February 29, 2012

Review & #Giveaway - Lemon Curd by Homa Pouragari


ABOUT THE BOOK:

Lemon Curd is a love story between the righteous and opinionated Anna Lisa Gibson and her arrogant British officemate, Neil Scott Whittaker. He can have any woman he desires but Anna Lisa's honesty and down to earth personality makes him fall in love with her. Except that he doesn't want to give up his fiancée and she doesn't want to have an affair with a soon to be married man. Yet romance is only part of this story. From the streets of Los Angeles to the streets of London, Lemon Curd depicts the millennium lifestyle - Women's position in the business world, the workaholic and multitasking attitude of our society and the difficulty of balancing family and work life while trying to make a difference in the lives of the people around us.





MY THOUGHTS:

When I first picked up Lemon Curd by Homa Pouragari, I had some trouble getting into the flow of the book. I kept noticing my mind wandering and I had to force myself to keep reading. Once I was about halfway through, it seemed to pick up and hold my attention. While I wouldn't say this is a must read book, it does have potential.

AUTHOR BIO:


Homa Pourasgari resides in Los Angeles, California. She received a degree in Business from Loyola Marymount University, after which she left to live in Paris for one year and attended the University of Sorbonne, focusing on literature. Multilingual, she has been traveling since the age of 5 and has experienced many different cultures. Homa has worked in various industries such as marketing, retail, banking, accounting and fitness but has always returned to her true love – writing. She is currently working on a new book. Lemon Curd is her first novel.

Blog Tour Review & #Giveaway - Hope Ramsay & Bella Riley


ABOUT THE BOOK:

Gracious me, my daughter Rocky sure could use my help. I always knew she wasn’t much interested in the local boys—but who’d have thought she’d come home with English royalty. Trouble is, Hugh wants to buy some of our folks’ land. We don’t want to sell, but Rocky’s job depends on her closing the deal. And though Hugh’s obviously smitten, I’m not sure he’s right for my Rocky. After forty years with my Elbert, all I want is to see my little girl find the same. Well, always nice talking to you, and remember: the Cut ‘n’ Curl’s got hot rollers, free coffee, and the best gossip in town.

MY THOUGHTS: 

I had so much fun reading Last Chance Beauty Queen.  It made a great escape from everyday life and I enjoyed following along with the life of these instantly likable characters.  Hope Ramsay knows how to weave an irresistible romance while making it completely believable.  Romance lovers everywhere will rejoice for Last Chance Beauty Queen.

Hope Ramsay Q & A:
How has writing changed your life?

Well, I know people expect some dramatic answer to a question like this. But I've been writing so long that it's hard to see how my life has changed because of it. I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was seven years old and I never wavered from that desire. I studied journalism in college. My first job was as a "legislative correspondent" for a member of Congress -- a job that entailed writing letters to people for eight hours a day. I went on to work for a variety of non-profit organizations where I wrote newsletters, articles, speeches, testimony and all kinds of other documents. And while I was doing all that non-fiction writing in my day job, I was writing fiction for fun. It took decades to sell the novel, but even if I never got a book published I would still write them. I think I've just got the story teller's gene. So writing never changed my life, it's solidly a part of who I am as a person.

What author has influenced you the most?

Oh there are so many writers have influenced and inspired me. But my favorite romance authors are Lavyrle Spencer and Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Both of these great ladies write memorable characters. Lavyrle Spence always made me cry. And SEP always makes me laugh. I can't tell you how much I admire authors who can do that consistently.

If you could trade places with anyone for a day, who would it be?

Oh this is an easy question. I would want to be Neil Armstrong on the day he took his first step on the moon. I would be awesomely cool to stand on the moon and watch earth rise.



ABOUT THE BOOK:

Despite such a close friendship, Rebecca Campbell never saw fireworks with her fiancé. Now with a broken engagement behind her and a promise she has vowed to keep, Rebecca is determined to make a new life for herself in Emerald Lake – a quaint town in the breathtaking Adirondack Mountains.

When Sean Murphy heads home, he never expects to fall for his younger brother’s girlfriend – but that is exactly what has happened. With a smile like sunshine and a wonderful heart, Sean feels something he has never felt before…at home.

Neither Rebecca nor Sean anticipated the sparks to fly so quickly. Lingering secrets aside, Sean can't deny the obvious attraction and burning desire he has for Rachel. But how can he give his heart to a woman he can't trust – or can he? As the days pass and his resolve is tested, Sean begins to realize Emerald Lake is home sweet home and that it is the perfect place for falling in love.

MY THOUGHTS:

I love it when I start reading a book and two characters meet and the sparks fly instantly.  That's how I felt when my husband and I met up six years after graduating, so I know it can happen!  That undeniable pull between two people is a beautiful thing and Bella captures it perfectly in With This Kiss. 

Bella Riley Q & A:

How has writing changed your life?

I laughed when I read this question because eight years after first deciding to write a book, writing IS my life. :) No matter what else I'm doing – hiking, eating, swimming, watching a movie – the book I'm working on is always there in the back of my head. Inspiration comes from absolutely everywhere and I never know when I'll have an “a-ha!” moment about a character or plot point.

What author has influenced you the most?

I'm a huge reader and I love so many authors. Jennifer Crusie is a favorite, as is Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Both of them write fabulous contemporaries that make me laugh out loud and cry depending on what page I'm on. I would be remiss if I didn't mention a group of writers that I'm very close with. I'm thrilled to call all of these fabulous authors - Barbara Freethy, Tina Folsom, Monica McCarty, Anne Mallory, Carol Grace, Jami Alden, Veronica Wolff, Tracy Grant, Candice Hern, Penelope Williamson, Catherine Coulter and Josie Brown – close friends as well. I've learned a great deal from each of them, not only with regards to writing great books, but also how to best navigate the publishing industry. Best of all, they make me laugh!

If you could trade places with anyone for a day, who would it be?

I really like my life :) so this is a hard one. I do think it would be interesting to see what Kate Middleton's life is like now that she's a princess.

February 28, 2012

Review - Superman's Cape by Brian Sprangler


ABOUT THE BOOK:

When Sara Connely is asked what life is like today, she answers with the simple words, ‘life goes on.’ The life she and her boys enjoyed the last dozen years is gone. Coping with the death of her husband is difficult. Doing so with two young boys, and no money, is almost too much to ask.

Life does go on, but when Sara’s oldest boy becomes lost in Croatan National Forest, life comes to a stop.

Twelve year old Kyle Connely doesn’t know the woods. He doesn’t know the wildlife. He doesn’t know how to get home. Lost in the wilderness, he faces dangers the likes of which he has never seen. Kyle’s time is running out. A hurricane is looming, and in its path is the coastal forest he is trying to survive.

Jacob Hanson has a gift. An intuition. An insightfulness. And it has helped him find success. But his gift turns into a curse as he becomes an unwilling participant in Kyle's plight. What Jacob Hanson doesn't know is he also holds the key to Sara’s past and the lifetime she lost with her husband.

MY THOUGHTS:

When I sat down to read Superman's Cape by Brian Sprangler, I didn't really have any expectations set.  This is his first novel, so I didn't have any prior work to compare it with.  After reading the synopsis, I had a feel for what the book would entail and was ready to dive in.  I enjoyed Superman's Cape, especially because of Brian's ability to capture my attention.

AUTHOR BIO:


Brian Spangler is a resident of Virginia and lives with his wife, two children, three cats (sometimes more), mouse, parrot, lizard and a sugar glider.

Brian grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. As a youngster, he liked to write short stories and even self-published a few times using cardboard for book covers and almost all of the masking tape found in his parent’s house. Later he worked with his father in a professional photography lab where emerging technologies captured his imagination and attention and from which a career in engineering was born.

As an engineer, Brian has both a Bachelors and Masters degree in computer science. He has worked on large projects including a number of national level security programs and smaller projects such as computer visualizations that demonstrate a form of graphical pixel ballet in response to music.

Writing has always been a constant. From producing technical documents to writing poetry and his favorite, writing fiction – a day does not pass where Brian isn’t spending a part of it writing or thinking about writing.

Visit Brian's website

Disclosure: I was provided with a free copy of Superman's Cape by Brian Sprangler through Business 2 Blogger for review purposes.  I will be receiving a small stipend.  All opinions expressed are 100% my own.

Review & #Giveaway - So Damn Lucky by Deborah Coonts


ABOUT THE BOOK:

Lucky O'Toole -- Head of Customer Relations at The Babylon, premier mega-resort on the Vegas Strip -- thinks it's just another night in Las Vegas. But then a magician pulls a disappearing act, right under Lucky's nose. Is it a stunt? Or something worse?

