Review: “Bring Her Home” by David Bell

Review: "Bring Her Home" by David Bell

A review by Amanda.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Tragedy has struck the small town of Jakesville. Fifteen-year-old Summer and her best friend Haley, who has been missing for two days, were found in a local park. Both girls had been severely beaten beyond recognition and only Summer is still clinging to life. Summer’s mother died a year and a half before and her father, Bill, has been struggling to raise his only child on his own. Relief that she has been found alive is mixed with anger at whoever has done this horrible crime, and guilt over mistakes he has made as a parent. The investigation into the girls’ disappearance has uncovered some surprising and troubling details about things that shake Bill to his core, and lead to more questions than answers.

Bill Price appears to be an average middle-aged man who has been thrown into some extraordinary and tragic circumstances. He is overcome with grief, shock, and occasional bouts of rage, and has some secrets of his own that he’d prefer to keep buried. His sister Paige is his only real confidante as he tries to find the truth about what happened to Summer on his own. The beleaguered lead detective, Detective Hawkins, has his work cut out for him with Bill’s attempts to find the person responsible alternately hindering and helping the investigation.

The story is told exclusively from Bill’s perspective, so readers only know what he knows as the investigation unfolds. Bill is not the most sympathetic of characters; at times he is downright unlikeable in spite of the circumstances. Readers will be drawn in through the mystery and the unexpected twists and supporting characters will keep them engaged. Getting to know Summer, Paige, and Bill’s late wife Julia, albeit through Bill’s eyes, gives the book depth and warmth and gives readers characters to connect with and root for. Aside from the unlikeability of the main character, the story is well written and intriguing. The unpredictable plot twists are a pleasant surprise amidst the oversaturated mystery genre. Violence and strong allusions to sexual assault are mentioned but not graphically described.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review of “The Truth About Happily Ever After” by Karole Cozzo

Review of The Truth About Happily Ever After by Karole Cozzo

A review by Amanda.

Alyssa is a walking, talking stereotype. Tall, blonde, and gorgeous, the twenty year old sorority sister spends her summers working as a princess character for a popular theme park (think Disney); and not just any princess, but the most admired and beloved – Cinderella​. Alyssa loves her seasonal job. She thinks of it more as a calling; she lives and breathes princess life. The friends that she’s made while working at the park, and the smiles on children’s’ faces, make the rigorous physical standards worth it. Princesses must meet certain aesthetic requirements and have appointments (called look-overs) every two weeks to make sure they are at an appropriate weight and have a clear complexion, among other things. Alyssa holds herself to the highest standards in both her looks and her mannerisms, even when she’s off-duty. To cap it all off she’s found her fairy tale romance with Jake, a park medic, including the sweetest storybook meet cute the previous summer. They’ve struggled to make things work long-distance, and Alyssa is giddy to have the entire summer together. Only, things do not exactly go as planned, and Alyssa’s perfect princess life might be turned upside down.

This story is light and fun, with very few surprises thrown in. It is definitely a quick read. The conflicts that arise are predictable, but Alyssa’s growth throughout the book makes it worth reading. Alyssa starts out appearing sweet but shallow. As her story progresses, readers get to know her on a deeper level. She isn’t as shallow as she appears, and her kindness is generally sincere. She tends to ignore things that might stress her out, pretending that problems don’t exist until they blow up in her face. The first half of the story might be a struggle, as Alyssa is annoyingly upbeat (and that’s coming from a bubbly optimist). As readers learn more about her family history and what draws her to the princess life, they might sympathize. And as she grows as a person and figures out what she really wants, the story balances out quite nicely.

This is a contemporary YA romance with some swearing and some very light sexual talk/activity.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “Chain Saw Confidential” by Gunnar Hansen

A review by Brit.

In the eyes of many horror fans, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is one of the greatest movies within the genre. It was released in 1974 and was quickly renowned for its craftsmanship and surprisingly bloodless violence. It was hated as much as it was loved. And in the form of Chain Saw Confidential, the one taking on the telling of the film’s origin story (and the reckoning of its legacy) is Gunnar Hansen. Who better than Leatherface himself to take on this muddy tale of dead chickens, melted film prints and runaway eight hour makeup chair sessions?

This book is largely an oral history of the making of Massacre, from the origins in the head of cigar-chomping director Tobe Hooper to the placement of the film in the Museum of Modern Art (and the scathing reviews that choice inspired). Helpfully, the story is also organized in the order of the actual movie’s plot. Hansen’s perspective is somewhat limited due to his starring role in the film. But he interviews cast and crew members extensively, openly admitting when details are inconsistent or if something has been completely forgotten. Add in thoughts about the movie from figures like John Landis (director of An American Werewolf in London) and it’s a very fun ride.

There are two reasons why I did not give this book five stars. The first is that readers who are inherently interested in horror and/or the filmmaking process itself will have a much better experience reading this book than those who are not. It’s undeniable. I’m a huge fan of Massacre, so naturally I enjoyed hearing about the nitty-gritty details about chicken bones and poor set insulation.The average reader may not care to hear about the post-production money distribution web of confusion that happened after the movie took off.

