Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Audio Book Review: Black Dog Summer

Title: Black Dog Summer by Miranda Sherry
Publisher: Highbridge
Narrator: Jilly Bond
Format: Audio Book through Audible
Length: 9 Hours 36 minutes
Genre: Mystery - fiction

Synopsis: Black Dog Summer begins with a murder, a farmstead massacre, in the South African bush. Thirty-eight-year-old Sally is but one of the victims. Her life brutally cut short, she narrates from her vantage point in the afterlife and watches as her sister, Adele; her brother-in-law and unrequited love, Liam; her niece, Bryony; and her teenage daughter, Gigi, begin to make sense of the tragedy.

Focusing on marriage and fidelity, sisterhood, and the fractious bond between mothers and daughters, Black Dog Summer asks: In the wake of tragedy, where does all that dark energy linger? The youngest characters, Bryony and Gigi, cousins who are now brought together after Sally's murder, are forced into sharing a bedroom. Bryony becomes confused and frightened by the violent energy stirred up and awakened by the massacre while Gigi is unable to see beyond her deep grief and guilt. But they are not the only ones aware of the lurking darkness. Next door lives Lesedi, a reluctant witch doctor who hides her mystical connection with the dead behind the façade of their affluent Johannesburg suburb.

As Gigi finally begins to emerge from her grief, the fragile healing process is derailed when she receives some shattering news and, in a mistaken effort to protect her cousin, puts Bryony's life in imminent danger. Now Sally must find a way to prevent her daughter from making a mistake that could destroy the lives of all who are left behind.

(39)Review: The narrator was fabulous.  Her different voices for the characters really made it feel more like a play than just a narrative.

There have been several reviewers who have compared this book with the Lovely Bones but instead of a dead child narrating the story it is Sally a murdered mother and her niece Bryony.  While you may think this is a story about murder it is more a story about family.  The secrets they keep and the relationships that draw them together or push them apart.

Gigi spends most of her time grieving.  She had more freedom when she lived at home but now she has to live with her aunt and uncle which she doesn't like. While she tries to move forward something else seems to be bothering her, something that she may have seen which may have devastating effects on the family.

While this book was a little slow to build the ending was worth the wait. Beautifully written and very atmospheric of a culture and place few of us have visited. While the subject matter may seem like a downer this book keeps things light enough to move it along.  I highly recommend this book.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Book Review: Sober is the New Black

Title: Sober is the New Black: A Then and Now Account of Life Beyond Booze (giving up drinking alcohol, giving up drinking wine) by Rachel Black
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Format: Paperback
Pages: 146 pages
Genre: alcoholism, self -help

Synopsis: Wine is a normal part of life, isn't it? It is usual for thirty-somethings to collapse in the evening with a glass or two of something sophisticated to diffuse the stress of the day and calm their buzzing brains, whether they be professionals, mothers, wives or homemakers. Rachel was no different. She juggled her many roles and responsibilities well and rewarded herself with wine at the end of each day; after all, she deserved it. But, gradually her wine intake began to increase each night and soon it had gone from being a little treat to an absolute necessity. As wine invaded more and more areas of her life, it became harder to cope. In turn it meant she drank more wine, firmly believing it was the cure, never considering for a moment that it could be the problem. Eventually, when wine was dictating everything she did and did not do, Rachel realized her life was unmanageable and that something had to change. However, as soon as she attempted to restrict or moderate her drinking, she seemed to want it even more. Her best intentions fell quickly by the way side after the first bottle was opened and the first drink took control, compelling her to have more. Drinking would continue until there was none left or Rachel 'fell asleep'. The following day consisted of a hangover, depression, overeating, remorse, worry, despair and self-hatred, until the time came around when the next bottle could be opened and these awful feelings could be blotted out. This pattern of trying and failing to control her wine drinking brought Rachel to acknowledge that it was not possible to do so, and she decided that she had to remove alcohol from her life forever. Despite being sick and tired of the drinking-hangover-drinking cycle of failure, giving up was not easy and it was only after a few more failed attempts that Rachel managed to do so. This book details her life in that first year of going alcohol-free. It describes in detail how her everyday pursuits became challenging and changing. Her outlook on the whole point of life turned on its axis when alcohol was removed, leaving her with a whole different sense of self and being. The changes that occurred were astounding and beyond anything she believed could be possible. She thought that removing alcohol from her life was all about giving up; she had never considered what she might gain. I am Rachel. This is my story.

