Monday, September 30, 2013

7 Heart Review: Wait for You by J. Lynn

Wait for You (Wait for You #1)
J. Lynn

Page Count: 384

Release Date: September 3rd 2013 (new paperback edition)
Publisher: William Morrow (Harper Collins)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher, via tour publicist, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Some things are worth waiting for...

Traveling thousands of miles from home to enter college is the only way nineteen-year-old Avery Morgansten can escape what happened at the Halloween party five years ago—an event that forever changed her life. All she needs to do is make it to her classes on time, make sure the bracelet on her left wrist stays in place, not draw any attention to herself, and maybe—please God—make a few friends, because surely that would be a nice change of pace. The one thing she didn’t need and never planned on was capturing the attention of the one guy who could shatter the precarious future she’s building for herself.

Some things are worth experiencing...

Cameron Hamilton is six feet and three inches of swoon-worthy hotness, complete with a pair of striking blue eyes and a remarkable ability to make her want things she believed were irrevocably stolen from her. She knows she needs to stay away from him, but Cam is freaking everywhere, with his charm, his witty banter, and that damn dimple that’s just so… so lickable. Getting involved with him is dangerous, but when ignoring the simmering tension that sparks whenever they are around each other becomes impossible, he brings out a side of her she never knew existed.

Some things should never be kept quiet...

But when Avery starts receiving threatening emails and phone calls forcing her to face a past she wants silenced, she’s has no other choice but to acknowledge that someone is refusing to allow her to let go of that night when everything changed. When the devastating truth comes out, will she resurface this time with one less scar? And can Cam be there to help her or will he be dragged down with her?

And some things are worth fighting for...
I wasn't sure that I could've gone further. Well, especially now I didn't think so. Cam would eventually move on and I would have an absolutely obliterated heart. Not broken, but completely destroyed, because Cam... he was falling-in-love-with material. And I couldn't let that happen.

With thousands of 5-star reviews all over Goodreads and Amazons and an overhyped fandom, Wait for You was one of new adult novels I was most looking forward to trying. While I did enjoy the book, I don't think—and this might put me on a blacklist with diehard Jennifer Armentrout fans—that it was all that mind-blowing. There is nothing surprising, nothing thrilling, and nothing intricate about this story, but it was, regardless, fun to follow.

Wait for You begins with a collision: the literal, head-on collision of two of the most overused archetypes in NA: the gorgeous-eyed reformed bad boy, Cam Hamilton, and the shy, painfully average new girl in town, Avery Morgansten. This "chance encounter"—as well as the revelation that the two happen to have their next class together, are randomly assigned as lab partners, and are neighbors, for Christ's sake—embodies their entire relationship throughout the novel; it's cheesy, it's contrived, and it's frequently the victim of (un)amused eye-rolling. 

Cam is an absolute dreamboat, but he's too much of a fantasy guy. He's easy to fall in love with, so I loved his humor and swooned over the way he treats Avery, but he's too good to be true, with perfect looks, a perfect family, perfect friends, an unrealistically considerate respect for a woman's body and virtue, etc., which made everything about him hard to believe.

Our narrator Avery is genuine, and likable for the naïve wide-eyed virgin-type, but honestly just doesn't have a fun personality. Humor is often lost on her, she's jumpy as hell, and she's awfully bipolar (i.e. pushes Cam away then throws a fit when he stays away), so I overall found her frustrating. I feel like Lynn intentionally created a huge mess of a character, so I will acknowledge these flaws as character-building, but if Avery was a real-life person, she'd be that weird girl at school who never laughs at jokes, is unnaturally reclusive, and locks herself in her apartment every night to avoid socializing... which she actually does.

Retreating from the rather poorly portrayed main characters, the plot itself is nothing note-worthy. Wait for You has another typical, haunting-past-catches-up-to-present storyline that's all of predictable and starkly unoriginal. I feel like Avery's and Cam's "deep, dark pasts" are supposed to compel and shock—and the issues themselves, are definitely grave and shouldn't be taken lightly—but the way they are revealed is just too simple and straightforward; I wasn't profoundly touched by any of it. But because there are such heavy matters covered, the emotional timbre is poignant; Avery is a sensitive narrator, and all her angsts and desires are easy to relate with.

I fully appreciate the coming-of-age transition, as it's less about Avery's search for identity, and more about Avery reshaping her identity after it's been stripped away. The message of self-empowerment is incredibly potent, although rather two-dimensional—just like the romance. Cam and Avery's sentimental romance can get a little ridiculous at times, but the physical aspect of it hot, and definitely one of the best aspects of the book. It is pretty sexually explicit, but I'm kind of a glutton for that kind of thing.

