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Seduction by M.J. Rose

Seduction by M.J. Rose shifts from the present day to the 1850s as Jac E’Toile uncovers more of her family and Malachai’s secrets, as well as the connections to seances, the Druids, and reincarnation.  Memories and past lives cricle in on themselves revealing bit by bit how entwined Jac’s life is with Theo Gaspard, the man who invites her to the Isle of Jersey to research the island’s Celtic roots.  In the process, readers see a side of Victor Hugo they may not have heard of before, a side that has been documented in his own notations.  Like the other books in Rose’s reincarnationist series, Seduction can be read as a stand alone novel, though some readers may want to read The Book of Lost Fragrances (my review) first.

“They climbed the wrought-iron circular spiral. Its steps were narrow and turned on themselves sharply, making them hard to navigate and easy to fall down, Jac thought. The upper balcony hung over the fist floor. From the slightly different scent, Jac knew there was a concentration of older volumes up here.” (page 153 ARC)

Rose weaves mystery with romance, history, and elements of spiritualism.  Hugo and the Gaspard family become obsessed with loss and overly consumed to the point where they are nearly willing to make a deal with the devil to bring back those they love.  Jac and Malachai have known each other since she was a teenager, and while he continues to obsess over the search for the 12 memory tools, Jac continues to hold him in esteem until events shake her faith in him.  However, Seduction is less about the search for memory tools and more about uncovering the past and past lives.  Each of these characters is seduced, either by their grief or their fear, and in the end, their triggers may be different but their obsessions threaten to take them over.

“To be a decent writer you must have both empathy and imagination.  While these attributes aid your art, they can plague your soul.  You don’t simply suffer your own sadness, experience your own longing and worry about your own wife and children, you are burdened with experiencing the emotional states of multitudes of others you don’t know.”  (page 80 ARC)

While the narrative slips between Jac’s story and that of Victor Hugo, as well as a period during the time of the Druids, these stories could have easily stood on their own had it not been for the reincarnation connection threading through the entire novel.  In many ways, the connection to Hugo could have been explored without the Druid connection, but Rose’s story arc carries a deeper sense of connection between her characters.  In addition to reincarnation and seances, the narrative has elements of the Gothic, with the dark brooding sea and the mysterious disappearances of young girls, intertwined with the treasure hunt for Victor Hugo’s journal.  Rose’s narrative is like the faint scents of perfume winding their way into the nasal cavity from a distance, only to strengthen as the tantalizing aroma beckons the reader further on the journey to the source.  Seduction by M.J. Rose is a novel full of mystery that only unravels with time and patience as Jac journeys outside her comfort zone to embrace her talents as a perfumer and a reincarnated soul.

I, for one, cannot wait to see what Rose has in store for the next installment in this series, though I’m not ready to say goodbye to Jac.

About the Author:

M.J. Rose is the international best selling author of eleven novels and two non-fiction books on marketing. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in many magazines and reviews including Oprah Magazine. She has been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, USA Today and on the Today Show, and NPR radio. Rose graduated from Syracuse University, spent the ’80s in advertising, has a commercial in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and since 2005 has run the first marketing company for authors – Authorbuzz.com. The television series PAST LIFE, was based on Rose’s novels in the Renincarnationist series. She is one of the founding board members of International Thriller Writers and runs the blog- Buzz, Balls & Hype. She is also the co-founder of Peroozal.com and BookTrib.com.

Rose lives in CT with her husband the musician and composer, Doug Scofield, and their very spoiled and often photographed dog, Winka.

For more information on M.J. Rose and her novels, please visit her WEBSITE. You can also find her on Facebook.

Also Reviewed:

The Hypnotist by M.J. Rose
The Memorist by M.J. Rose
The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose

LEVEL 2 by Lenore Appelhans

LEVEL 2 by Lenore Appelhans (aka Presenting Lenore, a blogger I’ve read for a long time and even met a few times in person) is part one of three in the Memory Chronicles.  Appelhans is creating an alternate afterlife to the one many current religions teach, but her afterlife has roots in mythology and a modern twist.  Felicia Ward’s life is cut short, but readers are kept in the dark about that aspect until the end, which really doesn’t impede the story.  Dipping in and out of her memories with her family, friends, and boyfriend, Felicia remains connected with her earth life and to the emotions she felt there.  In many ways, the chamber in which she relives and calls up these memories is her life line to the past, preventing her from examining her surroundings more fully and questioning the new reality she finds herself in.

“And now I can’t sleep.  Except, that is, when I access my memories of sleeping.  You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve combed through the seventeen years and 364 days of my life, searching for those rate uninterrupted, nightmare-free stretches of slumber.  Because sleep is my only real break from this endless reel of memories, both mine and those I’ve rented.”  (page 1-2)

Felicia’s experiences are guarded and her memories of the traumatic events in her life are revealed slowly in this first-person point of view novel, which provides a sense of suspense that becomes a bit overwrought toward the end as the reader is anxious to learn how she died and what happened between her, Autumn, and Julian, as well as how she met Neil and what happened to him.  However, a lot of the story is focused on Level 2, its structure, and its purpose as it is revealed to her through someone she already had trust issues with on Earth, so information from him is highly suspect from the beginning, which should lead readers to expect or suspect the twists at the end of the novel.

