Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Mom's Perfect Boyfriend ~ Crystal Hemmingway (7/16/19)

Mom's Perfect Boyfriend (Smart Companions Book 1) by [Hemmingway, Crystal]

What a breath of fresh air it was to settle in and read MOM'S PERFECT BOYFRIEND, the debut by Crystal Hemmingway, especially since I have been a bit burned out by thrillers and darker literary fiction, lately. Thank you to the publisher for sending me a very nice early print copy!

An epistolary tale written entirely in Instant Messages, Text Message, Emails and Journal entries, this book was a lot of fun!

When Crystal loses her boyfriend, her job, and her apartment, she has no choice but to move back in with her mother, Margot, and try to finish her novel (a re-telling of Rapunzel). Finding that her mother's constant hovering is getting in the way of her writing, Crystal signs up for a "Smart Companion" to keep her Mom company from Boople, the organization where her sister, Lisa, works - a thinly disguised Google, natch. What could go wrong, right?

Writing a novel in this format can be challenging, but the author has managed to create very distinct characters, keep the "narrative" pace flowing nicely, and make you want to find out what happens next. There are also some laugh out loud moments that will linger!  I enjoyed this debut, and will look forward to what the author comes up with next.

Happy Reading!

Costalegre ~ Courtney Maum

Costalegre by [Maum, Courtney]

I reviewed Costalegre by Courtney Maum as I turned the last page when it was still fresh on my mind a couple months ago, and I'm grateful to the author and publisher for an early read. I will tell you that this is not a book I would normally choose to read; but after reading it I am again so impressed with the titles coming from Tin House lately. I loved A Key to Treehouse Living (Elliot Reed) last year and now this beautiful and strange novel, Costalegre

Based loosely on the lives of Peggy Guggenheim, her daughter Pegeen, and the surrealist art movement that Peggy supported during WWII by rescuing numerous artist and artwork from "Schlechty" (the nickname for Adolf Hitler), the author has chosen to place all these characters in the jungles of Mexico instead of the "jungle" of New York. 

Costalegre is a slim novel narrated in journal entries by 14 year old Lara, who finds herself in a strange land with even stranger people, and most tragic of all, a mother, Leonora, who is so caught up in the "art" of her guests that she ignores her daughter and leaves her entirely to her own devices. 

Without a tutor to educate her, Lara is learning about life from the kaleidoscopic world around her, with her only friends being the neglectful, narcissistic artists who struggle to "work" with few supplies, food, or inspiration. Since her father and brother stayed behind in Switzerland to wait out the war, Lara is truly on her own; and her only real pleasure is attempting to draw and paint herself, which the reader gradually realizes is her attempt to gain attention from the self-obsessed adults orbiting her life.

The theme of "disappearing" resonates in this novel: horses, a goat, the servants, and finally some of the artists themselves disappear, too. Lara feels invisible, and when she is thrown from a horse and gone for a night, no one realizes she was even gone - she may have well disappeared herself.

When an older male artist, who has lived in Costalegre full time since escaping Germany, expresses dismay that Lara is living in such circumstances, is it any surprise that she latches onto the one person in her world who seems to care about her?

The novel ends rather suddenly, and at first I was disappointed that there wasn't more closure to the story. But upon reflection, I realized that I was feeling so much like Lara, having lived with her voice all day as I read: there is no closure for her in Costalegre. She knows not what the future holds for her, and when anything will get any better. 

She ends with the hope that the ship that her mother commissioned with all the art from Germany will sink, so "there'd be nothing left to fawn over and boast about and move around the world for and maybe she [Leonora] would be emptied enough to finally mother me."

Getting to know Lara has been beautiful and sad and worthy. Costalegre is a short novel with a much larger story than its length suggests, and the emotional impact will linger. Really well done.

Thanks to Tin House Books and W.W. Norton Library Marketing for the advanced readers' copy.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The House on Tradd Street (Book One) by Karen White

White, Karen. 2008. The House on Tradd Street. New York, NY: Berkley, a division of Penguin Random House.

I've had a little trouble finishing books lately for several reasons, primarily because of all the activity surrounding sending my last kiddo off to college in August (sob)! I have a 30 minute, twice daily, commute and some days that is all the "reading' I am able to do.

I had been meaning to read this series over the years, and requested this first one through Inter Library Loan (ILL) since we did not own it on audio at my library. I also downloaded the book to read along with the audio, and just finished it this weekend. Yay, for finishing a book! I enjoyed it and am eagerly looking forward to the next one in the series, as well, called The Girl on Legare Street. The author mentioned it was originally supposed to be a two-book series, but is now 5 books long, with the 6th coming out in October. It's a testament to the author that she can continue a series for so long, and have so many happy fans continuing to read it.

Set in Charleston, South Carolina, this novel introduces Melanie Middleton, a type-A realtor who has an annoying little ability to see...ghosts; and Jack Trenholm, a disgraced author who is a little bit too interested in a house on Tradd Street that Melanie has unwillingly inherited from an almost-stranger. Other quirky, and some menacing, characters populate this enjoyable story, and epistolary sections break up the narrative to give background to some of the history explored in the book.

