31 March 2011

Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver

It's not often that a book that leaves me with more questions than answers is actually a very, very good thing.

Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver sits in my category of "I Wish This Had Been Written When I Was a Teenager." It's uncomfortable, heartbreaking, and disturbing, but with a powerful message that's rendered me speechless. While at just under 500 pages, this weighty chunkster of a novel reads quickly and pulls at your heart, along the way forcing you to look at your own life and question the whys and why nots of your own choices.

Sam is a senior in high school and is one of a group of four girls that are the most popular. If you're not in their social status, then you probably want to be noticed by them, but would be terrified if they did. Sam, Lindsay, Elody, and Ally are best friends and live their lives where drinking, flirting with teachers, and casual sex is the norm, as is ridiculing anyone labeled a "freak." How can they get away with it? There must be some rule book that to be popular in high school, you have to be just plain mean. But, tonight is Friday, and it's time for the party everyone is going to. It will be a night of drinking, picking on a couple of people, and even the tension of Sam possibly losing her virginity to the hottest guy in school won't slow them down. The night ends with all four girls leaving the party and before they know it, they're in a brutal car accident and Sam didn't make it. She died in the car, but she's actually still living. Living that very last day, each mean act, over and over again.

Well. To live each day the same as the next? That would certainly put a pretty big magnifying glass over every single final action. Living a life in analysis is a gift, but if you were mean and living the same exact day over and over and over... it would be an absolute curse. You'd be exposing some awful things, see yourself in a way you might not like, that could make you just hate yourself. What I thought was even more fascinating about this book is that it also brings to mind another thought about the whole high school dynamic - on the surface, one might be a villain, but it's also very possible that they could be just as mixed up and confused about their own lives as the ones they pick on. The bully might be a bully, but the bully might be every bit as insecure as the next high school kid. How can they unwrap themselves out of the never-ending repetition of being mean? Unbeknownst to them, their one mean action, seemingly forgettable to them at the time, could have a ripple effect that is unmeasurable.

I walked away with so many questions, specifically one we should all ask ourselves. If you were to die today, would you be proud of the way you treated others?

I would recommend this to absolutely anyone. Parents, as always though, I'd suggest you read it first before giving to your kids to read, but I would probably bet that a sixteen-year-old would completely relate to a lot of the situations in this book. Lauren Oliver isn't afraid to tap into some of the very things that are nonchalantly brushed off and taken advantage of. While capturing young life so authentically, she's made it okay to remind yourself to do the things we can so easily forget. Think about it. And make good choices.

One of my favorite passages:
As I head up from the gym it strikes me how strange people are. You can see them every day - you can think you know them - and then you find out you hardly know them at all. I feel exhilarated, kind of like I'm being spun around a whirlpool, circling closer and closer around the same people and the same events but seeing things from different angles. (p. 159)
Happy Reading,
Coffee and a Book Chick

About the Author
Lauren Oliver was previously an editorial assistant at a publishing company in New York. A graduate of the University of Chicago and the MFA program at New York University, she is now a full-time writer and lives in Brooklyn, New York. Before I Fall is her first novel and Delirium is her second.

Visit the author's website by clicking here.
Visit the author on Facebook by clicking here.


28 March 2011

The Wolves of Andover, by Kathleen Kent

Note: In order to effectively review The Wolves of Andover, I have to discuss Kathleen Kent's incredible debut, The Heretic's Daughter.

There wasn't any doubt I wanted to read Kathleen Kent's The Wolves of Andover since I loved her first book, The Heretic's Daughter, so much. I read and reviewed it and a few other books about Salem in this post here

Part of my desire to read her first book, other than my own interest in the Salem Witch Trials, was because Kathleen Kent is a direct descendant on her mother's side of Martha Carrier, one of the nineteen victims who was hanged for being pronounced a witch. To some degree, most people are fascinated by this event. A few ill-placed rumors and frenzied actions created one of the most pervasive panics, resulting in innocent men, women, and children to live in deplorable conditions in the town jail, only to be executed because they would never agree that they were witches.