“In moments like this I wonder whether we are bound together by true feelings of kinship or if we’ve merely clung to each other these past ten years out of obligation, fear, or lack of other prospects.  Her huge doll collection made her the ideal friend back when we first met at out post in Ecuador and at our subsequent stint back in D.C., but since we both got to Frankfurt a year ago last summer, after four years apart, I’m starting to think maybe I’ve outgrown her.  That’s what moving so often can do to you.  It makes you continually question your place in the world, and seek out those few who understand what you’re going through.”  (page 120-1)

The hives in Level 2 are reminiscent of the Matrix movies (as well as the elements of a rebellion), which makes them lack some originality, but there is a back story to its creation that was more imaginative and unfortunately is less detailed than some readers may want, though there are more books planned for this series, which could lead to additional description and better world building.  Meanwhile, Appelhans does raise some questions about the reliability of memory and whether it can be manipulated by others or by the owner of those memories to change the outcome or modify the perception of certain events.  This aspect of the story is very unique and psychological, a part of the story that should be expanded.

Felicia is a strong character at some points and weak at others.  She’s especially weak when navigating the Level 2 environs with someone she does not trust, and says more than once that she is too weak to go off on her own, even when she really isn’t as weak as when she first woke.  However, her fear of the unknown is something that propelled her on Earth and still seems to propel her in this new environment, so it is at least understandable and will hopefully be explored/overcome in future books.  Autumn is a bit one-dimensional, which makes it hard to see why Felicia is so torn about the friendship, though that could be attributed to the memories Felicia reveals to the reader.  Felicia’s relationship with Julian and Neil are both explored, though there really isn’t a love triangle.  LEVEL 2 by Lenore Appelhans is a solid debut, young adult fiction novel that hovers around bigger issues of memory and anchoring oneself with self-confidence without overtly addressing them.  It is fast-paced and suspenseful, but some readers may prefer a deeper exploration of these themes and/or a more linear story line than the dipping in and out of Felicia’s memories.

About the Author:

Lenore Appelhans’ novel, LEVEL 2, will be published by Simon & Schuster in fall 2012.  She blogs at Presenting Lenore about books and loves to travel.  She’s been to 55 countries so far, and she currently lives in Frankfurt, Germany, with her 3 fancy Sacred Birman cats and her husband.  Check out her interview during Dystopian August, a video discussion, the Reader’s Guide.

This is my 14th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is a novel that tries hard to be a Gothic tale full of ghosts and melodrama, but light on the actual romance.  Margaret Lea receives a random letter from famed contemporary author Vida Winter, a woman who spends a lot of her time telling stories even to those journalists seeking her real-life story.  Lea is a bookworm extraordinaire, who helps her father in his antique bookshop, while her mother is hold up in her room every day barely engaging them.  Margaret is intrigued by Winter after reading a volume of short stories from her vast collection of books, titled “Thirteenth Tales of Change and Desperation.”  Upon meeting the woman and asking for three true things she can double-check for their accuracy, Margaret is sucked into her real-life tale by their own common bond.

What follows is the unraveling of Vida Winter’s real life story in a fragmented narration, which vacillates between Margaret’s journalistic digging and Vida’s fairy tale-like story.  Setterfield weaves a story of mystery that Margaret is determined to uncover even as she is haunted by her own family past.  There is a cast of secondary characters that are as colorful as Winter, but there are moments of too much detail that bog down the narration in Winter’s story and in Lea’s investigations and wanderings around Winter’s childhood home of Angelfield.

“Vida Winter’s appearance was not calculated for concealment.  she was an ancient queen, sorceress or goddess.  Her stiff figure rose regally out of a profusion of fat purple and red cushions.  Draped around her shoulders, the folds of the turquoise-and-green cloth that cloaked her body did not soften the rigidity of her frame.  Her bright copper hair had been arranged into an elaborate confection of twists, curls and coils.  Her face, as intricately lined as a map, was powdered white and finished with bold scarlet lipstick.  In her lap, her hands were a cluster of rubies, emeralds and white, bony knuckles; only her nails, unvarnished, cut short and square like my own, struck an incongruous note.”  (Page 43-4)

Despite this, Setterfield peppers her story with mist and ghosts, leaving the reader wondering if they are real.  The creation of Margaret and her back story, which is similar to Vida’s, is a bit contrived to propel the story forward and to engage Margaret in the investigation of Winter’s family.  Overall, the story within the story is the most engaging with incest, twins, and family secrets, and the story on which Winter builds her new life as an author.

“‘You think that a strange thing to say, but it’s true.  All my life and all my experience, the events that have befallen me, the people I have known, all my memories, dreams, fantasies, everything I have ever read, all of that has been chucked onto the compost heap, where over time it has rotted down to a dark, rich organic mulch.  The process of cellular breakdown makes it unrecognizable.  Other people call it the imagination.  I think of it as a compost heap.'”  (Page 46)

The conclusion of the story is very anti-climatic with a wrap up of all the secondary and tertiary characters, which felt unnecessary, and there are elements of the story that remain unresolved.  The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is an intriguing novel that could have done better under a different structure to capture the reader’s attention fully, rather than allowing the story of Margaret to pull them out of the biography of Winter, who is the true protagonist of the novel.  While Margaret is a necessary evil in that she is picked by Winter to tell her story, and she must investigate the truth of it given the legend that surrounds Winter as an unreliable narrator, there are too many moments in which Margaret’s wanderings and indecision disengage the reader.