While Lucky chases leads, someone is trying to put her off the scent. As if this wasn't enough to ruin her day, Lucky's relationship with The Big Boss is coming to a head - - past hurts can no longer be denied. Of course, she is already on shaky emotional ground: Teddie, her live-in, has been touring with a young and lovely pop star. Paxton Dane, former coworker and would-be suitor, is still circling, hoping to find a chink in the armor of Lucky's resolve. And then, there's this French chef, who is proving to be too hot to handle . . .

Las Vegas expert Deborah Coonts thrills again with this third installment in her dazzling series focused on casino "fixer" Lucky O'Toole.

EXCERPT:

Chapter One of Deborah Coonts' So Damn Lucky
By Deborah Coonts,
Author of So Damn Lucky

Some things in life are best savored alone -- sex is not one of them.

This happy thought occurred to me while piloting a borrowed Ferrari and staring at the smiling couples filling the sidewalks along the Las Vegas Strip. Walking hand-in-hand, they were living, breathing reminders of the sorry state of my own love life.

"Lady! Watch out!"

I heard the shout in the nick of time. Slamming on the brakes, I narrowly avoided sliding the front end of the Ferrari under a tour bus. A sea of Japanese faces appeared like moons in the back window, peering down at me. Then cameras blocked the faces, flashbulbs popping as I shrugged and waved while trying to appear unruffled.

The young man who had shouted stepped over to the car and peered through the open roof, like a judge eyeing the accused. "Are you okay?" he asked. His face flushed, his eyes glassy, he looked like he was still recovering from last night's party or getting a head start on the next one.

"Thanks to you," I said as I restarted the car, which had stalled. "I know better than to think about sex while doing something potentially life-threatening. What was I thinking?" I cringed as the words popped out of my mouth. Even I couldn't believe I'd said that. Clearly, I needed to get a grip: first I couldn't stop thinking about sex, now I was talking about it to strangers. This was so not good.

"What were you thinking?" The kid smirked at me as he took another gulp from the glass clutched tightly in his hand. "Care to . . . enlighten me?" he asked after wiping his mouth on the sleeve of his sweatshirt which had NYU printed in bold blue on the front.

The sweatshirt looked new. He looked twelve. I felt old.

"Another time, perhaps," I lied. I didn't really intend to flirt with the kid. However, with Teddie, my former live-in, gallivanting around the globe playing rock star for the last six weeks -- and the foreseeable future -- my prospects looked pretty dim. Teddie and I had been really good for a while. Now, I didn't know what we were.

Sexual self-preservation clearly had kicked in.

"Go easy on those walktails -- they're deadly and the night is still young," I said, in a blatant attempt to steer the conversation away from the current topic.

"Walktail?"

"That drink in your hand, small enough to take with you, but potent enough to leave you puking in the gutter."

The kid's face grew serious as he held up the brew for inspection, looking at it with new- found respect. "Yes, Ma'am," he said, his voice filled with awe.

My smile vanished. Despite careful study, I was still unable to figure out at precisely what moment in time I had gone from being a Miss to a Ma'am. What changed? Whatever it was, I wanted it back like it used to be -- along with a few other things, but they would all take minor miracles. While I believe in magic, miracles were pushing the envelope, even for me. I squeezed the paddle shifter and put the car in gear. Easing around the still stationary bus, I hit the gas. The night held an October chill -- refreshing as the wind teased my hair. A full moon fought a losing battle as it competed valiantly with the lights of the Strip. I knew stars filled the sky, but they weren't visible in the false half-night of Las Vegas at full wattage.

My name is Lucky O'Toole, and, as I mentioned, the Ferrari isn't mine. It belongs to the dealership at The Babylon, my employer and the newest addition to the Las Vegas Strip mega-resort explosion. By title, I am the Head of Customer Relations. In reality, I'm the chief problem solver. If a guest at the Babylon has a 'situation' -- which could be anything from an unplanned marriage, an unfamiliar bed partner, a roaring headache or an unexplained rash, to a wife and kids given a room on the same floor as the mistress's suite -- I'm the go-to girl.

Lucky me.

Actually, I love my job. And I miss Teddie. As the two appear mutually exclusive, therein lies the rub. But, enough of that -- I had wallowed in self-pity for my allotted ten minutes today. No more private pity party for me; I was on my way to the real thing.

The invitation read:

Inviting all family, friends and former dancers to a farewell party in honor of the forty-year run of the Calliope Burlesque Cabaret. October 26, eight o-clock sharp, backstage at the Calliope Theater, the Athena Resort and Casino. Present this invitation for admittance.

To someone in my position, being invited to parties was part of the exercise, but this was one guest list on which I never expected to find my name. I wasn't family, nor was I a former dancer -- although with my six-foot frame, I guess dancing might have been a career path had I not been averse to prancing in front of strangers wearing nothing but stilettos and a thong, with twenty pounds of feathers on my head.

That left friend. As the sole individual responsible for shutting down the show, I doubted I qualified under that category either. Perhaps they invited me because of my unparalleled ability to smooth ruffled feathers, or maybe for my irritating inability to overlook a pun no matter how tortured. Who knew? However, I never could resist a good mystery, so despite the niggling feeling I'd received an invitation to my own execution, I accepted.

After having to go back to the office for the invitation, and after the near miss on the Strip, I pulled the Ferrari up to the front of the Athena. Careful to extricate myself from the low-slung car without giving the valet an eyeful up my short skirt, I then tossed the keys to him. Wrapping myself in a warm hug of cashmere pashmina to ward off the night chill, I straightened my skirt, threw back my shoulders, found a tentative balance on four-inch heels, and headed inside. An aging Grand Dame, the Athena had seen better days. Like a ship marooned on the shoals, torn and tattered by the elements, the Athena had been savaged by time and inattention. Moored at the wrong end of the Strip, surrounded by lesser properties, she now boasted only faded glory. Her carpet stained, her walls dingy and décor dated, she reeked of quiet desperation. While she still boasted 'The Best Seafood Buffet in Vegas' for less than twenty dollars, which brought in some of the locals, her gaming rooms were rarely more than a third full. In Vegas, folks are quick to abandon a sinking ship -- even if the slots are loose and the staff friendly.

My boss, Albert Rothstein (also known as The Big Boss), recently acquired the Athena from the previous owner, who had decided the best way to beat The Big Boss was to frame him for murder. In a high stakes game of cat-and-mouse, The Big Boss had eaten the canary -- with my help, I'm happy to say.

The fact that The Big Boss is also my father is a closely guarded secret -- so close that even I was in the dark until recently, when, facing the prospect of imminent death at the hands of a heart surgeon, The Big Boss decided to come clean. I'm still not sure how I felt about the whole thing, so I ignored it whenever possible. I was pretty happy with the way things were before the big bombshell, so I didn't see any reason to rock the boat. The Big Boss saw it differently; now that he'd claimed me -- and made his relationship with my mother public -- he wanted the whole world to know. Not a hooker's chance in Heaven, thank you very much. Don't get me wrong; I loved him like a father . . . always had. But, who the heck wants to be the boss's daughter?

Expecting the usual sparse crowd, I was surprised to see a throng milling in the Athena's dismal lobby and spilling into the casino. Having spent my formative years in and out of Vegas hotels and my adult life working in them, I rarely noticed the fashion choices of the river of humanity that flowed through. However, tonight their choices were hard to ignore.

Space creatures of all shapes and sizes mingled, giving each other the Vulcan sign of greeting. It was like the Star Trek Experience at the Hilton used to be, but better. While I'm not that well versed in aliens, I thought I recognized a couple of Klingons, a Romulan or two, multiple Ferengi, and a collective of Borg. As the Borg passed, their faces impassive, I thought about saying "Resistance is futile" but I stifled myself. The whole thing made me realize how much I missed the Hilton's hokey institution. When they shuttered Quark's, the Hilton had closed a whole chapter of my youth. Strange new worlds must be explored, I guess.

Scattered among the Trekkers -- they'd been Trekkies when I was young, but one vehement Klingon had corrected me and I was not one to argue with an angry Kilngon -- were little green men, bubble-headed aliens of 1950s movie fantasy, a Wookie or two, other wild Star Wars imaginings, and several truly original creations. Some of the aliens were even disguised as humans -- one of whom I recognized.

Junior Arbogast, hoax exposer, fraud buster, and legend in his own mind, made his living debunking UFO sightings, alien abductions and paranormal phenomena in general. Junior and I had bonded over an interesting outing to Area 51 -- the local Air Force spook palace north of town and the epicenter of UFO lore. He had spent an hour face down in the dirt, a gun pointed at his head, while I endeavored to talk the Lincoln County Sheriff out of arresting him, and the Cammo Guys, as the security service hired to protect and defend the perimeter were so lovingly referred to, from perforating him. Now, each year when the spookies held their annual convention in town, Junior and I usually found time to have a drink together, which I enjoyed. Yes, he could be arrogant and a pain in the ass, but he was bright and knew BS when he saw it. I liked that about him.

