Book Review: Three Ways to Disappear, by Katy Yocom

three ways
Image belongs to Ashland Creek Press.

Title:   Three Ways to Disappear
Author:   Katy Yocom
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

Sarah and Quinn spent their childhood in India, but a family tragedy drove their mother to return home to the U.S. with the girls years ago. Now, Sarah has decided to leave her life as a journalist behind to return to India to help save Bengal tigers, but the past haunts her every step. Local politics make her new job harder and a secret—and forbidden—love affair adds to the danger every day.

Quinn is afraid of losing her sister in India. Her own marriage is troubled, with her son’s life-threatening illness shadowing every day and her mother’s continued refusal to speak of or deal with the past adding another layer of tension. When Sarah asks Quinn to come to India, Quinn realizes she’ll have to face the past if she’s ever to assuage her guilt over it.

Wow. This book was an incredible read! (Except the ending. Which was so right for the book—but I was hoping for something different, so totally my own issue.) The Indian setting brims with life—colorful and full of spice—and is as much a character as Sarah and Quinn are. The sisters’ relationship is complex and scarred, but they begin to heal together. This book also does an excellent job showing the plight of endangered Bengal tigers—and the work being done to save them.

Katy Yocom is an award-winning author who lives in Louisville, Kentucky. Three Ways to Disappear is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Ashland Creek Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

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Book Review: The Gamer’s Guide to Getting the Girl, by Kristine Scarrow

gamers-guide-book-cover
Image belongs to Dundurn.

 

Title:   The Gamer’s Guide to Getting the Girl
Author:   Kristine Scarrow
Genre:   YA
Rating:   4 out of 5

Zack is a gamer. He’s all for adventure, as long as it’s from the safety of his own couch. Then the girl of his dreams walks into his life—in the mall—and Zack manages to stick both feet in his mouth instead of impressing her. Well, it’s not like he’ll have to see her again, right? His embarrassment can die, along with his dreams.

Except the biggest storm in Saskatchewan’s history has people trapped in the mall. Zack, his best friend, Zack’s dream girl, and a handful of others are trapped while the storm rages outside. The waters are rising, the winds are raging, and soon they realize they aren’t the only ones in the dark mall. Zack finds himself in the middle of a real-life adventure, pitting himself against the storm and the shadowy figures that threaten his group as he tries to win the girl.

I’ve seen a lot of negative reviews for this book, and I guess it depends on your expectations. I was expecting a quick, fun read with a bit of romance against the backdrop of a storm…and that’s exactly what I got. Zack’s a good character:  he says the wrong thing without realizing, but he tries to do the right thing and puts himself before others. There’s even a couple of great scenes where he sets an example to some younger guys for how to treat women and people in general. The only thing that really bothered me was the tornado:  I’m from Texas. Tornadoes here drop out of the sky without warning. They don’t loom for hours (I’m not talking about a tornado watch, where the conditions for one are good, but I mean an actual tornado is on the ground for hours), as they did in this book, so that was actually a deterrent and pulled me out of the story. But…I’ve never been to Saskatchewan; I don’t know how the weather is there. This is just my own personal weather experience.

Kristine Scarrow believes in writing as a healing art. She’s also a mother, an author, and a proudly hails from Saskatchewan. The Gamers Guide to Getting the Girl is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Dundurn via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: If You Want to Make God Laugh, by Bianca Marais

if you want to make God laugh
Image belongs to G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

 

Title:   If You Want to Make God Laugh
Author:   Bianca Marais
Genre:   Fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

In the 1990s, Zodwa is a 17-year-old girl living in a squatter’s camp on the outskirts of Johannesburg with her mother. The constant threat of civil war and the disappearance of her brother years ago haunts their every step. Overwhelming poverty casts its shadow over their lives—as does the growing AIDS epidemic. And Zodwa, once the hope of her mother, is pregnant.

