A Flash of Red by Sarah K. Stephens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"Not having noticed the warning signs, Anna now saw that she had become embalmed in her carefully constructed life."
A Flash of Red is a thriller about the perils that some marriages face, the difficulty of letting go of the past, and the harsh reality of mental illnesses. As a professor of Psychology, Anna Kline has devoted her life to teaching about mental illnesses and disorders. To her students, her life seems picture-perfect. However, behind the scenes she's harboring some difficult secrets--about her past, about her family, and, most of all, about her marriage.
When one of her students, Bard, learns about some of the realities she's harboring, their lives become intertwined. As the plot progresses, Anna and Bard must come to terms with their realities and with the notion that life isn't always what it seems.
I thought the psychological aspects of this novel were really well-written. I found myself constantly questioning whether or not I could trust each character. The depth of the relationships was also noteworthy. I liked that Stephens focused on the idea that marriage isn't always perfect. The behind-the-scenes look at a marriage in the midst of destruction was deep and thought-provoking. I liked the internal glimpse at both parties in a relationship about to detonate.
The tension was slowly built in the novel, which simmered over the course of the beginning of the story. At first, I was anxious for the pace to pick up; however, once it did, I realized how the slow simmer actually enhanced the events of the story and made the payoff greater.
The only thing I disliked was the ending simply because I could not agree with how it all turned out. However, everyone has their own opinion, and I can relish the fact that the ending did make me think and feel. This is the true mark of a well-crafted novel, regardless of whether or not you morally agree with what happened.
This is an excellent debut novel, and I look forward to reading more works by the very talented Sarah K. Stephens.
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Book Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
"The whole school is as intimidating as it is impressive. It should be reserved for students with personal bodyguards and Shetland ponies, not someone who buys the majority of her wardrobe at Target."
Sent to a boarding school in Paris by her father, Anna is not happy about spending her senior year away from her home in Atlanta and her best friend. Adjusting to life in Paris isn't easy, especially since she doesn't speak French. Over the course of her senior year, though, Anna learns a lot more than just a new language...she learns about friendship, growing up, and most of all, love.
I really loved the character of Anna in this book because she is so easy to relate to and so funny. Perkins does an amazing job at incorporating elements girls and women can relate to. I liked the realistic feel of the novel which came from the well-developed characters. I also really liked the character of St. Clair, who is Anna's love interest in the book. He was fun and romantic, but still had enough flaws to make him feel real.
The setting was a perfect backdrop for this novel and helped create conflict. I liked how Perkins seamlessly created the story around the backdrop but didn't let it take over the entire novel. I felt like the characters carried enough of the story on their own to make it a perfect balance.
The only thing I would have changed is to have more tension as Anna deals with the major problem in the novel. I thought the problems she faces are well-planned, but they were solved fairly quickly. I would have liked to have seen more struggle in Anna so she could have shown more change and growth. I wish the conflict hadn't been resolved so neatly.
Overall, this is a sweet, light-hearted read perfect for the summer months. It will make you want to travel to Paris and redo your senior year. Most of all, it reminds you that life and love are sometimes foreign entities to us...but eventually, we figure out how to translate them both.
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The Behind-the-Scenes Reasons I Wrote Then Comes Love
No matter how old you get, every stage of life comes with anxiety about change.
This is something I learned while watching my mom care for my ninety-something grandfather as we packed up his home near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and moved him to an apartment complex in our hometown. As I watched my mom help him navigate the change that comes with moving from a house to a complex for those 55 and over, I started to notice something: a sense of community.
Visiting my grandfather and hearing my mom's stories, I saw a rich setting full of emotion. There were humorous moments and misunderstandings as my mom took on the role of caregiver, which certainly jostles the parent-child relationship. There was fear and difficulty as my grandfather adjusted to a new home, town, and life. There was friendship with the elderly living in the apartment complex, but also with their families. The community, as I came to learn, in this apartment building wasn't just about the people living there--it was also about their families.
And, above everything else, I saw something surprising: Love.
I would see men and women holding hands on the bench outside, talking about their date nights and talking about finding love in a later stage of life. It made me realize two things:
1. Love doesn't have an age limit.
2. Even though each stage of life is different, each stage is filled with the same complex emotions of the human journey.
It was from these facts that Then Comes Love was born.
I drew on the humor from the community my grandfather lives in. I drew on the complex emotions and interactions between the people living their and the interactions between their families. I saw an opportunity for a rich setting with complex characters and emotions.
