Thursday, April 30, 2015

House of Echoes

Duffy, B. (2015). House of Echoes. NY: Ballantine Books.

Adult / Horror / Suspense

I gave this book 4 out of 5 Stars

In this enthralling and atmospheric thriller, one young family’s dream of a better life is about to become a nightmare.

Ben and Caroline Tierney and their two young boys are hoping to start over. Ben has hit a dead end with his new novel, Caroline has lost her banking job, and eight-year-old Charlie is being bullied at his Manhattan school.

When Ben inherits land in the village of Swannhaven, in a remote corner of upstate New York, the Tierneys believe it’s just the break they need, and they leave behind all they know to restore a sprawling estate. But as Ben uncovers Swannhaven’s chilling secrets and Charlie ventures deeper into the surrounding forest, strange things begin to happen. The Tierneys realize that their new home isn’t the fresh start they needed . . . and that the village’s haunting saga is far from over.

House of Echoes is a novel that shows how sometimes the ties that bind us are the only things that can keep us whole. -- Book jacket summary, House of Echoes

Ominous. That is the word that best fits the pervading feeling that steadily builds as readers work their way through House of Echoes. The story felt familiar, but I didn't put my finger on it until I finished it -- it was reminiscent of the 70s book Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon, and that's a good thing.  This is a horror story not because of shock and gore (though there is some) but because of the heaviness upon the reader that something terribly bad is coming. Readers don't know if the source will be man or beast or even the supernatural, and Brendan Duffy does a good job planting seeds of possibility for all of the above.

Where Duffy is at his best writing is in the world building and atmosphere he creates, which are enough to carry the slow moving plot to the climax of the story and a resolution that absolutely fits with the rest of the story. There are interesting parallels between the changes in the settings and feel of the story. (Especially with the snow storms.) Those who read carefully will get so much more out of this book than those who hurry to get an ending. Reveals are sometimes very subtle and easily missed by readers trying to rush the pace.  This is not a fast-paced book, and that is completely by design, I believe.  

The story is told primarily from Ben's point of view, which allows readers to get to know him better than other characters; however, some chapters are from Charlie's point of view, and there is a smattering of historical letters that were written by one of the former occupants of the Crofts, the house and lands where Ben and his family are living and which they are restoring.  These variations add layers to the story that would be lost if told from just one perspective.  There was one chapter, oddly told from the police chief's point of view, which revealed important information but didn't really fit with the rest of the story, and that was about my only complaint.

Sensitive readers be warned -- there are considerable animal mutilations that are pretty graphically described. Beyond that, the book is amazingly clean with only very mild language, no sexual situations, and loads of creepiness. 

Thank you to Random House and NetGalley, who provided me an eBook in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Think Murder

Brand New Cover!
Salem, C. (2015). Think Murder. Self-Published.

Clean New Adult / Adult / Contemporary Mystery

I gave this book 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Goodreads Book Blurb: Adina Donati came to Washington D.C. to find excitement, not a dead body. When a friend is murdered, Adina is drawn into the middle of the police investigation. Tensions rise as the suspect list expands to include Adina, her friends, and colleagues at the prestigious think tank where she works. But every cloud has a silver lining. Between the nice detective, the hot new volunteer at the dog rescue center, and the newly available preppy ex-boyfriend, Adina's dating dry spell appears near its end. That is, if she doesn't become the next victim.
Adina Donati is the new Nancy Drew (hmmm, or maybe she'd be Bess. . .), all grown up and a single young professional working at a prestigious think tank in Washington D.C.  What makes this story a bit more realistic than a Nancy Drew story is that for the most part, Adina does the responsible thing in passing on information she stumbles across to the proper authority -- namely, the attractive detective, Jonathan Saks, who may or may not be interested in a relationship beyond the case. Author Cassidy Salem does a great job of establishing the setting in D.C. and clearly knows the city and its dwellers well, but it is her characterization that really shines.  From the lovable neighbor, Daniel Sullivan, to the loathsome new boss, Dr. Stickler, Salem gives readers exactly the right information to create a definite profile and impression of each character, which keeps each memorable and unique.  She also expertly throws hints at what's coming, but just as often Salem throws foils that misdirect readers and muddy-up the whodunnit part of the mystery. The resolution of the story works well as is, so the book stands alone, but it's set-up in a way that Adina's story may very well continue into subsequent books!

So, why the 4.5 and not a full fledged 5? Perhaps I'm out of touch, but I found myself annoyed with and disbelieving of Adina in her work setting. She clocks in and out exactly on time and always takes her full lunch break (or just a little more), never working a second more than required. Okay. But in an environment like where she was working, I cannot imagine that taking numerous "tea" breaks throughout the day or getting on Facebook to catch-up or for "game therapy" while on the clock would be tolerated -- even under wonderful boss, Matt. It wasn't a here-and-there thing either, but part of her daily routine; being so unprofessional really seemed incongruous with Adina's character.  Salem did establish that this wasn't Adina's dream job but one to keep her paying the bills . . . maybe that's all acceptable these days (not anywhere I've ever worked), but it just didn't fit for me.