Built like a fire hydrant, with a shock of wiry dishwater blond hair, pale eyes under heavy, bushy brows, and a nose that had been broken more than once, Junior loved a good fight -- the product of a childhood in the mountains of West Virginia. He didn't tolerate fools well, so he had few friends, a fact that didn't seem to bother him. How I managed to stay off his blithering idiot list was an enduring mystery.

"Are you merely observing the mating rituals of alien life-forms, or are you looking for the next Mrs. Arbogast?" I whispered as I sidled in next to him.

"Ah, the great quipster, Lucky O'Toole. I was wondering when you'd turn up," Junior mumbled through a mouthful of hot dog. He swallowed, then took a healthy swig from his gallon-size Bucket-o-Beer. "You jest, but I'll have you know," he continued, "a renowned professor at one of this country's most storied institutions of higher learning postulated that all alien abductions around the world could be explained as a simple cross-species breeding project."

"So everything really is about sex?"

"Especially in Vegas. If sex doesn't happen here, why come?" Junior stuffed in the last of his hotdog and washed it down with more beer.

Why indeed, I thought as I watched the UFO aficionados -- some true believers, but mostly half-baked hangers-on who liked a good party with a weird group of folks. I could identify -- I lived there.

People and aliens packed in around us, their energy infectious. A television crew trailed one of the local talking heads apparently on the prowl for content for a 'wacky and wonderful' segment for the nightly news. Everyone seemed to be waiting for something.

"What's going on?" I asked Junior, since he appeared to be waiting as well.

"We are all about to witness a spectacular example of professional suicide."

"Really? Whose?" I felt the inner flicker of some primal calling -- probably the same unsavory instinct that draws us all to the scene of disaster. I didn't like it.

"Dr. Zewicki."

"Ah," I said, not needing any more explanation.

Zoom-Zoom Zewicki had been a train wreck waiting to happen for years. A former astronaut and the twentieth-something man launched into space, with a PhD in some obscure science from one of the world's foremost universities, Zoom-Zoom had one major affliction: He used to be somebody. In recent years, he had resorted to quirkier and more outlandish stunts to make sure we all remembered that.

"This must be my lucky day. First I get to witness professional suicide, then I get to preside at a funeral."

"My, you're a glutton for punishment." Junior waded up the paper wrapper from his hot dog and stuffed it in his pocket.

"That will be my epitaph," I said, only half joking. "I'm sure 'taking punishment' is part of my job description, but, fool that I am, I didn't read the fine print. So, what treat does Zoom-Zoom have in store for us?" I glanced at my watch -- eight fifteen. Fashionably late to the party, I still had a few more minutes before my tardiness would be considered another salvo in my one-man war on the Calliope Girls. The war was a figment of their imaginations, of course, but I didn't want to toss any unnecessary grenades.

Before Junior had time to answer, a hush fell over the crowd. Heads turned as Zoom-Zoom stepped to a podium on a dais at the far end of the lobby.

A short man who kept himself in fighting trim, Dr. Zewicki wore his hair military short, his shirts pressed, his slacks creased, and a look of encroaching madness in his dark eyes. He leaned into the microphone, got too close, then drew back with a jerk as if the resulting squeal was from a snake coiled to strike.

"Thank you all for coming." This time he got the distance to the mike just right. His unexpectedly deep voice echoed around the marble lobby and rippled over the crowd. He waited until the last reverberation died before continuing.

"My statement will be brief and I won't accept any questions at this time. For those of you who wish to know more, I will be holding a formal presentation Thursday night, in Rachel, as part of Viewing Night."

Expectant murmurs rolled like waves through the crowd.

Dr. Zewicki fed on the attention of the crowd like an alien spacecraft sucking electromagnetic energy from a thunderstorm. Pausing, he milked it, then waited a few beats more until every head turned his direction, every voice quieted. Staring at the crowd, a serious expression on his face, he pulled himself to his full height and announced, "I have recently experienced an alien abduction."

The murmurs of the crowd rose on a cresting wave of expectation.

"My abductor's message is simple and two-fold: When we die, they come and take our spirits. Some spirits pass through to the next life, but those of us with unresolved issues -- those who were murdered, perhaps -- live on with the aliens. And now they wish to open a channel."

The wave of expectation broke into a cascade of excited voices, flooding the lobby with a rushing torrent of questions.

Questions that would remain unanswered: Zoom-Zoom Zewicki had left the stage.

Stunned, I needed a few moments to find my voice. "Did he just say what I thought he said?"

"Tortured souls live on with the aliens and Dr. Zewicki can talk to them."

"I'm sure the Homicide division at Metro will be thrilled to have alien assistance." I shrugged off a chill that shivered down my spine. Talk of murder messed with the Vegas magic -- magic that was part of my job to deliver. Junior looked at me, his face inscrutable. "Talk about a meteor hitting the atmosphere! A lifetime of achievement incinerated, just like that." He snapped his fingers in front of my face.

"The death of a star," I whispered.

"And the birth of a pop-culture icon," announced Junior, his voice as hard as flint. Zoom -Zoom Zewicki had just pegged the fraud buster's bullshit meter.

#

I left Junior plotting the pulverization of the last remaining pebbles of Dr. Zewicki's reputation, and headed toward the Calliope Burlesque Theatre on the far side of the casino. Working my way through the throng took me longer than I anticipated. I had just reached the edge of the crowd when I felt a hand on my arm.

"Ms. O'Toole?" Young and soft, the voice was unfamiliar.

"Yes." I turned and found myself staring down at a blue-eyed Ferengi.

The alien thrust an upside-down top hat at me. "Would you be so kind as to deliver this to Mr. Fortunoff? He left it in the bar. Normally, I would take it to him myself, but security is not allowing anyone backstage except those invited to the party."

"Sure." I grabbed the hat, surprised by its weight, as the Ferengi melted back into the crowd. That a magician would need a top hat to pull something out of seemed logical to me, so I didn't think the request odd. I peered inside the hat…empty. Turning it right-side up and shaking -- nothing fell out. Whatever.

A lesser luminary in the world of the Dark Arts, Dimitri Fortunoff specialized in sleights of hand, mindreading, and other parlor tricks. He performed nightly as the entertainment between the first and second acts of the burlesque show. I tucked the hat under my arm and strode through the casino. Flashing my invite to the security guard, I pushed through the double doors into another world. While decorations and scenery adorned the audience side of the curtain, creating the illusion of a bright and exciting world, a different, workman-like world existed behind the curtain. The stage was empty, illuminated by bare bulbs that would be extinguished during the show. Scenery hung in the rafters on counter-weighted pulleys. Other accoutrements, including Dimitri's magic tricks, were stuffed unceremoniously into every nook and cranny, creating an obstacle course for the unwary. At the appropriate time during the show, each piece would be moved into position; after its use it would be removed in a well choreographed, painstakingly rehearsed dance.

Forty years of dust and grime, forty years of pain and sweat, forty years of hopes and dreams, forty years of Vegas history -- and I had swept it all away with the stroke of a pen. A matter of dollars and cents, the decision had been easy to make. Living with it, however, was a different matter.

Extraordinarily tall, beautiful women in heavy make-up and little else dotted the backstage area, each encircled by friends, family, and adoring fans clever enough to talk their way in. I noticed Zoom-Zoom Zewiki orbiting GiGi Vascheron, the star of the show. No wonder he had disappeared from the stage so quickly.

Shorter women in costume also hosted clusters of partiers. The show photographer darted in and out, memorializing the event for posterity. Everyone talked in hushed voices. If anyone smiled, I missed it.

The few men who danced in the show weren't visible. Neither was Dimitri Fortunoff.

Nobody's eyes met mine as I gently pushed my way through the crowd. However, I felt the daggers hurled at my back, and I didn't really blame them. In their shoes, I'd hate me too.

I found my conjurer in his dressing room hiding from reality.

"Well, if it isn't the grim reaper," he growled when he noticed me filling his doorway. "Did you come to gloat, or are you just slumming?"

A tall man with a barrel chest, droopy features, hangdog eyes and a down-turned mouth, dressed in a poorly-fitting tux, Fortunoff looked more like an undertaker than an entertainer. Slumped in a chair, one leg crossed over the other, a plate balanced in his lap, he eyed me as he forked in a bite of chocolate cake with one hand. The fingers of his free hand worked a coin over and under, from thumb to pinkie, then back again.