The Heretic's Daughter is told through the young, strong voice of Sarah Carrier, their daughter, as her family deals with the accusations against Martha. Kept in a filthy cell for months, with only a bucket to share with other prisoners for a toilet, their final sentence of death is heart-wrenching to read.

Headstone of Martha Carrier
Kent's second book, The Wolves of Andover, takes place well before these fateful events. It's the story of how Martha and Thomas met and the relationship that ultimately secured their friendship and loyalty to each other. When Martha is nineteen-years-old, she goes to help tend the home while her cousin struggles in her final months of pregnancy. Thomas is a man living and working to save for his own plot of land by helping Martha's cousin and her husband on the farm. Initially a quiet existence, it is a peek into the world of 17th century America, the subtle but sweet courtship that occurs, and the secrets that are part of both Martha's and Thomas' pasts. Life during this time is just plain hard. Everything, everyone, could be untrustworthy - they could easily be a wolf to come prey upon your most intimate vulnerabilities.

But this is also about Thomas and the rumors whirling about him. As a Welshman and member of the Royal Guard of the King of England when he was younger, he is rumored to be the executioner of Charles I, and there is a bounty on his head. The colonies are known to have kept quiet the whereabouts of those who contributed to the rebellion against the king, those who followed Oliver Cromwell on the battlefields. But will the town remain quiet when the four thugs who are hired in London make the dangerous journey across the Atlantic to hunt down Thomas?

It's truly amazing how Martha and Thomas are significantly entrenched in two very distinct events in history - a King overthrown in one country, and the mass hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials in another.

Part of the reason why I love Kathleen Kent's books so much is that her work is unbelievably polished. Her scenes are as pure and true to how one might write and read in the 17th century, without losing any sense of its "readability" in our modern times. Each scene smoothly transitions to the next. Character development is such a key strength with her work and while Martha's strength to fight back is documented in history, her famous words confidently spoken during her courtroom trial without fear, "You lie! I am wronged.... It is false and a shame for you to mind what these say, that are out of their wits!" it is the quiet, strong, and unbelievably tall and honorable Thomas who engaged my interest even more so in this book. 

While The Heretic's Daughter introduced her to the world, The Wolves of Andover has unquestionably and firmly established Kathleen Kent as an expert author, one whose books should always be kept on your shelf.

Read her work in the order it was published and intended: First, The Heretic's Daughter and then The Wolves of Andover. You know what is going to ultimately happen to these two noble and tough people in the early years, but they don't, and this is where it is so genuinely moving and tragic. Kathleen Kent has such a captivating way of bringing you directly into the heart of the tragedies, and for that I am extremely thankful to read her work, and I look forward to much, much more from her.

If you're interested in the Salem Witch Trials, the people who were part of it, and their story of who they were before the trials, the humanity and the sadness of this terrible time, you should probably go get this book right away.

About the Author
Kathleen Kent is a tenth-generation descendant of Martha Carrier. She is also a masterful storyteller, and in her first novel she paints a haunting portrait, not just of Puritan New England but also of one family's deep and abiding love in the face of fear and persecution.

Kathleen also was honored to be awarded the David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Historical Fiction.

Visit Kathleen Kent's website by clicking here.
Visit Kathleen Kent on Facebook by clicking here.

Happy Reading,
Coffee and a Book Chick

FTC Disclosure: Many thanks to Crazy Book Tours for providing me a copy to participate in this tour.


The amazing Library of Congress
I'm so thrilled to announce the winners to Ruta Sepetys' brilliant and heartbreaking Young Adult novel, Between Shades of Gray. This story provides insight into a piece of history that sadly, seems to be one that is rarely ever discussed. You can read my review of the book by clicking here, and read my interview with the author by clicking here.

Congratulations go out to the following winners:

I'm looking forward to your thoughts!

