May 29, 2012

This Classic Moment #1

Title: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Publisher: Scribner Paperback Fiction, Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Medium: Hardback (Paperback Swap)

The high school I attended wasn’t the best academically, nor was I the brightest student in the bunch.  Looking back, I probably was brighter than many, but I failed to apply myself, and I wasn’t forced to go above and beyond my average and sometimes above average grades.  There are only a handful of books that I remember reading, and only one or two stuck with me.  So, now starting out in my 40’s, I am trying to rectify that misguided youth and start reading some classic literature.

My bookshelves are lined with beautiful, classic books (that mostly belong to my husband, who has a true love of literature) that I pass over for good, old-fashioned escapism.  Shame on me!  There are a plethora of books out there that are timeless and beautifully written, and by goodness, I’m going to get through a few of them, even if it kills me!  Because I have committed to reviewing everything I read, these books will fall under the heading of This Classic Moment.

My book club – Books & Beer – chose a classic for this month’s discussion; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, The Great Gatsby.  I was skeptical, but I plunged right in and finished with a day before book club to spare!  That’s record for me!!

I really loved this book, but it made me so sad.  The remnants of Tropical Storm Beryl are raining on our little part of the world today, and the gloomy skies match my feelings about Gatsby and Nick and Tom and Daisy and poor, poor Mr. and Mrs. Wilson.  Someone mentioned to me when I told them what I was reading that the book was a love story.  This I completely agree with, but they never told me what a tragic love story it was!

From the beginning chapters when the Gatsby character was revealed, you could tell how depressed he was.  Nick lived next door and attended the lavish parties, but Gatsby never really participated and mingled amongst his guests.  He watched from the balconies, from the yard, from far away, seeming to be waiting for something wonderful to happen.  And Nick the guy who really wanted a friend, was always there as well, observing, taking notice, also waiting for something to happen.

The readers are also introduced to Tom and Daisy who live not far from Nick and Gatsby.  As a reader, these characters exuded the rich lifestyle that is often portrayed of the 1920’s extravagant lifestyle.  They were lying on couches, having their every need attended to by servants, drinking and eating unrestrained, and from the outsider looking it, everything appeared to be wonderful.

It doesn’t take very long, but Fitzgerald reveals the dark sides of his characters, their flaws, and their downfalls.  Prohibition is gaining traction, but it never seems to affect this crowd, for there is always a party, always a road trip, and always a cocktail.  While reading The Great Gatsby there was always a sense of something impending that was going to occur.  It reminded me of how the leaves turn inside out in the wind and how eerily quiet it gets right before a storm.  Then with a bang, the storm arrives!

And in The Great Gatsby, the storm does indeed arrive!!  And as with any storm, there is always an aftermath and clean-up.  The clean-up is a sad ordeal, but the narrator of the tragedy, Nick, does a good job, and in the end, he earned my respect, because he stood up for his morals and for what he believed to be just, and most of all, he did right by his friend.

If you’ve never taken the opportunity to read The Great Gatsby, take a day and check it out.  It’s a quick little read, and shouldn’t take you too long, though this isn’t a book to rip through, the words are written beautifully, almost poetically, and you will want to savor them, for they linger with you long after you put the book down.

May 27, 2012

Lost in Italy

Title: Lost in Italy
Author: Stacey Joy Netzel
Publisher: Stacey Joy Netzel, 1st Ed, September 28, 2011
Medium: Kindle

Goodreads Synopsis: The best laid plans...

Halli Sanders spent two years planning the trip of a lifetime to Italy. Her itinerary did not include being stranded by her siblings, kidnapped by a sexy American movie star, dodging bullets, or fleeing criminals in a car chase around Lake Como. And that's just in the first three hours.

...often go awry.

Trent Tomlin put his movie career on hold to investigate his brother's murder-ruled-suicide at his Italian villa. He's closing in on the suspects when an American tourist unwittingly films the murder of the retired cop helping him. The killers will stop at nothing to get the evidence--including holding Halli's family as collateral.

Life's a little different unscripted.

Thrust into the role of real-life hero, Trent finds himself falling for the Plain Jane whose beauty blossoms with every challenge they face. But how can he keep the evidence from the murderers to get justice for his brother and friend without betraying Halli and her family?