(38)Review: I am not an alcoholic, nor do I even drink more than about once a month and even then my limit is two. But I have many people I love that are alcoholics.  In trying to understand and learn more about this struggle I felt that I should read this.  I found this books to be extremely accessible and easy to read. The story could be anyone's and I see many people that I know who are reflected in the pages. The difficulty in stopping is real and the struggle, that I will never understand is something that I can learn to empathize with.

Learning that not drinking is not missing out on something but actually allowing you to experience something is something that is hard for so many people to understand.  Its not about denying yourself something, its about allowing yourself to live and interact without the barrier of alcohol. Alcohol denys you the ability to really feel or experience things, it sucks so many people in to the point that everything they do revolves around getting more. I don't understand this feeling, I have never felt this tug or pull but I have seen so many lives hurt, and negatively impacted by alcohol. My father was an alcoholic, my mothers ex-boyfriends were alcoholics, my partners all seemed to struggle with alcohol addiction, etc...it effects everyone not just the person drinking.

I really appreciated how honest and real this book was.  Rachel didn't make excuses, but she told us about the many excuses she used when trying to stop, and lies she told herself and others when trying to justify her drinking. If you are trying to stop drinking or love someone who drinks this may be a good book to pick up.  Not only will it help you understand why some people drink but it may help someone trying to stop to see themselves.

Monday, June 22, 2015

ARC Review: The Book of Speculation: A Novel

Title: The Book of Speculation: A Novel by Erika Swyler
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Format: advanced e-galley from the publisher through netgalley.com
Pages:352 pages
Genre: Fiction

This title is due to be released June 23, 2015

Synopsis: Simon Watson, a young librarian, lives alone in a house that is slowly crumbling toward the Long Island Sound. His parents are long dead. His mother, a circus mermaid who made her living by holding her breath, drowned in the very water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, ran off six years ago and now reads tarot cards for a traveling carnival.

One June day, an old book arrives on Simon's doorstep, sent by an antiquarian bookseller who purchased it on speculation. Fragile and water damaged, the book is a log from the owner of a traveling carnival in the 1700s, who reports strange and magical things, including the drowning death of a circus mermaid. Since then, generations of "mermaids" in Simon's family have drowned--always on July 24, which is only weeks away.

As his friend Alice looks on with alarm, Simon becomes increasingly worried about his sister. Could there be a curse on Simon's family? What does it have to do with the book, and can he get to the heart of the mystery in time to save Enola?

(37)Review: Simon seems like a very sad character.  He has lived in the same town his entire life, his mother committed suicide when he was young and his father wasted away until his death leaving Simon to care for his sister Enola. Simon's house is falling into the sea and he just lost his job, when he receives a mysterious book in the mail, the book holds secrets that seem to pertain to his family.

As Simon starts to peel away the layers of his family the story more and more mysteries are uncovered. Is there a curse on the women in his family? Why have so many of them drowned when their gifts have always included the ability to hold their breath for up to 10 minutes under water?

As the mystery of the book, the past and family ties unravel Simon finds himself more and more trapped in the need to learn more while his house continues to fall apart around him and his sister begs him to leave the past alone and leave the place they once called home.

Simon's sister Enola works for the Carnival following in the footsteps of countless members of their family. Her boyfriend, Doyle, is tattooed with tentacles all over his body leaving him with a mysterious and somewhat scary appearance.  Doyle is wiser than he appears and his charms shines through the pages leaving him as one of the brighter and more vibrant characters in personality and appearance.

Woven in with Simon's story is the story of Amos, the mute tarot card reader from a carnival from the 1700's. The carnival seems to have been struck with mysterious disasters and the book that Simon is investigating seems to be from the owner of this carnival and might hold information regarding the start of the mysterious deaths that plague Simons family.

I really enjoyed this book, by about halfway through I found that I had a hard time putting it down where before that I just was having a good time reading it, then I got sucked in to the point of being obsessed, a dog with a bone or rather Simon with a mysterious book.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Author Guest Post: Steven Rappaport author of If Jack Had & Giveaway

I am happy to have Steven Rappaport guest post to ReadingGrrl.com! I posted a review of If Jack Had on June 2, you can find the review here.

Steven Rappaport, age 68, has been a stock trader, pot dealer, itinerant hippie peddler, cab driver, retailer, and is currently a successful commercial real estate salesperson in Manhattan.

If Jack Had, is a book very much born of personal experience. My eldest son Jack, died at forty from a mysterious, undiagnosed, progressively debilitating neurological disorder. He was a brilliant guy, but his health robbed him of the life he should have had.  He struggled from his teens until he passed away. He was a brilliant guy, but his health robbed him of the life he should have had.  He struggled from his teens until he passed away at age forty. Each year, bit by bit, he lost more of his mental and physical abilities.