Happy Reading,
Coffee and a Book Chick


24 March 2011

The Second Duchess, by Elizabeth Loupas

Let me first start off by saying that I will most assuredly be gushing about this book. And it will be a lengthy post because there is so much to share. Debut author Elizabeth Loupas has hooked me in with The Second Duchess, which was just released this month. Go to the store, flip through the pages...

I was traveling to Portland, Oregon for a business meeting, so I had plenty of time to read while traveling from one coast to the other. Since I was only there for Monday's meeting, I had to make the most out of my air travel, which I was dreading. I brought along The Second Duchess although I had promised myself that the reason why I got my Nook Color was because it made traveling so much easier for my back (no hardcover or thick books to carry with my briefcase). But I just had to bring this one with me - I was emotionally invested in the storyline already and I craved more.

Scandal and murder... this was life in 16th century Italy, and more specifically, Barbara of Austria and her marriage to Alfonso. Thus, the Duke and second Duchess of Ferrara begin their marriage with a whispering servant in Barbara's ear...did you know that his first wife was murdered, and that he murdered her...

When Barbara of Austria marries Alfonso, the Duke of Ferrara, rumors wind their way around the Duke's previous marriage to Lucrezia de' Medici, a young fifteen-year-old girl from Florence. That marriage ended with an untimely death after the Duke confined her to a monastery. Barbara, intelligent and independent for a woman of her time, begins to secretly ask questions about what happened to Lucrezia, but as she begins her investigation, she herself becomes the victim of attempts on her own life.

With an intriguing character introduced into the story that I cannot give away, I found I was absolutely captivated. Elizabeth Loupas has developed an elegant whodunit wrapped in Italy in the 16th century. Detailed descriptions carry the reader into a comprehensive and enthralling story that I couldn't put down. While Barbara of Austria was compelling and engaging, and I enjoyed her spirit and intelligence as she slowly began to piece the puzzle together, I found that I was also pulled into the Duke's conflicted emotions and mannerisms. He was both very much a man of his day, but at times, so much a modern man of our contemporary times. Now this... this was a book. A book that I loved.

I sat on my four hour flight to Portland, Oregon and barely noticed my growling stomach, the flight attendants' offers of something to drink, the horrible turbulence on the flight. I soaked in the descriptions of the food and the clothing in 16th century Italy, and as I turned each page I got more and more swept up in the mystery. I kept questioning every character that graced the pages - did the Duke do it? What about his nasty sisters? Or that diplomatic sneak I couldn't stand? Who killed the first duchess and is trying to kill the second?

I recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, mysteries, and Italy... I loved this book!

Click here to read the first chapter on the author's site.

About the Author
Elizabeth Loupas has worked as a writer, producer, and executive in the broadcasting industry; in other times and other places she has been a librarian, a magazine editor, a teacher, and a marketing consultant. She holds degrees in literary studies and library/information science.

She lives on the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth, with her husband and two beagles.

Visit Elizabeth Loupas on her website by clicking here.
Become a fan of Elizabeth Loupas on Facebook by clicking here.

And One More Thing...
Did you hear about the new Showtime mini-series called The Borgias? Pick yourself back up off the floor because I have one more exciting thing - Jeremy Irons is in it. Yes, I think I just heard you faint.

The Second Duchess will be one of the books featured in a Barnes & Noble and Nook Color promotional sweepstakes built around the Showtime mini-series The Borgias. You'll soon see commercials promoting the sweepstakes which will run nationally at the beginning of the shows throughout April and May. One of the prizes is a trip to Rome? Oh. My. Goodness. Yes, I will be watching! Barnes & Noble will also be promoting the sweepstakes with in-store end caps that will feature The Second Duchess.

Regular readers of this blog know how much I love Italy and how much I dream about moving there one day. So I think you can safely assume that I'll be watching this mini-series.

Happy Reading,
Coffee and a Book Chick


23 March 2011

Many of you are aware that I've struggled to find a good audio book, and only a few this year have been exceptional to me. Thankfully, those successes have convinced me that I need to continue to include audio as part of my book experience. Had I listened to A Fair Maiden, by Joyce Carol Oates as my initiation to it all, however, I probably would have waited even longer before picking up my next audio book.

