Friday, February 27, 2015

Beautiful Elephant Book Unique, But Still Vintage Picoult

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Jenna Metcalf can't stop thinking about her mother, an elephant researcher who disappeared ten years ago after a tragic accident at the family's animal sanctuary.  The 13-year-old can't ask her father—his mental breakdown after the incident landed him in a psychiatric ward, from which he's never left.  Jenna's grandmother refuses to discuss what happened at all.  Jenna's clandestine Internet searches provide few clues to her mother's whereabouts.  Poring over Alice Metcalf's old journals, which are mostly filled with notes on elephants, doesn't seem to be helping either.  Jenna knows her mother is alive; she just has to find her.

Desperate, Jenna enlists the help of two unlikely people—Serenity Johnson, a once-famous psychic now exposed as a fraud, and Virgil Stanhope, the alcoholic P.I. who was the lead detective on the original Metcalf case.  As the trio investigates every lead they can find, they discover shocking secrets about the Metcalf Family.  The closer they get to the truth, the more complex and devastating the case becomes.  And yet, it all ends with a twist so surprising none of them see it coming.

Oscillating between the present and the past, Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult unfolds in the voices of four intriguing narrators—Jenna, Alice, Serenity, and Virgil.  Each brings a different perspective, adding another layer to the already suspenseful plot.  The elephant element gives the novel even more depth as it explores themes of memory, grief, love, and family bonds.  With a hint of the supernatural mixed in with the author's usual mystery/family drama blend, Leaving Time is both unique and vintage Picoult.  As a long-time Jodi Picoult fan, I'd grown a little bored with her novels' trademark formula—this book made me believe again.  It's Picoult at her very best.  I know some readers felt a little gypped by Leaving Time's unconventional ending, but it proved to me that Picoult always has another trick up her sleeve.  I've longed look forward to her new books, but now I really can't wait to see what she does next!

(Readalikes:  Larger Than Life (a Leaving Time novella) by Jodi Picoult, Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult, and The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Leaving Time from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.  

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Because I Haven't Procrastinated Quite Enough Already, I Give You ... A Little This and That

I feel like I'm always behind on something when it comes to this blog.  I've got books I read back in November sitting on my desk still waiting to be reviewed, emails I haven't answered, scheduled reviews I'm not getting to ... heck, I haven't updated my All Reviews list since 2013!  Yikes.  I'm still plugging along, though, clinging to the dream that one day I will be all caught up.  Think it will ever actually happen?  Yeah, me neither.  Oh well, a girl can dream ...

For now, we're going to do a little this and that:

First of all, I should mention that a couple weeks ago, my husband and I took a fun road trip.  Our destination:  Salt Lake City, Utah.  In the LDS church, we all have "jobs" (I use the term loosely, since it's voluntary) we do to help our congregations (known as "wards") run smoothly.  In addition to being a Cub Scout den leader, I'm also a family history consultant, as is my husband.  Even if you're not LDS, you probably know what an emphasis the church places on families—not just strengthening the bonds we have in the present, but also creating links between us and our ancestors.  Thus, each ward has 2-3 people assigned to help others work on their genealogy.  Since the husband and I are still learning the ins and outs of this job, we decided to head to SLC for the annual RootsTech genealogy conference.  It's a big deal (like, 20,000+ attendees big).  We spent the days going to classes, listening to some great speakers (A.J. Jacobs, Laura and Jenna Bush, Donny Osmond, Nicole Pikus-Pace, Al Fox, etc.), and enjoying performances by local celebs like Alex Boyé, David Archuleta, and Studio C.  It was fun.  A great trip.

Even though we spent time relaxing at our very comfortable B&B, I didn't get tons of reading done.  However, I did have a very cool bookish experience.  Salt Lake City boasts the biggest family history library in the world.  As you can imagine, it has a huge collection of family history books, including one my cousin wrote about our Clark/Cochran ancestors.  I've been interested in learning more about these early adventurers for awhile now and couldn't wait to see what information the book contained.  Since SLC has the only physical copy of the volume, I insisted we drop by the family history center so I could copy some of its pages.  I worried there might be copyright issues, but the kind, helpful senior missionaries who serve at the center assured me that—if I had the time—I could copy the entire tome onto a thumb drive without risking jail time.  As I gleefully scanned the pages, my husband did some Googling and discovered that the author of the book had, in fact, died ten years ago—almost to the day.  We figured there was no better way to honor this cousin I never knew than by sharing his life work with the next generation of our family.