There are a lot of secrets to be revealed in this novel, as there usually are in Karen White's novels, and she does an excellent job of revealing them in a way that keeps the suspense at a high level and the reader turning the pages. Oh, and there's a DOG, named General Lee, which is always a plus in my book, so to speak. 😊 I will look forward to spending more time with these characters in the rest of the series - once I get The Teen launched out into the world (or at least off to college)!

I would recommend The House on Tradd Street to fans of Southern Fiction, Women's Fiction, and those who enjoy a little Gothic paranormal in their reads.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

CHASING HOPE by Dana Wayne ~ Lone Star Literary Book Blog Tour Notable Quotable and Giveaway

  Genre: Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Book Liftoff
Date of Publication: June 10, 2019
Number of Pages: 295
Scroll down for giveaway!

Max Logan longs for the joys of home and family he missed growing up in foster care. He fills that emotional void by becoming a kick-ass Marine, and for eighteen years, led his band of brothers from one hell-hole to another…until the one that nearly destroyed him. Sixteen months of therapy and rehab put his body back together, but some wounds can’t be seen. Some can’t be healed. 

Skylar Ward dreams of a life that includes someone beside her. Someone to share her life with, to be a father to her young daughter. But if she learned anything from her failed marriage it was that you don’t rush into a relationship. Options in her small town are limited, and those who approach her lack appeal. Only Max Logan sparks her interest. But the handsome, brooding war hero remains aloof. 

Intelligent and intuitive, seven-year-old Maddie overhears a neighbor tell her mother she needs a male companion, so she Google's it to see what it means. Convinced her mom needs a boyfriend and Max needs a girlfriend, Maddie sets out to make it happen. He needs a family. They need him. If she can make them see that. Can one precocious child be the catalyst that heals a wounded warrior’s soul and brings joy back into her mom’s heart? Or will ashes of the past bury hope once and for all?


 "The pace was fast, the love was simple yet energetic, and the dialogues were lively enough to make me want to know more about the characters. To say that I loved this novel is not enough! Absolutely beautiful. It deserves these 5 stars." – Readers’ Favorite

"I could not put Chasing Hope down! From the first few sentences, I was hooked and read over half of it the first night finishing it the following night. The main characters, Sky and Max, intrigued me right off the bat but feisty little Maddie wormed her way into my heart immediately! What a breath of fresh air." - Mary McCormack, ARC reader

AMAZON       more links: BOOKS2READ

Dana Wayne is an award-winning author and 6th generation Texan. She resides in East Texas with her husband (and biggest fan) along with a Calico cat named Katie, three children, and four grandchildren. She routinely speaks to books clubs, services organizations, writers’ groups, and other organizations on writing and publishing, and is a frequent guest on numerous writing blogs. 

"I grew up listening to my father read passages from the stack of paperback westerns beside his chair. I was fascinated at how someone could paint a picture with words so vivid, I saw it in my mind. That's when I knew that one day I would be a writer. It wasn't until I retired in late 2013 that I was able to devote the necessary time to achieving my goal. I published my first book in 2016 and never looked back. My stories are heartwarming, a little spicy, and all about the romance because I believe romance is more about emotion than sex, and the journey is more important than the destination." A staunch supporter of new authors, she is a member of Romance Writers of America, Texas Association of Authors, and Writers League of Texas as well as several local writers' groups.
FIRST PRIZE:  Signed Copy of Chasing Hope  + Swag bag including fan, tote bag, and throw blanket; 
SECOND PRIZE: eBook Copy of Chasing Hope + $10 Amazon Gift Card
THIRD PRIZE: eBook Copy of Chasing Hope + $5 Amazon Gift Card
(US Only)
  July 9-19, 2019
Notable Quotable
Notable Quotable
BONUS post
Character Interview
Author Interview
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Friday, June 21, 2019

Lying Beneath the Oaks ~ Kristin Wright

Wright, Kristin. 2019. Lying Beneath the Oaks. Bella Rosa Books. ISBN 978-1622681433. $15.95 USD.

I was fortunate to win a signed copy of Lying Beneath the Oaks by Kristin Wright in a giveaway sponsored by The Debutante Ball. Established in 2007, the DB is a group blog for authors making their debut in the literary world. They are currently in their twelfth season of celebrating up-and-coming authors. Former Debs include bestsellers in the genres of women’s fiction, mystery, literary fiction, nonfiction, young adult, and more. This link will tell you more about it:

In her debut, Kristin Wright has written an entertaining and tightly-paced novel, which includes sympathetic characters with distinct voices, well-written dialogue, and enough suspense to keep readers turning the pages.

The main character, Molly Todd, has secrets. A lot of secrets. Somehow she finds herself waking up married in Vegas to a stranger - a Southern gentleman lawyer from a well-respected family named Cooper Middleton. Neither remembers any of it. Deciding to return home to Charleston to see about getting an annulment, Molly finds herself staying at Cooper's family home, and keeping even more secrets.