J. Lynn may not be tremendously skilled with the pen (in fact, her writing is rather elementary and unsophisticated), but she certainly is gifted in transporting readers into a fantasy world, an ideal world where painful pasts can be a topic of intrigue and the hottest boy on campus falls for the troubled, awfully mediocre small-town girl. While Wait for You is a far cry from being a favorite of mine, I enjoyed it the way I admittedly enjoyed Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey: for its ease of style and mindlessness, as well as the saturated fantasy it offers, the overindulgent "perfect" romance. 

Pros


Cam needs to exist in real life // Effortless read that moves quickly // Smokin' hot sex // Draws you into an expanse of emotions // A feel-good story, perfect for a quick escape

Cons


Cam doesn't exist in real life // Plot lacks originality and complexity // Ridiculously idealized relationship // Everything, from the plot, to the characters, to the romance, is cheesy to the max // Style did not blow me away // Avery is indecisive and sometimes really, really stupid—made her a frustrating narrator // Both main and secondary characters are distressingly shallow

Love

"Fuck, Avery. You think I don't want you? ... Don't ever doubt that I want you. That is not what this is about ... But not like this—never like this. You're drunk, Avery, and when we get together—because we will get together—you're going to be fully aware of everything that I do to you."

It took a few moments, but what he said finally sunk in through the liquor haze and confusion and made sense.

Closing my eyes, I turned my head to the side, feeling the way his skin slid alongside mine. "You're a good guy, Cam."

"No, I'm not." He exhaled deeply and his breath was warm against my cheek. "I'm only good with you."

Verdict


J. Lynn draws readers in to a contemporary college setting in West Virginia where two unlikely lovers—each with a dark secret—together, uncover the power in themselves to rekindle the passions they once thought they'd completely lost. Avery and Cam's tense romance is both stormy and starry-eyed, and although I found it to be unrealistic and clichéd, it is a part of a fast-moving, absorbing account that reminds you of what it means to love. Wait for You is a different kind of coming-of-age novel about resilience, taking chances even after being broken, and refusing to let your past define and limit you. It isn't by any means a masterpiece, but I liked it enough to want to try its sequel Americanflag

7 hearts: Not perfect, but overall enjoyable (x)

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Top Ten Things You Didn't Know About Escape from Eden by Elisa Nader and Giveaway!

Escape from Eden
Elisa Nader

The most sacred truth hides a hideous lie. Now her life depends on faith—in herself.

Since the age of ten, Mia has lived under the iron fist of the fundamentalist preacher who lured her mother away to join his fanatical family of followers. In Edenton, a supposed “Garden of Eden” deep in the South American jungle, everyone follows the Reverend's strict but arbitrary rules—even the mandate of whom they can marry. Now sixteen, Mia dreams of slipping away from the armed guards who keep the faithful in, and the curious out. When the rebellious and sexy Gabriel, a new boy, arrives with his family, Mia sees a chance to escape.

But the scandalous secrets the two discover beyond the compound's façade are more shocking than anything they ever imagined. While Gabriel has his own terrible secrets, he and Mia bond together, more than friends and freedom fighters. But is there time to think of each other as they race to stop the Reverend's paranoid plan to free his flock from the corrupt world? Can two teenagers crush a criminal mastermind? And who will die in the fight to save the ones they love from a madman who's only concerned about his own secrets?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

7 Heart Review: Just Between Us by J.H. Trumble and Giveaway!

Just Between Us
J.H. Trumble

Page Count: 320

Release Date: 24 September 2013
Publisher: Kensington
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher, via tour publicist, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Kensington and Lady Reader's Bookstuff!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Everyone needs someone to trust...

Seventeen-year-old Luke Chesser is trying to forget his spectacular failure of a love life. He practices marching band moves for hours in the hot Texas sun, deals with his disapproving father, and slyly checks out the new band field tech, Curtis Cameron. Before long, Luke is falling harder than he knew he could. And this time, he intends to play it right.

Since testing positive for HIV, Curtis has careened between numbness and fear. Too ashamed to tell anyone, Curtis can't possibly act on his feelings. And Luke—impulsive, funny, and more tempting than he realizes—won't take a hint. Even when Curtis distances himself it backfires, leaving him with no idea how to protect Luke from the truth.

Confronting a sensitive topic with candor and aplomb, acclaimed author J. H. Trumble renders a modern love story as sweet, sharp, and messy as the real thing, where easy answers are elusive, and sometimes the only impossible thing is to walk away.
[Dad] stares up at the night sky again. "I never get tired of looking at the moon. Gravitational pull is a funny thing, isn't it? You can fight it; you can even escape it for a while. But eventually, you have to give in to it."