A number of plastic glasses dotted the desk and shelves. Plates with partially eaten cake stuffed the small trashcan in the corner.

"Looks like you've had a party."

"A wake."

"The world moves on, Dimitri." Mesmerized, I watched the coin dance between his fingers. "The Big Boss is spending millions refurbishing this place, turning it into Las Vegas' first eco-friendly, totally green hotel."

"Eco-friendly in a town known for depleting all the available local natural resources… an interesting concept."

"We like to appear to do our part."

"An illusion."

"You should know," I fired back. "Besides, I've heard you've moved on."

"Yeah? How so?"

"Rumor has it you're the Masked Houdini."

A magician who hid his identity while exposing famous illusions for a national television audience, the Masked Houdini had aroused the ire of illusionists far and wide. In fact, when we announced he would be doing the Houdini Séance on Halloween, several death threats had appeared in my office -- some for me, some for the Houdini. The police were unable to trace the notes, but we'd heightened security as a precaution.

"The rumor is just that, a rumor. No truth to it," Dimitri intoned. His eyes held mine briefly, then skittered away.

"Right. Truth or not, somebody obviously believes it. I wouldn't take the threats lightly." This was old ground for us, but I felt the need to cover it once more.

"I'm touched by your concern."

I might have imagined it, but I thought I caught a glimpse of a grin lift one corner of his mouth, then vanish.

"Don't let it go to your head," I said. "I'm just covering my ass. If the Masked Houdini doesn't show up on Halloween, I'm toast."

This time I was sure I saw a smile.

"Did you bring me a present?" Dimitri tilted his head toward the hat under my arm.

"Not me," I said as I thrust it at him. "A Ferengi."

Dimitri raised an eyebrow.

"Don't ask. The UFO folks . . . " I trailed off, figuring that was enough of an explanation.

He took the hat. His brows creased into a frown when he felt the weight. Reaching in, he pulled out, of all things, a rabbit, surprising us both. "Cute, but trite, don't you think?" he scoffed.

Snow white, his black nose flaring excitedly, the poor creature looked terrified. Reaching to pet it, I noticed something tied to its dainty, jeweled collar.

A note.

I unfurled it and my blood ran cold.

In red lipstick, someone has scrawled 'DIMITRI FORTUNOFF MUST DIE'.

Dimitri paled. He dropped the rabbit as he fell back in his chair, grabbing at the bow tie knotted around his neck.

I snagged the bunny just before it hit the floor.

"Water. I need water." Dimitri's face was now turning crimson. "I can't breathe."

"Molly," I screamed, shouting for Dimitri's assistant, as I put the bunny down. She hadn't been in her cubicle when I'd walked by earlier, but she had to be close by. "Molly!" I knelt by Dimitri and managed to get his tie unknotted and his collar loosened. I was opening my mouth to shout again, when the girl materialized in the doorway.

"What happened?" Molly asked looking flustered and out of breath. Trim and sturdy, she had an athlete's body and an efficient manner. Her dark hair was cut in layers and styled to look unkept. Concern clouded her brilliantly blue eyes as she looked first at Dimitri, then to me, then back again.

"He's just had a shock. Get some water, would you?"

Dimitri gulped air. When Molly returned with water, he gulped that too. His normal coloring slowly returned, and his breathing settled back to a steady pace until a sheen of sweat was the sole remaining evidence of his panic attack.

"Are you okay?" I asked when I thought he could answer.

"Fine." He pushed himself upright in the chair and set about retying his tie. "Well, as fine as anyone could be after having their life threatened."

I sat back on my heels, my knees pressed together. "I found using Thumper as a delivery vehicle particularly menacing, didn't you?"

He gave me a sneer. Molly hid her smile behind a dainty hand.

I pushed myself to my feet, then realized the bunny was nowhere to be found -- he had escaped in the commotion.

"Molly, you better go find that rabbit. He'd certainly liven up the show, but I'm in enough trouble with the girls already."

She glanced at the magician, then bolted.

"Do you want to cancel tonight's show?" I asked, turning my attention to Dimitri. "We really should call the police."

"And then what?" Dimitri mopped his brow with a multi-colored scarf, then tucked it back up his sleeve. "All the other threats have been false alarms and the police have found nothing."

"You have a point. They haven't been successful with the notes delivered to my office addressed to the fool who hired the Masked Houdini -- which, by the way, would be me. I've increased security. I don't know what else to do."

"You're getting notes, too?"

"Just lucky, I guess." Hands on my hips, I tried to look stern. "Seriously, I think you should cancel the show."

"No." Dimitri looked adamant. "The show must go on."

He didn't smile, so I don't think he meant that as a joke.

"Well then, come on." Grabbing Dimitri's hand, I gave him a tug -- neither of us was particularly eager to cancel the final performance in a forty-year run. "This is your swan song. Make the most of it."

"I wish you hadn't put it quite like that."

"You'll be in front of a packed house," I said as I brushed myself off, then straightened his tie. "What could possibly happen?"

#

The mood in the front of the house was even more somber than backstage, if that was possible. Patrons filed into the theatre -- the most important among them following the ushers to long, communal tables placed perpendicular to the stage, seating six per side. Guests of lesser importance were left to fend for themselves. If any of them wanted a beverage of choice, they had to get it themselves at the bar window on the left side of the theatre, the queue for which already snaked halfway across the large room.

Statuesque women greeted each other with hugs and air-kisses. Some cried while their escorts shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. Nobody smiled when they looked my direction.

I felt like a creep.

Unaccustomed to being in the midst of so much hostility, for a moment I was flummoxed. Casting my eyes around the room, I finally spied a safe haven -- a small gaggle of elite magicians. Purportedly the members of the Magic Ring -- a secret ruling society within the mystical arts community -- I had checked them into The Babylon yesterday and taken charge of their VIP stay.

"Mr. Mortimer." I greeted the man who had made all the arrangements for the group. "How are you enjoying Vegas so far?"

"It's been lovely, thank you," Mr. Mortimer said, his eyes lighting up when he saw me. "And this show is a particular treat."

A short man, almost as big around as he was tall, Mr. Mortimer had dancing eyes and a quick smile. A ring of snow-white hair circled his otherwise bald head. The buttons of the silk vest stretching across his blossoming midsection looked ready to burst, but he appeared unconcerned.

"We were so sorry to hear the show is closing," he continued, clearly unaware he was talking to the harbinger of death.

"It's one of our favorites -- a Vegas institution."

"Where are you sitting?" I asked.

He consulted his ticket. "Table Seven."

"Me as well. May I show you the way?"

We worked our way down to the front and took our seats as the lights dimmed and the orchestra played the first chords of a lilting tune. The curtain parted and the company of clothed dancers, male and female, took the stage in a rousing cabaret number. The audience, many of whom were former dancers, whistled and clapped for their compatriots. When the topless ladies, or the nudes as they are referred to in the business, sashayed onto the stage, the admiration of the audience grew louder. Some of the women smiled, but most stayed in character.

Despite having seen my share, topless shows remained a mystery to me. First, the women weren't even buxom. With the shortest of them measured at five foot ten and none of them weighing more than a hundred and thirty pounds, how much bust could they be expected to have? Of course, my initial expectation had been they would all have been enhanced like most of the strippers in town, but that was not the case. A sort of weird reverse discrimination prevailed in Vegas: the very best showgirls must be au naturale. I bet those women's boobs were the only natural things left in town. Heck, even the grass outside The Wynn was plastic.

Wishing I had taken time to wait in line for a drink, but worried I might not have lived through it, I sat back, tried to relax, and watched the show. At the completion of several rousing dance numbers, each punctuated by the appearance of the nudes, the curtain fell on the first act.

After a brief moment, the curtain again parted. The scenery had disappeared. A large rectangular wooden crate resembling a phone booth with a glass front and sides stood vertically in the center of the stage. Shiny brass angles attached along the edges with neat rows of rivets, held the box together. Although it was hard to tell, I thought the crate was full of water.

Mr. Mortimer and his friends gasped in unison. Leaning over, he whispered in my ear, "That's Houdini's Chinese Water Torture Chest."

"Houdini? Like Harry Houdini?"

Mr. Mortimer nodded. "I can't imagine where Dimitri got it."

Our eyes shot back to the stage as Dimitri Fortunoff appeared, clad only in old-fashioned swimming attire. Molly and several of the dancers accompanied him. The magician waved to someone off stage, then glanced up as a block and tackle descended from the rafters. It bore a wooden plank, cut with two round holes.

"Is this part of his normal act?" one of Mr. Mortimer's compatriots asked.