I know this will make me sound like a senior citizen, but genealoy is a fun, exciting work.  If you're at all interested in learning about your family's history, check out: www.familysearch.org.  You don't have to be LDS to use this free service.  It's an incredible resource, available to everyone, anywhere in the world.  

***

Speaking of all things LDS, I've signed up once again to participate in the Whitney Awards Read 'Em All Challenge.  The Whitney Awards are given out annually for the best novels published in a given year by authors who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Hosted jointly by the lovely ladies at New LDS Fiction and LDS Women's Book Review, this challenge encourages people to read all of the books that have been nominated to receive a 2014 Whitney. This is no small task as there are—wait for it—40 novels in total.  As part of the Whitney Academy, I get the privilege of casting my vote to help determine the winners, so I'm going to read as many as I can.  Wish me luck!

While you have to be a member of the Academy in order to vote for the winners, you don't have to be part of the Academy or even LDS to participate in this challenge.  Anyone can sign up.  The finalists are, in general, not LDS novels at all, just general fiction that can be enjoyed by readers of any—or no—religion.  You can win weekly prizes and a nice grand prize.  If you're interested, hop on over to this post and sign up.

***

Last but not least, you may recall the giveaway I had going for a copy of Fairest by Marissa Meyer.  It seems like ancient history, but I'm finally going to announce the winner!  Rafflecopter picked a random entrant, sooo ... Congratulations to:

Kimberly Goon   

Look for an email from me in your inbox, Kimberly!

***

Okay, I think that's it for now.  I've got an appointment I'm super excited to get to (that's sarcasm, friends—my dentist is trading out my old gold onlay for a new porcelain crown, a procedure I'm not looking forward to) and I might get some strange looks if I arrive unbathed, still in my PJs!

***

P.S.  Photo creds go to my husband, Eric.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Easy, Breezy, Beach-y Romance An Enjoyable Read

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Lila Alders has it all: a steady job as the host of a late-night television program, a large, lavish home, the perfect husband, and a loving set of parents who dote on their only child.  Then, in the blink of an eye, most of it vanishes.  Grieving the loss of her father, the collapse of her marriage, and the end of her career, the 29-year-old has no idea what to do with herself.  Her sudden cash flow problem leaves Lila little choice but to move in with her widowed mother.

Hoping to lay low and lick her wounds under the guise of helping her mom, Lila soon realizes that there is no hiding for the former golden girl of Black Dog Bay, Delaware.  Everywhere she looks, she sees old friends, former classmates, and a small army of ex-boyfriends.  Lila longs to start fresh, but how can she when her old life is staring her in the face every single day?

When Lila discovers her parents' fortune has disappeared, forcing the sale of  their beloved seaside home, she knows it's time to take drastic action.  Money has to start flowing—and soon—or the Alders women will be living on the street.  Lila has no idea how to manage a business, but opening a vintage clothing store seems to be an answer to their problems.  Although the plan leads to some major challenges, it also teaches Lila some of the biggest, most surprising lessons of her life.  It also guides her toward a boy whose existence she barely registered in high school who's somehow becoming the man she can't forget—not even for a minute.

Lila knows the time is ripe for taking chances, but is she willing to risk everything, even her fragile heart, for a life she never imagined?  Even if it might be the one she's been after all along?

I don't read a lot of romance novels, but I do find something alluring about a good shattered-woman- returns-to-her-hometown-to-start-over story.  Sure, they're cliché and overdone and, yet, apparently, I'm a fan.  Which explains why the premise of New Uses for Old Boyfriends by Beth Kendrick appealed to me.  Not surprisingly, I enjoyed the book.  It's warm, funny, upbeat, and just a fun, fluffy read.  Yes, it's predictable.  Yes, things go too smoothly for our heroine.  Yes, it's unrealistic.  No, I don't care.  When it comes to easy, breezy chick lit, I just want an entertaining story.  New Uses for Old Boyfriends fits the bill quite nicely, thank you very much.