The second reason is that some readers may find Hansen’s treatise on horror at the end of the book tiring. It’s understandable that he has strong feelings on horror being connected to violence in American culture. But it’s 2017, and this debate now largely takes place only in academic and highly political circles. Even if you have no plans to watch Massacre for yourself, this book is still a good testament to the power of research and desire to tell the “real story” of how a legendary phenomenon came to be. Hansen writes in a wry voice that often reminded me of my grandfather. He’s exactly the kind of storyteller to take on this twisted, fun story.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “Losing It” by Cora Carmack

Review: "Losing It” by Cora Carmack

A review by Vanessa.

I purchased this book on Amazon after finding Cora Carmack as a New York Times Best Seller, because sometimes we have to remember that the commercially popular authors are the ones that keep us all in business.

Being a theater major is hard, stressful work. The only thing even more stressful for Bliss Edwards is explaining to her best friend Kelsey why it is that at 22 years old, she is still a virgin. Because the reality is that Bliss is a bit of a control freak, and her lack of confidence in her abilities has kept her at “not ready” status for a long time. She is not really ready to graduate in one semester. She certainly isn’t ready for Kelsey’s reaction, which is to drag Bliss out to the nearest bar and proceed with finding her someone to help her lose it, and quick. But Bliss is tired of the stress and the worry and the wondering why she hasn’t just done it, so she decides to just do it. Just find a guy, and get it over with. The only other thing she is not ready for is Garrick.

The beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed, British man reading Shakespeare in the back of the bar catches Bliss’s eye, and completely turns her on in a way she never has been before. But when it comes to crunch time, Bliss can’t go through with it. For one thing she still isn’t ready, and for another she actually really likes Garrick. Rather than explain the truth and deal with the situation, Bliss gives an awkward lie and bolts. She’s ready to pretend it never happened until she makes it to the first day of spring term the next morning. Guess who is the new professor of Senior prep class? Of course it’s the recently-finished-with-graduate-school, former alumni, gorgeous man whom Bliss had just left naked and wanting in bed. But not only is he just as sweet and charming as he had been before the debacle, he actually seems to like her. Is he worth a risk that might get them both into a lot of trouble? When other people’s hearts are thrown into the mix as well, will Bliss finally let go and make a bold choice for what she really wants?

A very engaging read, this book is satisfyingly predictable while also maintaining a status as refreshing and entertaining. Bliss is a very real character, with oodles of self doubt that any reader can relate to. Though her existence is very mainstream, in a social setting where virginity is something to be ashamed of while feminine sexuality is also something to feel shame about, Bliss finds her own way through. She uses her emotions to fuel her acting in a way that it is very easy to respect, and makes her an entirely likable character. Garrick is a very real character as well. He is completely straightforward, and very honest in his pursuit of Bliss. He does not play games, or throw around his authority over her. Their romance is tension filled, but also toe-curling. This book definitely falls on the side of cliche when it comes to the overall story as the romantic aspect dominates the story arc. There were some larger themes that I think could have been better embraced, while still paying proper tribute to the romance that was obviously the major focus of the book. A few things came a little too easily, but all in all it was still good writing and an entertainingly sexy read. I am very interested to read the next book in the series, Faking It.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J Maas

A review by Amanda.

Nineteen year old Feyre is the sole provider for her family. Her father is unable to work after losing the family’s fortune and his merchant business in a risky venture. Feyre’s two older sisters seem content to live off of what meager rations and coins her hunting brings in, while giving only bitterness and indifference in return. Feyre is accustomed to burying her hurt and anger under a mask of ice and is marking time until her sisters can be married off to become someone else’s burden. She longs to be free of her responsibilities but a vow made to her dying mother keeps her stuck in place.

Everything changes when Feyre hunts too close to the border between her human village and Prythian, a land of myth and magic ruled by faeries. Retribution comes in the form of Tamlin, a powerful faerie lord with a cold, secretive demeanor who gives Feyre a choice between death or captivity. She chooses to become his prisoner to live out her life in Prythian in hopes that escape might someday be an option. She does not expect to enjoy the beauty of Tamlin’s estate,nor to develop friendships with the faeries who reside there. She does not expect that the real danger of Prythian may be one that isn’t from the legends with which she is familiar.

A Court of Thorns and Roses is a beautiful reimagining of the classic Beauty and the Beast story. The inspiration is clear while reading, but Feyre’s story is uniquely her own. Feyre is a wonderful protagonist. She is rough around the edges, distrusting of everyone and everything, and incredibly stubborn. Her strengths and weaknesses are rounded out, making her into a whole person. At no point is she a damsel in distress, although she is put into dangerous situations, some of which require help from others for her to survive.