High school junior Luke Chesser already has a crazy marching band schedule, intense training for drum major tryouts, and a dysfunctional family; the last thing he needs is boy troubles. But Curtis is so cute—and charming to no end—so when he discovers the attraction is mutual, there's no keeping the two apart.

Luke is passionate, determined, and everything Curtis wants, but he's also inexperienced, painfully naïve, and hopelessly romantic, which makes him everything Curtis can't have. When he receives a crippling diagnosis that might as well be his death sentence, he withdraws from the world—in self-pity, self-loathing, and shame—and slowly, painfully cuts himself off from those he loves most—his family and Luke included.

The fact that Trumble chose to write about both HIV and a gay couple in this young adult novel deserves its own category of praise; these are two of the most controversial topics that could appear in children's fiction, and she chose to tackle them simultaneously. Everyone hears about and fears HIV, but it's one of those diseases that "couldn't possibly happen to me," so following Curtis's frightening, completely agonizing journey, was both shocking and completely revealing of how it feels like, on an emotional level, to gradually cease to be a part of this world.

The story and characters are well-developed and very easy to keep up with and enjoy, but the style is rather meticulous, a bit too detail-oriented. For instance, there were entire paragraphs describing the process of cutting down lumber or preparing food, which I found exasperating at times; the superfluous attention to detail often made me want to skim. It's not impossible to get through, however; in fact, Trumble's writing will absorb you directly into the story, as though the lives and loves of each of the characters were your own.

Just Between Us is a powerful account of young love that, even when faced with life-altering obstacles, endures, and how to deal with the things in life we cannot control. I feel like this is kind of a milder, younger audience's version of RENT; think the emotional seclusion of Roger paired with the honeyed tone of David Levithan in this book.

Pros


Established visceral tone // Curtis and Luke are perfect for each other // Moving and affecting // Story is easy to follow // I'm curious about Luke's past now (Nate Schaper appears in J.H. Trumble's previous novels, so maybe I'll give them a try!)

Cons


Not that strong of a voice // Some parts highly unrealistic or too simple

Love

"What do you want to see at the movies tonight?"

"I want to see you sitting next to me."

Verdict


Tender and meltingly romantic, Just Between Us is a coming-of age novel that beautifully illustrates what it means to have the strength to accept yourself the way you are and carry on: to survive. By incorporating both HIV and gay youth—two very important, but very reluctant topics in children's literature—into this rocky, but ultimately triumphant love story, J.H. Trumble proves that she is one of the defining voices in gay YA fiction. Fans of the genre won't want to miss out Americanflag

7 hearts: Not perfect, but overall enjoyable (x)

Giveaway!

One lucky reader will get the chance to read Just Between Us, themselves—we have one finished PRINT copy to give away today! Leave a comment on my review for the chance to win. Be sure to leave your email address so I know who to contact when I draw a winner! Only meaningful comments will go into the contest, which means irrelevant comments consisting of only "Thanks for the giveaway" will not count as an entry!!!

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the publisher and tour publicist—a huge thank you to Kensington and Lady Reader's Bookstuff Blog Tours!
Giveaway ends October 10th at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US readers only. Sorry, everyone else! Check out my sidebar where you'll find a list of giveaways that currently are running internationally—there are plenty to choose from!
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!

Monday, September 23, 2013

7 Heart Review: Tremble by Tobsha Learner and Giveaway!

Tremble: Erotic Tales of the Mystical and Sinister
Tobsha Learner

Page Count: 400

Release Date: 27 August 2013
Publisher: Plume (Penguin)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher, via tour publicist, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Penguin and TLC Book Tours!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

From Tobsha Learner, the boundary-pushing erotica author of the international bestseller Quiver, comes Tremble: Erotic Tales of the Mystical and Sinister.

In Learner’s steamy collection, she explores the full spectrum of sexuality peppered with elements of the supernatural. Tremble blurs the line between fantasy and reality, depicting the pleasures of new and rediscovered love, lust, and obsession in a world where passion and magic are interwoven—and where boundaries are pushed beyond expectation.

In a Welsh village, a young woman’s sensuality is awakened by an outrageous inheritance; a drought-stricken Oklahoma town is offered salvation by a travelling rainmaker; a Sydney record producer struggles to satisfy his wife and his mistress—until one of them takes matters into her own hands...

The short stories span the eras, from an eighteenth-century biographer who discovers a magic, erotic ritual to a Sydney record producer struggling to satisfy his wife and mistress. Intelligent and highly imaginative, Learner’s brand of erotica will appeal to both first-time and more seasoned readers of the genre.

In her second collection of short erotic pieces that span eras—each set in unique, vividly fashioned times and locations—Learner displays her powerful ability to spin stories with strange, somber twists and a highly erotic flair.