I decided that I wanted to give Jack a life that he missed through fiction.  That is how the book was born.   However, I also thought he would enjoy the notion of a man divided between good and evil, each functioning on a different level, yet someone conjoined into a seemingly cohesive and integrated personality.  Jack greatest goal as a young man, was to be a journalist working for the New York Times.  No doubt he had the grey matter, education, and wit, to do that.  His writing chops were extraordinary.  Later on in life, even when the debilitating disease began causing dementia, and he had difficulty communicating clearly, his ability to write a cogent sentence remained undimmed.  But he was also very quietly a very angry person. He kept that well-hidden,  and very few knew that side of him.  I did, and it frightened me. This puzzling aspect of his personality gave me the impetus to give him a double life as a secret assassin.  Writing about it helped explore a mysterious and frightening side of my child.

The book is also auto biographical to a certain extent.  I figured in as Jack’s father.  I had a lot of cathartic fun fictionalizing and satirizing my very self-absorbed, and self-obsessed, “enough about me, what do you think about me?” personality.  As they say, write about what you know.  I am quite the easy target. It didn’t take an awful lot of research to be able to do a caricature of myself.  I just had to lean over and ask my wife.  She is always happy to let me know what a fool I am or was. I elaborated on my memory of some of my most cringe worthy behavior.  Years ago, Albert Brooks made a brilliant film about this subject called “Defending Your Life”  He and Meryl Strep starred in the story of a young yuppie killed in his Porsche while leaning over to insert a CD.  Today it would have been texting.  The premises was that after death, one goes to a way station ,where your life is evaluated,  before a decision is made to send you to either Heaven or Hell.  There is a trial of sorts, where you must watch highlights of the most telling incidents, of the best and worst part of your behavior on earth.  The Meryl Streep led a saint like existence.  Albert Brooks not so much.  Hilarious.

The other characters in the book are entirely fictitious, and bear no resemblance to any person living or dead.  Or so I say.  I am not a person to be trusted. I’ll say anything in the service of a good story. To a certain extent they are amalgams of the various characters that have passed through my life. Some more so, some less.  Read the book.  Perhaps you will recognize yourself.

If Jack Had [Black Rose Writing] is available via Amazon, and in brick-and-mortar bookstores nationwide as of June 4, 2015.

Find If Jack Had on Goodreads and at http://ifjackhad.com

Monday, June 15, 2015

Book Review: The Testing (The Testing Book 1)

Title: The Testing by Joelle Charbonneau
Publisher: Recorded Books
Format: Audio book
Length: 11 hours 12 minutes
Narrator: Elizabeth Morton
Genre: YA Dystopian

Synopsis: The story in which a 16-year-old is chosen by her government to undergo The Testing, which decides if she gets to go to The University.

The University is for the country’s best and brightest teens and puts the rebuilding and future leadership of the United Commonwealth in their hands.

During The Testing, extreme psychological and physical trials pit them against one another to determine which teens have what it takes to become a leader.

 (36) Review: With similarities to The Hunger Games and the Divergent Series this seems like the next new dystopian trilogy to watch and read, according to many reviews and websites.

I thought the book started a out a little slow but picked up as they start the testing. The testing is filled with sick mind games, that leave candidates dead, maimed and mentally drained.  There were times that I found the narrator to be a bit bland, she didn't seem to have a lot of emotion behind her words which was a bit of a disappointment and sometimes a distraction but it didn't takeaway from the enjoyment of the story.

I haven't read the The Maze Runner by James Dashner series but I did see the movie and I think that this book may have had more in common with that series as it seems that the United Commonwealth kept giving the candidates tests that few but Cia seemed to understand were not reality but actually continue to be part of the testing and while the Hunger Games were actual games and the issues in Divergent were really about different factions trying to overthrow each other, all three really focused on a government that manipulates people to promote their own agenda while hiding secrets that could help the people.

I'm interesting is seeing how this series develops.

Monday, June 8, 2015

ARC Review: In the Air Tonight (Sisters of the Craft Book 1)

Title: In The Air Tonight (Sisters of the Craft) by Lori Handeland
Publisher: St. Martins Paperbacks
Format: advanced e-galley from the publisher through netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review
Pages:352 pages
Genre: paranormal romance

This book was released June 2, 2015 

Synopsis: Four centuries ago, in a small Scottish village, three baby girls escaped the wrath of a witch hunter. Today, one young woman will learn about her secret history, her heart's destiny, and the sisters she never knew she had...