I also drew on my own family and the relationship between the women in it. I thought about how women in the family from different generations could still really help each other because in their own ways, their feelings and fears would be the same.
Charlotte, Annie, and Amelia came to be from these facts.
Charlotte, 80, is dealing with change in her life. She's moving from her home she lived in for decades with her late husband to an assisted-living facility, Wildflower Meadows. Wildflower Meadows becomes the backdrop and community for all of the interactions in the book. As she navigates the change in her life, she has to try to adjust to the new community and new rules...but she also has to adjust to the fact that her heart isn't done with love just yet.
Charlotte's daughter, Annie, is in her fifties and dealing with a mid-life crisis. She's gone through a terrible divorce while also trying to be a caregiver to her mother. Caught in the middle of several lives, she, too, finds that Wildflower Meadows will lead her to a new set of possibilities.
Finally, Charlotte's granddaughter, Amelia, is in her thirties and quite the wild child. Not ready to settle down, she's lost in a stage of life where she doesn't know what she wants to be.
The three women come together through the Wildflower community in different ways, but all three learn that family sometimes helps us navigate the most difficult moments in life. Furthermore, all three find that love can come along at any time, even when we least expect it.
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The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Jeannette Walls' memoir is an eye-opening look at how the past often threatens to dictate our future... and how our roots can shape us but don't have to define us.
Jeannette's childhood was marked by two free-spirited parents, hunger, and a lack of directions. Jeannette reflects on her childhood in a manner that feels objective, allowing the reader to read between the lines and form their own opinion. Her observations of her family and a childhood marked by hardship and sacrifice really forces the reader to examine themes of loyalty, motivation, change, and happiness.
This book made me re-evaluate my definitions of family and success while also considering how many people I've made wrong assumptions about. From the very beginning of the memoir, Walls makes it clear that shame and guilt are a part of her equation when it comes to her family. As the memoir unfolds, the reader gets a glimpse into the complex emotional relationship she had with her family growing up and how she has had to figure out how to make these emotions a part of who she is.
This book also made me appreciate my roots and family. I have never known hunger like this author, and I've never really gone without. Jeannette makes our society with a penchant for consumerism realize that food on the table isn't a guarantee in every household. As a teacher, it has opened up the compassion in my heart for others and has made me really stop and think about the plight of others. It has made me realize that no one's life is perfect, but some are struggling with bigger demons that we can imagine.
I certainly felt bad for Walls throughout the memoir. However, her memoir is not marked with a need for pity. She is objective in her narration and doesn't paint on the emotional baggage or cry out to be painted as a martyr or hero. She simply paints her childhood as it was and emphasizes that even in the midst of suffering and treatment that was verging on abusive, there were elements of love in her life--which often seemed one-sided. I admired her strength as a child and as an adult to not only overcome her obstacles but also learn how to make peace with them. I applaud her ability to see the good in her parents, even though they arguably don't seem to deserve this kindness at points in the memoir.
Walls shows us that no one is perfect and that parents are certainly flawed. She shows us that the past certainly plays a role in who we become, but it doesn't have to dictate our entire life. Most of all, she makes us realize that we don't know everyone's story. She shows us, as her father pointed out, that demons lurk in all sorts of places.
Walls' story is one of sacrifice, suffering, and triumph. Most of all, it is a memoir that redefines what it means to overcome, to achieve, and to love.
I applaud the author for writing a brutally honest, open, and relevant memoir and for opening herself up to the world so we can all get a better idea of what others are enduring.
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'Inked Hearts' by Lindsay Detwiler releases October 21st. Treat yourself now while it's #halfprice
“Six years, a complex about my freckles, a love for pastrami, and a fear of failure. That’s what he gave me before slaughtering my heart and my faith in men.”
Suffering from the sting of betrayal, twenty-eight-year-old Avery Johannas quits her job and moves hundreds of miles away to Ocean City, the beach town of her dreams. With the help of her zany roommate, Jodie, Avery finds a new career, home, and freedom. Throughout her self-exploration, she makes only one rule: She won’t give her heart to a man again. She’s living for herself this time.
But then she meets Jesse.
A tattoo shop owner, the green-eyed Jesse Pearce is wild with a touch of mystery. As Jesse and Avery explore Ocean City and their friendship, they’ll have a hard time drawing a line in the sand between their hearts.