This brand of erotica has no boundaries; Learner writes about the bizarre, the taboo, and just the plain WEIRD. But I don't mean that in a bad way at all. Some of the super strange stories are actually quite amusing, and I just love how even though each one is only about 30-40 pages, there are actual plots in them. This typically isn't easy to do with the page limitation but Learner builds her worlds and characters expertly.

In terms of style, her grip of the pen is firm; the stories are well-seasoned and each one is so different from the other, that it doesn't at all feel like you're just reading the same account with different scenarios. Every story is individual in its own kind, so you get nine opportunities to delight in these disturbing but carnal stories. Although some of the stories are set in contemporary times, everything Learner writes reads like a folktale. The voice is rather distant, but that makes each tale more clandestine, more mysterious, and more oddly charming.

Tremble covers a vast range of scenarios, whether it be a supernatural object that disrupts the lives of an individual, or a hex that plagues an entire village. In particular, I loved The Root, a darkly comical tale about a root that comes to—ahem—life, and the implications of a cursed bloodline, as well as Virgin, a lust-ridden story about a nun gone bad, and her path to sexually charged redemption. There are allusions to previous stories in succeeding ones, which I loved; it connected the anthology beautifully and the recurring topics brought a smile to my face.

One thing I noticed is that most of the protagonists are middle-aged; no new adult nonsense here. Normally I'd find this strange because it's harder to get excited by the thought of quadragenarians engaging in lustful activity (honestly, that's a visual I don't need sometimes) but the stories overall feel old-fashioned, so I didn't have that much of a problem with it.

Pros


Folktake-like stories // Well-formed plots and characters, so each story is a different experience entirely // Entertaining voice // Gets heavy at times, but overall very readable // Very untraditional form of erotica; you will be squirming in arousal, but you'll feel weird about it because the stories are so bizarre!

Cons


A few duds I found neither erotic nor enjoyable (specifically The Snore and Hair Shirt) // Sometimes gets a bit weird... but I guess that's the magic of this collection

Verdict


Tremble is an eccentric anthology that bends the rules of erotic fiction; as familiar as I am with the genre, I can't say I've read anything like this before. Each story is colorful and elaborate, and overall the collection feels very traditional—very earthy with an outlandish but indulgent sexuality coursing through it. If you're up for a new experience with short erotica, definitely check this one out Americanflag

7 hearts: Not perfect, but overall enjoyable (x)

Giveaway!


One lucky reader will win a newly formatted finished copy of Quiver, Tobsha Learner's first erotic collection, as well as a print copy of Tremble. For anyone who's intrigued by this class of short erotic fiction! Leave a comment on my review for the chance to win. Be sure to leave your email address so I know who to contact when I choose a winner! Only meaningful comments will go into the drawing, which means irrelevant comments consisting of only "Thanks for the giveaway" will not count as an entry!!!

Don't forget the entry eligibility terms and conditions!
Sponsored wholly by the publisher and tour publicist—a huge thank you to Penguin and TLC Book Tours!
Giveaway ends October 7th at 11.59 PM (your time).
Open to US/CAN readers only. Sorry, everyone else! Check out my sidebar where you'll find a list of giveaways that currently are running internationally—there are plenty to choose from!
Void where prohibited.
Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or else their winnings will be forfeited.
Although I do randomly select winners, I am in no way responsible for prizes, nor for shipping and handling.
As a reminder, you do not have to follow my blog to enter, though it is always very much appreciated ❤
Good luck!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop!

The Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop, hosted by BookHounds and I Am a Reader, Not a Writer, works like this: each participating blog hosts a giveaway and then we link up together allowing our followers to hop easily from one giveaway to another. For followers, it means lots of chances to win free books. For blogs hosting giveaways, it means lots of new visitors and followers. It's a win-win! The Banned Books Week Giveaway Hop is scheduled from September 22nd at 12.01 AM until September 28th at 11:59 PM (EST).


The Prizes


One lucky follower will win a $20 Amazon gift card to spend on their choice of banned book! I am a huge supporter of "banned" fiction mainly because some of my favorites  YAs are classic censored novels (The Catcher in the Rye, The Chocolate War, Harry Potter, etc.).


What about you? What are your favorite classic or time travel novels?

Since the more winners, the merrier, I'm also giving away a set of eBooks to two lucky runners-up. Here are some of the books you could win!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Author: Helen Wan Interview and Giveaway!

I'd like to welcome Helen Wan to the blog today to celebrate the publication of her debut novel, The Partner Track from St. Martin's Press. Be sure to stick around until the end to get the chance to win a print copy!

Welcome to Books à la Mode, Helen! Let's get this interview started.

Will you please share a brief bio with us?


A little about me: I was born in California, raised in Fairfax County, Virginia, and graduated from Amherst College and The University of Virginia School of Law.