With her blue-black hair and dark eyes, Raye Larsen has never fit in with the Scandinavian community of New Bergin, Wisconsin. Being adopted is part of the reason she feels like an outsider, but what really sets Raye apart is her ability to see dead people. Everywhere.

She's learned to keep her visions to herself...until she stumbles onto the ghost of a murder victim who needs Raye's help. Enter Bobby Doucet, a distractedly handsome homicide detective who has been tracking a killer all the way from New Orleans. Could this be the break in his case he's been looking for all along? Meanwhile, the deeper Raye gets involved with the case-and with Bobby-the closer she comes to unlocking the mystery of her own origins. What she discovers about herself could destroy everything she knows...and everyone she loves. Is finding the truth worth the risk?

(35)Review: I was totally enamored by the book from the very beginning. I could barely put it down even when fighting sleep.  You can almost say I fell under its spell.

The ghosts that follow Raye were all fascinating and their stories very interesting.  When Bobby Doucet comes to town from New Orleans he brings with him a whole slew of new ghosts, ones whose cases he couldn't solve and one that is very personal.  But Bobby doesn't believe in ghosts or people who see them so can Raye trust him enough to reveal her secret?

The Witch Hunters are creepy, the romance fun and the underlying story of Raye's mysterious adoption, who she really is and who her biological parents were keep you turning the pages.  Imagine having to fight who you truly are to fit in? And then once you learn that what you think you can do is only the tip of the ice berg of what you are really capable of.  Then you discover you have 2 sisters out there somewhere who are in danger and you are falling in love with a man who doesn't believe in what you can do.

This book is full of emotion, fun interactions and a town that I found creepier than the thought of witches and witch hunters roaming the earth.  I loved this book, such a fun read, I can't wait to read the next two.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

ARC Review: Mayhem in Margaux (Winemaker Detective) Book 6

Title: Mayhem in Margaux (Winemaker Detective) Jean Pierre Alaux & Noel Balen
Publisher: Le French Book
Format: advanced e-galley received through netgalley.com from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Pages: 164 pages
Genre: Mystery

This book was released May 14, 2015

Synopsis: It’s summer in Bordeaux. There’s a heat wave, the vineyards are suffering, vintners are on edge, and wine expert Benjamin Cooker’s daughter is visiting. A tragic car accident draws the Winemaker Detective and his assistant Virgile into a case where the stakes are very personal, and they uncover some dirty secrets hiding behind some of Bordeaux’s finest grand cru classé wines from Margaux.

(34)Review: This book made me wish I could drink wine, unfortunately a sulfite allergy destroys that ability.  So with little to no knowledge of wine but feeling mighty thirsty at the end of the book I learned a lot (like the merits of a traditional cork over a screw top in wine bottles!) and had a lot of fun with this book.

This cozy mystery intertwined around the wines and vines of France's Wine Country is quick, entertaining read. There isn't the graphic sex and violence accompanying many mystery/thrillers these days and it actually reminds me a bit of a good old English Murder Mystery such as anything by Agatha Christie.

So grab a glass of your favorite vintage and curl up for an evening of fun. I'll sit here and sip my juice and wish it was of the fermented variety.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

ARC Review: If Jack Had

Title: If Jack Had by Steven Rappaport
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Format: Advanced Paperback - ARC received from publisher in exchange for a fair review
Pages: 211 pages
Genre: Fiction

This title will be released June 4, 2015

Synopsis: Jack is a New York Times journalist with a second job as a contract killer for the Russian Mob. “What’s the difference between a serial killer and an assassin? A pay check.” The events occur mainly in Manhattan, Miami, Tel Aviv, and Greece. The book begins at the end, with the protagonist preparing to kill his final victim; himself.

(33) Review: Dark and funny this book is the dark tale of getting old, and trying to reconcile your life.  Its also about family.  Jack is a NY times journalist who realizes when he is in college that he also has a knack for killing people and getting away with it.  So he hooks up with the Russian Mob to start his second job as a hit man for the Mafia, his secret life isn't known to his children but he uses it to keep tabs on them.

Jack is a no holds barred kinda guy, he tells it like it is, well mostly in his head but sometimes to the people around him.  His father is an ass, his step-mother a doll, his mother a narcissistic bitch, his children have made something of themselves, and his wife was the love of his life and now that she is gone and he is mostly incontinent he doesn't feel life is worth living anymore.

The story of Jacks life flips back and forth in time and is extremely entertaining, and often tongue in cheek.  If you like Woody Allen there are quite a few similarities in this style of book so you may want to find this one for your shelves.

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