When summer nights get a little more heated than either expected, they’ll have to ask themselves: Can they let go of their notions of love, or will their hearts be permanently inked by past pain?
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Available on Amazon soon.
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Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I picked up Where They Found Her because I was I really liked Reconstructing Amelia and thought I'd give this author another try.
Where They Found Her is a mystery/suspense focused around the discovery of a dead body near a campus in a small town. Molly Sanderson has just moved to the small town of Ridgedale with her husband after he takes a job at the University. Their lives are in turmoil due to personal events, but Molly ends up being assigned the case as a journalist. The story is her chance to restart her career and perhaps get her life back on track.
As Molly gets wrapped up in the mystery in the town, other mysteries begin to surface. By the end of the book, she finds herself completely entwined in numerous situations, all of which complicate her life and career.
I liked Molly's character in the book because she is a broken woman searching for redemption and strength. Readers get to see her emerge and blossom throughout the book from an unsure woman into a confident, strong force. I like her dedication to doing what's right and to finding her way, despite many obstacles.
Like many suspense novels, this book follows numerous characters' perspectives. It was really confusing for a while to keep all of the characters straight, but I like how McCreight seamlessly weaves so many people together in her book. There are many subplots to the novel, and I like how McCreight can keep all of the stories feeling well-developed. I was surprised numerous times in the book as many twists and turns occurred. This book is far from predictable, which I enjoyed.
I did find the middle section of the book to lose my attention and lose the intensity. Nonetheless, the last one hundred pages were absolutely thrilling and made me want to keep reading. I felt the last few pages of the book could have been better developed, but overall, I thought McCreight did a good job at tying up all loose ends.
This book is an exciting, intense read filled with all sorts of questions and horrifying conclusions. It really makes you think about issues of trust, love, and loyalty. I liked the well-rounded characters and the pace of the book at the beginning and end. McCreight is clearly a talented writer, and I look forward to reading more of her works in the future.
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NEW BOOK RELEASE!
A single moment can change everything...
but can love help us survive?
Genre: Romantic Drama
Publisher: Hot Tree Publishing
Publication Date: April 29, 2017
A single moment can change everything… but can love help us survive?
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be…
Settled into married life, Jessica and Todd think they have so much time… until everything comes to a halt on a snowy back road. When they find themselves in a life or death situation, with rescue seeming impossible, they cling to the only hope they have left: their love for each other.
As Jessica and Todd fight for survival, their connection carries them through the biggest challenge of their lives. Memories and regrets swirl around the couple as they finally take a moment to reflect on what really matters.
There’s one big, icy question that haunts them, though: Is this where their story will end?
"This book took my breath away, squeezed my cold heart, and moved me to tears more than once..."
- DJ Sakata, Goodreads Reviewer
"It's going to be hard to put into words how much I loved this book. This author has become one of my must read authors since the first book I read of hers."
- Amy, Goodreads Reviewer
Prizes up for grabs:
$10 Amazon Gift Card and Remember When Signed Paperback
5 x Remember When eBook Copies
Contest runs from May 29 - June 4, 2017.
About Lindsay Detwiler
An English teacher, an author, and a fan of anything pink and/or glittery, Lindsay's the English teacher cliché; she love cats, reading, Shakespeare, and Poe.
She currently lives in her hometown with her husband, Chad (her junior high sweetheart); their cats, Arya, Amelia, Alice, and Bob; and their Mastiff, Henry.
Lindsay's goal with her writing is to show the power of love and the beauty of life while also instilling a true sense of realism in her work. Some reviewers have noted that her books are not the “typical romance.” With her novels coming from a place of honesty, Lindsay examines the difficult questions, looks at the tough emotions, and paints the pictures that are sometimes difficult to look at. She wants her fiction to resonate with readers as realistic, poetic, and powerful. Lindsay wants women readers to be able to say, “I see myself in that novel.” She wants to speak to the modern woman’s experience while also bringing a twist of something new and exciting. Her aim is for readers to say, “That could happen,” or “I feel like the characters are real.” That’s how she knows she's done her job.
Lindsay's hope is that by becoming a published author, she can inspire some of her students and other aspiring writers to pursue their own passions. She wants them to see that any dream can be attained and publishing a novel isn’t out of the realm of possibility
Official website: http://www.lindsaydetwiler.com
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Your Next Must-Read Thriller, Into the Water
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"I didn't have to be fixed, I could be fluid. Like the river. Perhaps it wouldn't be so difficult, after all."