Some people want to know if my book is autobiographical. Well, I’m a full-time lawyer, and I’m Chinese-American. My first job after law school was in fact at a big law firm in Manhattan. But my book is decidedly fiction—thank goodness! I left my big firm after about a year to join a media and entertainment law firm, and later became in-house counsel at a large media company, where I now work.

Obviously, being a full-time lawyer while trying to write, revise, and find an agent and publisher for a first novel can be daunting. I wrote this book in fits and starts: in bits of stolen time, at odd hours, on the rare weekend off. I hoarded my precious four weeks of vacation every year and then spent them holed up far away from the city, BlackBerry off, churning out new chapters. Contrary to how one must operate as a lawyer, I do not write fiction in any consistent, methodical, organized way. I wrote this novel in big, infrequent bursts of late-night or early-morning activity, unshowered, my hair in a messy ponytail, empty Diet Coke cans scattered everywhere.

Twelve years later, I’m thrilled to be launching this novel! Truly, it has been a labor of love.

So glad to have you here with us today! Readers, here's a little bit about The Partner Track to get y'all excited...
A young attorney must choose between the prestige of partnership and the American Dream that she—and her immigrant parents—have come so close to achieving in this riveting debut

In the eyes of her corporate law firm, Ingrid Yung is a “two-fer.” As a Chinese-American woman about to be ushered into the elite rank of partner, she’s the face of Parsons Valentine & Hunt LLP’s recruiting brochures--their treasured "Golden Girl." But behind the firm’s welcoming façade lies the scotch-sipping, cigar-smoking old-boy network that shuts out lawyers like Ingrid. To compensate, Ingrid gamely plays in the softball league, schmoozes in the corporate cafeteria, and puts in the billable hours—until a horrifically offensive performance at the law firm’s annual summer outing throws the carefully constructed image way out of equilibrium.Scrambling to do damage control, Parsons Valentine announces a new “Diversity Initiative” and commands a reluctant Ingrid to spearhead the effort, taking her priority away from the enormous deal that was to be the final step in securing partnership. For the first time, Ingrid finds herself at odds with her colleagues—including her handsome, golden-boy boyfriend—in a clash of class, race, and sexual politics.
Describe The Partner Track in six words.

Ingrid juggles ambition, power, love, identity.


How did you decide to write a legal thriller?


That’s a very interesting question! I didn’t even know I’d written a legal thriller! I think a lot of people, including many of the agents and editors who turned this book down but gushed that they wished they could do it, weren’t quite sure exactly what genre this novel falls into. The protagonist is Asian-American, so is it an “ethnic” novel? But the setting is contemporary and urban, and there’s sex and banter and frustrating bosses, so is it “chick lit”? Yet it’s about a high-end law firm, and there’s a billion-dollar acquisition at stake, so is it a legal thriller? One difficulty I faced, I think, is that mainstream publishers weren’t sure how to market this novel. They know how to market Amy Tan. They know how to market John Grisham. They know how to market Lauren Weisberger. But there was no formula on how to market Amy Tan Grisham Weisberger. Happily, after lots of tries, I finally found the perfect agent and editor who both get it! I feel so lucky about how things worked out.


Because of the different elements, it does seem like a difficult book to categorize—which isn't a bad thing in itself! But I do understand how it would not be as easy to market. What was your inspiration to write it?

That’s easy. My career. I always knew I wanted to write about the experiences of young women of color trying to make it in corporate America. Even though my book is decidedly fiction, it’s inspired by women’s true stories in the workplace.

Life itself is a huge inspiration, so it's great how you were able to find enough interest in your profession to write fiction about it!

Click "Read more" to find out about Helen's road to publication, her biggest celebrity crush(es) (you know you want a peek!), and her best advice. We're also hosting a giveaway for one copy of the book, so you don't want to miss that either!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Top 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas and Giveaway!

I'm happy to feature today, in conjunction with TLC Book Tours...


From Koren Zailckas, author of the iconic memoir Smashed: an electrifying debut novel about a family being torn apart by the woman who claims to love them most

Josephine Hurst has her family under control. With two beautiful daughters, a brilliantly intelligent son, a tech-guru of a husband and a historical landmark home, her life is picture perfect. She has everything she wants; all she has to do is keep it that way. But living in this matriarch's determinedly cheerful, yet subtly controlling domain hasn't been easy for her family, and when her oldest daughter, Rose, runs off with a mysterious boyfriend, Josephine tightens her grip, gradually turning her flawless home into a darker sort of prison.

