Monday, August 11, 2014

Review: THE BELIEVERS by Travis Gulbrandson

Edith Parker has been a widow for ten years, but she tries to keep her husband’s memory alive by carrying a picture of him from room to room. Then, on the anniversary of his death, she is visited by a young man who claims to have a message from him. On the promise of further communications with the deceased, Mrs. Parker invites the mysterious stranger to live with her. While this visitation first seems like the answer to her prayers, she soon finds her actions may have started a chain of events that yield tragic consequences for everyone she cares about.

Dark, at times suspenseful, infused with black humor, The Believers examines a number of issues relating to the nature of faith, but it never tells the reader what to think.





My thoughts: I had a bit of a slow start with this book as it begins with a young man walking aimlessly around town, looking for an old woman. In the interim, he encounters various, eclectic, odd-ball characters—all anonymous with discernible traits.

Mrs. Parker is the widow. Ever since her husband died, people have been treating her like fragile glass, fearing that she might shatter at any moment. She just can’t seem to let go of the life she had, which is why she continues to carry her old traditions (i.e. sleeping on her side of the bed, etc.)

Then Jacob Peterson (the young stranger from the beginning) comes along with a message from her dead husband. Apparently, he listens to that little voice in his head that tells him to do things (like give a message to a weird old lady that you’ve never met.) Supposedly he’s taking orders from God or whatever. He’s like the ghost whisperer. Or perhaps he was possessed by the dead husband?

Nonetheless, the old woman and the young man find a special bond with all this spirit nonsense.

What I liked best was the descriptive nature. The author describes the greasy diner, the old woman’s house, the antiquated church, and so on, all with vivid detail. I didn’t really take too much to all that talk about God, the bible, and the whole “let us pray” ritual because I’m not religious.

My favorite character was Sarah, the waitress. She was the epitome of the drab, working-class stiff. Her motto: “life sucks so why even try?” Of course, she gets her buttons pushed when she meets the ghost whisperer (Jacob). “Why don’t you like anybody,” he asked. NUNYA! If she doesn’t smile, then don’t force her. It’s not like she’s going to be “touched by an angel” anytime soon. I agreed with her regarding the na├»ve gullibility people have in faith.

Throughout the whole book, Jacob seems to prod into the lives of the town, which was kind of annoying. There were too many characters to keep track of, all of which just go about their mundane, little lives with the church being mentioned quite often. What exactly was the point of this story? The summary indicated that the book was “infused with black humor.” Where was the humor?

Overall, this was well-written, but the story was one full of complexity with a drab theme centered on Christianity, a subject I have virtually no interest in.

My rating: 2 stars


Friday, August 8, 2014

Review: DELUSIONAL by Scott Spotson

Patricia Fowler is plain, simple, smart, and tall, all in one neat, attractive package. She is a serious planner, likes to exercise, and is a firm believer in taking care of herself. Right on! She also likes to keep her work life separate from her personal life and she over-thinks. That is SO ME!

One of her rules gets broken: she falls for her married  co-worker. Patricia hasn’t had much luck finding “the one,” but Paul seems different. Too bad he happens to be married to a crabby, old shrew. Like Patricia said, “I think everyone gets to that point…Sometimes it’s your job. You aren’t happy, but don’t want to leave, so you suffer through it.” (118) It was clearly obvious that he was unhappy with his wife, Wendy. And why would he? She was a bitch, yet there was something alluring about her. For example, how did she make those bees suddenly appear? She was the vindictive, jealous wife that you just love to hate, the enticingly wicked character that beckons you to read on.

Suddenly Patricia’s organized, little world is turned upside down, and she plummets into a whirling spin of chaos. What strange illusions were occurring? Was it a magic trick, or was it insanity?

Meanwhile, the story deviates away from Patricia’s love conundrum and onto a bizarre mystery. How did the famous Hope diamond get stolen? It’s a mind-boggling case for the FBI as they search frantically for the elusive thief.