Although many readers were obsessed with The Girl on the Train and Paula Hawkins had high expectations to live up to, I think she did the unthinkable with this book: She surpassed even her own writing.
For me, I thought The Girl on the Train was just an okay read. I loved the narrative pattern and the whole concept. I just thought the middle of the book lost its edge. Into the Water, however, was completely different in the fact that it never lost my attention for a second. Hawkins weaves together an intricate tale of family secrets, love, power, and revenge. Her expert writing kept the plot moving the entire time. I was stunned by the book and the secrets revealed up through the last paragraph.
The book focuses on a small town rocked by tragedy after tragedy, all centered around a cliff by a particular river. The book opens with a second death that has just happened. Lena's mother and Jules' sister has just died in what seems to be a suicide. However, questions surface as to what really happened on the cliff and if her death could be linked to the death of Lena's best friend, Katie, who died in a similar way.
The characters were lovable in this book and really easy to connect with. I liked that both Jules and Lena, although family, are very distant from each other and very flawed. I liked that they were not perfect characters in any way and both suffered great loss in life. Their relationship and the changes in it was a nice backdrop to the horror of the book.
There are a lot of narrative perspectives in this book, which was hard to keep track of at times. However, I think that is the lure of Hawkins' books; they are complicated to the point that when you finish, you are in awe that she pulled it all together. I liked that I never had everything figured out. I loved the dynamic characters and relationships.
I also loved how everything, even flashbacks, came back to the water. It became not just a setting and plot element, but almost a character in itself.
This book is definitely a must read for 2017. Hawkins shows us again why she is one of the greatest writers of our time with this novel.
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Title: Curves in the Road
Series: Southern Devotion, Book 2
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: May 6, 2017
Publisher: Hot Tree Publishing
Designer: Claire Smith
ALL BUY LINKS
Living in Nashville with his daughter, Katelyn, single dad Derrick Collins’s main goal is to provide a good life for his daughter. With no social life to speak of, he knows it’s time for a change. He just needs to find the perfect woman who will complete his happy family. The problem is he’s already met her and let her go.
Mary Jane Evans’s life took a path she could only dream of. Though leaving her home in Nashville meant saying goodbye to childhood friends, family, and the first man she ever loved. Now she has to choose if she will return or continue her new journey.
With a decision to make, is it possible for two lost loves to find their way back to each other or are there too many curves in the road?
(Please add your review here.)
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Southern Devotion Series
Book 1 on sale for 99 cents!
Amy McClung was born in Nashville, TN. She is the second oldest of four girls and occasionally suffers from middle-child syndrome. She met the love of her life online in August of 2004, on his birthday of all days, and married him in September 2005.
Currently they have no human children, only the room full of colorful robots that transform into vehicles and the large headed Pop Funkos who represent their favorite characters. Collecting movies, shot glasses, Pop Funkos, and dust bunnies are some of her favorite pastimes.
Amy began writing in September of 2011 and independently published her first YA novel, Cascades of Moonlight, Book one of the Parker Harris series the following May. Her first book was a means of therapy for her, enabling her to escape reality for a while during a difficult transition in her life.
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Yes, You Absolutely Should Read Books You Hate
James Joyce once said, "Life's too short to read a bad book."
I couldn't disagree more.
Sure, our goal is ultimately to pick up that novel that will speak to us, that we will rave about for months if not years. We all want to read books that we feel are 5-star books, that touch our souls.
But does that mean that we should completely discount the books that we don't like, the books that we would be more likely to one-star?
I don't think so.
In high school, I had an amazing English teacher who constantly halted our whining about hating books in the curriculum by reminding us that every book has value. Every piece of literature that makes it through the publishing process has something to offer: It just takes a dedicated, literature-savvy person to understand this and to find one thing to cling to. Furthermore, we talked about how literature we hate can sometimes teach us more about ourselves, our values, and our perspectives of writing than the books we love.
As a bookworm, a high school English teacher, and an author, I've come to realize that even, and perhaps especially, the books we hate have intrinsic value. So the next time you come across a book you don't like, don't think of it as a waste of time. Don't promptly close the book and chuck it under your bed. Challenge yourself to think about the benefits you get from literature you don't particulary love.