Resentful of her sister's newfound freedom, Violet turns to eastern philosophy, hallucinogenic drugs, and extreme fasting, eventually landing herself in the psych ward. Meanwhile, her brother Will shrinks further into a world of self-doubt. Recently diagnosed with Aspergers and epilepsy, he's separated from the other kids around town and is homeschooled to ensure his safety. Their father, Douglas, finds resolve in the bottom of the bottle—an addict craving his own chance to escape. Josephine struggles to maintain the family's impeccable façade, but when a violent incident leads to a visit from child protective services, the truth about the Hursts might finally be revealed.

Written with the style, dark wit, and shrewd psychological insight that made Smashed a bestseller, Zailckas's first novel is unforgettable. In the spirit of classic suspense novels by Shirley Jackson and Daphne DuMaurier, Mother, Mother is the terrifying and page-turning story of a mother's love gone too far, and the introduction of a commanding new voice in fiction.
Buy the book from: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository | Books-A-Million | Kobo

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

9 Heart Review: Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas

Mother, Mother
Koren Zailckas

Page Count: 384

Release Date: September 17th 2013
Publisher: Crown (Random House)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by publisher, via publicist, in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Random House and TLC Book Tours!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

From Koren Zailckas, author of the iconic memoir Smashed: an electrifying debut novel about a family being torn apart by the woman who claims to love them most

Josephine Hurst has her family under control. With two beautiful daughters, a brilliantly intelligent son, a tech-guru of a husband and a historical landmark home, her life is picture perfect. She has everything she wants; all she has to do is keep it that way. But living in this matriarch’s determinedly cheerful, yet subtly controlling domain hasn’t been easy for her family, and when her oldest daughter, Rose, runs off with a mysterious boyfriend, Josephine tightens her grip, gradually turning her flawless home into a darker sort of prison.

Resentful of her sister’s newfound freedom, Violet turns to eastern philosophy, hallucinogenic drugs, and extreme fasting, eventually landing herself in the psych ward. Meanwhile, her brother Will shrinks further into a world of self-doubt. Recently diagnosed with Aspergers and epilepsy, he’s separated from the other kids around town and is homeschooled to ensure his safety. Their father, Douglas, finds resolve in the bottom of the bottle—an addict craving his own chance to escape. Josephine struggles to maintain the family’s impeccable façade, but when a violent incident leads to a visit from child protective services, the truth about the Hursts might finally be revealed.

Written with the style, dark wit, and shrewd psychological insight that made Smashed a bestseller, Zailckas’s first novel is unforgettable. In the spirit of classic suspense novels by Shirley Jackson and Daphne DuMaurier, Mother, Mother is the terrifying and page-turning story of a mother’s love gone too far, and the introduction of a commanding new voice in fiction.
Violet knew in her gut that Josephine was the major reason Rose had done what she'd done. With a mom like theirs, it was impossible not to equate becoming a mother with becoming a monster.

I haven't read too many psychological thrillers, but I really should more often. Mother, Mother is a book that's impossible not to enjoy; with an unconventional perspective on what it means to be a doting mother, it at once left me greatly disturbed and deeply satisfied, which is an emotive pairing I never expected myself to feel.

First off, I should warn you all: this book is not for the faint-hearted. There isn't so much blood and guts here as there is a grotesquely screwed-up family... yes, it's that kind of scary. The false cheeriness—the cutting sarcasm—that floats in the atmosphere of the novel makes it all the more frightening; you can think of Josephine as a cross between the ultimate Stepford wife and Psycho's Norman Bates, which is a genius, but lethal combination.

The story begins in Woodstock, New York, in the wake of the oldest Hurst daughter, Rose's sudden departure, which Josephine swears is all part of Rose's grand plan to turn her perfect family into a perfect wreck... or at least expose its so-called "perfection" to the world. Violet, the younger Hurst flower, suffers from what at first appears to be middle child syndrome: not good enough to replace her sister yet not respected enough to trump her coddled, autistic brother, William. As detached as she is from everyone in her family, including, fortunately, her mother, she and her brother share a convoluted connection in that they're both trying to find Rose, or at least find out what really happened to her. Both children try to figure out the blurry night when everything changed—when William was attacked, Violet institutionalized, and Rose, after a whole year of missing, reappeared—but the task proves more difficult than expected because only one person seems to have been in the right mind when everything happened: Josephine. The "real" events of that night slowly unravel to reveal Josephine's projectionist tendencies, her most horrifying defects, and the way she so obviously plagues each of her family members, but then again, when it comes to the Hursts, even real can't be trusted.

The two points-of-view of Violet and Will are fascinating to read together, especially because of how sharply they contrast; it's like reading two different books interlaced, which mimics the polarity in Josephine's menacing personality. Will's logical and uncomfortably candid narrative is highly influenced and tainted, while Violet's is fresh and intuitive, although very, very cloudy. Both narrators are so easy to sympathize with, and yet neither are completely reliable; knowing which frame of mind to favor, is all up to the reader.