Katya is sixteen-years-old and is a nanny to a wealthy family in New Jersey. While in the park with the children, she meets Marcus, a man in his sixties who seems harmless enough. She agrees to visit him in his stately mansion and becomes "friends" with him. Soon, though, the friendship she believes she's developed becomes something quite different, and altogether deeply disturbing.

It's not as though A Fair Maiden isn't interesting. It is. The characters were interesting. The storyline was interesting. The narrator was decent. But this story, for some reason, even with all of these elements combined into a dark and unsettling relationship with shocking moments, still wasn't memorable enough for me. There was a part of me that felt I had heard this story many times before, so I was struggling to find the uniqueness. Although I was engaged enough that I listened to the short six hours in one Sunday afternoon, and while I hoped for Katya to break away from the life she lives and the men she seems to always be around, I concluded the audio and didn't feel a significant emotion for it.

I will point out that while I'm not squeamish about most things in books, there were scenes in which I felt became even more disturbing simply because I was listening to it happen versus reading it. That, I found, was difficult.

So perhaps, in fact, it was memorable for me? I'm still up in the air on this one. Have you read it? This was my first time experiencing Joyce Carol Oates. I know she is a popular author, so I will certainly try her work again.

Happy Reading,
Coffee and a Book Chick


18 March 2011

In the Belly of Jonah, by Sandra Brannan

So I wouldn't disturb my sleeping husband, I crept back out to my living room late last night to finish this book. I also may...have turned on every single light, locked the doors, and begged both my dog and cat to come out with me and sleep on the couch with me while I read.

Liv Bergen is a young woman working as a division manager for a successful quarry in Colorado. When one of her employees is discovered murdered, surrounded by bizarre objects and gruesomely mutilated, she becomes involved in the case, suggesting possible explanations for the FBI's unanswered questions of how and why the killer may have done what he did, all the while wondering if her suggestions are absurd. When an old college friend, now an FBI agent, visits Liv's town to work on the case, she becomes even more involved, presenting plausible answers for the most confusing aspects of the case.

While a serial killer is frightening, the manner in which he is killing is even more disturbing. Liv's employee is discovered with a window cut cleanly into her body, a perfect rectangle with everything that would be in that section of her body completely removed. What could cut a body like that, and who would do it? Who could do it?

Sandra Brannan's first installment in the Liv Bergen Mystery Series is a serial killer story unlike others. Peppered with wit, self-deprecation, and moments of stunning brutality, In the Belly of Jonah magically captures the intense paths of both the serial killer and the one in which to stop him. This killer is freakish, elusive, but generally "normal," inasmuch as someone who likes to kill, can be. Liv is honest and real, innocently figuring out each step of the puzzle to its frightening conclusion. Liv is a smart chick who can easily hold her own with the best of them - whether they are part of her quarry-mining team or with the FBI, she's not one to back down. And in this story, she can't back down because whether she likes it or not, she has a serial killer to stop.

If you like Harlan Coban and Patricia Cornwall, you should probably rush right out to get this one for your bookshelf.

Happy Reading,
Coffee and a Book Chick

About the Author
After living in Wyoming, Washington, D.C., Washington State, and Colorado, Sandra Brannan returned to her hometown in South Dakota, where she is surrounded by family. She enjoys working with relatives in the mining business; living in the Black Hills with her husband, Joel; smiling with pride over the journeys taken by her four sons; doting over her three grandchildren; and appreciating all of life's blessings, too many to count. Sandra's forthcoming titles in her Liv Bergen mystery thriller series are Lot's Return to Sodom, Widow's Might, and Noah's Rainy Day.

Get frequent updates by visiting her Facebook page or following her on Twitter.


I saw this on Shelfari this morning and it piqued my interest...what do you think? It could be I'm in the mood for creepy since finishing In the Belly of Jonah by Sandra Brannen (review coming later today).