(Readalikes:  the first Black Dog Bay book, Cure for the Common Breakup by Beth Kendrick; also reminds me of Robyn Carr's Virgin River and Thunder Point books)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for language (1 F-bomb, plus milder invectives), sexual innuendo, and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of New Uses for Old Boyfriends from the generous folks at Penguin via those at BookSparks PR.  Thank you!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Another Just-Okay Read—and I Love NOLA Novels!

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although her professor father can hardly contain himself at the prospect of studying history from the inside, 17-year-old Lucy Aimes isn't quite as enthusiastic.  She'd rather be hanging out with her friends in Chicago than playing Gone With the Wind all summer in hot, humid New Orleans.  Lucy promised her family she'd give life in Louisiana a shot and there is one thing she's excited about—interning with the preservation department of Le Ciel Doux, the antebellum sugar plantation/living history museum of which her father is the new curator.  It's impossible not to be intrigued by the elegant old mansion with its stately columns and ancient secrets.  Capturing it all with her trusty Canon is the one thing Lucy is looking forward to doing.

Le Ciel Doux's otherworldly atmosphere invades not just Lucy's camera, but also her dreams.  At night, she's plagued by vivid, unsettling scenes from a distant past she shouldn't recognize, but somehow remembers.  When she spies a mysterious stranger she's seen only in her night visions roaming the grounds of Le Ciel Doux, Lucy thinks she might be going crazy.  How can she feel so much for a person she doesn't know, a boy she's not even sure actually exists?

When a local girl is brutally murdered, Lucy knows the incident is somehow related to her strange visions.  Evil has descended on Le Ciel Doux once again and it's up to her to stop it, before it destroys everyone she loves—in the past and the present.

You may have noticed that I have a thing for novels set in The Big Easy.  The colorful, atmospheric portrayals of the city, with its unique history, culture, and customs, always capture my fancy.  So, when a book fails to bring all that richness to life, I feel a bit let down.  Which might explain why I found Sweet Unrest, a debut YA novel by Lisa Maxwell, disappointing.  The book's premise is intriguing enough, though not very original, so I had high hopes for a good read.  While the mystery did keep me flipping pages and I did enjoy the back-and-forth in time narration, Sweet Unrest just wasn't anything special.  The characters felt flat and cliché; the prose did a whole lot more telling than showing; the plot had some big holes; and the setting failed to come alive for me like it usually does in a NOLA novel.  I definitely wanted more from this book—better character development, a stronger voice, more dynamic writing, etc.  In the end, I felt this one was just okay.  Not horrible, not wonderful.  Okay.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of Transcendence by C.J. Omololu and Ruined by Paula Morris)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, and mild sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  I bought a copy of Sweet Unrest from Amazon with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.  

Monday, February 23, 2015

Mesmerizing Genre-Twister Difficult to Describe, Even Harder to Put Down

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Some books are so hard for me to describe that I don't even bother trying to write my own plot summary.  Such is the case with Laura Ruby's newest YA novel, Bone Gap (available March 3, 2015).  I don't have the words to tell you just how original and mesmerizing it is.  So, I'm just going to whet your appetite with the book's official back cover copy:
Bone Gap  is the story of Roza, a beautiful girl who is taken from a quiet midwestern town and imprisoned by a mysterious man, and Finn, the only witness, who cannot forgive himself for being unable to identify her kidnapper. As we follow them through their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures, acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.
While the text doesn't seem to say a whole lot, it actually does a nice, succinct job of outlining the story without giving too much away.  I don't want to be spoiler-y either, so I'm just going to say that I loved this compelling, genre-twisting mystery.  The plot kept me guessing and the ending stunned me with its never-seen-it-done-before brilliance.  Bone Gap may be difficult to describe, but reading it was no trouble at all.  I sped through the book as fast as I could, hardly daring to breathe for fear I'd miss something.  Putting it down?  That was the hard part! 

(Readalikes:  I can't think of anything, can you?)

Grade:



If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language (a few F-bombs, plus milder invectives), violence, and depictions of underage drinking/partying

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Bone Gap from the generous folks at HarperCollins via those at Edelweiss.  Thank you!