A captivating novel full of mystery and intrigue. Spotson writes with witty intelligence while conjuring a delectable story of love, drama, and jealousy with a spicy touch of magic. The reader will be allured by the totally rad cover and be left with frightening chills by the end. A blood-curdling and heart-racing read!

My rating: 5 stars


Friday, August 1, 2014

Review: ELIXIR by Ted Galdi

Sean Malone is considered “the smartest person on Earth.” He is a super genius that can calculate math problems in his head in like a second. I mean, he was on Jeopardy at 11-years old for god sakes!

As part of an independent study project for college, (yeah, a 14-year old in college. Go, Doogie!) Sean creates something that could potentially do harm if it landed in the wrong hands. Now it seems that the government was using his algorithm to kill people, meaning cyber gangs would be after him to steal the information from his head. Sometimes being smart sucks, according to Sean.

Depression overwhelms Sean as he contemplates the philosophical aspects of death. I found this particularly poetic, almost (Edgar Allen) Poe-tic.

A new identity and a new life in Italy do nothing to eradicate Sean’s drug and alcohol use. He just can’t be happy. He will never be able to understand the science of happiness. That’s what happens when you have an Einstein brain. Still, I wish I could absorb an entire language in an instant.

Then, Sean, as “James”, meets and falls in love with Natasha. It seems he has found the “elixir” for happiness. I think that’s where the true story lied—finding happiness without science and logic. But “happiness” is fleeting and misery is a constant you can count on. Suddenly Natasha gets sick with a terminal illness and, of course, here comes Doogie! It’s up to Sean to use that gifted brain of his to find a cure.

And, EUREKA! He figured it out, but he must go home to the U.S., a kid presumed dead, alerting government authorities. It’s a race against time and a battling journey to the finish line.

I didn’t quite understand all the government entities and conspiracies. In fact, it was a tad boring. Everything happens so fast near the end that you don’t really know what’s going on. For a fast-paced thriller, I didn’t quite feel as excited toward the climax. First of all, the POV veered in different directions instantaneously, causing confusion. What’s happening here? How did he get there? I had to re-read a couple of parts just to understand. Second, I didn’t really believe Sean as the Bruce Willis type. I couldn’t see him climbing walls, dodging bullets, and blowing up buildings.

Overall, the writing was okay. I liked the concept of the story, which had a Die Hard feel (Die Hard being the main character’s favorite movie.) This was Doogie Howser in Mission: Impossible.

 

My rating: 3 stars

Monday, July 28, 2014

Q&A with author Ted Galdi



Elixir is Ted Galdi's first novel.  He's a graduate of Duke University.  Currently he's twenty-nine years old and lives in Los Angeles. For more information, log onto to http://www.elixirthebook.com/


Meet 14-year-old Sean Malone.  He has an IQ above 200, a full-ride scholarship to one of the country’s top universities, and more than one million dollars from his winning streak on Jeopardy!  However, Sean wishes he could just be normal.

But his life is anything but normal.  The US government manipulates him, using him as a code breaker in pursuit of a drug lord and killing innocent people along the way. 

For reasons related to his personal security, Sean finds himself in Rome, building a new life under a new name, abandoning academics, and hiding his genius from everyone.  When he’s 18 he falls in love.  The thrills begin again when he learns that his girlfriend is critically ill and it’s up to him to use his intellect to find a cure, a battle pitting him against a multi-billion-dollar pharmaceutical company and the demons of his past. 

Elixir is a story about identity, secrets, and above all, love.



Welcome, Ted!



1.       What inspired you to be a writer?

 
Movies were my main inspiration.  Since I was a little kid I always had great appreciation for a good movie, which caused me to grow a respect for storytelling.  I started writing screenplays when I was young, which initially got me into the writing world, and led to me venturing into the novel format down the road.

 

2.       How did you come up with the idea for ELIXIR?

I thought it would be interesting to write a book about a young genius who gets thrown into situations against his will based on his smarts.  Though the premise had some potential, I didn’t have much of a story in the beginning.  After thinking about it a bunch, I had the idea to weave in the love-story element, which really made the rest of it come together.  The relationship Sean, the protagonist, has with his girlfriend, Natasha, is at the heart of the whole book, with everything else really just a natural extension of that; the plot came together pretty fluidly once the relationship was right.