Published by AmazonCrossing in December 2010. I don't know much about this imprint, but it seems pretty interesting - their vision is to take the books that are popular in other countries, but are sometimes never translated into English, and actually translate them for English readers. Are you guys familiar with this? i think it might only be available for e-reading.

From Shelfari: A brilliantly detailed, fast-paced historical thriller, "The Hangman’s Daughter" is the first novel from German television screenwriter Oliver Pötzsch, a descendent of the Kuisls, a famous Bavarian executioner clan. Children are being murdered and witchcraft is being blamed.

Germany, 1660: When a dying boy is pulled from the river with a mark crudely tattooed on his shoulder, hangman Jakob Kuisl is called upon to investigate whether witchcraft is at play in his small Bavarian town. Whispers and dark memories of witch trials and the women burned at the stake just seventy years earlier still haunt the streets of Schongau. When more children disappear and an orphan boy is found dead—marked by the same tattoo—the mounting hysteria threatens to erupt into chaos. Before the unrest forces him to torture and execute the very woman who aided in the birth of his children, Jakob must unravel the truth. With the help of his clever daughter, Magdelena, and Simon, the university-educated son of the town’s physician, Jakob discovers that a devil is indeed loose in Schongau. But it may be too late to prevent bloodshed.

Happy Reading,
Coffee and a Book Chick


16 March 2011

Wordless Wednesday...

Rome, Rome, Rome. How I miss Rome.

My husband and I had quite a fabulous time on our honeymoon in Rome, and at this point, we had probably walked about ten miles that day and we were giddily tired...hence the goofy picture.

Happy Reading,
Coffee and a Book Chick


14 March 2011

Monday, Monday... What Are You Reading?

I had a very full mailbox this week...and I'm not quite sure when I'll be able to read anything? This week requires business travel to Minneapolis, Minnesota for an overnight trip, and then Sunday I am going to Portland, Oregon for two days. Neither trip will provide me time to blog or to visit with any bookstore in the area, unfortunately. However, I will have time on the flights to read, so that is an upside, I suppose...

From top to bottom:

Have you read any of these? Let me know your thoughts!

Happy Reading,
Coffee and a Book Chick


13 March 2011

Me and Lisa Gardner
I am absolutely certain that this is the exact way to spend a Sunday.

The Book Mark, a locally owned and operated independent bookseller in Neptune Beach, Florida, always has incredible authors who stop by to discuss their newly released book, or just to visit with their fans. Lisa Gardner, author of twenty-six novels and known for her suspense/thriller D.D. Warren series was today's visitor, and I was thrilled to sit amongst Lisa's diehard fans to hear her stories of the Body Farm in Tennessee, Search and Rescue dogs, and all the other tidbits of developing her stories.

Here's one interesting tidbit that she shared when she visited the Body Farm: Did you know that Search and Rescue dogs actually get terribly sad when, although successful in finding a body, become very depressed that what they did find is no longer alive? Dogs are incredibly sensitive and intelligent animals, and they get burned out by their jobs and experiences. Many times, dogs need to end their day on a good note and their handlers will ask someone to hide for thirty minutes so that the dog can be rewarded for not just successfully locating the individual, but that this one is alive.

To put it bluntly, Lisa was wicked cool to listen to. Is it weird that I enjoy reading books and listening to authors talk about macabre details on murder and mayhem?

Steve Berry
And of course, it is always a treat that Steve Berry, author of the Cotton Malone series, introduced her! His new book, The Jefferson Key is coming out in May! (Note: I would have included the picture of me with Steve Berry, but suffice it to say, it was not a flattering picture of moi, so I had to leave it out. He will be back in May however, so I will be present for that and will have my husband there to take my picture this time).

Lisa's new book is Love You More, published by Bantam Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, and is in stores this month. A synopsis from her site:
Pushed to the brink by an abusive husband, state police trooper Tessa Leoni finally snapped and shot him in self-defense. But Tessa isn't talking - not about her dead husband, her battered face, or her missing six-year-old daughter. Now, Detective D.D. Warren will have to race against the clock to unearth family secrets, solve a murder, and save a child.