About the Author:

Diane Setterfield is a British author whose 2006 debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale, became a New York Times #1 bestseller. It is written in the Gothic tradition, with echoes of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

This is my 70th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.

 

 

What the Book Club Thought (Beware of Spoilers):

Most of the members enjoyed the novel, including the male member who selected the book as his pick for the month.  Two of our members, including me, just felt the book was an OK read.  While most of us did not mind that Setterfield did not provide a concrete time or setting for the novel, one of our female members wanted to feel more grounded.  Several members mentioned an overuse of Jane Eyre and allusions to the classic novel, which was clearly a favorite of the character and the author.  Most of us enjoyed the story within the story that was about Winter’s childhood and family and thought it was the most engaging.  While most of us did not hate Margaret, most of us believed it was contrived to make her a match for Winter’s story.  One male member absolutely did not like Margaret at all.

Also touched upon in the discussion was the great feelings of Margaret for her deceased twin, a twin that she never met and never saw given that she died almost immediately after birth.  Some of us didn’t believe in this feeling and deep connection, but would have believed it more if she had grow up with her twin and she died after a bond had formed.

At one point during the discussion, one member wondered aloud if Winter would have chosen someone as inexperienced as Margaret to write her biography or if she would have chosen someone with more experience.  In most of our estimations, we believed that Winter was as eccentric enough to want some unknown writer write her biography rather than someone more experienced.  In a way, some of us agreed that she would prefer an unknown writer because she could more easily manipulate the story with someone less experienced.

The cutting of Isabelle randomly when her and Charlie begin to interact seems incongruous with a young girl who is doted on by her father.  While we could see that the kids were neglected in many ways and that the dishevelment of the house played a role in how they all interacted, it was a bit of a stretch that a well-loved young lady would automatically cut herself and enjoy inflicting pain without a catalyst/reason.  One member, in particular, wanted to know more about why she engaged in those behaviors and why the incestuous relationship began or was inevitable.  However, given that the point of view of the story is from a younger member in the household as it was told to her, this was not possible, which again calls into question the structure the author chose to use.

Overall a good book with some good elements and some not-so-good elements.

How I Rank Our Book Club Picks for the First Round:

  1. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  2. City of Thieves by David Benioff
  3. A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear
  4. When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
  5. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  6. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
  7. Ashes by Ilsa Bick
  8. Star Wars & Philosophy by Kevin S. Decker and Jason Eberl

The Color of Tea by Hannah Tunnicliffe

Macau is a former Portuguese colony and is now a special administrative region of China and a hub of gambling and more.  The Color of Tea by Hannah Tunnicliffe is a woman’s journey into a strange land and the time of her life as she trails behind her husband, and their dreams of a new life change drastically.

“Macau: the bulbous nose of China, a peninsula and two islands strung together like a three-bead necklace, though by now the sand and silt have crept up and almost covered the silk of the ocean in between.  Gobbled up, like most everything in Macau, by Progress.  Progress and gambling.”  (Page 1)

Grace Miller is a woman who has lost her dream and builds another with tea and French pastries.  With the help of Leon, a French chef, Grace learns to make macarons and she opens a cafe, breathing new life into her days.  Although she doesn’t know Portuguese, Cantonese, or Mandarin, she finds the strength to become a businesswoman with little help from her husband, Pete.  She finds a new strength in her situation as she creates new kinds of macarons, serves coffee and tea, and provides a community with a little hope and connection.

“The day after the earthquake Lillian’s is packed to the rafters.  It is so crowded that those who can’t find their own tables join strangers and start to talk.  It is as if the catastrophe has brought out the community-minded side of people.  Conversations are hushed, and customers linger over their coffees.  Children are sent to the corner to play with our basket of toys, mutely constructing castles or ships out of LEGOs; even they must sense the need for regrouping and rebuilding.”  (Page 125)

It is the essence of Tunnicliffe’s novel — rebuilding and regrouping — to create something shiny and new out of the rubble . . . to begin again.  Lillian’s is a cafe born from the ashes of a Portuguese restaurant in a Chinese owned commonwealth by a British woman seeking a foothold in a spiraling out of control life, but what this cafe brings to her and to the community is more than she could have bargained for as cultures are bridged and friends are earned.

Grace is dedicated and strong, but she’s also naive about the cultural differences surrounding her, but those traits together make her more endearing.  Peter tries his best to cope with the loss of their dream, but throws himself more and more into his work when his wife withdraws.  His character is less well drawn, but the novel is told from Grace’s perspective, so that is to be expected.  Gigi, Leon, Celine, Rilla, Marjory, and Yok Lan are secondary characters who are full of life, teaching one another how to have patience with one another and grow.

Tunnicliffe’s debut novel is ripe with sugar and creamy pastry as each new relationship adds to the culinary masterpiece that is The Color of Tea.  It is Grace’s story.  Through her baking she comes alive, and subsequently comes into her own.  Tunnicliffe is talented and makes Macau come alive through food, relationships, and tea — creations that transcend sorrow and class.