With stunning characterization and a climax that confirms the worst of suspicions and shocks you to the core, Zailckas shows us the good, the bad, and the hideous of a family that's about to come crashing down under the weight of a calculated secret and a web of lies. Mother, Mother had my head spinning throughout; this is definitely the kind of intelligent read that will keep you in a constant frenzy.

Pros


Sharp, astute voice // Fascinating subject matter and interesting take on a suburbian nightmare // Fast-paced // Will and Violet are brilliantly developed // The climax—it's got to be one of the best I've seen in contemporary fiction

Cons


Multiple perspectives and flashbacks are confusing in the beginning

Verdict


The multiple faces of a desperate mother are painfully exposed as her misunderstood and determined daughter and misguided and idolatrous young son attempt to crack the case on the disappearance of their doll of an older sister, Rose. Mother, Mother is delectable in the sickest, most disorienting, and most unorthodox way; completely disturbing and completely original, this psychological thriller is an impressive debut. Zailckas's abrasive first novel, chronicled with a building sense of dread—a lingering discomfort—is a reluctant masterpiece; a darkly comical tale about the manipulative means a mother will go to in order to get her way Americanflag

9 hearts: Loved it! This book has a spot on my favorites shelf (x)

Click here to find out 5 surprising facts about Mother, Mother from the author, herself!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

8 Heart Review: The Darkest Surrender by Gena Showalter

The Darkest Surrender (Lords of the Underworld #8)
Gena Showalter

Page Count: 426

Release Date: September 27th 2011
Publisher: HQN (Harlequin)
Source: Complimentary copy provided by Romance Novel News in exchange for an honest and unbiased review (thank you, Carolyn!)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Possessed by the demon of Defeat, Strider cannot lose a challenge without suffering unimaginable pain. For him, nothing stands in the way of victory. Until Kaia, an enchanting Harpy, tempts him to the razor's edge of surrender.


Known among her people as The Disappointment, Kaia must bring home the gold in the Harpy Games or die. Strider is a distraction she can't afford because he has an agenda of his own—steal first prize, an ancient godly artifact, before the winner can be named. But as the competition heats up, only one prize will matter—the love neither had thought possible...
With every step [Strider had] taken from Kaia's home, Defeat had prowled through his head, wanting to act, to pin her and take her—victory would be so damn sweet—but not allowing himself to do so. Loss would be so damn painful.

Strider just has to win. Whatever the competition—whether it be a friendly bet or a battle that sheds lives—Defeat, the demon he is plagued with, forces him to win, no matter the cost. Everything is a dangerous, vengeful, radiant, and sometimes even erotic game to Strider, which is why, naturally, he is enticed by the idea of the Harpy Games. As he gets to know Kaia and involved in the challenge she sets forth, his screwed-up personal demons will make winning harder than ever before, and they just may lead him to falling for an equally screwed-up girl. After all, she is a Harpy aka a descendant of Lucifer aka the master of all things demonic—no biggie. Yeah. He's got it bad.

The Darkest Surrender is testament to the fact that Gena Showalter is one of the leading ladies of paranormal fiction. EVERYTHING about this book is so well done—the plot, characters, romance, tone, transitional flow—all of it. 

The gradual love is at once tender and entertaining; to me, it was the perfect romance because it's realistic, well interlaced with the actual story, and of course, sizzling hot. The way Strider and Kaia clash is so funny because it couldn't be more obvious how similar they are, and thus in his opinion, all the more wrong for each other. As for the relationship, it is deliciously, wonderfully bad. The thick sexual tension, amusing banter, and explosive chemistry and feuding portray their attraction flawlessly, which impressed me greatly. The fact that this book isn't just a romance definitely earns it brownie points. 

Kaia's unabashed (and publicly declared) crush on Strider demonstrates the kind of girl she is: an unstoppable force, a fiery temper, passion incarnate. Strider, who's way more reserved and tormented—swoon!—wants to deny his lethal attraction for Kaia but can't seem to control himself around her—and that isn't his demon talking. His desire to dominate the one girl no one else can control, the one girl who scratches everyone else, but treats him to the tenderest of caresses, is both his sickness and cure. The way he slowly discovers how much he really needs her, and not just sexually, is heart-melting and exactly the kind of love us romance readers live to read about.

I love how Lords of the Underworld takes place in a world of various species; typically, paranormal romance series involve one type of being (vampires, zombies, etc.), but nope, here, we have Harpies, demons, Fae, Phoenixes, gods, and other creatures of Greek mythology, so in and of itself, this series is the motherlode of the supernatural. So fascinating and creative—props to Gena Showalter for developing such an elaborate, magical, livable world. How I'd love to just climb into one of her books and be one of the characters.