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Brown Girl, Inspiring

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I've long been a fan of Jacqueline Woodson, an African-American author who writes books about race relations in a way that's realistic, but also fresh and thoughtful.  Her novels always make me think.  Several of them are written in verse, so it's not too surprising that her newest book is as well.  Brown Girl Dreaming is not, however, a novel.  It's a memoir.  The tale of Jacqueline Woodson herself.  And it's just as impacting as any of her other stories. 

Woodson was born in Columbus, Ohio, not far from where her slave ancestors toiled from sunup to sundown in someone else's fields.  She came into the world on an ordinary day in 1963.  At that time, the South was simmering, about to explode.  People like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X were stirring the pot, calling for equality, for new laws that would ensure little brown girls like Jacqueline would grow up with the same rights as their white counterparts.  

In the middle of all that, Jacqueline had her own, more personal trials.  Moving from a mixed neighborhood in Ohio to a colored one in North Carolina brought new experiences.  When her mother took off for New York, leaving her children to be raised by their maternal grandmother, Jacqueline was introduced to the Jehovah's Witness religion.  A later move to Brooklyn, New York, caused her to feel even more displaced.  

As Jacqueline struggled to make sense of her world and the unique circumstances of her life, she realized she had a gift.  Her ability to capture thoughts and ideas in words helped her to discover who she was, where she'd been, and who she was meant to be.  

Like Woodson's previous work, Brown Girl Dreaming exudes warmth and tenderness.  It's a touching book, but one that's surprisingly funny.  Although it discusses serious subjects (racism, child abandonment, etc.), it's uplifting, encouraging and hopeful.  Woodson's poetry has a richness to it that just shouldn't be missed.  As soon as my own little girl gets old enough, you can be sure I'll be thrusting this remarkable, Newbery Honor-winning memoir into her beautiful brown hands.

(Readalikes:  Reminded me of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for some mature themes (racism, child abandonment, etc.)

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Friday, February 06, 2015

Dystopian-Horror-Psychological Thriller Mash Up Makes For a Nice, If Terrifying, Blend

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Something has been unleashed on the unsuspecting world.  Something that makes people turn, causing them to lash out like feral, bloodthirsty animals.  A mere glance at the monster is all it takes.  Violent, horrific deaths are always—always—the result.  The few people who are left know there's only one way to survive in a world gone mad: blind.  Wearing blindfolds at all times, they must learn to navigate the treacherous new landscape using their less finely-tuned senses.  But while they're vigilant about protecting their eyes, there's no way to safeguard their even more delicate minds ...

Malorie, the young mother of 4-year-old twins, knows its time for her to leave the abandoned house in Detroit where she's been hiding for the past four years.  She's heard of a safe house for refugees like herself.  For the sake of her children, she knows she must get them all there.  Against every instinct—everything she's been taught about survival—Malorie leaves the house to brave the vast, unknown world.  Blindfolded against the terrifying presence that stalks them at all times, the trio must make a long, death-defying journey that they can only hope will lead to safety.  

While Bird Box by singer/songwriter Josh Malerman might seem to be just another run-of-the-mill horror/dystopian, it definitely brings something new to the table.  The whole blindness thing takes it to a different level, giving the novel a psychological thriller aspect that sets it apart.  Something about never knowing quite who/what your enemy is (Human?  Monster?  A figment of your overwrought imagination?) makes this story so much more terrifying than others I've read.  If you're down for a taut, horrifying read, pick this one up—just make sure you leave the lights on :)

(Readalikes:  Hm, nothing is coming to mind.  Ideas?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, violence/gore, intense situations and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, February 05, 2015

We Hear the Dead Tells Fascinating Story of Spiritualism's Founding Mothers

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Starting a new religion was never part of the plan.  The Fox girls simply wanted to have a bit of fun with their slow-witted niece.  Popping their joints made sounds mysterious enough to seem like otherworldly communications—if Lizzie was convinced they were talking to the dead, well, that just made the hoax all the more hilarious.  By the time superstitious folks from all over New York start coming to the girls in droves, begging for help in speaking with their departed loved ones, it's too late to admit the whole thing was a joke.  Especially for 11-year-old Kate, who feels she has finally found her true calling in life.  

