Saturday, December 15, 2018

Book review: Love à la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm

Book Summary
Take two American teen chefs, add one heaping cup of Paris, toss in a pinch of romance, and stir. . . .

Rosie Radeke firmly believes that happiness can be found at the bottom of a mixing bowl. But she never expected that she, a random nobody from East Liberty, Ohio, would be accepted to celebrity chef Denis Laurent's school in Paris, the most prestigious cooking program for teens in the entire world. Life in Paris, however, isn't all cream puffs and crepes. Faced with a challenging curriculum and a nightmare professor, Rosie begins to doubt her dishes.

Henry Yi grew up in his dad's restaurant in Chicago, and his lifelong love affair with food landed him a coveted spot in Chef Laurent's school. He quickly connects with Rosie, but academic pressure from home and his jealousy over Rosie's growing friendship with gorgeous bad-boy baker Bodie Tal makes Henry lash out and push his dream girl away.

Desperate to prove themselves, Rosie and Henry cook like never before while sparks fly between them. But as they reach their breaking points, they wonder whether they have what it takes to become real chefs.

Perfect for lovers of Chopped Teen Tournament and Kids Baking Championship, as well as anyone who dreams of a romantic trip to France, Love la Mode follows Rosie and Henry as they fall in love with food, with Paris, and ultimately, with each other.

Flo's Review
Adorable. This book, you guys. Adorable. 

I first heard about it because I attended the Foodie Funactics event at YALLFEST this year and Stephanie was the one who put it together and moderated it. As soon as she described this book, my two friends and I were like, "Ooohhh....!" I knew it was going to be a must-read.

I had the opportunity to listen to the audiobook, and the best thing about it is that the author reads it! She does such a great job, too. Everybody sounds really distinct. This was no easy feat, either, because the students are from all around the world. Stephanie does a great job with the accents, I must say.

You can tell this story was written by a foodie, because the food is described just as lovingly, if not more so, than the romance. I really enjoyed it. Not knowing a lot about how to cook or bake myself, it was fun to see these characters' relationships to food and how they were in the kitchen. Stephanie did a great job with characters. By the end of the book I felt I really knew everyone in Rosie and Henry's friend group well. They were all fully fleshed out individuals, not side characters with minimal characteristics there to comment on the main story line. My favorite, and I already told Stephanie, was Henry's rooomate Hampus. Hampus is everything, you guys. From his morning workouts, to him foraging for food, to Swedish TV show marathon all-nighters with Henry -- Hampus is everything. 

Rosie and Henry were both awkward and realistic teens, and I was rooting for them the whole time. The only qualm I had with this book was the lack of Paris. It was sold as this fantastic love story in the city of love...and I felt like I rarely saw Paris. Like, this story could have taken place in Liberty, Ohio, without much alteration. That's a shame. Paris has so much potential for first love scenes.

But that's it! Other than that, I simply adored this one. Also, I randomly baked a cake about a week or so ago, while I was listening to this audiobook. Coincidence? I didn't do it intentionally, but all the food in this book is so amazing, and maybe I was inspired? 

So, go read this book. In the meantime, I will contact the author again and try to convince her to write a sequel revolving around Hampus. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

Q&A with David R. Gillham, author of ANNELIES: A Novel


Book Summary
The year is 1945, and Anne Frank is sixteen years old. Having survived the concentration camps but lost her mother and sister along the way, she reunites with her father, Pim, in newly liberated Amsterdam. As Anne struggles to overcome the brutality of memory and build a new life for herself, she grapples with heartbreak, grief, and ultimately the freedom of forgiveness. A story of trauma and redemption, ANNELIES honors Anne Frank's legacy as not only a symbol of hope and perseverance but also a complex young woman of great ambition and heart.

Author Interview

ANNELIES is a work of historical fiction that asks the question: What if Anne Frank survived the Holocaust? What sparked your interest in reinventing the life of such a treasured writer?
Anne Frank’s story has always been a story of hope, and hope is the common thread of my writing. Especially under conditions where it’s hard to imagine that such a thing can survive. Probably the most famous passage from Anne’s diary is dated in July of 1944, and in it she writes that, even in the face of war and persecution, she still believes in the basic goodness of people. But the question has been asked, could she still have believed this after experiencing the horrors of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen? It is a challenging question, and one, which I wanted to try at least to answer. This novel is my attempt to do so.