Lost in Italy by Stacey Joy Netzel was my first book to review for World Literary Cafe.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect, and I picked a book that I thought would be relatively safe for me to start down this new avenue of networking not only for the author, but for myself as a new book review blogger.  I mean, who wants to start something like this with a whopper of a bad book?  I’m really happy with my choice this month, and am already looking forward to picking something again!!

I really wished that I had read Lost in Italy while hanging out on a beach somewhere, because this is the perfect beach read!  I would have say that this book could be classified as a romantic thriller, because there was a lot of romance and a thrill in every chapter.  There were a lot of bullets, close calls, and some steamy moments.

Netzel did not waste any time getting right into the action, and setting the stage telling the reader about Halli Sanders and Trent Tomlin.  The character development didn’t drag on like many books, but there was once in the beginning that I did go back a chapter to make sure I had all my bad guys straight.  

I loved how the majority of the book spanned only a few days, therefore allowing the story to be jam packed with those little details that sometimes get lost in books that cover a longer periods of time.  Netzel did a great job of keeping me interested and wanting to get to the next chapter and the next and the next, while adding a small amount doubt from time to time, making me wonder if the plot would go another way - because it really could have taken off in an entirely different direction...who knows?

If I could give one criticism about Lost in Italy, it would have to be the overuse of one particular word and all forms of it - growl, and there were no animals in the book!  I checked with Vinnie, the Kindle and he told me that it was used 27 times.  While not overly distracting, it did catch my eye a few times without taking anything away from the great plot of the book.  

If you are heading out to the beach or the lake this summer and want a fun little read, definitely pack your beach bag with Lost in Italy.

Stacey Joy Netzel

May 25, 2012

Is It Okay To Say No?

When I started down this adventure of book reviewing there were a lot of factors that I took into account before ever putting my name, image, and email address out there for authors and other readers to use as a resource and a reference.  First of all, I wanted to be serious with myself regarding my willingness to even do this at all.  I was committed.  I was always reading something, so why not make good use out of the things I was reading.  I didn’t really want to review the “popular” stuff, because well, they are popular for a reason.  I wanted to find that special something out there in the form of an author who while he or she may not be struggling, they could certainly use a little bit of help on their new adventure.
The next thing I wanted to make sure of was that I put a review policy into place that was specific and easy for authors to find and understand.  I made sure that I added the genres that I especially like, in the hopes to gain those authors trust in the way that I review books and short fiction.  Of course I was also (and still am) hoping to gain fellow readers in the form of followers to my blog so that I can share the books I have enjoyed.

I think I squealed when I had my first request!  I made a point from that request forward to respond on a weekly basis in the same manner.  I referred back to my Review Policy, and if the book was something I was interested in, I accepted.

This venture has not been going on very long for me, and I am getting book review requests in a couple of times a week.  I still get really excited and happy when I see that an author has taken the time to read my previous reviews, comment on my review process, and request me to review their work.

All of this positive came to a screeching halt, that practically stopped me in my tracks and left me speechless this week.  I had a request to review a book that just wasn’t my type.  I felt horrible, I felt bad, and I thought that if I didn’t look at the email it might just disappear out of my inbox.  It didn’t.  I had to suck it up and make a decision, and that decision wasn’t something that I just knee jerked and decided after a short period of time.

Is it okay to say no?  I really believe that it is, and I politely declined to review this author’s book.  I gave my honest reason being that the genre of the book was something that I wasn’t really interested in, and I didn’t feel that I would be able to give this work an honest review.

When an artist spends their time, their energy, and they sacrifice for the sake of their medium I truly believe that it’s important as a consumer and reviewer to be honest.  I was honest with this author out of respect for their work, and I was honest with myself knowing that if I had reviewed this book, I would be kidding myself and not living up to the purpose of my blog.

Authors, how do you feel when someone says no?  Reviewers, how do you say no?

Edited to add: Of course all this goes out the window when the author you politely declined gives you a dozen reasons why you should like their book, genre's aside. Okay, just remember, I'm very honest!!!