"Not as of a month ago," I replied, a ball of dread growing in my stomach.

"Ladies and gentleman," Dimitri began. "As you all know, tonight is our last show and I've been perfecting a special escape for you."

When he paused, you could hear a pin drop.

"Harry Houdini, widely considered the best of all time, developed the escape I am about to do for you. First, my ankles will be placed in this stock." He held up the wooden board, removed an open padlock, which released the two halves, allowing it to be positioned around his legs.

An assistant then bent, threaded the padlock through two D rings, one on each half of the stock, and snapped the padlock closed.

"Thank you," Dimitri said to the girl, then continued. "After volunteers from the crowd have checked all the apparatus thoroughly, I will be lifted and lowered head first into the chest you see here, which is filled with water. My beautiful assistants will then padlock the top in place."

A nervous murmur rippled through the room.

"You must be convinced the chest is nothing more than it seems, that I have not tampered with it in any way. Now for the volunteers." With one hand shielding his eyes from the lights, he looked over the crowd. His eyes came to rest on our table. Pointing at us, he said, "You. All of you. Would you be so kind?"

Catching my eye, he shook his head at me, so I remained behind as the magicians at my table filed onto the stage. Zoom-Zoom appeared from backstage and joined them even though he hadn't been called.

Dimitri didn't seem to mind. As he watched, the men examined every pane of glass, every nook, every cranny of the chest. When they had apparently satisfied themselves, Dimitri asked them, "Could you see any alterations in the chest that might explain an easy escape?"

Each of them shook his head. "We could not," announced Mr. Mortimer in his stage voice -- apparently he'd been voted the group's spokesman, as the others remained silent, merely nodding their agreement.

"What about you?" Dimitri pointed to one of the magicians who looked most unhappy at being singled out. A hawkish man with angry eyes, he glared at Dimitri. "If this box has a trick, I do not know it."

"Why don't you ask Mr. Houdini?" Before the man could answer, Dimitri turned to address the crowd. "Some of you may be too young to remember the acclaimed mentalist, but may I present The Great Danilov."

The crowd clapped politely as Danilov took a bow, and shook Dimitiri's hand. After a whispered exchange with the magician, Danilov hurried off stage.

"Or you?" Dimitri pointed to Dr. Zewiki. "You claim to talk to the dead. Maybe Mr. Houdini will speak to you."

"Doubtful. No one ever said he was murdered," Zoom-Zoom hissed as he ducked backstage.

The other magicians filed after Danilov and retook their seats as Dimitri announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, these men are part of an august group of magicians. If they can't see how I perform this escape, then it must be a very good trick indeed."

"I have a really bad feeling about this," Mr. Mortimer again whispered in my ear as he settled himself in his seat. "It's long been believed the secrets of the chest died with Mr. Houdini."

"Could Mr. Fortunoff have a new trick up his sleeve?" I asked.

"There are only so many ways to get out of a chest filled with water and locked from the outside."

I didn't like the hint of impending doom in his voice. I fought with myself. I wanted to stop the whole thing. But what if he really could get out of that contraption? He wasn't suicidal, as far as I knew, and I was in enough trouble already. Against my better judgment, I decided to let the show go on.

We watched as the assistants first checked the shackles and tested the block and tackle. Then they helped the magician as he was lifted, then lowered into the tank. Quickly the women lowered the lid and snapped several padlocks in place around its edge, effectively securing it to the chest -- with Dimitri clearly visible inside.

I held my breath as the assistants drew a curtain around the chest and left the stage. Apparently the rest of the audience felt as I did -- they didn't move. Not even a whisper broke the silence.

An eternity passed. Then another.

The audience grew restless. Nervous whispering buzzed.

Finally someone shouted, "It's been too long. Somebody get him out of that thing."

Other voices joined in agreement.

"Come." Mr. Mortimer ordered as he rose to his feet and grabbed my hand, pulling me with him. His friends fell in step behind us as we started for the stage.

We had made it to the first step when Molly ran out from stage-left. Her face was stricken, streaked with tears.

"Oh my God! He's dead!"

The above is an excerpt from the book So Damn Lucky by Deborah Coonts. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.

Copyright © 2012 Deborah Coonts, author of So Damn Lucky

MY THOUGHTS:

I have been a fan of Deborah Coonts writing ever since I first laid eyes on one of the Lucky O'Toole books.  The author has a way of sucking in a reader and never loosening her grip.  So Damn Lucky offers an interesting plot with a memorable main character.  I recommend reading the series in order, because once you get a taste, you will be hungry for another. 

AUTHOR BIO:


Deborah Coonts, author of Lucky Stiff, says her mother tells her she was born in Texas a very long time ago, though she's not totally sure -- her mother can't be trusted. But she was definitely raised in Texas on barbeque, Mexican food and beer. She currently resides in Las Vegas, where family and friends tell her she can't get into too much trouble. Silly people. Coonts has built her own business, practiced law, flown airplanes, written a humor column for a national magazine, and survived a teenager.

For more information please visit http://www.deborahcoonts.com/, and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.

February 27, 2012

Review - Losing Clementine by Ashley Ream


ABOUT THE BOOK:

In thirty days Clementine Pritchard will be finished with her last painting and her life.

World-renowned artist and sharp-tongued wit Clementine Pritchard has decided that she's done. After flushing away a medicine cabinet full of prescriptions, she gives herself thirty days to tie up loose ends—finish one last painting, make nice with her ex-husband, and find a home for her cat. Clementine plans to spend the month she has left in a swirl of art-world parties, manic work sessions, and outrageous acts—but what she doesn't expect is to uncover secrets surrounding the tragedy that befell her mother and sister. In an ending no one sees coming, will we lose Clementine or will we find her?

A bold debut from an exciting new voice, Losing Clementine is a wonderfully entertaining and poignant novel about unanticipated self-discovery that features one of the most irresistible, if deeply flawed, characters to grace contemporary fiction in years.

MY THOUGHTS:

This book is amazing! While reading it, I couldn't help but laugh out loud at the wildly entertaining voice of Ashley Ream. Clementine is an unforgettable character with lots of personality. Although she has a timeline set and is planning to end it all by taking her own life, she has an undeniable spunk about her. I thought that there would be some depressing parts but it was really comical. I adored reading Losing Clementine and can't wait to see what Ashley publishes next!

AUTHOR BIO:


Ashley Ream got her first job at a newspaper when she was 16. After working in newsrooms across Missouri, Florida and Texas, she gave up the deadlines to pursue fiction. She lives in Los Angeles where she works at a nonprofit and is finishing her next novel.

Visit Ashley's website

Disclosure: I received a free copy of Losing Clementine by Ashley Ream from HarperCollins for review purposes.  All opinions expressed are 100% my own.

Review & #Giveaway - Pam: Life Beyond Death; Joy Beyond Grief by Christy Lowry


ABOUT THE BOOK:

An anxious voice accosts a young mother as she picks up the phone. An elementary school secretary notifies her that her daughter Pam may have been in a serious accident. But why this call when Pam, a middle schooler, rides a public, not a school bus, home? Yet because this secretary takes the time to phone her, this mother responds to her suggestion to immediately call 911.

Was the dispatcher awaiting her call?! His disconcertingly accurate questions, punctuated with progressively detailed and accurate information only she could know, lends credence to that impression. Initial relief that the victim, first described as someone far younger, dissipates before a parent's worst fear: has the unthinkable truly happened? To them?

In PAM, a family miracle unfolds, unveiling a God Who actively and directly redeems--even uses--their loss for good. In the process, healing and restoration powerfully emerge to transform hopeless grief into inspired conviction that there is--indeed--Life Beyond Death, Joy Beyond Grief.

MY THOUGHTS:

I read Pam on Friday and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I was moved to tears several times throughout this book and felt a tugging on my soul that was unlike anything I have experienced before. I can't think of anything more terrifying than burying your child.  As a parent who lost her little one to tragedy, Christy takes you on a spiritual journey and gives you an inside perspective of this type of loss.  Beautifully written, Pam proves that nothing is impossible when you give yourself over to a higher power. 