Maggie Fox has never known when to quit.  The 14-year-old has always pushed her practical jokes to the very limit.  This is no exception.  Her older sister, Leah, is only too happy to go along with the act.  The enterprise is making her money and attracting all the right kind of attention.  Maggie doesn't mind living a lie—after all, what's the harm in giving a little comfort to the grieving?  Especially when it's so very profitable!  It's only later, when she meets a dashing Arctic explorer, that Maggie begins to wonder if the all-consuming deception is really worth it.  Dr. Elisha Kane loves her, but refuses to accept Spiritualism, or marry anyone who espouses such silly notions.  Conflicted between her feelings for Elisha and her desire to maintain her fame and fortune, Maggie isn't sure what to do.  Renounce Spiritualism?  Or sacrifice a chance at real happiness for a childish prank gone way too far?

Based on the true story of Spiritualism's founding mothers, We Hear the Dead by Dianne K. Salerni tells a compelling tale.  Maggie, who narrates most of the novel, is a bright, entertaining mouthpiece, likable despite her dishonesty.  Salerni paints such a convincing portrait of the attitudes and superstitions that swelled in 19th Century upstate New York that it's (almost) easy to understand how the Fox girls bamboozled so many people with their parlor tricks.  Although this YA novel feels more like an adult historical, it's still a fascinating tale.  Despite a little too much detail in places, I found We Hear the Dead to be interesting, engaging, and thought-provoking.  If you enjoy historical fiction, definitely give this one a go.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of Wicked Girls by Stephanie Hemphill)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs) and violence

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

My Top Ten Ways for the World to End


Y'all know how much I love Top Ten Tuesday.  It's a fabulous weekly meme hosted by the ladies over at The Broke and the Bookish.  If you're looking for great new book blogs to follow, lots of reading recommendations, and traffic for your own blog, you want to get in on this.  Plus, it's fun to respond to the weekly question.

Before we get to that, though, I want to make sure you know about the awesome giveaway I have going on right now.  Up for grabs is a signed hardcover copy of Fairest, the newest book in The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer.  It's a prequel that tells Queen Levana's story.  The winner also gets a signed bookmark.  Cool, right?  Click here to be redirected to the giveaway post.  Don't forget to come back after you enter!

Alright, back to the TTT topic du jour:  Top Ten Books I Can't Believe I Haven't Read From X Genre.  I chose dystopian/post-apocalyptic books because even though I'm a big fan of the genre, there are lots of classic dystopian books I've yet to read.  Here are the top ten that came to mind most readily:


1.  The Road by Cormac McCarthy—I broke one of my cardinal rules by watching the movie version of The Road before reading the novel.  One of these days, I'm going to brave the book.



2.  1984 by George Orwell—My husband is aghast at the fact that I haven't read this dystopian classic.  I need to remedy that soon.


3.  On the Beach by Nevil Shute—I didn't love this bleak tale in movie format, so I don't know how I'll feel about the book.  Still, it's on my need-to-read list.


4.  Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card—I've tried to read this one a few times and can never get past about Page 50.  I'm not planning to attempt it again, but I still can't believe that I've never read it all the way through.


5.  The Stand by Stephen King—Right?  I need to read this one, like, ASAP.


6.  Under the Dome by Stephen King—Ditto for this one.  I've got a copy on my bookshelf, it's just so dang HUGE.  I'll get to it one of these days.


7.  Lord of the Flies by William Golding—I'm pretty sure I have read this one, it was just so long ago that I don't remember much about it.  Either that or I've never read it.  I definitely should.


8.  The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood—I started this one a few months ago, but put it down in favor of a newer, shinier title.  I need to get back to it.


9.  Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury—I read this book-burning dystopian classic back in junior high or high school (you know, a million years ago).  A re-read is long overdue.


10.  The Time Machine by H.G. Wells—I've never read anything by Wells.  This would be a good place to start.

What do you think?  Which dystopian big hitters do I need to read ASAP?  Which have you read and loved?  What books can you not believe you've never read?  

*All book images from Barnes & Noble

My 3R's: Reading, Reviewing and Rory (With a Giveaway!)