May 16, 2012

Reader Radar #6

Author:      Rebecca K O'Connor
Medium:   Kindle

Grief is something that I come to both in direct and indirect contact with on an almost daily basis.  What?!  I work in administration for a hospice organization, and while I do not care directly for patient’s, I do talk to many family members and loved ones, some while the pain of a recent death is raw.  We offer bereavement counseling for those that are left behind after a death.  Some people take the journey with us; other people take their own journey.

Death has never really bothered me too much.  It’s one of the few things that I can be certain of in a world so full of uncertainty.  I have had family members and friends die – some too soon, some after a full life.  I take each death into my heart, cherish the memories and continue to live.  I don’t dwell on it, because I have seen how it can consume a person, sometimes to the point of debilitation.

One thing I have learned while working for hospice and making friends with the bereavement folks is that grief is a personal journey, there is no time limit, and there is no wrong way.  One quote they always tell us is from Robert Frost “The only way out is through”.  I remember seeing this when I first started working here and it took time to wrap my mind around it, but it makes perfect sense.  

I was reminded of that quote when I read One More Winter by Rebecca K. O’Connor this afternoon.  This was a poignant short story that gave new meaning to the personal journey of grief.  It was sad, it was painful, and it reminded me so much of so many people that I know in my life that have taken that journey through grief.  

I loved how Mary paved her own path and allowed her daughter Teresa hers, all the while worrying and wondering and being afraid to take that journey with her.  I loved how the lake and the road were symbolic of her epic quest for closure and peace.  I felt sorrow for the precious dogs that were drawn to that intrepid road, but felt peace from Mary’s love and compassion.   

Mary and Teresa’s loss was unique, and while due to the circumstances it was heartbreaking, Mary’s journey was beautiful.  When Mary learned of T’s journey, they were able to find that they could walk through the end of their grief together.

One More Winter is most deserving of this week’s Reader Radar, and I hope to read more works by Ms. O’Connor in the future.

“The only way out is through” now sits on my desk as a reminder of all the Mary’s and Teresa’s that pass through my life daily.

Yes, I Can Admit It! I Love Stephanie Plum!!!

I have a soft spot in my heart for the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich.  I started this series about 3 years ago.  A friend of my mother-in-law raved on and on about them while we were at their pool one day, so I thought I would check them out.  I picked up the first one in the series, One for the Money, at my local library.  I remember reading it over the course of about 3 days.

The book was well written, had a pretty funny storyline, and some twists and turns that made the ending turn out well for me, but honestly, after reading that first one, I just wasn’t feeling like running around and raving about the book like my MIL’s friend.  I mentioned this to a coworker that I knew had read most of the series, and she said she felt the same way about the first book, and encouraged me to give the second one a try.

During this time period I was traveling quite a bit for work, and I was spending more time in my car than normal.  I picked up the next few books on CD in the series at my local library to pass the long hours on the road.  This was when I really fell in love with Stephanie Plum.  The narrator brought the characters into a whole new realm for me, and I finally couldn’t get enough of the books.

I can’t remember exactly which book in the series I was on, but I was heading out of town again, and wanted to put another one behind me – I mean, I really needed more hijinks of Lula and Stephanie, not to mention more descriptions of Joe and Ranger!  I popped in the CD, headed down the road, and immediately let out a very loud groan.  Alone in my car with no one to judge, I spew forth a stream of profanity that would have made even ME blush if I were in a public setting.  THE NARRATOR CHANGED!  There was no way I would like these books any longer!  Nope!  Not going to happen!

But I was wrong!  I still loved the mystery surrounding Stephanie Plum, I still cheered when she and Joe got back at it, but secretly wanted her and Ranger to settle down or at least get jiggy with it.  I loved their family, their crazy life, and the fact that every woman in the Trenton area carried a gun – even the senior citizens, especially the senior citizens!

So, the Stephanie Plum series has been my little secret of reading for the past three years.  I don’t talk about them a lot, and it’s not because they aren’t good, but because I fly through them so fast that I am afraid that I can’t give them the true credit for what they are worth to reading, therefore, the reason for this review.