Ruth might be wealthy, but she’s far from happy. She knows her husband wants a divorce, and when her drinking leads her places she never intended, she ends up living on the empty family farm outside Johannesburg…where the sister she hasn’t seen for decades arrives unannounced. Delilah is a disgraced former nun haunted by a past she’s never spoken of, a past her sister knows nothing about. When they find an abandoned baby on their porch, they are confronted with their own beliefs about motherhood, race, and the secrets of the past.

If You Want to Make God Laugh is not a book meant for light reading. There are some very heavy topics here, and these three women have experienced truly terrible things. They might be broken, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t strong. Poverty and violence shadow their lives and the life of their community. The setting, on the cusp of Nelson Mandela’s presidency in South Africa, is torn by conflict, war, and disease. However, this is a wonderful, wonderful read.

Bianca Marais is from South Africa but now lives in Toronto. If You Want to Make God Laugh is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of G.P. Putnam’s Sons via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Sundays are for Writing #28

I didn’t write any fiction this week. My brain is not cooperating with that currently.

But, I did write a fair amount of non-fiction this week:

-four book reviews
-three staff profile blogs for the internship +
-finishing a super long blog post +
-transcribing an interview for another blog post for the internship.

Hopefully, my brain will cooperate with the fiction-writing next week. Turning over some ideas in life is taking up all its energy right now.

 

Book Review: Ten Years a Nomad, by Matthew Kepnes

ten years
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:   Ten Years a Nomad
Author:   Matthew Kepnes
Genre:   Nonfiction
Rating:   4 out of 5

After finishing college, Matt Kepnes realized he wanted more out of life than a boring 9-to-5 job. So, he quit and spent the next ten years traveling the world. They say the first step—out the door—is the hardest, but for Matt, traveling was easy. It was home. Now Matt writes and blogs about traveling, inspiring people all over the world to follow his lead.

This is more than his cheap-travel tips. Ten Years a Nomad is an introspective look at travel, a life lived traveling, friendship and relationships, and home. I enjoyed reading this immensely and would love to visit some of the places Matt has traveled.

Matt Kepnes is a traveler and a writer. Ten Years a Nomad is his newest book.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Justice Makes a Killing, by Ed Rucker

justice makes a killing
Image belongs to Chickadee Prince Books.

Title:  Justice Makes a Killing
Author:   Ed Rucker
Genre:   Legal thriller
Rating:   4 out of 5

Kate Carlson is an L.A. lawyer who’s been accused of murder in a small town, so Bobby Lee thinks he knows what to expect when he takes the case:  as a criminal defense lawyer, his job is to negotiate a plea deal for his client, get paid, and go on with his life.

But Kate insists she’s been set-up. Her supposed crime happened in a prison which supports most of the small town’s economy. The billion-dollar private prison industry is no joke—nor is the prison guard’s union. As Bobby Lee starts asking questions, he soon finds his reputation and his very life is in danger as he fights against a conspiracy no one wants to talk about in a battle for Kate’s life—and his own.

I know of the private prison industry, and that’s about it—like all businesses, it exists to make a profit—so I had no preconceived ideas going into this. I have lived in a small town—and one dependent on a single employer—so the people’s loyalty to the prison worked for me. It seemed like every time I thought things couldn’t get worse for Kate, I was wrong. This book also made it seem like basically everyone was a horrible person willing to lie, cheat, and kill for their own personal interests.

Ed Rucker is a former criminal defense lawyer. Justice Makes a Killing is the second book in the Bobby Lee series.

(Galley courtesy of Chickadee Prince Books  in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Crashing the A-List, by Summer Heacock

crashing the a-list
Image belongs to MIRA.

Title:   Crashing the A-List
Author:  Summer Heacock
Genre:   Women’s fiction/romance
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

For an out-of-work editor, finding a new job isn’t easy. So, Clara sleeps on her brother’s couch while she collects unemployment and job-hunts. She signs on for a stint of cleaning out abandoned storage buildings, but she’s not prepared for the trash, the unidentified objects—are those eyeballs?—or the piles of paper. Then she finds the records of an old escort service—complete with the resume of Caspian Tiddleswich, a super-famous British actor.

