mixed neighborhood to Bon Appetit magazine which you can read here.

There is a lot to love about the area if you love diversity and young hip crowds. I’ve had the chance to sample some of the local “flavor” the best way I know how, eating and drinking. On my trips to Yusho, we’ve ordered a couple small plates, Octopus and Duck breast which were succulent and pleasing to the eye. The highlight for me was the tonics made in-house (This is the same case at Billy Sunday, which is also owned by Matthias Merges). Not being a fan of gin, it has turned me on to the traditional combo of tonic and gin. I recommend a seat at the bar where you can chat with the bartender and watch the preparation of your dishes.

We tried Parson’s Chicken & Fish the same week that it opened which may account for some of the disorganization. They had not yet started serving food on the patio which meant there was only room enough for 20 people inside the actual restaurant. Luckily, it was a beautiful evening and we gladly sat at one of the long picnic tables until our number was called. The ambience was akin to sitting at a company barbecue. I’m very glad that I ordered the Michelada and I thought it far superior to the one that is offered at Big Star. Once we made it to our spots at the counter we ordered the shrimp salad, fried chicken and enjoyed both immensely. I may return here for afternoon for a few drinks

Not to be missed in Logan Square:

La Boulangerie

City Lit Books

Tastee Feez (On a warm weekend afternoon)

The Whistler

Longman & Eagle (Make reservations or stop by for a drink)

What are some other spots you like to frequent in Logan Square?

Review: The Fault In Our Stars

Faultinourstars

Hazel is only 17 and she can see the end of her life. She must carry around an oxygen tank to keep her cancer ravaged lungs breathing. The oxygen tank is the weight holding her back and preventing her from hoping for a new chance at life. John Green introduces us to someone who is unimpressed with her time on earth and sees no point to her existence. She is a character with a prickly outside and a very philosophical and introspective mind. I liked her spirit and was glad that Green chose to give us a teen that didn’t feel sorry for herself and approached the cards she was dealt with dark humor.

Augustus is introduced quickly into the story before I feel like we, as the reader, have had time to get to know Hazel. But Augustus seems to know her well enough for all of us. Lucky for Augustus, he is in remission due to having a leg amputated. He immediately take Hazel into his world in the hopes that she will open her thoughts up to him and they learn to communicate through books. Hazel’s favorite novel, An Imperial Affliction, mirrors the hopelessness of her life. She seems to rejoice in the acceptance of this loss of hope. Slowly but surely, the bond between these two morphs into a shared belief that they both might beat the odds and by some miracle, be together forever. The eventually find a replacement for saying I Love You, by saying “Okay” to one another.

okay.okay

The idea of destiny is polarized when seen through the lens of someone living with cancer. Hazel and Gus start at opposite ends of the spectrum and slowly move towards one another.  Green had his characters symbolically lose a part of their bodies to cancer, Gus and his leg, Issac and his eyes, and Hazel and her lungs. As these characters learn to live without these part of their bodies, they learn to accept the world as it’s been handed to them.

Where did this book fail for me? The cheesiness. The influence of social media had already informed me that one of them will die. They made it seem like it was a gut-wrenching turn of events in this teenage love story. Yet, my reality in reading it was cold detachment. Am I unable to feel you ask? Why, no, I’ve cried reading a book before. But the emotional build-up fizzled for me. Green piles a lot of philosophical questions onto these two fragile beings and rather than really resonating, it seemed forced.

I guess they are making it into a movie and it will be the tear-jerker teen movie of the year. I doubt I’ll take the time to see it.

Visit John Green’s website for more details : http://johngreenbooks.com/

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