Even though we're in the second month of the new year, I'm still living in the past.  I know it's SO 2014 of me to be reviewing books I read LAST year, but hey, I'm nothing if not thorough!  I was catching up, too—the last book I reviewed was one I read in October, after all—and then, this happened:


This furry ball of cuteness is an 8-week old purebred Australian shepherd.  He's adorable.  The kids named him Rory (I have a couple Whovians in the house) and we're all in love.  As you can imagine, this pup's got a lot of energy.  A lot.  And since I'm a SAHM, Rory and I spend a lot of time together.  A lot.  Needless to say, I haven't gotten much done lately in the way of reading, reviewing, housework (especially since Rory doesn't believe me when I tell him the softest, most comfy place to pee/poop is outside in the grass), or really anything.  It's like having a new baby in the house, except worse because this baby is mobile!  Aussies are super smart and Rory's no exception—he'll be fully trained in no time.  I hope ...

In non-dog related news, I went to a fun book event last night.  As a late birthday present for my 13-year-old daughter, I bought tickets for the two of us to see Marissa Meyer at Changing Hands Bookstore.  The new Phoenix location opened recently and, while it's not as cozy-funky as the one in Tempe, it's roomier.  Less space for actual books, but more for author events.  At any rate, the event was billed as a Lunar Ball.  There were decorations, food, face painting, and a number of people dressed in formal/party wear (DD and I not included—we're party poopers like that).  "Queen" Marissa was very charming.  She chatted with the crowd, answered questions, and did a reading from Winter (available November 10, 2015).  Then, she signed books, very graciously agreeing to autograph and personalize all five of our books, plus two bookmarks and a Lunar Chronicles sweatshirt that I received as a thank you for participating in the Scarlet blog tour.  All in all, it was a good time.  We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.


As part of the ticket price for the event, each person received a hardcover copy of Fairest, Meyer's new book.  We don't need both our copies, so I'm giving away one.  It's signed (not personalized) and includes a signed bookmark (as shown below -- sweatshirt is not included).  If you're not familiar with The Lunar Chronicles, it's a series of "rebooted" fairy tales featuring a cyborg Cinderella and her friends.  A prequel, Fairest tells the story of Levana (who's based on the evil queen in Snow White).  The series is clean, clever and fun—I've loved all the books and can't wait to delve into this one!

If you're interested in winning, please feel out the Rafflecopter entry widget below.  Contest ends on February 20 and is open to readers with U.S. and Canadian addresses only.  Good luck!

  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Breezy Weight Loss Boss Offers Realistic Advice From Someone Who's Been There

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

With the dawning of each new year, I always make the same resolution:  lose weight.  A frustrating week or so later and I'm scribbling a new goal:  forget dieting and embrace my chubbiness 'cause it's obviously not going anywhere anytime soon!  It's only when I've taken a middle ground approach that I've actually had success working off some of my unwanted pounds.  Willpower and self-motivation not being particular strengths of mine, I've turned to Weight Watchers for help more than once.  It works.  As long as I stick with the program.  Which sounds so easy ...

It was actually at a Weight Watchers meeting that I heard about Weight Loss Boss by David Kirchhoff.  Published in 2013, the book chronicles the (former) Weight Watchers CEO's 9-year journey to his goal weight.  Using the tools taught to all WW members, Kirchoff lost—and kept off—40 pounds.  Although he resigned as CEO in 2013, he continues to use what he learned to keep his weight in check.

As Kirchhoff tells his story, he spills his big secret to success:  do not rely on willpower and determination alone.  He emphasizes the importance of sticking to healthy routines.  By consistently exercising, eating the right foods, and avoiding the wrong ones, we can achieve "medically meaningful" (11) weight loss.  As Kirchhoff describes his daily doings, it's easy to see that he practices what he preaches.

You won't find any revolutionary, miracle advice in Weight Loss Boss, but what you will get is realistic, no-nonsense tips from someone who's been there.  Kirchhoff is funny, compassionate and, above all, authentic.  If you want a quick, inspiring read that will jumpstart your desire to work on your own weight loss goals, definitely give this one a go.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs) and very vague references to sex

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Despite More Generic Vibe, Contaminated 2 Still a Compelling, Can't-Put-It-Down Survival Story

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  Although this review will not contain spoilers for Mercy Mode, it may inadvertently spoil plot surprises from Contaminated.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.) 