I'm already excited to read this one!

Happy Reading,
Coffee and a Book Chick


09 March 2011

The Life You've Imagined, by Kristina Riggle

Four women in Haven, Michigan find that life in a small town, whether they've just returned or have never left, can be just as tumultuous and disappointing, as it's ever been. Are they living the life they've imagined?

Maeve is the proprietor of the local convenience store and the mother of her daughter, Anna, a Chicago city lawyer. Maeve never thought that the convenience store was going to be her career, but she's been waiting twenty years for her husband to return after he left her and Anna one day with no word. Recently, she's been receiving letters from him, promising her a better future.

Anna has lost a close friend and mentor at the Chicago law firm and has been granted bereavement leave. Returning to Haven isn't easy, but she's not sure where else to go. She's always been strong, almost cold, but coming back to Haven means she might have to deal with her ex-boyfriend, the man who might be the love of her life, who she broke up with before they left for different colleges.

Cami is an old high school friend of Anna, who has recently returned back to Haven with her tail tucked between her legs after submitting to her gambling addiction and stealing money from her boyfriend and losing it all. She returns to her father's home - to a man who doesn't hold back from expressing his emotions of anger and resentment drunkenly and violently. [One nagging little gripe: My only issue with her is that she ends every statement with "yeah." So, for example: "Everything is good, yeah?" I subconsciously began tallying up how many times she ended her sentences like that.]

Amy, once overweight in high school, has now become obsessed with maintaining her successful weight loss. She's engaged to the son of the town's richest developer who happens to be planning to renovate Haven to appeal to tourists and Maeve's convenience store is one that will soon be destroyed. Amy's dream to have her perfect wedding, though, is on track. So she thinks, until the stress of wedding planning and wondering if she's making the right decisions has her doubting. Recently, she's bumped into Ed, an overweight and friendly guy who has a dog that just happens to get along with her own dog. Will the life she's imagined be what she's needing?

Ultimately, I liked this story a lot, even though each character frustrated me with Amy disappointing me completely. I cheered her on and for just a moment, I thought she had grown a backbone, but then...she didn't. With each chapter alternating between the primary characters making it a quick read, and although I wanted just a touch more from specific secondary characters, Kristina Riggle successfully exposes the lives of four women who feel like they just may have missed out on life.  After a while, each character finds that there is a beauty and sadness in realizing that it may be possible that the life being lived right now isn't any better or worse than what imagination can bring.

Moral of the story? Make good choices, people. But, no matter what, never look back.

My favorite passage is when Amy is trying on her wedding dress. Although she's lost the weight that she felt has held her back, her mother has never lost her own weight. While sitting in the boutique as Amy admires herself in the mirror, her mother tries on her mother-of-the-bride outfit and it is a disaster for her. While the boutique owner and Amy try to reassure her mother that she looks fine, she waves off the compliments. She knows she doesn't look the way she wants to, and Amy realizes that she needs to hold her tongue on issuing any reassurances:
"You look lovely," I tell her.
"Not hardly," she answers, but waves away further protest and starts digging in her purse. I know enough to give up at this point. Persistent argument will only escalate, and she'll just get more and more vicious with herself in an effort to convince us she truly is hideous. (p. 270)
This struck a chord with me. I know that if I don't feel good about myself, no amount of compliments will make me happy. I hate how we as women do this to ourselves.

Thanks to the Crazy Book Tours team for sending me a copy of this book for review!

Happy Reading,
Coffee and a Book Chick


07 March 2011

The Oracle of Stamboul, by Michael David Lukas

When a flock of hoopoe birds arrive at the time a young girl is born, midwives descend upon a home to usher in the birth of a child born under these prophesied events. The mother dies after childbirth and Eleonora, a gifted child, grows up with her attentive father and strict stepmother. When her father has to sail to Stamboul (Istanbul) on business, eight-year-old Eleonora becomes a stowaway on the boat to escape the overbearing stepmother who believes Eleonora should only focus on housework instead of books. Upon arriving in Stamboul, she is welcomed into the home of her father's business partner, and her life expands. Surrounded by the tools of knowledge, her intellectual genius flourishes, one in which this eight-year-old girl speaks multiple languages, can write passages verbatim from Virgil's The Aeneid, and breaks code with the ease of an expert. Soon, her interaction with the Sultan grows into an advisory capacity, and the future of Stamboul is affected. Could she fulfill the prophecy?