A month or so ago I had some downtime during a home improvement project.  It was one of those do a small bit of the project, wait for an hour, do another small bit, rinse and repeat.  I was struggling with a book club book and really wasn’t in the mood to deal with that.  I wanted something I could rip through and enjoy all at the same time.

I picked up Eleven On Top and it was like having lunch with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long time.  I got right back into the groove, the laugh out loud moments, the fun, the twists and turns, Lula’s outfits, Ranger’s rock solid body…  And by 9:00 that night, I had finished the book!  A mere total of maybe 3 hours of reading, but an afternoon that made me smile and remember why I fell in love with Stephanie Plum in the first  place.

Most of Ms. Evanovich’s books are picked up on PaperBack Swap.  On occasion I will grab one from the library, but my To-Be-Read pile is stacking up by the second, and I don’t want to put time restraints on myself.  These books are great little reads and fun little mysteries with a sprinkling of good food, bad fashion, big hair, and sex, along with gun toting grannies and a funeral home that’s packed every night of the week.

If you need something to pass the time while traveling, ANY of the Stephanie Plum books will fit the description!  I do recommend reading them in order – there is a method to the madness, and the characters do evolve.  All of the books are extremely well written and you get to know the characters easily.  You have a sense of accomplishment at the end of each book, but you always want more and more!!!  

I’ve already received Twelve Sharp from PBS, and it is sitting on my nightstand...waiting for that lazy day!  

Readers and writers - what are your go-to books that you love to read when you simply want to pass a lazy afternoon or get through that flight?

A Cozy Reading Spot

May 12, 2012

Reader Radar #5

Author:         Janice Daugharty
Publisher:    Amazon Digital Services
Medium:      Kindle

Goodreads Synopsis:  Bethann, a struggling college student, decides to take care of Holly, her evil, manipulative younger sister after their grandmother, who raised them, dies. But Holly is a mess. And en route to Miami after the funeral, Bethann lays down the rules to Holly, while mentally trying to understand what makes Holly tick. If Bethann can figure her out she can fix her. So she thinks.

I really struggled this week to find something worthy of Reader Radar.  I read some really mediocre short stories - some were okay, others were good, a couple I couldn’t finish, but out of the dozen or more that I read, only one stood out, and it has stuck with me through the entire week.  I can’t seem to shake this story, which is a good thing when it comes to reading anything. Finally, I found a southern writer that fit exactly what I was looking for!

It’s Okay to Cry by Janice Daugharty was a quick little read, but the lingering effects are still haunting my thoughts days later.  I can’t seem to get Bethann and Holly out of my mind.  This short story gives the reader good sister versus bad sister, moral versus immoral, lively versus sloth, all within a matter of a few hours of time passing.

Bethann is finally making something of herself and in being successful and older, wants the same for her now orphaned little sister.  She decides to take Holly back to South Florida and give her a new lease on life.  Holly has other bad ideas.  Driving through parts of rainy, rural Florida at interstate speed Holly and Bethann clash like the lightning and thunderstorm erupting over them.

Daugharty creates superb symbolism in such a short period of time that you couldn’t help but cheer Bethann’s attempts and wanting as badly as she does to shake some sense into Holly.  You could feel the rain and the speed of the traffic along the highway.  You could almost smell the chicken scent on Holly intertwined with the stench of stale cigarettes and body odor.  You could see Holly’s glowing eyes in the storm.  You could smell the rain and the asphalt and exhaust from the traffic.  

I really enjoyed It’s Okay to Cry, and will definitely keep Janice Daugharty on my Reader Radar!  I wonder what other smashing tales she has to tell…

May 9, 2012

The Vampire Reclamation Project, Book One, Michael's Blood

Author: SS Bazinet
Publisher: Renata Press, 1 edition (February 12, 2012)
Medium: Kindle

Amazon Synopsis: Can a vampire be saved? In the first book of “The Vampire Reclamation Project” series, Michael, an incarnate angel, comes to vampire Arel’s aid. He shares his own blood in an effort to purge Arel of his dark curse. But the angelic gift proves to be more than Arel bargains for. A new and powerful force surges through him, trying to clear not only the curse, but also the long buried horrors from his past.