Clara’s best friend thinks she should sell her find to the tabloids, but Clara can’t imagine doing that. Instead, she tracks down Caspian’s number and leaves a message assuring him his secret is safe. At least, that’s what she thinks she says. But Caspian shows up at her door, accusing her of blackmail—and the paparazzi gets a picture of their confrontation, and suddenly the two of them are news.

Caspian’s PR team jumps on the opportunity—and Caspian isn’t averse to a little blackmail himself, so Clara finds herself posing as his girlfriend to atone for her sins. But as she gets to know Caspian, she realizes there’s far more to the superstar than meets the eye, and their game of pretend becomes something else.

I read this straight through while in the car on a road trip, and I’m pretty sure my brother thought I’d lost my mind because of all the snickering and outright laughter. There’s a lot of profanity, but this story is hysterical! And, let’s face it, who hasn’t daydreamed about some dreamy actor? Clara was such a relatable character, and her best friend is awesome, too. And Caspian—well, there’s a lot of character growth there. You should definitely read this!

Summer Heacock is a writer, a mom, and a wife. Crashing the A-List is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of MIRA via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review: Spin the Dawn, by Elizabeth Lim

spin the dawn
Image belongs to Knopf.

Title:  Spin the Dawn
Author:  Elizabeth Lim
Genre:  YA, fantasy
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

Maia Tamarin works as a seamstress in her father’s shop. She’d love to become a tailor, but she’s a girl, so marriage is the only thing in store for her. Even better if her future husband is wealthy enough to help her family out of their poverty.

But Maia still dreams of making beautiful clothes, and when a messenger from the emperor arrives commanding Maia’s father to the palace to compete for the position of imperial tailor, Maia disguises herself and joins the competition, knowing she’ll pay with her life if anyone discovers her secret.

The treachery and lies in the competition are one thing, but Maia draws the attention of Edan, court enchanter, whose dark gaze sees everything. Maia’s final task is to sew three dresses:  from the laughter of the sun, the tears of the moon, and the blood of stars. Maia has no idea how to accomplish this. She just knows she must.

I enjoyed this book immensely! I like the Mulan-like concept of Maia disguising herself as a son in order to save her family, but this is its own tale. Maia’s battles are more subtle—and just as deadly—and the magic here is woven so skillfully through the setting and the characters that it all just worked for me. Highly recommend!

Elizabeth Lim graduated from Harvard and completed her graduate studies at The Juilliard School. Spin the Dawn is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)

Sundays are for Writing #27

I got in my writing sessions early this week (Tuesday), since I planned to be out of town the rest of the week. One solid, twenty-minute session, instead of my usual two 10-minute sessions.

Lots of nonfiction writing this week, though:  a handful of book reviews here, and two personal profiles and the start of a blog for the internship.

It’s been a good writing week!

Book Review: Bethlehem, by Karen Kelly

bethlehem
Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:   Bethlehem
Author:   Karen Kelly
Genre:   Historical fiction
Rating:   4.5 out of 5

In the 1960s, Frank and Joanna have moved their two children to Bethlehem, where his mother and grandmother live alone in a grand mansion. Frank works all the time, and Joanna struggles to scratch out a place for herself with a husband who’s always away. Her working-class background leaves her unprepared for Frank’s wealthy home, but she finds a friend in cemetery caretaker Doe, an old friend of Joanna’s mother-in-law—and her enigmatic grandson.

In the 1920s steel town of Bethlehem, the Parrish and Collier families have grown up together. Susannah, a budding flapper on the verge of adulthood, has always known the families expected her to marry Ellis, but then she falls hard for someone she never imagined. When unthinkable tragedy tears her world apart, she’s left holding secrets that can destroy both families.

This book was a slow, smooth ride into story. The two timelines were twisted together so well that they formed one incredibly detailed tapestry. I enjoyed every single page of this book and was so invested in the characters I cried!  A must-read!

Karen Kelly has a B.A. in English from Vanderbilt. Bethlehem is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.)