Mastering the brilliance of historical fiction and vivid imagery, Michael David Lukas has crafted an elegant debut novel set in Stamboul, and I was absolutely drawn in from the first page. With rich and vibrant colors combined with the grittiness of life in the late 1800s in Turkey, and with just a dash of magical realism, the book resonates with the flourish of beautiful imagery. Each character is intense and genuine, and it's clear that research has been carefully documented. I had an incredibly difficult time putting this book down once I was caught up in the new life of a little eight-year-old girl (who is essentially a savant) and with the fluidity of the events and descriptions of her experiences and most especially, her abilities. I have a sneaking suspicion that there might be a follow-up to this book (this just may be, though, since I enjoyed this book so much, more of my own wish to travel back and escape into Eleonora's world again). This debut author has prepared readers for a long career and I anticipate more of his work!

One of my favorite passages:
In its time, the sun rose unsteady from a distant corner of the sky, and with it the fog lifted. Already the Bosporus was teeming, packed with fishing boats, caïques, and the occasional lumbering steamer. On the shore, under the shades of cypress trees, miniature people hawked and haggled, bustled, bargained, and prayed. Three gargantuan turtle-domed mosques glinted in the rising sun, their minarets piercing the sky like bayonets, and there, at the confluence of waters, was the most glorious building Eleonora had ever seen. Gardens upon gardens, arches, balustrades, and clerestories ringed by a gleaming white marble wall and watched over by a regiment of glass towers, Topkapi Palace, the residence of His Excellency Sultan Abdulhamid II, sat perched on the rim of the Golden Horn, a testament to inconceivable wealth. (Chapter Seven)
It's pretty safe to say that I loved this book...

About the Author
Michael David Lukas has been a Fulbright Scholar in Turkey, a late-shift proofreader in Tel Aviv, and a Rotary Scholar in Tunisia. A graduate of Brown University and the University of Maryland, his writing has been published in the Virginia Quarterly Review, Slate, National Geographic Traveler, and the Georgia Review. He has received scholarships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf  Writers' Conference, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and the Elizabeth George Foundation. He currently lives in Oakland, CA, less than a mile from where he was born. When he isn't writing, he teaches creative writing to third and fourth graders.

Find out more about Michael at his website by clicking here.


Many thanks to Trish with TLC Book Tours for giving me the opportunity to read this book!
Please take a look through the upcoming tour schedule to read more reviews!

All of the tour stops for this book can be found by clicking here.
Monday, February 28th: A Fair Substitute for Heaven
Tuesday, March 1st: Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, March 2nd: Simply Stacie
Thursday, March 3rd: Janet Boyer Blog
Friday, March 4th: Kelly’s Lucky You!
Monday, March 7th: Book Journey 
Tuesday, March 8th: Coffee and a Book Chick
Wednesday, March 9th: Teresa’s Reading Corner
Wednesday, March 9th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Monday, March 14th: Like Fire
Wednesday, March 16th: The Whimsical Cottage
Monday, March 21st: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Wednesday, March 23rd: Layers of Thought

Happy Reading,
Coffee and a Book Chick


06 March 2011

The Body Finder, by Kimberly Derting

Violet is sixteen-years-old and has a unique gift. She has the ability to sense the residual "echoes" of the murdered and is...drawn to them.

While the dead have a distinct echo of sound or vibration, the murderer carries the exact same imprint. Violet can immediately tell who is the killer, and since she was a young girl, she has been an unwilling tracker of the murdered. When young girls begin to go missing in her small town of Buckley, Washington, Violet is pulled into it when she finds a body in a lake. She knows she has to find the killer. Which doesn't make it easy for a teenage girl who would rather think about her best friend, Jay, instead.