About the Author:

Hannah Tunnicliffe was born in New Zealand but is a self-confessed nomad.  After finishing a degree in social sciences, she lived in Australia, England, and Macau.  A career in human resources temporarily put her dream of becoming a writer on the back burner.  The Color of Tea is her first novel.

This is my 58th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.

 

 

If you’d like to win a copy and live in the US or Canada, please leave a comment about your favorite tea or pastry.

Deadline is Aug. 16, 2012, at 11:59PM EST

The Reckoning by Alma Katsu

There are some books that you read quickly through and there are those books are almost too seductive and you want to slow down and savor every moment with the characters, and The Reckoning by Alma Katsu — the second book in The Taker series (check out my review of The Taker) — is the latter.  Once plunged into this world of immortal, devilish, and sometimes wayward beings, readers will not want to leave and by the end of the book, they will be clamoring for more.

The novel picks up just where Lanny and Luke leave off in the previous novel, and just as he begins to settle into their new life together — helping her to purge her past — the unthinkable happens.  The terror Lanny feels is palpable and forces her to take action in a way that she never thought she would, leaving Luke devastated.  What makes this all work so well is the tables are turned not just on Lanny forcing her to react, but the tables turn on other characters as well, including the powerful and frightening Adair.

“Inside, he detected a scent that he associated with Lanore, her musk making a part of his brain fire excitedly, re-creating the feeling of being in her presence.  She felt so real, so present, that he expected her to walk around a corner or to hear her voice carry down the staircase, and when neither happened, he felt his loneliness more profoundly than before.”  (Page 236)

The Reckoning is not only about the revenge that Adair will take upon Lanore and the events that lead her back into his path, but also it is about the judgment we all must make of ourselves, our past deeds, and our future path.  Readers will uncover more of Adair’s secrets, learn about the great Lord Byron, and come to find out that Lanore is not as immune to the charms of the dark side as she’d like to think she is.  There is a great blurring of the line between good and bad, with each character playing along the edges in their actions and thoughts.  Lanore’s character grows stronger here, burning with fear, yet conviction, while Adair’s softer side is revealed without taking over.  Katsu does well to blur these lines and show us the reality of this surreal world — that not everything is as black and white as it seems  (dare I use the pun that there are more than 50 shades of gray?).

The Reckoning by Alma Katsu is an addictive world that readers will plunge into without looking and emerge from emotionally spent and eager for the next whirlwind with The Descent.  Katsu is a phenomenal writer who is adept at building worlds and atmospheres that will hold readers in their grip and never let go, and many of these worlds straddle reality and fantasy like no other.  History, even its alternate versions, come to life in her hands as her characters run through the pages, fearing the worst and never expecting redemption.

She’s made me into a believer, enticing me back into the world of fantasy, horror, and, dare I say, the Gothic, which I had given up as trite and overwrought long ago.  I’ve been seduced.  The Reckoning by Alma Katsu is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I don’t say that about many sequels.

About the Author:

Alma Katsu is a 30-year DC veteran who lives in two worlds: on one hand, she’s a novelist and author of The Taker (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books). On the other hand, she was a senior intelligence analyst for CIA and NSA, and former expert in multilateral affairs.  Check out this Interview With Alma.

 

 

 

 

 

This completes my first series for the Finishing the Series Reading Challenge 2012.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Happy 4th of July, Everyone!

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway is an emotionally draining novel about Tenente Frederic Henry, an American serving in the ambulance corps of the Italian army during World War I, and the impact of war on its soldiers, displaced populations, and others.  Some critics say that the novel is semi-autobiographical given that Hemingway did indeed serve in the Italian Army as an ambulance driver during the Great War; learn more about the autobiographical elements here.

While WWI and the front is always in the background and weighing heavily on the characters, much of the focus is on Henry and his relationship with Nurse Catherine Barkley of Britain.  When they meet, it seems as though both are contriving a romance out of thin air, and when Barkley’s past is revealed readers understand her desperation, though they may not like it.

“‘This is the third day. But I’m back now.’
She looked at me, ‘And you do love me?’
‘Yes.’
‘You did say you loved me, didn’t you?’
‘Yes,’ I lied. ‘I love you.’ I had not said it before.
‘And you call me Catherine?’
‘Catherine.’ We walked on a way and were stopped under a tree.
‘Say, “I’ve come back to Catherine in the night.”
‘I’ve come back to Catherine in the night.’
‘Oh, darling, you have come back, haven’t you?'” (page 30)

Henry is another matter, with the distant, first-person account of events in the past, readers will know little of how he makes decisions or how he feels unless he speaks aloud.  In many ways, the reader must focus on what is not said to catch a glimmer of the hopelessness of his situation and the conviction he has in remaining with the Italian army even as it appears that they are losing the war.  The silences of his mind and the things left unsaid in conversation make a surface reading of this novel inadequate (please check out Jeanne’s posts on this book from the read-a-long with War Through the Generations).