The Reader's Perspective
As a reader, I've found it helpful to ask myself the true reasoning behind my hatred for a particular book. Is it the characters' values that causes me to pull back? Do I have an issue with the plot, the theme, or the topic? Or is it simply that the writing style has lost my interest?
Taking a step back from the book and really forcing yourself to dig into the true reasons behind your dislike can teach you about yourself.
For me, one of the books I strongly disliked was (*here come the gasps*) Fifty Shades of Grey. I found myself not wanting to finish the book. However, when I really analyzed my feelings, I realized the problem was that I did not like Christian Grey. He stood for the alpha-male I do not find attractive, and I found him to be belittling. I also found Anastasia to be very weak and easily controlled.
This is not a reflection of the book's value. In fact, I would say I still got value from the book even though it wasn't my cup of tea. The value didn't come from an emotional connection to the book or my raving about it. Instead, the value was more intrinsic. I learned about myself and what I value in relationships, something certainly worth my time, even if the particular story didn't speak to me.
We all have books we don't like, which is perfectly okay. It would be quite 1984-like if we all liked the exact same books all of the time. We all carry our own experiences, beliefs, values, and ideals into our reading experiences. The challenge, however, is not to shy away from books that we aren't into. It's to really dig deeper and figure out why. Most of all, it's to dig deep enough to find something of value, something you can appreciate in the pages.
The Teacher's Perspective
Perhaps this was the biggest motivator for this article--my job as an English teacher in a high school. Lately, I've heard so many students say, "Oh, I didn't finish the book because I just didn't like it," or, "My essay wasn't good because the book wasn't good."
I can remember being a student and reading books that just seemed so distant to me. No matter how hard the teacher tried, the world of Shakespeare, the "universal themes" of Lord of the Flies just seemed so foreign to my own life. How could I possibly read something I didn't connect with?
It is years later, though, as a teacher, that I can appreciate the value of the books I read and didn't like. First, it taught me endurance. There will be, in real life, things you have to read that you don't want to--real estate forms, tax forms, text books. Learning to look beyond my emotional feelings toward a book and muscle through readied me for these experiences.
The value for students, however, is much deeper than this. Pushing through and reading books you don't particularly love can, as I said, teach them about their own values. I find that many students struggle to realize they don't have to agree with every message the author sets up in the book. In fact, for teenagers, the value of literature comes in the questioning. Do you agree with the message? Do you agree with the characters' actions? Why not?
Reading books they dislike helps them form a sense of self and a sense of opinion. By reading things they don't necessarily like or find boring, they can strengthen their awareness of what they do like and find interesting. It's all about self-awareness.
It's also about teaching them appreciation. As my AP Literature teacher taught me, everything in literature has value. Even if it is a single line you can agree with or a single line you can say, "Wow, that is well written," your goal is to find it. It teaches students to be able to appreciate the beauty, the goodness, even in things they don't like. Furthermore, it teaches them to appreciate hard work and diversity.
Finally, sometimes the books teenagers don't like are just stored ideas for later. Some books I didn't like in high school stuck with me. Later in life, I found that I could connect with them or understand them. Sometimes the classics we read in English classes set us up for the realities of the world later, some of which we aren't quite ready for in high school but are glad we read later in life.
The Writer's Perspective
One of the hardest things to accept as a writer is that not everyone will love your books. In fact, some people will hate them. Some people will voice this hate.
However, I've come to appreciate that hate for a book, even if it is one I wrote, isn't necessarily a bad thing. It means that I've stirred something in the reader, which is the ultimate goal. Sure, I'd certainly like to only stir good, rosy reviews of my works. Nonetheless, the fact that someone doesn't like my book doesn't mean I've failed as a writer. It simply means my style, my words, are not for that person.
As a writer, you can sometimes learn from the opinions of those who don't like your work. Although a part of being a writer is knowing when to take criticism to heart and when to stick to your gut instincts, continual criticisms can give you guidance toward improvement. Sometimes our biggest critics teach us the most valuable lessons and help us fine-tune our craft.
Every Book Is Valuable
So whether you adore a book or hate it, the value is still there. Each piece of literature has the capability to teach us something about ourselves, about story telling, and about the world around us. The next time you find a book you don't like, take time to really delve for a sense of appreciation before just discounting it.
Reading is a journey that teaches us about ourselves, good or bad. Thus, everything we read offers us the benefit of self-discovery.
How about you? Are there any books you have read that you didn't like but taught you something? Share below!
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