AUTHOR BIO:


Christy Lowry received her AA from El Camino Jr. College, Lawndale; and a BA in History, with an English minor, from Cal State University at Long Beach, California. She and her family began their long-term involvement in Alaska by leaving California in 1978. Her daughter, Pam, died at age 13. Christy and her husband, Paul, live in Anchorage, Alaska, as do their older son, John, wife, Pamela Diane, and children, Amanda Joy and Ezra. Younger son Brad, and bride Carolynn, attend the University of Las Vegas, Nevada.
Visit Christy's website

February 26, 2012

Watch Me


Do you ever find yourself lost in a book wondering what time it is? I do this all the time. I will sit down with the current novel I am digesting and before I know it, I have finished the book. This wouldn't be a big deal but when it happens a couple of times a week and household responsibilities aren't receiving the attention they need, it becomes a problem. I'm truly blessed to have a husband who understands my reading addiction and has never once tried to change it. I'm sure it drives him nuts at times but thankfully this is something that I shared with him from the beginning so it comes as no surprise. I do not think I will ever lose my love for reading and for that I am grateful. He has mentioned several times that he thinks I need something like one of Citizen Eco drive watches that might help me realize the time even if I'm engrossed in a book.  While it may not serve the purpose he is going for, it would look pretty good on my wrist, don't you think?  It's amazing what a little accent piece can do for you. 

FREE READS - Mystery Dance: Three Novels by Scott Nicholson


MYSTERY DANCE: An omnibus edition containing more than 200,000 words.

Features the complete text of the #1 bestselling mystery and suspense novel Disintegration, The Skull Ring, Crime Beat, a short story, a bonus deleted chapter from Disintegration, and an essay about the novels.

DISINTEGRATION-- Two brothers view for a family empire built on deceit, dark secrets, and blood, and one woman stands between them while another waits in the shadows. Jacob's life falls apart when his brother Joshua returns to town after a tragic fire and they return to the twisted roles of their childhood.

THE SKULL RING-- Julia Stone pieces together her shattered childhood memories, but then the past comes closing in when she finds a mysterious silver ring. Three men want to help her, but choosing the wrong ally can cost not only her heart but her soul.

CRIME BEAT-- Crime doesn't pay...but neither does journalism. When a new reporter moves to a small town, a crime spree escalates into serial killing.

Also contains "Dead Air" the from collection CURTAINS. DRM free.
----------------
Scott Nicholson is a #1 bestselling Kindle author in Mystery, Suspense, and Ghosts, including the Stoker Award finalist The Red Church, Speed Dating with the Dead, The Harvest, Liquid Fear, Drummer Boy, As I Die Lying, and six collections, two screenplays, and the picture book If I Were Your Monster. He's also written four books with J.R. Rain.

Visit him at www.hauntedcomputer.com.

Review: Auldicia Rises by R.L. Sloan


ABOUT THE BOOK:

Revenge is sweet, payback is personal, and Karma is a Mother…

Making good on her promise to punish those responsible for her life's tragic turn, Solis Burkes and her vampire mate Nacio Puente, find their happiness is short lived. After Bose betrays them and ultimately pays the price for his deceit, all Hell breaks loose and finds its way to their door.

Unknown to all, Auldicia, Mother of the generations, comes to reclaim her reign on earth--- satisfying her thirst for blood. Auldicia sets out to destroy Solis by calling forth her evil abandoned offspring and descendants to plague this realm and the next. Childress Treemount craves power, and joins her evil ancestor, as lust fills the hearts of those claiming Nacio as their object of desire. Auldicia's thirst is spawning a new generation of vampires, waiting to do her bidding.

Solis journeys around the globe, determined to fight the fires of Hell to battle the Treemounts and not lose herself in the war of hearts.

Experience the sexy thrill ride as Solis holds on to what belongs to her, and what she stands to gain in Auldicia Rises, the third installment of the Embellish Saga.

MY THOUGHTS:

I read and loved the first two books in the Embellish Saga, so when I found out that I could review the third book, I jumped at the chance.  I read the book over a weekend and was thrilled to find out what Solis was up to.  She's such a likable character and I was rooting for her all the way.  A wonderful escape from reality, Auldicia Rises is a winner.

Visit the author's blog

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review purposes. All opinions expressed are 100% my own.

Review & #Giveaway - Recovering The Self: A Journal of Hope and Healing


ABOUT THE BOOK:

Recovering The Self is a quarterly journal which explores the themes of recovery and healing through poetry, memoir, essays, fiction, humor, media reviews and psycho-education. Areas of concern include aging, disabilities, health, abuse recovery, trauma/PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Contributors come from around the world to provide a mirror of the experience of peoples of all cultures and beliefs.

Eating disorder recovery
Psychological First Aid
Enlightened parenting
Ethnicity and culture
Personal growth
Abuse recovery
Heart disease
Life choices
Stress Management
Living with ADHD
AIDS Orphans - how you can help
Book and Film Reviews
and much more!

MY THOUGHTS:

I don't normally talk about this but I was in an abusive relationship.  I was lucky and left while he was serving out a jail sentence.  He had not laid his hands on me yet but I know that would have come next.  I kept wondering how this could possibly happen to me and for a long time, I was ashamed to admit it, even to the people I trusted most.  The thing is, abusers are smart and know what they are doing.  It happened so slowly that before I knew it, I was beaten down so bad emotionally that I ended up in a psych ward.

Even though I am divorced and remarried to a wonderful guy who treats me right, I am still in recovery.  Honestly, I don't think I will ever fully recover from the damage that was done.  That's OK though.  I am a stronger person and have had the opportunity to help people in similar situations.  I'm grateful for all that I went through because it makes me the person that I am today.  Also, it helps me truly appreciate life and my husband in a way that I couldn't have appreciated it before.

So, anyway, about this book...  It opened up old wounds, which was hard at times but necessary for the healing process.  I swallowed the whole book in one day and learned so much about myself.  It opened my eyes to some emotions that I had buried deep in my subconcious.  I knew that books could lend a helping hand with recovery and inspiration but I never imagined that I would actually look to a book for companionship.  I have already loaned Recovering The Self to a friend who has found it as helpful as I did.  This would be the perfect gift for someone going through a hard time because it has helped me tremendously.  I even had my husband read certain parts of it that struck a cord with me and it gave him a glimpse of what I feel inside but can't always find the right words to express it.  I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to read Recovering the Self.

Visit the website

February 23, 2012

Review & #Giveaway - The Kama Sutra


ABOUT THE BOOK:

A gorgeous deluxe edition of the world's most celebrated guide to life, love, relationships and pleasure.

Little is known about Vatsyayana, who is reputed to have composed the Kama Sutra "while observing a celibate's life in full meditation." In Sanskrit the word "kama" means desire, especially for sensual pleasure, and its proper pursuit was considered an essential part of a young, urbane gentleman's well-rounded education.

Untold numbers of readers are curious about the Kama Sutra but put off by its clichéd image as an erotic Oriental curiosity. This elegant edition offers a compelling modern translation of a classic Indian masterpiece-and a wry and entertaining account of human desire and foibles.

MY THOUGHTS:
The Kama Sutra is a widely popular book of love.  I had heard numerous things about the book but had never actually sat down and read it before.  I received a review copy right around Valentine's Day and decided it was the perfect book to read during the holiday.

I was surprised by how well the words seemed to flow.  It definitely brought out some emotions and made me think, which is the whole reason that I love reading.  I feel like I can connect on a deeper level and for that I am grateful.  

Review - Hana-Lani by Christine Sunderland


ABOUT THE BOOK:

Old Nani-lei lives in Hana-lani, her family home in rural Hawaii. She looks after her grandson Henry, 52, and his daughter Lucy, 6, who have returned to Maui from Berkeley after the death of Maria, Henry's wife. Henry and Maria, both professors, had been working on A History of Ethics, and now the grieving Henry struggles to finish it.

City girl Meredith Campbell, 36, fast-paced, self-centered, and beautiful, believes her body will ensure her happiness. After losing her job and finding her lover unfaithful, she flies to Maui, sure he will follow... but her plane crashes near Hana-lani.

As their worlds collide in a natural world both beautiful and dangerous, Henry will be forced to act on his words, and Meredith will come face-to-face with her own life choices.

MY THOUGHTS:

Hana-Lani is a beautiful story that captivates the reader instantly.  I was immediately drawn into the plot and could not wait to find out what would happen next.  When lives are thrown together and people are forced to reflect on themselves and the decisions they have made, they realize what it really means to be family.  Touching, romantic and deeply meaningful, Hana-Lani is a must read.  

AUTHOR BIO:

Photo by Brittany Sunderland

Christine grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and graduated from San Francisco State University Cum Laude with a BA in English Literature. She attended the Squaw Valley Workshop and the Maui Writers Retreat where she studied under the acclaimed novelist Jane Hamilton.

Spending considerable time in Italy, France, and England, she has developed a keen interest in history, the ability of the individual to change events, and the power of belief. In her stories, she brings to life the effect of the past upon the present, the puzzle of perception, and the mystery of time. She is also fascinated by the miracles of life and the pleasure of the senses, from a flaming candle lighting the dark to a rose petal glistening with dew, from the cherry and berry in a fruity Chianti to the yeasty aroma of fresh baked bread.

