Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: THE GIFT by Jonathan Lynch

There is nothing clearer than the power of the written word.” (5)

As Michael writes in his diary, he recalls his botched suicide attempt. Or was it a dream? But it felt way too real to be a dream. Was he hallucinating? Did he have some kind of sixth sense? What was going on?

The story grabs the reader from the start. You can’t help but relate to these down-on-the-luck characters as they struggle to survive. Michael is this high-school loser that’s never had a girl and has always been bullied; Ann (his mother) is working two jobs and can’t pay her bills; and Maggie is married to a rich bastard who is only getting crankier the older he gets. Still, “it was a relief to see that others were having problems too.” (62) Misery loves company, right?

But why were they seeing a “dark figure?” Where was all this terror coming from? Were they trapped in a strange alternate hell? Or were they just all having a mental breakdown? It was just a mass of wild confusion.

The “dark figure” reminded me of the winged monster from the Jeepers Creepers movie. One minute, you’re standing there; the next, gone.

It seems the greatest battle lies in the darkness. What was that noise? What’s that I feel on my skin? Are the shadows moving? What’s going on here, I can’t see a thing!? I can’t think of anything scarier than being in the dark. But what lurks within the dark? A Gift? What if a gift could eradicate all your pain and suffering and give you all that you ever dreamed of? But, wait, what’s the catch? There’s always a catch.

Well-written but long-winded. A couple of times I found myself wishing the writing would just get to the point already. It wasn’t necessary to relay information we already knew. Still, I was compelled to see how the story would unfold.

Lynch weaves an intriguing tale of dark surrealism, a delightful blend of fantasy and horror, while exploring the crippling desire of temptation and the burdening weights of morality. Our hero must learn that beauty, love, and fortune all come at a dreadful price.

This was a fantastic story full of twists and irony. Loved it!


My rating: 4.5 stars




Friday, August 22, 2014

Review: THE TRUTH ABOUT EMILY by Madi Brown

29-year-old Emily Greene looks the part, but she’s still working on becoming a modern-day woman. Not that she’s one to back down from a challenge, but living as an eternal work-in-progress wasn’t exactly the goal that she had in mind. It’s a harsh but true realization---the idea that that time isn't on her side, and the notion that wanting to have it all, doesn't mean getting it. The verdict is in; with zero prospects for a relationship and a stalled blogging career, Emily has every reason to believe that she’s been living a life too humdrum for her own good.

Making the change won’t be easy. She’ll have to do whatever it takes; start dating like a man, become more selective about which rsvp’s she accepts, and work even harder at getting her dream job.The payoff’s huge;a modern twist on a storybook ending, but gains don’t often come without risks. In the here and now Emily just may be forced to choose….It’s got to be one or the other----the profession that she’s always wanted, or the love that she’s never had.

 
 
 
 

My thoughts: Right off the bat, Emily is one fast-moving, fast-talking broad living the New York life in designer wear—wears that I didn’t know and couldn’t recognize.

“As a teen, she’d always journaled. Reading her coming-of-age entries aloud to her friends somehow became a regular past-time, which resulted in them being completely entertained. They’d laugh, they’d cry, and yep, the reviews were better than a Broadway musical; but writing professionally? That had been nothing more than a dream. Her father had mentally shaken her awake from that one on more instances than she could name. “Becoming a writer isn’t realistic. It’s not going to pay the bills. It’s a hobby,” he’d declare.” (15) Being a fashion writer ain’t too shabby.

But, most importantly, Emily always tries to follow her lists.

What I liked best about Emily was that she was an independent gal trying to follow her dreams, even if that seemed to be making jewelry for haughty celebrities. Still, Emily struck me as a superficial and shallow character, one that contemplates her world with the language of chic and fancy living—in fact, she kind of reminded me of Cher from Clueless.  As if! (Not my favorite movie really.)

I found some of her conversations to be monotonous and superfluous. So you’ve decided to go vegan. Who cares? And must it be necessary to make appearances at all these birthdays, baby showers, engagements, and anniversary parties, which prompt her to buy gifts from Lame R’ Us? No wonder Emily craves the high-society life.

Additionally, her views on dating and relationships were somewhat vapid.

The whole time I wondered: What was the deal with Emily? What was the point of her story? I couldn’t figure it out. Based on the summary, I expected something else from the book—something more aspiring and meaningful. 

Overall, this was a lackluster read. I just couldn’t get into it.
 
 

My rating: 2 stars
 
 
 
 

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