 

3.       What is your writing process like?

I have a full-time career in software and wrote Elixir “on the side,” which made the process pretty unconventional.  It was completely written on nights and weekends.  As for my approach to it all, I definitely started out with a pretty structured outline before I wrote the first words.  A lot changed from the initial outline as I worked through the plot and characters, but it helped to have it, especially in the beginning.  When I’m actually at my computer doing the writing, music is really important; I have headphones on and am listening to music pretty much the whole time.

 

4.       What was your thought process in creating a precocious character like Sean Malone?

I wanted to make him extremely smart, but not so smart where he came off as supernatural and non-human.  In the book he has an IQ of about 250, which some real people have been said to have had, so in theory, someone like Sean can really exist.  On a related note, when writing him, it was also important to get across that although he is smarter than everyone else on the planet, at his core, he is really just an average teenager with average teenage insecurities and problems.

 

5.       What do you like best about the thriller genre?

It’s versatile.  The books can be fun, fast reads while also exploring deeper, grittier concepts like good vs. evil, escaping from the past, self-redemption, etc.

 

6.       What would you say is the most challenging part of being a writer?

The ability to not be influenced by outside pressure to write something because you think it might be trendy or commercially viable in the moment.  The best books come from stories writers are motivated to tell for their own reasons.  Ironically, those books tend to be the ones that wind up selling the best over time too.

 

7.       Sean has indicated that his favorite movie was Die Hard. Is that your favorite, too?

It’s toward the top of my list, but not my favorite ever.  8 ½, an old Italian movie, is my favorite and had been an inspiration for me wanting to get into writing.

 

8.       If your book got turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing Sean Malone?

Tough question!  There are a lot of good young actors I’ve been seeing pop up in movies over the last five years or so who would be able to nail a role like that.  Ideally, I would say a young Leonardo DiCaprio, Basketball Diaries days.

 


9.       Are there any plans for a sequel?

The book was not intended to be part of a series.  It fully comes to a resolution at the end, with no “to be continued” setup.  However, that’s not to say Sean and the other characters can’t be visited by me in the future; it’s possible, although I haven’t decided on it yet.

 


10.   And, finally, would you consider yourself a suitable contestant for Jeopardy?

I would get crushed.  It would be embarrassing.  
 
 
 
 
The book will be available August 1 2014
A review of Elixir is coming up next!


Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: LOVE’S PREY by Meg Xuemei X

“As its coldness pierces me, I flinch back from my reflection. I was once a cheerful kid, but all I have now is a cold shell, with a colder heart. I put down the mirror, telling myself what I’ve become now doesn’t matter. In two more years, I’ll go away to college and leave this dump. In between, I want no complications.” (17)

Xirena is the girl with “the coldest eyes I’ve ever seen,” according to the neighbors.

The reader will be curiously drawn to Xirena’s dark and flippant personality. The origin of her “slut” nickname was beautifully descriptive and heart-wrenching. Having to deal with strict parents, controlling siblings, harassing peers, and physical violence, is it any wonder why she is the way she is? But “ambiguity is a form of art in Chinese culture. It’s a required survival skill.” (81)  Nonetheless, it was her skillful street-fighting abilities and unwavering determination that made her stand out in triumph. From then on, she was the “black sheep” that everyone stayed away from—everyone except Kai, who “sees something else… beneath the crudeness.” (40)

The story reads almost like a poem with the curt and pensive sentences. It almost feels like a haiku—a Chinese haiku (which are actually Japanese).  Like the weather, these words expressed both the sensitivity and brutality of humans against the backdrop of lovely China.

I was able to relate to Xirena in several ways: her plain features, her anti-social stature, her disregard for everyone’s opinions, her comedic nonchalance and smart-ass remarks, and, most of all, her fascination for the arts. No one would think it from the looks of her, but she is actually very smart (I absolutely know the feeling!)