The writing was solid and the plot well-structured, which allowed for everything to wrap-up neatly and satisfactorily.  There were very few typos and only a couple of instances of a word being misused as far as errors, but they didn't distract from this engaging and refreshingly clean story that contained no foul language, no sex, and only very mild violence. As such, I really think young adult readers would enjoy this book, but it also fills a niche for readers who are new adult aged and interested in crushes and flirting instead of graphic sex scenes.  

Thank you to the author for providing me an eBook copy of Think Murder in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A definite animal lover, Cassidy has never met a dog she didn’t like – a fact that influenced her decision to have the protagonist in “Think Murder” volunteer at a dog rescue center. When she’s not reading, Cassidy enjoys singing in an a cappella ensemble. Most of all, Cassidy enjoys spending time with family and friends and travels with her husband and son whenever possible. Her travels have taken her to destinations throughout the United States and Europe, as well as Scandinavia and the Middle East.  Cassidy Salem is the author of “Think Murder” — the first book in the Adina Donati Mystery Series.  

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Chiseled: A Memoir of Identity, Duplicity, and Divine Wine

Pfeiffer, D. (2015). Chiseled: A Memoir of Identity, Duplicity, and Divine Wine. Eugene, OR: Luminare Press, LLC.

Adult / Memoir

I gave this book 5 out of 5 Stars

Danuta Pfeiffer's Chiseled: A Memoir of Identity, Duplicity, and Divine Wine is the amazing story of Danuta's life -- filled with deception, devastation, and determination -- that takes readers on her courageous journey.  Told in three parts, Danuta begins at her beginning, as a god-fearing child, living a spartan life, under a father she revered despite his abusive hands. Her father's stories of obstacles he'd overcome in the war, in the most brutal of circumstances, carried Danuta through her own travails time and again, even as her father continued to reject her.  For readers who remember Danuta (then Soderman) and her mysterious departure from being the co-host of The 700 Club with Pat Robertson, details are revealed of not only her departure, but of how CBN and Robertson operated behind-the-scenes. This provided fascinating insight into the sometimes sordid world of televangelism, and it ultimately led to Danuta's "losing God" for a period of time.  As Danuta navigates her life - out of work,  married to an addict, and questioning the very existence of God - she always draws strength from her father's challenges and perseveres.  When she finally allows friendships into her life and allows herself to focus on her own needs, she finds true love with a winemaker, Robin Pfeiffer. Robin takes Danuta to Poland, where Danuta connects with her father's family, and discovers the truth and lies of her father's past. Chiseled is a masterfully written story of a woman spending a lifetime searching to find peace, love, and acceptance within herself.

What a beautifully written, personal story Danuta Pfeiffer has shared.  At times, readers will have to remind themselves that Chiseled is a memoir and not fiction. It is unbelievable that any one person endured all of the heartache and challenges that Danuta faced, and even more amazing that she survived it and now lives a healthy, happy life.  Many of her sentences are stunning, and the imagery truly takes the story to another level. For example, in talking about her father's decline into depression, Danuta wrote, "His change took place the way a shoelace comes undone, gradually unravelling what was once secure."  Or, when she speaks of her time with The 700 Club, she summarizes it by saying, "I had become a spiritual drug dealer imbued with the halo of power and celebrity, associated with the brokers of money and politics." Her characterization was excellent so that readers not only witnessed actions, but understood and felt Danuta's emotions towards the characters who had the most impact on her life. Particularly powerful was the story of Danuta's mother, Patricia, who was truly the hero of Danuta's life. In Patricia's strength and commitment to her family, Danuta found a role model in a time when women were restricted by societal limitations. Throughout Danuta's life, her faith and relationship with God went through many iterations, and it was interesting to see her thought process at all stages and what ultimately led her back to a life of faith. Sprinkled throughout the text were photographs from various times in Danuta's life, which enriched the story even further.

I highly recommend Chiseled, as Danuta Pfeiffer eloquently shows that truth can be more dramatic and fascinating than fiction. Readers be prepared to be angry -- and possibly shed a few tears -- but in the end, feel inspired. 

This book was reviewed for Readers' Favorite in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Wish You Weren't

Awesome New Cover!
Petersen, S. (2015). Wish You Weren't [Unabridged Audiobook]. Audible Audio Edition. Narrated by Edward Zebrowski.

Middle Grade / Fantasy / Adventure

I gave this book 4 of 5 Stars

If you have a sibling, you've done it. At some point or another, you've muttered that little wish that your brother or sister would just disappear. Maybe it was as your sibling was spying on you as your date brought you home, or maybe it was as you were trying to escape another torturous tickling, but you've done it. Wish You Weren't follows almost twelve-year-old Marten as he lives the consequences of his wish upon a shooting star coming true. With his best friend Paul, and the mysterious Tor, who comes from across the universe, Marten races against time -- past, present, and future -- to fix his wish. Sherrie Petersen provides a fun, sometimes funny, and thoughtful story about family, friends, gratitude, and what's really important in life. 