How did you approach writing about a Holocaust victim? How are you able to provide validity to Anne’s story?
As I wrote this story, I was constantly aware of the fact that Annelies Marie Frank was a real person, a person who wrote what would one day become an important addition to world literatures. And yet she died tragically as one of millions of unknown faces. In imagining a life for her had she actually survived, I hope to accomplish two things: to give Anne the life she was cheated of and, through telling the story of one girl, to tell the stories of all the “Annes,” thereby underscoring the lost potential of the millions who perished. Anne Frank’s legacy is one of hope, and it is my hope that if I can offer a reminder of what has been lost, we can dedicate ourselves to repairing the world.

How did you set about researching the novel? How did you use your talents as a novelist to imagine Anne’s story?
In writing this book, my priority has been to honor Anne’s story with honesty and accuracy, so I have remained true to the facts, as I understood them. I’ve read deeply, delving into Holocaust histories, biographies of Anne Frank, and her father, “Pim,” memoirs and transcripts of interviews of people who knew her, as well as studying her diary itself. I’ve traveled to the Netherlands twice in researching ANNELIESTo be better educated in the Jewish experience in Amsterdam, I’ve visited the old Jewish Quarter, the former Diamond District, and the Jewish enclave in the Transvaalbuurt, once left in ruins by a freezing population desperate for firewood. And specifically in relation to Anne Frank’s life, I’ve seen the bookshop where she likely picked out her tartan plaid diary, the Jewish Lyceum where she and her sister, Margot, were sent to school during the occupation, and the former Gestapo headquarters where the Franks and their friends were first detained after their arrest. I’ve explored the Frank family apartment in Amsterdam’s Merwedeplein complex. And, of course, I’ve spent hours inside the Anne Frank House itself. I’ve followed Anne Frank’s path from Amsterdam to the remains of the transit camp Westerbork in the northeastern Netherlands, to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where all the inhabitants of the “House Behind” were shipped by the Nazis on September 3, 1944, to Bergen-Belsen inside Germany, where Anne and Margot Frank died of typhus months later. Through study and access to these resources, I have done my level best to portray the historical backdrop against which the Franks lived with authenticity, sincerity, and respect. 
The portion of the novel set during the period before the Franks went into hiding fictionalizes a chronicle of events recorded in Anne’s diary, although that timeline has been slightly adapted to accommodate the drama, and the dialogue of the characters largely imagined. The dramatic action of the novel after the return of my character “Anne” from Bergen-Belsen is completely fictional of course, though the background of events against which the action unfolds is based on my research of actual postwar history. 

Your last novel, City of Women, was also set in World War II. What attracts you to writing historical fiction, specifically in this time period?
I’ve always been drawn to the past, and consider myself a life-long student of history. I think that history offers many lessons to the present, and that, as a novelist, I am drawn to portraying the parallels. As far as the Second World War is concerned, it seems to me that its sheer scope and tragedy continues to exceed our ability to understand it. So we keep trying. Certainly there have been other brutal and scarring calamities in the length of human history, but few if any have so irrevocably changed the face of the world, and still resonate so widely and deeply. We are living today with the consequences of that war. 

One of the most important relationships in the novel is between Anne and her father, Otto “Pim” Frank. How did you develop this father-daughter relationship, both before and after their traumatic experiences?
Dramatically, Anne and Pim represent two different approaches to redemption after trauma. One approach  (Pim’s) refuses to dwell in the tragedies of the past, and looks only toward a better future. The other approach (Anne’s) refuses to relinquish those tragedies, and by facing them, must try to overcome her own anger and guilt. Both paths may to lead to redemption and forgiveness. Both are valid, even when in conflict, because both are fueled, in the end, by the power of hope. Hope is at the heart of ANNELIES.
In developing the fictionalized relationship between my characters of “Anne” and “Pim,” I read biographical and historical works, such as those produced by Mellissa Müller, Carol Anne Lee, and R.W. Jansen. I watched dramatic performances based on Anne’s experiences. I studied accounts of their father/daughter relationship and their personalities left by friends such as Miep Gies. I watched and re-watched postwar film interviews given by Otto Frank, and listened to the stories of the late Cor Suijk, who knew Mr. Frank personally. But really it was Anne Frank herself, in the pages of her diary, who provided me with the contours and depth of their relationship, which I have attempted to portray and upon which I have extrapolated. 