Christine writes book reviews for Catholicfiction.net and contributes to the Christian Post at http://blogs.christianpost.com/bindings/. She is a member of the California Writers Club and the C.S. Lewis Society, http://www.lewissociety.org. She supports Nazareth House Apostolate, a charitable work for children in Sierra Leone, Africa, First Resort, a pregnancy consulting clinic, and Children's Hospital in Oakland. She has served as Vice-President of the American Church Union, the publishing house of the Anglican Province of Christ the King. All of Christine's proceeds from her novels are given to children's charities.

Christine's stories are set in the present, but draw from the past. The trilogy of Western Europe include: Pilgrimage, in Italy, a story of grief and healing; Offerings, in France, a story of trust and faith; Inheritance, in England, a story of life and belief. Her fourth novel, Hana-lani, takes place in Hawaii and explores the demands of love.

Christine is currently working on a novel about Mary Magdalene set in Rome and Provence.

Visit Christine's website.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book review purposes, as well as a small stipend. All opinions expressed are 100% my own.

February 21, 2012

#Giveaway - The Blood Sugar Solution by Dr. Mark Hyman


In THE BLOOD SUGAR SOLUTION, Dr. Mark Hyman reveals that the secret solution to losing weight and preventing not just diabetes but also heart disease, stroke, dementia, and cancer is balanced insulin levels. Dr. Hyman describes the seven keys to achieving wellness-nutrition, hormones, inflammation, digestion, detoxification, energy metabolism, and a calm mind-and explains his revolutionary six-week healthy-living program. With advice on diet, green living, supplements and medication, exercise, and personalizing the plan for optimal results, the book also teaches readers how to maintain lifelong health. Groundbreaking and timely, THE BLOOD SUGAR SOLUTION is the fastest way to lose weight, prevent disease, and feel better than ever.

Read an excerpt.

Mark Hyman, MD, was co-medical director of Canyon Ranch for ten years, and is now the chairman of the Institute for Functional Medicine and founder and medical director of The UltraWellness Center. He is the New York Times bestselling author of Ultrametabolism, The Ultramind Solution, and The Ultrasimple Diet, and coauthor of Ultraprevention.



 Visit Dr. Hyman's website


Review & #Giveaway - Julia's Child by Sarah Pinneo


SYNOPSIS:

A delectable comedy for every woman who's ever wondered if buying that six-dollar box of organic crackers makes her a hero or a sucker.

Julia Bailey is a mompreneur with too many principles and too little time. Her fledgling company, Julia's Child, makes organic toddler meals like Gentle Lentil and Give Peas a Chance. But turning a profit while saving the world proves tricky as Julia must face a ninety-two-pound TV diva, an ill-timed protest rally, and a room full of one hundred lactating breasts. Will she get her big break before her family reaches the breaking point? In the end, it is a story about motherhood's choices: organic versus local, paper versus plastic, staying at home versus risking it all.

A cookbook author's hilarious fiction debut, Julia's Child will have foodies and all-natural mamas alike laughing, cheering, and asking for more.

MY THOUGHTS:

Julia's Child includes two of my favorite things - food and reading!  When I picked up this book and started reading, I was instantly hooked.  It is a heartwarming, witty and down-to-earth tale of one mother who will stop at nothing to be the woman she wants to be.  I fell in love with this novel and can't wait to see what Sarah publishes next. 

AUTHOR BIO:

Sarah Pinneo worked in finance for more than a decade before making the transition from breadwinner to bread slicer. Her first book was published by Clarkson Potter / Random House in 2007. She holds a degree in economics from Yale University. Sarah has lived in Grand Rapids, MI, New York City, Ludlow, VT and now Hanover, NH where the occasional moose or black bear is spotted in her back yard.

Visit Sarah's website

Excerpt & #Giveaway - The Darlings by Cristina Alger


ABOUT THE BOOK:

A sophisticated page-turner about a wealthy New York family embroiled in a financial scandal with cataclysmic consequences.

Now that he’s married to Merrill Darling, daughter of billionaire financier Carter Darling, attorney Paul Ross has grown accustomed to New York society and all of its luxuries: a Park Avenue apartment, weekends in the Hamptons, bespoke suits. When Paul loses his job, Carter offers him the chance to head the legal team at his hedge fund. Thrilled with his good fortune in the midst of the worst financial downturn since the Great Depression, Paul accepts the position.

But Paul’s luck is about to shift: a tragic event catapults the Darling family into the media spotlight, a regulatory investigation, and a red-hot scandal with enormous implications for everyone involved. Suddenly, Paul must decide where his loyalties lie—will he save himself while betraying his wife and in-laws or protect the family business at all costs?

Cristina Alger’s glittering debut novel interweaves the narratives of the Darling family, two eager SEC attorneys, and a team of journalists all racing to uncover—or cover up—the truth. With echoes of a fictional Too Big to Fail and the novels of Dominick Dunne, The Darlings offers an irresistible glimpse into the highest echelons of New York society—a world seldom seen by outsiders—and a fast-paced thriller of epic proportions.

EXCERPT:



Reprinted by arrangement with Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from The Darlings by Cristina Alger.  Copyright © 2012 by Cristina Alger