“I was afraid we would move out of the eddy and, holding with one hand, I drew up my feet so they were against the side of the timber and shoved hard toward the bank. I could see the brush, but even with my momentum and swimming as hard as I could, the current was taking me away. I thought then I would drown because of my boots, but I thrashed and fought through the water, and when I looked up the bank was coming toward me, and I kept thrashing and swimming in a heavy-footed panic until I reached it.” (Page 227)

There are moments where the supply shortages are noted, but there seems to be a never-ending supply of alcohol, which Henry uses to deal with the pain in his leg and the war that continues to rage on without an end.  He loses friends, he loses his way, he must escape the enemy, and he must survive.  There is desperation and scrambling for comfort and a sense of normalcy, but the hopelessness pervades everything in the novel and highlights the truth of war.  Hemingway’s terse sentences, little insight into his main character, and the over-the-top antics and subservience of Barkley to Henry can get overwrought.  However, in the latter portion of the novel there are moments of tenderness between Barkley and Henry are good to see and temper the uneasiness readers may feel about their relationship and its lack of depth.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway is a stark look at the emotional and psychological effects of war on soldiers, residents, and nurses, but it also raises questions about courage and bravery, whether peasants are beaten before they even enter the war, and how everyone, even the most dedicated, have a breaking point.  Readers may find the novel plodding and ridiculous, and the characters distant and obnoxious at times, but with the threat of war at the backdoor, it must be hard to remain rational and unemotional.  However, in this way, Henry’s actions often seem super-human, particularly during his knee surgery and other events.

Check out the read-a-long discussions for week 1, week 2, week 3, and week 4 at War Through the Generations.

This is my 12th book for the WWI Reading Challenge.

Darkroom by Joshua Graham

Darkroom by Joshua Graham is mind-blowing, fast-paced, secretive, and conspiratorial.  Conspiracy theorists, anti-government advocates, and the generally suspicious of all things military and political must read Graham’s book.  Mixing in elements of reality with those of fiction, Graham aptly captures the disillusionment with the Bush Administration just before the election of President Barack Obama and the fervor behind a movement for change that got our current president elected.

However, in this case, the candidate for change is independent, former Vietnam War military star Richard Colson.  He exudes confidence and decisiveness, even in the face of his wife’s health misfortunes and the continuous emergence of his past that must be addressed.  Cover-ups, suspicious natural and accidental deaths among members of the Vietnam War’s Echo Company, disappearing college students, and other events pepper the narrative, but Graham has written a story that is ultimately about faith in ourselves, our beliefs, and the uncharted.

Peter Carrick, a photojournalist from the war and friend of Colson’s, is a distant father, despite his daughter Xandra’s attempts to win his approval through cello recitals and her career as a photojournalist.  The death of Grace, Xandra’s mother, brings the story full circle as Peter and his daughter fly to Binh Son, Vietnam to scatter her ashes as she’s requested, but what the trip brings forth is ugly, horrifying, and disconcerting.  Soon Xandra is caught up in a case she has no physical connection to, and is guided only by the mysterious visions she sees in the darkroom when she develops her photographs.

“To my surprise, when we pass the wall of trees, the ground is level and clear.  Charred black, the skeletal frames of several farmhouses shudder, as though one strong gust could blow them away like dandelion spores.  The rest are simply dirt pads where other homes once stood.”  (page 16 ARC)

Alternating from the Vietnam War where Peter Carrick meets his wife Grace and falls in love to the present where his daughter is caught in an investigation that turns into a hunt for her as she becomes a fugitive, Graham has created not only a dynamic protagonist in Xandra who must overcome her incessant need to please her father and gain his approval, but he’s created secondary characters like her father, Colson, Agent Kyle Matthews, and others who are just as complex.  Book clubs would have a ton of topics to discuss from faith to whether not telling someone something or a lie by omission is still lying.  Further, readers will likely discuss the variety of conspiracy theories that have persisted throughout politics, including the true perpetrators of the JFK and MLK assassinations.

Darkroom by Joshua Graham is more than compelling, it’s engrossing with its alternating points of view in different chapters enabling the story of the Vietnam War to be filtered through the eyes of characters in the present and the conspiracy to unravel at a far more breakneck pace toward the end.  Graham is not afraid of unhappy endings nor afraid of making the tough choices to kill off integral characters, but have faith because all is not as it seems.

About the Author:

Joshua Graham is the award winning author of the #1 Amazon and Barnes & Noble legal thriller Beyond Justice. His latest book, Darkroom, won a First Prize award in the Forward National Literature award and was an award-winner in the USA Book News “Bests Books 2011” awards. Connect with Josh at his Website, Facebook, and on Twitter.

Also, check out this month’s guest post about the power of photography.

This is my 40th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

Check the other tour stops

The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen

The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen is about an empty shell of a woman whose career is her life and nothing else matters, other than being smarter than her twin sister, Alex, who looks nothing like her and is a beautiful model.  Lindsey is in line for a vice president position at her advertising agency in New York City when she’s outmaneuvered by a competing colleague who is not afraid to use her sexuality to get what she wants.  Cheryl’s down-and-dirty tricks shatter Lindsey’s hopes, leaving her twisting in the wind and rudderless after the announcement that Cheryl is the new VP.