It's been several years since the tainted diet drink, ThinPro, started turning normal people into zombie-like freaks.  The Contaminated ("Connies") are less feared now, but still viewed by most with cautious suspicion.  Even when the affected are wearing the shock collars that are supposed to keep them from turning violent.  To contain further outbreaks, the regions of the U.S. hit hardest by the epidemic have been identified as "black zones."  Under strict military rule, healthy citizens fight for basic needs—food, shelter, medicine—while soldiers patrol constantly looking for any sign of Connie trouble.

Ever since Velvet Ellis removed the collar from her mother's neck, she's doubted any official information about Connies.  After all, the older woman didn't die like the government said she would—in fact, she got better.  At least for a little while.  Now, 17-year-old Velvet's even more worried.  Her makeshift family—she, her younger sister, their mother, and Dillon, her on-paper-only husband—are barely surviving as it is.  With her mom ailing and Velvet feeling some effects that can only be related to her own ingestion of ThinPro, she's got plenty to fret about.  Especially when the government institutes mandatory testing for the disease.  Determined to keep her family together at all costs, Velvet must do whatever it takes to survive.

I loved Contaminated, the first book in Em Garner's dystopian "zombie" series because it brought something new to the genre.  It felt fresh and original.  Mercy Mode, the second installment, feels less so.  Still, despite a more generic vibe, the novel features a tense, taut plot line; strong, sympathetic characters; and a powerful, compelling central conflict.  Anyone can relate to Velvet's desperate plight to save the people who mean the most to her.  Because achieving her goal takes the unselfish sacrifice of her own wants, she's a noble heroine—it's impossible not to root for her success.  Like its predecessor, Mercy Mode is a fast-paced, can't-put-it-down read that will stay with you long after you finish it.  


Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, and intense situations

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Contaminated A Uniquely Compassionate "Zombie" Tale

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"They're not zombies, they're just people" (32).

When ThinPro hit the market, people went crazy for it.  So crazy that the demand for the diet drink outweighed the company's ability to produce a safe, quality product.  The result?  Questionable ingredients.  Which led to not just a public outcry, not just an FDA crackdown, not just an embarrassing public scandal, but the unthinkable:  zombies.  Maybe not the shambling, bloodthirsty nightmares slobbering their way across movie screens, but something like them.  Ordinary citizens turned violent.  Dangerous.  Became something not quite human.  

Two years after the epidemic was unleashed, the Contaminated (known as "Connies") aren't being hunted down, they're being rounded up and rehabilitated.  With shock collars keeping them controlled, the Connies can be safely reintroduced to their homes and communities.  Theoretically.  If, that is, anyone actually wants to claim their Contaminated relatives. 

Ever since her parents were taken in the first wave of Connie round-ups, Velvet Ellis has been searching for them.  When she finally finds her mother imprisoned in a kennel, the 17-year-old vows to bring her home.  She doesn't care what complications might arise, she just wants her mother back.  Even if the woman is about as interactive as a goldfish.  

Velvet's weary enough from two years of trying to keep herself and her little sister alive, but having a Connie around makes everything more complicated.  With fear of Connies still rampant, Velvet gets little support from anyone.  Still, she'll do anything to protect her mother.  Especially when the military comes sniffing around.  How far will she be forced to go in order to keep her mom safe?  Velvet has risked everything to prove that Connies aren't monsters—does she believe it enough to remove the shock collar from around her mother's neck?  Is she willing to risk all their lives by trusting a Connie?  

I've read a lot of zombie novels, enough to know just how different Contaminated by Em Garner is from its shelf-mates.  First off, it's sympathetic toward the afflicted.  Compassionate, even.  That's rare in a genre that generally glorifies violent, bloody zombie hunts.  Second, it's not really about the zombies/Connies.  At its heart, Contaminated is a gritty survival story about one girl's desperate plight to keep her family together.  That passionate struggle is what kept me reading, kept me cheering for Velvet's success, kept me thinking about the novel long after I'd finished it.  With a tense, taut plotline, sympathetic characters and a unique premise, Contaminated brings something new to the zombie genre.  It's a compelling, can't-look-away read that will appeal to anyone who digs a good survival story, zombie lover or not.  

(Readalikes:  its sequel, Mercy Mode by Em Garner)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language (no F-bombs), violence, blood/gore, and disturbing content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find
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