 TUESDAY, 9:30 P.M.
Paul slipped in through the side door just as the applause was ending. He stood at the edge of the ballroom until the clapping faded and the music started up again. His wife, Merrill, was up front near the stage. She looked on as a photographer snapped pictures of her mother, Ines, the gala’s chairperson. Around him, partygoers wafted from table to table; a giant amoebic mass, shimmering in the incandescent light of a thousand cocktail glasses and candles. As Paul wended his way toward his wife, he caught a couple of cold stares tossed in his direction. His hand shot reflexively to the knot of his tie, straightening it. It was one of his favorite ties; part of what Merrill called the “first-string rotation” in his closet. He felt good in it, usually. Tonight, amid the sea of tuxedos, it felt woefully inadequate. He kept his eyes trained on his wife and tried, with­out luck, to recall the name of Ines’s charity. The live auction, it seemed, was over. This was a slight disappoint­ment; he had been told it would be a spectacle. This was his mother-in-law’s first year as chairperson, and she wasn’t one to be outdone. For months, she had run around soliciting the most extraordinary auction items she could think of: a weekend at Richard Branson’s house on Necker Island; private piano lessons with Billy Joel; a baseball signed by Babe Ruth. While Paul couldn’t imagine someone throwing down six figures at a charity auction in the middle of a recession, Ines seemed unfailingly confident that she would raise more money this year than ever before.  Bullheaded confidence was part of Ines’s charm. She hired a Sotheby’s auctioneer, ordered oblong bidding paddles with the name of the charity stenciled on the back in gold, and called in favors to get as much press buzz going as possible. She wheedled her way into the pages of some social magazine or other, posing with a handful of other women who also listed their occupa­tion as “philanthropist.”
From the looks of the stage, Ines had been right. Posters of the auction items had been set up on easels behind the podium. Each one now bore a bright red Sold sticker, the kind that got put on car windshields at the dealership. On the last easel, the auctioneer was using a thick marker to ink a staggering “Total Dollars Raised” figure on a large placard.
Ten yards short of Merrill, a hand reached out of the crowd and snagged him by the shoulder. “Bro!” Adrian appeared before him. “I was wondering if you were going to show.” Adrian’s cheeks were flushed and a mist of sweat had appeared at his hairline, from dancing or drinking, or both. His bow tie, a polka-dot number that matched his cummerbund, hung undone around his neck. Adrian was married to Merrill’s sister, Lily. Even though he and Paul were the same age, it was hard for Paul to see Adrian as anything other than a younger brother.
Paul went to shake his hand, but Adrian held up two bottles of beer instead. “Want one?” he said, offering it up.
Paul suppressed an eye roll. “Thanks. I’m all right. Just came straight from work.”
“Yeah, me, too,” Adrian nodded thoughtfully and took a swig of beer. This seemed highly unlikely to Paul. Adrian was in a tuxedo, for one thing, with those velvet slippers he loved to wear to formal occasions. Also, he was suspiciously tan. Now that he thought about it, Paul hadn’t seen Adrian in the office since last Thursday.
“I mean, not the actual office,” Adrian added quickly. “I was down in Miami with clients for the weekend. Had to run here from the airport.” “Looks like you got some sun.” “Weather was killer down there. Got in nine holes of golf this morn­ing.” With a big grin, Adrian drained the beer. “Mother’s milk,” he said, with an approving nod. “You sure you don’t want this one?” Paul shook his head. “Glad you had fun,” he said, turning away.
It was, he recognized, Adrian’s job to entertain. But the market had been bouncing all over the place, and the call volume from clients was up nearly five times, and Paul’s patience for anyone at the firm who wasn’t working at least eighty hours a week was limited.
As he glanced over Adrian’s shoulder, Paul saw Merrill slipping far­ther into the crowd. “Hey,” he said, “I’ve gotta go find Merrill. I’m already late as it is.”
“Yeah, yeah, go do that. She was asking where you were. You coming to the after- party?”
“I don’t think I can swing that. I’m pretty shot. It’s late.”
Adrian shrugged. “East Hampton tomorrow? Lily and I are going to leave around lunchtime to beat the traffic.”
“Doubtful. Work, and all that. We’re planning to drive out Thursday morning.”
“Cool. Gotta be there by 12:30 p.m., though, to see the kickoff . Darling family tradition.”
“Who are they playing this year?”
“Tennessee. Looks tough. Okay, Bro. We’ll look for you before we hit the  after-party.” Adrian threw Paul a “you-da-man” nod and dropped the empty bottle on a passing waiter’s tray.
“Right. Later, then.” Paul watched Adrian roll off like a tumbleweed, hands in his pockets with signature nonchalance. He joined his brothers at the bar. All four were tall and thin as matchsticks, with thick heads of charcoal-black hair. The oldest, Henry, was telling a story while Griff and Fitz, the twins, laughed riotously. From all sides, women instinctively slowed as they passed by them, like stars getting sucked into a black hole. The Pattersons were so handsome that each had his own magnetic pull; together, they became the universe’s gravitational center. When Adrian pulled up, Henry tossed his arm casually about his shoulder. Perfect white teeth flashed as they greeted each other.
Adrian wasn’t as stuffy as Henry, and he wasn’t as frivolous as Griff or Fitz. He was actually a reasonably nice guy, the kind of guy that Paul liked in spite of himself. As Adrian laughed with his brothers, Paul wondered briefly if there was any way he could find Adrian’s total indifference to stress inspirational instead of infuriating. He was trying to be more under­standing with Adrian now that they worked together, though market con­ditions were making that tough.
A light touch on his arm stirred him from this consideration.
“There you are!” Merrill said. She was flanked by Lily; both were dressed in blue. Or perhaps it was Merrill who flanked Lily: Lily bloomed at these sorts of social events, unfurling her petals like a fl ower in a hot­house. Her cornstalk blond hair had been spun into a complex series of braids, not unlike that of the dressage horses she still rode on summer weekends. From her ears dangled two teardrop diamonds, each stone larger than her engagement ring. Her father had given them to her, Paul knew, on the occasion of her wedding.
Merrill looked quietly beautiful—the simplicity of her dress brought out the blueness of her eyes, the tone of her  shoulders— and though she was smiling, her face was taut with frustration. Paul sensed that he was about to be reprimanded. He leaned in, kissing both sisters on the cheek.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” he said preemptively. “And I know I’m supposed to be in black tie. I came straight from the office. You both look great, as always.”
“You’re here now,” Merrill conceded.
“You missed Mom’s speech, though,” Lily protested. She blinked her big eyes impetuously at him.
“I know. I’m sorry. How was the party?”
“Great,” Lily said absently. He had already lost her attention. Her eyes scanned the room just beyond his shoulder. “Are you guys coming to the after-party? Looks like things are winding down.”
“Of course,” Merrill said.
“Doubtful,” Paul said, in tandem.
They stared at each other, and Lily let out an awkward laugh. “I’ll leave you guys to discuss,” she said. “I think you should come, though. It’ll be fun. Even Mom and Dad are stopping by.”
Lily turned and flounced off, the bustle of her dress trailing behind her. The dress was cut low in the back, and Paul noticed how uncomfort­ably thin she was. He could see the articulation of all her vertebrae, and small hollows beneath the blades of her shoulders. Lily was forever dieting. She had an evolving list of foods to which she claimed to be allergic. Some­times Paul wondered if she had cut out food entirely.
“We have to go to the after-party,” Merrill said once Lily was out of earshot. Her voice was strained. “Tonight’s important to my parents.”
Paul pulled in a deep breath and let his eyes flicker shut for a half second. “I know,” he said. “But I’ve got to weigh that against sheer exhaus­tion. I’ve been working around the clock. Which is important to your dad, too, by the way.”
“There are things he values other than work.”
Paul ignored the snappishness in her voice. “Look, I’m doing the best I can. I’m just exhausted. I’d love to go home and just fall asleep with you.”
The crease in Merrill’s forehead relaxed. “I’m sorry,” she said, and shook her head. She reached up and wrapped her arms tenderly around the back of his neck. Paul pressed his nose against her golden brown hair; he could feel the slope of her skull beneath, and she smelled warm, like maple syrup. When she pulled back, she kept her hands resting on his shoulders. He slipped his grasp to the small of her back and held on to her, admiring her at an arm’s length. “I really do understand,” she said, and sighed. “Work’s been crazy for me, too. I barely had time to change. I look terrible. I didn’t even do my hair.”
“You look stunning, actually. Great dress.”
Her eyes lit up. “You’re sweet.” Her round cheeks flushed, the color of peonies. She smoothed her dress at the hip. “You should see my mother’s. She’s literally been talking about it for months. She had it made by some Latin designer.”
They both looked over at Ines. She was basking in the attention of Duncan Sander, the editor of Press magazine. Duncan’s hands fl uttered like birds’ wings as he spoke, and Ines was laughing grandly. It was the kind of image that would end up in the Styles section of the Sunday Times. Press had run a  two-page spread on the Darlings’ home in East Hampton the previous summer, called “The Darlings of New York.” Ines loved to reference “the article” in casual conversation, and she spoke of Duncan Sander as though they were old friends. In truth, it wasn’t really an article, but more of a blurb attached to a glossy photograph of Ines and Lily, inex­plicably attired in white cocktail dresses, frolicking on the front lawn with Bacall, the family Weimaraner. To Paul’s knowledge, Ines never saw Dun­can except at events like this.
Tonight, Ines’s dress was long and emerald green, festooned with a ruffle that looked as though a python were in the process of consuming her whole.
“I really do appreciate you being here,” Merrill said, staring cynically at her mother.
“Of course. It’s a great cause. Dogs? Cancer? Dogs with cancer? Remind me.”
“Tonight’s New Yorkers for Animals. Jesus, Paul. Pay attention.”
“I’m for them, myself. The groups against animals just seem so heart­less.”
Merrill burst out laughing. “They auctioned off a rescue dog,” she said. “For eight thousand dollars.” She stared at him, allowing him to absorb that information.
“That’s possibly the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard.”
“I think it’s nice!” she exclaimed, her eyes wide in mock seriousness.
“It’s for charity. The poor thing was so sweet. It’s a retriever or something,
not a pit bull. They actually had him out on stage, wearing a little bowtie.”
“Mmmm. One of those rescue retrievers.”
Unable to help herself, she laughed again. “It’s for charity,” she sighed. “Anyway. The bowtie was from Bacall.”
Bacall was Lily’s year- old line of dog accessories and clothing. It was her sartorial nod to her family, a first and only attempt at gainful employ­ment. Merrill was convinced that the enterprise was costing their father nearly twice what it was earning, though to Lily’s credit, it appeared to be staying afloat, despite the market crash.
In the background, the band had started playing their last reprieve before the clock struck the witching hour. The band leader swayed around the mic, summoning his best Sinatra baritone. Paul couldn’t think of a black-tie event in Manhattan that didn’t end with “New York, New York.” It had been the last song at their wedding. Now, they stood together on the edge of the dance floor, watching as the last few dancing couples slid by with varying degrees of grace.
“Want to dance?” Paul asked, though he was a bit too tired for it. What he really wanted was a drink.
“God, no. I think what we need is a drink,” Merrill said. She slipped her hand into his, leading him in the direction of the nearest bar.
The bar was stacked three deep and the bartender was topping off last- call orders. As Paul and Merrill waited their turn, Merrill’s father appeared behind them.
“What’s going on over here?” Carter asked good naturedly, clapping them both on the back. He was tall enough that he easily captured them both in his wingspan. “Paul, who let you out of the office?”
“You’re working him too hard, Dad,” Merrill said.
“Yes, well. It’s been an interesting two months, hasn’t it, Paul? Oppor­tune time to come over to the investment side.” Carter laughed lightly.

AUTHOR BIO:


Cristina Alger graduated from Harvard College in 2002 and from New York University School of Law in 2007. She has worked as an analyst at Goldman, Sachs, & Co. and as an attorney at Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale, & Dorr. She lives in New York City, where she was born and raised. The Darlings is her first novel and she is currently working on her next book.

Visit Cristina's website