As Michael continues to guide him through the searing flames of purification, Arel hovers between life and death. But the angel isn’t his only ally. By chance, he meets a woman, Carol. She draws him out of his dark, isolated world and into a new one. It includes a small group of her friends who become obsessed with helping him. Will their efforts succeed? Will Michael’s angelic infusion be enough to reclaim him, to drive out the curse? Will Arel find that love and happiness really do exist in the world? 

The Vampire Reclamation Project was a fun book to read for me.  I secretly like books with vampires, but don’t read a lot of them.  I will admit to falling head over heels with True Blood on HBO, and found myself picturing the worst vampires as the protagonist, Arel.  I found myself wondering if Bill or Eric could ever become tame.

The book begins under the cover of darkness, in an alley.  This is where we find Michael trying his best to take Arel under his wing (pun intended) and show him that the life he has led for the past century does not have to continue.  Arel is broken, scared and scarred from a couple of lifetimes of being that thing that goes bump in the night and the cause of many nightmares.  He is reluctantly willing to take a chance with Michael and realizes that he doesn’t have much to lose.

The story ensues with Arel’s struggle and Michael’s never-can-fail attitude.  Through the introduction of new friends and seeing the real issues that they have to grapple with on a daily basis, sometimes it was hard just for Arel to get out of bed each day – life as he now knew it was so overwhelming.  As Arel’s life changes, the feeling I felt while reading the book also changed.  It went from a very dark, very sad place, to a very bright and colorful garden full friendship, triumphs and beautiful flowers.

The Vampire Reclamation Project gave new meaning to the term, Guardian Angel.  SS Bazinet paints a picture that everyone has a Guardian Angel, but only a tiny fraction of humans (or vampires) can have the close relationship that Arel had with Michael.  I really liked how the different Angels of the different characters changed forms while protecting their humans.

The Vampire Reclamation Project was a well-written, well thought out book and oftentimes reminded me of a dream. Bazinet took the time to make a new twist on vampire stories come to life through the written word.  Of course, the suspension of belief is helpful to enjoy this genre, but that’s what made the book so enjoyable.  The time I spent with Arel and Michael was special to me, and I understand that this is the first book in a series - it will be very interesting to see what else is in store for Arel.  

I am glad that I took the chance to read something that’s not my usual type of book.  As for my Guardian Angel, I believe that if there was anyone ever trying to mess around with me in my dreams, they would be met by a crazy Cairn Terrier - with wings and a red hot aura, of course!!!

Renata Press

May 2, 2012

Reader Radar #4

Title: Blood Spatter -- A Short Story
Author:            Guy James
Publisher:        Amazon Digital Services
Medium:          Kindle

Blood Splatter by Guy James is a fast paced short story that is high on tension and not lacking in the thrill department either!  I have a soft spot in my soul for gruesome tales, and I really enjoyed this short story.  It is fast paced, and holds your attention right up to the very end.

My love affair with books involving murder began about 20 years ago when my mother-in-law loaned me a true crime book, you know, the ones where there are pictures of dead bodies in the middle.  I loved to know the background on mass murderers, serial killers, and just plain bad people.  I think I read every one that was in my favorite dusty little used book store.

James did a great job of painting the picture of the protagonist Logan, a normal family guy who has a loving wife and cute kid into a pretty bad-assed serial killer.  I loved the idea behind the creaky and cranky old Detective Labrusca following hot on Logan’s trail, but never quite being able to catch him.  It was most definitely a cat and mouse type of story.  

The twists and turns that James put into every scene in the book gave a way for me, as a reader, to really think about what was happening and wonder about the different ways the story could play out.  I loved how the ending had both the cat and the mouse with injuries, and both not really knowing exactly how they sustained their injuries, but both knowing that it was pure luck that they were safe and okay. I loved the idea behind the mask being the catalyst for Logan to make that switch from family guy to bad guy.

Because I love thrillers like this, and as a complement to the author, wouldn’t it be awesome if there was a full length novel in the works that gives a background about how Logan traveled down the path to such a monster? What would his family think if they ever found out? Would Detective Lambrusca ever catch his mouse?

Guy James is definitely on my Reader Radar! Check out Blood Splatter today!