This Young Adult book is structured with each chapter from Violet's perspective. Every now and again, however, the thoughts of the unknown killer are shared - and it is most assuredly creepy. Surprisingly, it was the same unsettling feeling I had while reading Robert Bloch's Psycho (which was turned into Hitchcock's infamous film). In the book, Norman's thoughts are shared, and his rationalizations for his "mother" and how she is killing was unnerving. The Body Finder has the same pull to the dark side as you read the killer's thoughts.

Although I thought there was much too much love tension between Violet and her best friend, Jay, I kept reminding myself that I wasn't the right audience for this book. A much younger market with their emotions in a turmoil wouldn't mind all the teenage love tension and drama; I, however, wished that it was shored up a bit and a lot of it cut from the final version. But, the bottom line is I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I don't normally read a lot of Young Adult, paranormal-esque type books (but I think I might read more now), this decidedly kept my interest and I loved the creativity of Violet's ability and the thrill of the hunt as she was the one who was tracking the killer, instead of the killer finding his next victim. Flipping from one page to the next, I cheered her individuality and also felt her fear of her skill was genuine. Kimberly Derting has creatively rooted her place in the YA world with this engaging, dark, and riveting story.

Note to parents
As I think most would when recommending a Young Adult book, I suggest you read it first and make a determination if it's appropriate for your teenager to read. There are fairly intense moments of passion while Violet and Jay are together, swear words are casual, and not to mention, there is a serial killer on the loose who is seeking out young girls. It's a lot in a YA book, and while I enjoyed it, I'm also in my *ahem* late thirties, so I didn't mind reading it at all.

Sweet Nook Color Deal
Thanks to see scoot read, I downloaded this book for $1.99 on my Nook Color. In checking this morning, the same rate still applies, so go pick it up for a quick and fast read. I read this in one day while traveling on business to Charlotte, NC and I'm glad I did. Turns out it's the first in a series, so I'm going to have to get Desires of the Dead next. I can't not finish a series.

Happy Reading,
Coffee and a Book Chick


03 March 2011

Caribou Island, by David Vann

I'm not sure what it is. But when a book is written without quotation marks around the dialogue, it just seems to make an already sad and depressing book even more so.

Now in their fifties, Gary and Irene have come to the conclusion that the unhappiness in life is totally the other person's fault, not their own. After thirty years of marriage and living in Alaska, Gary now has an obsession to build a one room cabin on Caribou Island, and Irene is supposed to help. No matter what, he will finish this cabin, even though Irene's truthful complaints of pulse-pounding headaches causing her to rest for hours at a time, have them visiting doctors to uncover a medical reason. Constant rain seems to pelt on them throughout the book as they work on the cabin, with arguments and deep despair building within them as each internally review the way their lives have turned out.

And their children. Mark is the son who feels fulfilled (at least on the surface) to live by day as a fisherman in Alaska, and by night completely high on drugs. Rhoda is the daughter who is missing something in her life, and could perhaps be doomed to repeat her mother's mistakes.  Living with Jim, a dentist, Rhoda doesn't know that Jim is just now realizing that if he does things right, he can probably get away with adultery for the rest of his life.

Here's what's brilliant and realistic about this book: Although each character is disappointed, they also feel a closeness to the person they blame. They don't strictly hate each other, to a certain extent - while at one moment Gary may be ready to leave Irene forever, he still will lay down on the bed with her and hold her lovingly. There is a tenderness even though each of them are wondering if it's too late to make their life different.

This is not a book to cheer you up. Effortlessly written, page after page sharing genuine insight into a life shaped with regret and "what if," David Vann builds an eerily quiet novel to shocking, and yet silent, conclusions. A quick read, it is disturbing, authentic, and frighteningly brilliant.

Read this when you don't mind feeling a little sad and wondering if you'll be able to correct any bad choices you've made in life...

Happy Reading,
Coffee and a Book Chick