Not having read previous installments in the series, I was a bit confused by the Realm of Blood and Shadows and the worlds in which the book takes place, but the plot and characters are so original and intricate, that I feel The Darkest Surrender works fine as a standalone novel. That being said, the perfectly entwined storylines of the various other Lords—Promiscuity, Doubt, and Disaster, to name a few—leave room and anticipation for the next books; I'm definitely eager to keep with with and try the series from the beginning now.

I'll end on a note praising the snarky and hilarious tone, which is applicable for pretty much of Gena Showalter's novels. Her style is genius, in both the way she personalizes her characters, and the witty one-liners that deserve gold medals. Even if you don't like the story, you will fall in love with the way Showalter writes, which is why you should at least give this series a chance.

Pros


Amazing characters // Humorous, with plenty of wit and sass to go around // Complex, prolonged plot that completely absorbed me // Secondary characters' stories are just as intriguing, making me want to read the previous and next books in the series // Can be read as a standalone, although having a grasp of what the series is about may be helpful in understanding setting

Cons


Some scenes are unnecessarily drawn out // The constantly shifting stories get a little confusing at times

Love

"[My consort is] better than yours," Bianka said.

"No way."

"Way."

"Girls." Taliyah clapped her hands to gain their attention. Just as she'd done when they were children, arguing over a toy. "Both of your consorts suck. Now shut up and move out."

Bianka stuck her tongue out at Kaia. "Mine sucks less than yours," she muttered.

"Yeah, well mine sucks better than yours."

Verdict


This is the kind of book that will make you become obsessed with paranormal romance. From the entirely consuming fictional world constructed, to the lovable, flawed, and vibrant characters, to the unconventional romance with a sigh-worthy "ever after," The Darkest Surrender is a book that will preoccupy you in the most frustrating but fulfilling way. Definitely give these sexy and tragically dark Lords of the Underworld a try; Gena Showalter does not disappoint! Americanflag

8 hearts: An engaging read; highly recommended (x)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Author: Jenny T. Colgan Interview and Giveaway!

I'd like to welcome Jenny T. Colgan to the blog today to celebrate her newest book, Doctor Who: Dark Horizons from BBC Books, a division of Random House UK. Be sure to stick around until the end to get the chance to win one of two copies!

Welcome to Books à la Mode, Jenny! Let's get this interview started.

Will you please share a brief bio with us?


Jenny T. Colgan has written 13 bestselling novels as Jenny Colgan, which have sold over 2.5 million copies worldwide. In May 2013 she was awarded Romantic Novel of the Year, the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s (RNA) highest accolade, for Welcome to Rosie Hopkins's Sweetshop of Dreams (published by Sphere).

A lifelong Doctor Who fan, at the age of 11 she won a UK fan competition to meet the Doctor and was mistaken for a boy by Peter Davison. Her favorite episodes are "Silence in the Library" and "Warriors' Gate." She currently resides in France with her young family.

So glad to have you here with us today! Readers, here's a little bit about Doctor Who: Dark Horizons, which is based off the hit British series...
“Now, you may or may not have noticed, but we appear to be on fire...”
On a windswept northern shore, at the very tip of what will one day become Scotland, the islanders believe the worst they have to fear is a Viking attack. Then the burning comes. They cannot run from it. Water will not stop it. It consumes everything in its path – yet the burned still speak.

The Doctor is just looking for a game on the famous Lewis chess set. Instead he encounters a people under attack from a power they cannot possibly understand. They have no weapons, no strategy and no protection against a fire sent to engulf them all.

Add in some marauding Vikings with very bad timing, a kidnapped princess with a secret of her own and a TARDIS that seems to have developed an inexplicable fear of water, and they all have a battle on their hands. The islanders must take on a ruthless alien force in a world without technology; without communications; without tea that isn’t made out of bark. Still at least they have the Doctor on their side... Don’t they?

A thrilling new adventure starring the Doctor, as played by Matt Smith in the acclaimed Doctor Who series from BBC Television.
Describe Dark Horizons in six words.

Vikings, fire, frights, laughs, thrills, and VIKINGS AGAIN :)


Are you a Whovian yourself? What attracted you to this project?


Of course! I started with classic Who at the tail end of the 70s, so Tom Baker was my Doctor, really. New Who was such a thrill for me, and getting to write a Who novel was a dream come true, seriously. The first time I typed "The Doctor opened the TARDIS doors" I genuinely couldn't believe they were letting me do that.


It sure does sound like a fun book considering you're such a big fan! Readers, click "Read more" to find out what writing based off a hit TV show was like for Jenny, her alter-ego author identity (writer of chick-lit!), and her best advice for aspiring novelists. Stick around until the very end because there's a very special giveaway lined up for you guys!