I enjoyed the fact that the author takes her time in unveiling all of the mysteries in this novel. A few I figured out before the end, but that didn't diminish the reading experience. Molly also has some amnesia about a traumatic event in her past, and the unraveling of that mystery was one of the big payoffs for me as a reader.

There's a antagonist in this book (I sometimes refer to them as "evil bads") who is almost over-the-top in his evil-ness, but not everyone sees it right away. One of the major plot elements is Molly trying to find a way to convince others of how bad the guy really is, as he's very good at keeping it hidden.

The romantic element is a slow-burn, with a few spicy encounters. I'm not an author, but I imagine writing love scenes can be a challenge. This first-time author definitely doesn't write like one, in any way, in her debut. Other authors, such as Linda Castillo and Sally Kilpatrick, have given this novel a nice thumbs-up, and you can see more author reviews and information about the book on the publisher's website here:

I enjoyed my time spent turning the pages of this debut, and I will definitely look for more from the author in the future.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Max...Attacks by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Penelope Dullaghan: Book Blitz, Review, and Giveaway!

Illustrated by Penelope Dullaghan
Children's Picture Book / Humor / Stories in Verse
Publisher: Atheneum / Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Date of Publication: June 11, 2019
Number of Pages: 40
  Scroll down for the giveaway!

Fish and birds and lizards and socks…is there anything Max won’t attack? 

Watch your ankles and find out in this clever, rhyming picture book about a very naughty kitty cat. Max is a cat. He attacks. From socks to strings to many a fish, attacking, for Max, is most de-lish. But how many of these things can he actually catch? Well, let’s just say it’s no even match.

I will start off this review by saying that I am NOT a fan of cats! We didn't have them growing up (dogs rule!), but I have known enough people who LOVE cats to tell you right now that this children's picture book is going to be special. Even as a non-cat fan, I fell in love with MAX, who we find out is based on a cat once owned by the author's son (if anyone can actually "own" a cat).

Known for being curious, mischievous, devious, and, well, often hilarious, cats have some of the best videos around on social media platforms these days, and I will admit to following a few accounts myself on Twitter and Instagram. Author Kathi Appelt gets right to the heart of these characteristics of cats in her delightful picture book Max...Attacks. 

As the book opens, Max has his one-track mind set on going to battle with some "fishies" swimming around in a fish bowl. But right off the bat, we find out that Max does NOT have a one-track mind, as throughout the rest of the book Max gets distracted by other things he wants to "attack," including a curtain, a laundry basket, a hanging shoelace, and, of course, his "bowl of crunchies." 

Using rhythmic language on every page Max...Attacks is an absolutely perfect read-aloud book that will be enjoyed by both children and adults. The tension of the book keeps one turning the pages to see what Max will get up to next, and whether those fishies will survive his stalking (spoiler, they do). The resolution to the story is very satisfying, and you will have to read it to find out why!

Penelope Dullaghan's colorful, rather free-form illustrations are a perfect fit to this entertaining story, with enough details on each page to keep both young and old(er) readers attentive. The words rove, and pounce, and trounce across the page, mimicking Max's behavior as he continually gets distracted by the next fun thing to "attack." The facial expressions of Max, the dog, and fish are distinctly rendered and allow the personalities of the characters to shine on each page.

I can't say that this adorable picture book has convinced me to get a cat of my own, but the next time I'm around someone else's I will remember this picture book with affection. I have a list of people in my life I plan to buy this book for, and I'm not even waiting for a reason!

Really well done, and a joy to read.

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award finalist, PEN USA Literary Award–winning, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Maybe a Fox (with Alison McGhee), Keeper, and many picture books including Counting Crows and Max ... Attacks

She has two grown children and lives in College Station, Texas, with her husband and their six cats. She serves as a faculty member at Vermont College of Fine Arts in their MFA in Writing for Children and Young 
Adults program.

Penelope Dullaghan is an award-winning illustrator whose work includes illustrations for ad campaigns, book publishers, magazines, newspapers, products, videos and most recently, children. Max ... Attacks is her debut picture book.

Penelope works from her home studio in Indianapolis, Indiana where she also home schools her daughter, plays in the river behind her house, and tends to her front-yard garden.

She is especially interested in collaborating with brands that support sustainability, simplicity, and wellness. Connect with Penelope on her Website.

The real Max was neither blue, nor did he have a switchy tail. In fact, he didn’t have a tail at all. He was an American Bobtail, almost fire red, and in his prime he weighed in at over twenty pounds. For seventeen years, he served as best friend and roommate to the author’s oldest son Jacob Appelt, who adopted Max from the local animal shelter. Together they wrote music, traveled, entertained friends and family, and kept an eye on the neighborhood parrots. Even though Max was famous for attacking anything that moved, he was, and always will be, the biggest, sweetest cat ever!  And many thanks to Jacob 
for the line: “a mighty nap attacked our Max.” Best line in the book!
June 11-22, 2019
(U.S. Only)
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