Believing that he should find some other girl, Xirena refuses to see that she is the honey that Kai is sweet on. His patient persistence was admirable and too sweet to ignore. There was no doubt that he was the artist with a poet’s heart and that he would do anything to protect Xirena.

A well-written and unlikely love story between Shakespeare’s Romeo and the Wicked Witch of the East. This was an interesting tale told from a China girl “born with a pair of slanted eyes that struggled to see the world.” (152)

My rating: 5 stars


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Review: THE SECRET AT HANEY FIELD by R.M. Clark



Twelve-year-old April O'Day's summer has gotten off to a flying start. As the new bat retriever for the Harpoons, her hometown's minor league team, she's fetching bats and doling out great advice to players and coaches alike. In a word, she's becoming indispensable. But mysterious things are happening at Haney Field, which April and her best friend - and fellow baseball enthusiast - Darren Plummer are determined to uncover. As they quickly learn, this is no ordinary season. In fact, it's a whole new ball game.




My thoughts: In the beginning, the story had a Rookie of the Year feel—a kid playing pro baseball.

I was glad the hero that was so great at baseball was a girl—a plain, down-to-earth, tomboy of a girl. Perhaps the stats and technicalities of the game were a bit of a bore, but it was impressive to see a girl that was so knowledgeable about it (let’s face it: most of us aren’t.)

But then we get to the spooky part: ghosts? Could there be ghosts on that baseball field? Suddenly nostalgia hit me and I felt like I was reading a Goosebumps book with the mystery wind and shadow players. Weird!

Overall, the book was well-written for the 8-12 age range, and the story was okay.

My rating: 3 stars


Thursday, June 26, 2014

My Writing Process Blog Tour

Since becoming a published author, I’ve had the privilege of meeting many writers—in person and online. One of which was John Heldt, author of The Mine, The Journey, and The Fire, which were books that I reviewed for him. Recently he invited me to participate in the “My Writing Process” blog tour.

 

Here’s how it goes:

1.       Answer questions about your writing process

2.       Nominate three other writers

 

This is basically a game of Author Tag, and I thought it would be fun to play!

 

1)     What are you working on?

Currently I’m working on a collection of short stories.

 


2)     How does your work differ from others of its genre?

My two novels focus on a young Latina striving to escape the stereotypes and hardships to make something of her life. While the works of other Latino writers rendered Hispanics as immigrants and gang members, I wanted to tell the story of a girl who didn’t fit in any of those categories and just wanted to go to college.

 

3)     Why do you write what you do?

When I first started writing Esperanza, I just wanted to utilize my own life experiences to create an inspirational heroine. But like any writer will say, it was the love of books and writing that got me started and why I keep on going. Ultimately, I write my stories for me.

 

4)     How does your writing process work?

As soon as I come up with an idea, I like to do an outline just to have a basic premise of the story. Then I also write my first draft, or what I like to call my “barf draft”, in pencil. A “barf draft” allows me to get whatever I have—anything I have—out on paper in a messy, unfashionable, and undistinguishable way. Once I’m all cleaned out, I go back to it, try to figure my notes, then re-write. The revising process is repeated again and again and again until I have a finely polished manuscript.

 

 

Nominations: (I know I was supposed to nominate 3, but I could only confirm 2. Oh, well!)

Mary Castillo's novels have turned romance and mystery readers into dedicated fans. She is the proud author of SwitchcraftIn Between Men and Hot Tamara and novellas featured in the anthologies, Orange County NoirNames I Call My Sister and Friday Night Chicas. Her latest paranormal mysteries, Lost in the Light and Girl in the Mist have been widely praised by critics and readers! Her work is available in print, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks and Smashwords.

 

 
Shelby K.Morrison was born in Oregon and grew up in California and Utah. Shattered is Shelby's debut novel, with many more to come. Shelby plans on exploring other genres down the road before claiming a specialty. She currently lives in Utah with her husband and two dogs. When she isn't writing or reading, she enjoys researching, crafting, bargain shopping, and DIY-projects.


Look for their posts next on July 3