“He kept hold of my hands as he rubbed his thumbs along my palms.  Doug made Bill Clinton look like a nun wearing a chastity belt at a Victorian tea party.”  (page 67)

While this may sound like the crux of the novel, it isn’t.  Lindsey is tough to like from the first pages with her obsessive nature and her workaholic personality.  It’s almost like she’s forgotten how to be a human being and interact with people beyond work projects and business dealings.  Although she knows the ins and outs of her job and refuses to play dirty, she also lacks the social skills to really connect with her co-workers and fails to have friends outside of work.  Her only friend is her colleague Matt, who she jokes with about Cheryl and other work-related things.  Once forced to start over, she heads back to Washington, D.C., and rethinks more than her advertising job.

“I put on my new black bra and matching panties, then slipped into my Rock & Republic jeans and black turtleneck.  The turtleneck looked simple and classic from the front, which made the flash of bare skin in the back all the more unexpected.  And my jeans hadn’t gotten any looser since yesterday.  I squatted and squeezed and shimmied my way into them, working up a light sweat.  On the bright side, if I wore them often enough, I wouldn’t ever have to go to the gym.  (On the not-so-bright side, I might be developing multiple personalities.  But hey, at least one of my personalities would be skinny!)” (page 174)

Pekkanen has created a dynamic that any reader with siblings can relate to, a deep-seated jealousy of what the other sibling seems to have.  Whether it’s Lindsey’s jealousy of her sister Alex’s beauty or the nuanced envy of her sister Alex for what Lindsey has, Pekkanen has created a set of characters with stories interwoven in a way that keeps readers in a state of anticipation.  What’s even more ironic is the job Lindsey lands once back home living with her parents and how much in common she has with the desperate people she meets.

In many ways, the title of the book is ironic because her sister is no more different from Lindsey than the clients she meets.  Each searches for the human connection that’s missing from their lives, whether that means connecting with their soul mate or connecting with their sister.  Lindsey’s clients help teach her to seek out what’s been missing from her life.

The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen is fun and serious, with a deeper message about finding confidence in yourself and your skills so that you can grab everything that life has to offer, even if it isn’t exactly what you planned. To answer Lindsey’s question about how you know which life is the right one for you: You Feel It. And Sarah Pekkanen has definitely chosen the “write” life.

About the Author:

Sarah Pekkanen is the internationally-bestselling author of the novels The Opposite of Me and Skipping a Beat and the upcoming These Girls, as well as the linked short stories available for ereaders titled “All Is Bright” and “Love, Accidentally.” For more information please visit her Website, Facebook, and Twitter.

 

 

 

 

This is my 38th book for the 2012 New Authors Challenge.

The Devil’s Scribe by Alma Katsu

The Devil’s Scribe by Alma Katsu is an e-short story released by Simon & Schuster this month, and it’s the first thing I’ve read on my Kindle!  Can you believe it?!  What prompted me to finally read on the Kindle?!  You’ll never guess, well maybe you will by the end of this unconventional review.

“He fell on the bottle before he took a seat, pouring two fingers of whiskey into his wineglass, streaked with the last of a red he’d consumed.  Now that he’d gotten his invitation, his tentative edge fell away, replaced by relief.”  (from the e-story)

Lanore McIlvrae from The Taker (my review) meets with the one and only Edgar Allan Poe by chance in an expensive Baltimore hotel in 1846 after having been gone from America for the last 20 years.  Poe describes himself as an orphan and a widower able to support himself as the “devil’s scribe,” but Lanny seems passingly interested in his life story and the fact that he’s a writer.  However, in spite of her preoccupation with why she came back to America, she walks with this stranger through the streets of Baltimore, careful not to reveal too much of herself to him.

The story raises the idea of telling strangers secrets as a way to unburden the soul without having to deal with the same consequences one would have to deal with should they tell someone they know intimately or should they tell a family member.  It is reminiscent of the relationship between dying soldiers and/or patients and the priest that comes to hear their sins, though in this situation, Poe cannot offer Lanny absolution.

Even in this short story, Katsu is adept at creating tension and suspense as Lanny and her new companion make their way to Boston.  The story is predictable — though because I’ve already read The Taker — but well written.  Readers who know anything about Edgar Allan Poe should realize where the story is headed, but I’ll not give it away.  I really enjoyed learning more about Lanny and her fears, and it will likely play into Katsu’s next book, The Reckoning.

***Reading on the Kindle***

It wasn’t too bad with a short story.  I actually was surprised how I remained focused, but I’m not sure that I can remain focused for a full length novel.  I may try doing that soon, but for now, I’m still a fan of “real” books.

The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose

The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose continues the search for the 12 memory tools that Malachai Samuels continues to search for as part of his research and obsession with reincarnation.  The novel focuses not on Samuels per se, but on the history of the L’Etoile family and their development of perfumes and fragrances.  Jac has given up the family business, even though the family has insisted that she has the more discerning nose for scent, but her brother Robbie continues to believe that their family business can be saved from the brink of bankruptcy through the development of a new line of scents rather than from the sale of their trademark scents.

Rose weaves Napoleonic history with that of China and the oppression of Tibet and then brings those ties even further back into history to Egypt and Cleopatra.  In addition to archeology, her characters delve into mythology, history, and hieroglyphics translation and more, creating an even denser and more mysterious novel than expected.  How these moving pieces come together is unexpected and absorbing.