At just a little over three hours, this audiobook was the perfect length to listen to in the car and will keep listeners engaged.  In Marten, Petersen perfectly captured the angst of being the older sibling who feels used by his parents. In this story, there were times when listeners will agree that perhaps just a little too much responsibility and expectations just a little too high were put upon poor Marten in taking care of little brother Aldrin. Best friend Paul provided some comic relief and unexpected insight, and best of all, he always had Marten's back. Narrator Edward Zebrowski does a fabulous job of voicing the different characters, which really added an element to the story.  

There were a few things that didn't work for me, particularly in how characters responded to certain situations, but honestly, I am not sure a younger reader will catch them or care about them because the premise and adventure are so cool.  I do have to mention that there was one part that was absolutely unrealistic: the family was lying in the grass in Texas. (Hahahahahaaaaa!That's a little joke for Texans who know that Texas grass has fire ants and/or chiggers, no matter how nice it looks. There is just no escaping them.) Aside from the absence of stinging ants, there were plenty of scientific facts and conjecture thrown in, and some very cool concepts and gadgets that will entertain and inform listeners.

I recommend this book in print or on audio, for kids ages 8-10. It's clean, adventurous, and even perilous at times and a great escape.  Thank you to the author for providing me an audiobook copy just 'cause I asked for it! In exchange, I am giving my honest review -- the only kind I give. 

Follow and find out more about author Sherrie Petersen on Goodreads, on her Website, on Twitter, or on Facebook. 


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Starlet's Web: The Starlet Series #1

Author's Synopsis–Starlet's Web
Love. Lies. Acting. A novel about celebrity influence & teens in Hollywood. What makes a star shine? Humility empowers the spirit. Sometimes.

Discover the Starlet Series for new adult & college readers and uncover the life of a talented actress caught in Hollywood's web of lies.

I'm actress Liana Marie Michael. I won an Oscar at 17 but whatever. Celebrity is what it is: marketing a product. I'm part of a tight-knit group. I keep to myself and don't complain about my life. I've been happy until lately.

Evan dumping me leveled me. Matthew shocked me. I knew he couldn't hurt me with my bodyguard so near, but his I have trust issues. Dating super-hot Byron didn't help clear the confusion either. I'm torn between going to church on Sunday and making a living from pop culture.

But experience builds perspective. My days of shutting up needed to end. First, I told Manuel. Then I told my mom. It turned out awesome until I learned the truth.

Now I'm screwed. Totally. Let's face it: Hollywood's web entangles everyone.

Hall Ways Review
"I was not the fly in the spider's web. I was the web and the spider and the fly and the force keeping the web strong and in place." Such is the life of eighteen year old celebrity Liana Marie Michael.  As Lia navigates Hollywood while trying to stay true to herself and her beliefs, she encounters more than her fair share of obstacles including exploitation, manipulation, and betrayal -- often from unexpected, but familiar places.  Lia desperately wants to be a regular high school senior, going to prom with her lifelong best friend and hanging out with friends, but removing herself from her Hollywood personae proves nearly impossible. As she tries to make a new life for herself, intending to have boyfriend Manny by her side, Lia wonders, "Will I always be a jigsaw puzzle that loses pieces every time it is moved from one surface to another?" 
In this start to The Starlet Series, author Carla J. Hanna introduces us to a cast of characters whose issues are as diverse as their ethnicities, religions, and circumstances. Readers get the most insight into main character Liana, as she is the narrator, but there are enough behavior illustrations and dialogue with the secondary characters to form opinions. (For the record, I am not a fan of Manny and hope that: 1) he grows up; or 2) Lia whips him in shape; or 3) Lia breaks-up with him. There are some red flags.) Liana is confused, and who can blame her? She's been left to be raised by a staff of people because her mom is too consumed by her own acting career and her dad left them to escape Hollywood.  The only real comfort Lia can find is in enjoying nature, which can only be done from her back porch.  Searching for answers, Lia questions the existence of God and real love, and with the Hollywood influence, believes she must have a man in her life and have sex to keep him there. Careful readers will pick-up on author Hanna's foreshadowing to see the major plot twist coming, which is a game changer for Liana and preps the stage for the next book, Starlet's Run.
Starlet's Web is a bit heavy on dialogue, which often felt unrealistic, and it has a few typos, but it's enjoyable if readers will push plausibility aside and just read for the guilty pleasure of the peek into the Hollywood scene. I originally thought this was a young adult book, but I'd recommend it for older teens or even the new adult crowd, despite the main character's age.  There are sexual situations (not graphic), considerable reflection on sexuality, explicit language, drug and alcohol use by minors, a near rape, and mixed messages about love and sex that could be confusing/misleading for younger girls. 

Thank you to the author and Masquerade Book Tours who provided me an eBook copy in exchange for my honest review -- the only kind I give.

$ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $ $
$25 for Amazon/Barnes & Noble/Book Depository; One Necklace (based on cover image)

About the author: Carla J. Hanna lived in Santa Monica, CA where her children played with the children of celebrities. She mingled with plenty of nannies and a few good celebrity moms. Her award winning books, The Starlet Series, include Starlet's Man, Starlet's Web, Starlet's Run, & Starlet's Light. Starlet's End is scheduled to release September 2015, subject to change from publisher interest.
**ON TWITTER           


Review coming soon!