Romance has a natural progression in this story, and is given enough weight to feel real, but not so much that it overshadows everything else. The world-building is seamless and beautiful. The plot is character-driven, and perfectly paced. Supporting characters are well-rounded and given plenty of agency, although there is a lack of diversity in both ethnicity and sexual orientation. Future books may address this issue. There is some violence in this story but nothing terribly graphic. There are a couple of consensual sexual encounters, as well as some non-consensual touching and kissing (again, not too graphic), but without compromising the integrity of the story or the characters. Fans of the author’s other series Throne of Glass and fans of authors Cinda Williams Chima, Marissa Meyer, and Cassandra Clare may enjoy this book. Book two, A Court of Mist and Fury has been released in hardcover. The third book, A Court of Wind and Ruin, will be released on May 2nd.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “Mask of Shadows” by Linsey Miller

Review: “Mask of Shadows” by Linsey Miller

A review by Amanda.

Sallot Leon is a gender-fluid teen who has survived by fighting for money and robbing nobles. A chance encounter with a noble lady leads Sal to an exciting and dangerous new life. While robbing the intriguing Lady Elise, Sal discovers a poster advertising auditions for a position with the Queen’s Left Hand – her elite team of guards and assassins. Anyone may try to join the auditioners; they need only bring proof of their skills.  This may be the only way for Sal to exact vengeance on the Lords and Ladies responsible for the destruction of Sal’s homeland.

The main character Sal was clever, sneaky, and incredibly self-aware. The gender-fluidity was written with care and grace. The story was entirely told from Sal’s perspective, and Sal instructed inquiring minds to address them based on their appearance – “she” and “her” when she was dressed in feminine attire, “he” and “him” when he was wearing masculine clothes, and “they” and “them” when their clothes were neutral. This may seem confusing, but the character was written in such a way that gender truly did not matter. Gender fluidity was regarded as an oddity in this book, and Sal does express frustration with bigoted behaviors, but most of the characters accepted Sal as-is after a simple explanation about preferred pronouns. Readers got to know Sal as just “Sal”; an intelligent and shy person with a morbid sense of humor, who got flustered when romance was involved. Sal was quite likable, if stubbornly single-minded, and readers will find themselves emotionally invested.

The supporting characters were varied and had their own agendas and agency, although several could benefit from more definition. The plot moved at a quick and steady pace, with a lot of action nicely balanced with drama and romance. The world-building was fairly simplistic which was not a detriment to the story, but more details would have been welcome.  Fans of Sarah J Maas’s Throne of Glass series, or Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen series may enjoy this book.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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Review: “A Mad and Mindless Night” by Elizabeth Cole

Review: “A Mad and Mindless Night” by Elizabeth Cole

A review by Vanessa.

I was offered a review copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review. This book is set in an already existing series, but I was assured they were stand alones and you do not have to read previous books in order to enjoy others.

Elanora Morrison has a gift that has gotten her into a lot of trouble. She remembers everything. Her infallible memory and perfect recall, combined with her skill for scientific research, seemed like blessings when she met her husband Albert Morrison. But now they are the curse that keeps her under lock and key. Nora’s skills along with her husband’s innovation led them to create a highly valuable new form of communication. Their intent was to test it and sell the results to the government of England to aid them in their endeavors against their enemy, France. There is just one problem: Albert Morrison isn’t Albert Morrison anymore, and only Nora knows it. But he has told everyone that she is mad, and they believe it because he is a man. She has lost hope for escape, until one day an official from the government arrives to check on the progress of the project. Can Nora slip out of the confines of her locked attic room, and convince him to help her?

Ashley Allander is no government official. He is a scorned second son with a terrible reputation for torrid affairs and for ruining women; though many of the rumors are not true. He has no desire to play at being a spy, but when his older brother Bruce Allander, Lord Forrester, deigns to ask for his help he agrees. Bruce is a member of a highly secret organization of spies working for England, known as The Zodiac. Something has gone awry with Morrison’s project, and Bruce needs Ash to investigate. Ash would never admit it, but the role of hero is a tempting one. When he arrives at the estate and sees a woman standing on the roof near the window to an attic room, he is intrigued. Especially when he awakes to find the odd lady has snuck into his room, and begs him not to reveal that he even knows she exists. Are her wild stories true? Is something much more sinister brewing under the facade that is Albert Morrison? Perhaps together they can find out.

I totally enjoyed reading this book, and I will admit that I intend to seek out the rest of the Zodiac series because I believe they will be very fun reads. I was a bit worried at first that this novel would slip into the cliched and well worn story arc that can sometimes plague the historical romance genre, but the author definitely threw in enough twists to keep my interest. The character of Nora is very engaging, and not boringly typical at all. She is no wilting female ready to throw herself at the mercy of her savior. She is strong, incredibly clever, determined, and self-reliant. Though Ashley Allander does fit the mold of your typically misunderstood handsome rogue, the addition of his backstory is a very interesting twist on the “ruined woman” only with the gender roles turned upside down. In addition the romantic aspect was refreshing. There was no shy waif giving in to her desires for the man pursuing her. It was a determined and curious woman chasing her desire, and a handsome more experienced man giving in to his desire for her. Surrounded by a cast of engaging characters, who I only wish we could have learned more about, this was a very fun read.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

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