“The corpse on the left didn’t have his arms crossed on his chest, as was the custom.  Instead his right hand was extended and holding the hand of a woman with whom he’d been mummified.  Her left hand was knotted with his.  The two lovers were so lifelike, their bodies so uncorrupted, it appeared they had been buried months ago, not centuries.”  (Page 5 of ARC)

Through shifting time periods and places, readers travel with Rose’s characters to the deep recesses of their past lives, their memories, and their discoveries, while at the same time feeling the time pressure build as the House of L’Etoile draws nearer to demise and Jac’s brother Robbie disappears following a murder.  Jac must confront the loss of her mother and the expectations of her family as she strives to find her brother, find the perfume that people would kill for, and stay alive and grounded.  Jac must learn that forgetting or ignoring the past will not help her move into the future; she must accept what has happened, take it into herself, and move forward with those memories as a part of her.

“His family’s maison in Paris dated back to the mid-eighteenth century.  One shouldn’t tear down the past to make way for the future.  That’s how lessons were lost.  The art of keeping a civilization alive, like the art of making perfume, was in the blending.”  (page 46)

Meanwhile, Xie, a young calligrapher and artist in China, is living a secret life as a subversive.  Outwardly, he is the model citizen never saying too much but always thankful for opportunities presented to him by his teachers and the government.  He’s eventually chosen along with other artists to leave China on a European tour with their artwork, which makes him incredibly nervous given his communications with outsiders through his paintings.  He strives to free Tibetans from Chinese rule.  Although he is friends with others who are more outwardly subversive than he is, he tries desperately to rein in their tendencies, which could get him in trouble as well as ruin all of his plans.

The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose blends history and mystery in an intellectual game of espionage and mythology surrounding a lost book of fragrances from the time of Cleopatra and a perfume that can help those who smell it relive their past lives.  But the novel also is about finding one’s soul mate, rekindling lost faith, and persevering against all odds.  Another winner from Rose in her series of books that will keep readers guessing adn second-guessing themselves until the memory tolls are discovered.

Also Reviewed:

The Hypnotist by M.J. Rose
The Memorist by M.J. Rose

About the Author:

M.J. Rose is the international best selling author of eleven novels and two non-fiction books on marketing. Her next novel THE BOOK OF LOST FRAGRANCES (Atria/S&S) will be published in March 2012.  Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in many magazines and reviews including Oprah Magazine. She has been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, USA Today and on the Today Show, and NPR radio.  Rose graduated from Syracuse University, spent the ’80s in advertising, has a commercial in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and since 2005 has run the first marketing company for authors – Authorbuzz.com.  The television series PAST LIFE, was based on Rose’s novels in the Renincarnationist series. She is one of the founding board members of International Thriller Writers and runs the blog- Buzz, Balls & Hype.  She is also the co-founder of Peroozal.com and BookTrib.com.

Rose lives in CT with her husband the musician and composer, Doug Scofield, and their very spoiled and often photographed dog, Winka.

For more information on M.J. Rose and her novels, please visit her WEBSITE. You can also find her on Facebook.

Click for the rest of the tour

 

Please follow the discussion on Twitter: With Hashtag: #LostFragrancesVirtualBookTour

My Soul to Take by Tananarive Due

My Soul to Take by Tananarive Due is the fourth book in her immortals series and is set in the year 2016 when governments are striving to keep terrorists at bay and plagues secret to reduce the threat of panic.  Glow, a type of blood that is warm to the touch, is being touted as the solution to the pandemic and disease problem, but the United States has banned the drug for its terrorist ties and unknown origins.

Fana, an immortal, and her father, Dawit, hope to help the human race by offering the healing powers of their blood, but they are stopped at every turn by a rival faction of immortals who oppose the sharing of blood with mortals, led by Michel.  Complicating the situation even further is Fana’s attraction to mortal Johnny Wright and her betrothal to Michel.  Due has crafted a unique world in which these characters struggle not only for the life and death of humanity, but with greater questions of acceptance and compassion.  She even sprinkles her novel with technology gadgets that could be in our very near future, which is a nice touch.

“Fana was grateful that Mom had raised her with mortals in her family, closest to her heart.  Her cousin, aunt, and best friend were all mortals, so she hadn’t grown up with the feelings of superiority shared by her Life Brothers, and even her father.  She tried not to feel it, anyway.  Fana always began her meditations by asking for humility so she would not lose herself.” (page 64)

While readers will enjoy the intricate details throughout the novel about the Immortals and their way of life, something is missing — it is hard to connect with the characters without having read the previous books in the series.  Complicating matters is the emergence of Phoenix, a former music star, and her family, who are dealing with the deaths of a fraternal grandmother and maternal father that haunt them.  As quickly as readers become involved in her story, they are quickly shifted away from it and immersed in the immortal world.  When readers are returned to Phoenix’s story, they may feel like they have to flip back to recall what has happened to her.  This format does a disservice to the character — whose story line does intersect with Fana’s early on — and makes it difficult to reconnect with the character and her story and how it connects to the Immortals story line.

Due has a talent for creating other worlds, environments where immortals are gods, but have secreted themselves and their innovations away below the ground.  There are some that want to save humanity, and others that see humanity as ants to be squashed.  Through a great deal of biblical allusion, she creates an allegory for the Book of RevelationsMy Soul to Take is a slowly, unwinding battle of wills, but mortals refuse to sit on the sidelines and watch.  A pleasurable read that could be enhanced by reading the previous books in the series.

About the Author:

Tananarive Due (pronounced tah-nah-nah-REEVE doo) is the American Book Award-winning author of nine books, ranging from supernatural thrillers to a mystery to a civil rights memoir.

She has a B.S. in journalism from Northwestern University and an M.A. in English literature from the University of Leeds, England, where she specialized in Nigerian literature as a Rotary Foundation Scholar. Due currently teaches creative writing in the MFA program at Antioch University Los Angeles. Due has also taught at the Hurston-Wright Foundation’s Writers’ Week, the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop, and the summer Imagination conference at Cleveland State University. She is a former feature writer and columnist for The Miami Herald.

Due lives in Southern California with her husband, Steven Barnes; their son, Jason; and her stepdaughter, Nicki.

This is my 63rd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

The Taker by Alma Katsu

Alma Katsu’s The Taker has received a number of rave reviews and some unfavorable reviews, and it was recently listed in BookList’s Top 10 Debut books.

Lanore, “Lanny,” shows up in her northern Maine hometown covered in blood, and the police say that she has confessed to killing a man and leaving him in the frozen woods.  ER doctor, Luke Findley, becomes the recipient of a Gothic fairy tale that is more dark and sinister than full of fairy dust, unless that fairy is an evil alchemist and sodomite.

“The stranger had appeared suddenly, at the edge of the gathering that evening.  The first thing Adair noticed about him was that he was very old, practically a shrunken corpse leaning on his walking stick, and as he got closer, he looked older still.  His skin was papery and wrinkled, and dotted with age spots.  His eyes were coated with a milky film but nevertheless had a strange sharpness to them.  He had a thick head of snow white hair, so long that it trailed down his back in a plait.  But most notable were his clothes, which were of Romanian cut and made of costly fabrics.  Whoever he was, he was wealthy and, even though an old man, had no fear of stepping into a gypsy camp alone at night.”  (page 162)

The Taker is a story within a story, within a story, spanning from the dark ages through the present day, and Lanny claims to be immortal, but do not be mistaken into thinking she’s a vampire or werewolf.  She is neither.  Her unrequited love for the town pretty boy, Jonathan St. Andrew, is the main crux of the story and how it brings about her downfall that leads to her life as an immortal.  Katsu spoke recently at Novel Places about the book and revealed that the story of Pinocchio is the backbone of her novel, which is clear in how the desire to grow up and become a woman with her own life separate from her family propels Lanny to be easily led astray.  However, that is where the similarity ends.  Katsu’s novel is ripe with sodomy, rape, kidnapping, murder, and more, which is why it would be a perfectly dark book to read this season as Halloween approaches and is what would once have been considered horror (rather than the popular category of paranormal, which has a “lighter” tone to it).

Lanny tells her story to Luke in the present day, but a more effective approach would have been to have her merely tell her story to the reader.  As many know story framing or using one character as a plot device for another character to tell his/her story is bothersome if the character/plot device is not well developed.  While Luke does have a back story here, it fails to round out the character enough, leaving him flat and boring compared to the characters of Lanny and Adair.  Even Jonathan is little more than a caricature of the pretty boy of the town’s founders, and it would have served to have more of him and Lanny’s interactions in the book at the beginning of their “romance” to demonstrate their affection for one another.  However, being told from Lanny’s point of view, it is incredibly difficult to demonstrate Jonathan’s perspective on their relationship and oftentimes he comes off as a callous womanizer who is incapable of love.

With that said, however, Katsu is adept at time shifts within the story that keep the pace of the novel moving quickly.  Moreover, she creates a deeply atmospheric novel where readers are combing through the mist to grasp the truth of Lanny’s story and to unravel the mystery of her immortality.  Some have said this is a romance; it is not.  Most will debate who is “The Taker,” but there is certainly more than one, and it will depend on your personal perspective as to which you believe is the taker.  They all are takers in their own way — taking what love and affirmation they can, taking the loyalty of others by forcing their hands, and taking pleasure in the act of taking.  Readers who shun violence in books, particularly against women should steer clear.  Katsu’s The Taker is dark and decadent; an excellent debut novel for those looking to tantalize their darker senses with interminable consequences.

Stay tuned for the next two books in this series; I know I will be waiting on the edge of my seat. I’m always on the lookout for horror books, as I’ve grown tired of EMO vamps and werewolves.

For a chance to win my gently used ARC (which has a signed bookplate), please visit this post about Alma Katsu’s reading near me.  If you’re looking for another bonus entry, leave a comment on this review.

Alma Katsu (right) Me & Wiggles

About the Author:

Alma Katsu is a 30-year DC veteran who lives in two worlds: on one hand, she’s a novelist and author of The Taker (Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books). On the other hand, she was a senior intelligence analyst for CIA and NSA, and former expert in multilateral affairs.  Watch the book trailer or this one.

 

This is a stop on The Literary Road Trip since Katsu has worked in Washington, D.C., and now resides in Virginia.

 

 

This is my 61st book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.