Did any other writers inspire you while writing ANNELIES?
I had not actually read Anne Frank’s diary until I read Philip Roth’s novel, The Ghost Writer. In it Roth’s protagonist, Nathan Zuckerman, imagines that a young European woman in her twenties, whom he meets at the home of his mentor, is actually Anne Frank. It’s only a moment’s fantasy really, and Nathan quickly realizes that it’s his willing imagination at work. But it was The Ghost Writer that inspired me to pick up Anne’s diary and read it. I was thunderstruck. Not just by her insight and humor, but by her subtle brilliance as a writer. 
Much later on, Cynthia Ozick wrote an article in The New Yorker entitled, “Who Owns Anne Frank?”  It was quite a controversial piece in some ways, but what I recall most was when she asked the reader to consider what important works Anne might have produced had she lived. And that’s when it hit me, hanging onto a strap on the A-train on my way into Brooklyn, that some day I would write a novel about Anne Frank having survived. 
And then, of course, there are the many writers who experienced the Holocaust and bore witness, Eli Weisel, Isabella Leitner, Primo Levi, Etty Hillesum (the Dutch writer whose journal and letters were published after her death in Auschwitz.) Also there are the memoires and reminiscences of those who knew Anne Frank personally, such as Hannah Pick-Goslar, Eva Schloss, Nanette Blitz Konig, and Jaqueline van Maarsen. And many, many more survivors, on whose courageous testimony we have come to depend to form our understanding of what cannot be understood.  

What do you want people to take away from reading ANNELIES?
That hope can survive. That in the face of all obstacles, in the face of destruction, in the face of despair, hope can abide. In fact, it must abide. That is the message of the book. And that, I think, is what Anne Frank tried to tell us. 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Blog Tour: Guest Post - The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson


When I first heard about this book, I thought it sounded simply adorable! I am looking forward to reading it. So naturally, I jumped on the opportunity to participate in the blog tour. I was happy that author Teri Wilson agreed to share about her real-life experience judging beauty pageants. Read her Guest Post below, and then learn more about The Accidental Beauty Queen after the page break.

How was your experience(s) judging beauty pageants? Any funny/unique stories? Lessons learned?

 I’ve judged three pageants over the course of the past two years—the national Miss United States pageant in summer 2017, the Miss Central Texas pageant in Fall 2017, and most recently, the Miss San Antonio/Miss Bexar County pageant just a few weeks ago. The last two pageants I judged were both in the Miss America system. Miss America recently changed their pageant scoring system and completely eliminated the swimsuit portion, so it was really interesting judging with their system before and after the changes. 
The Miss United States pageant invited me to judge because I’ve had a few books made into Hallmark Channel movies and the pageant director and marketing director were both big Hallmark fans. They followed me on social media and saw how much I adore fashion and sparkle (I love following the royal family, so tiaras pop up on my pages a lot) so they reached out with an invitation. I was stunned, but also super excited to say yes. 
I love judging pageants, especially the teen divisions of the competition. Honestly, I’m pretty blown away by teenagers who compete. They are remarkably poised and can carry on conversations about many things I wouldn’t have known much about when I was that age. Without fail, they all have a strong commitment to community and charity work. That was definitely my biggest takeaway from my first judging experience. It was amazing seeing how much the contestants had done for others in their community. I know a lot of people poke fun at pageants, but from my experience the young women who choose to compete are truly wonderful people. I definitely wanted to emphasize this in The Accidental Beauty Queen, which is why it’s got such a pro-woman, body-positive message.
The talent competition is always a lot of fun. It’s amazing what can be truly entertaining. Who knew I loved yodeling? For real. The winner of the last pageant I judged did a yodeling number called “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart,” and she completely nailed it. It was adorable. I’ve also found myself sobbing through a sign-language performance of “How Great Thou Art.” Talent is really great because you just never know what to expect. I live for the day I’ll finally get to see flaming batons.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Blog Tour: The White Christmas Inn by Colleen Wright

THE WHITE CHRISTMAS INN
by Colleen Wright
Atria/Howard Books
ISBN: 9781501180606; $15.99

A New England inn seems like the picture-perfect place to spend the holidays. But when a snowstorm shuts the roads and keeps all the guests inside, they find themselves worrying that this Christmas may not be exactly what they dreamed.

Hannah has plans for a picturesque winter wedding, but they come crashing down when her fiancé calls everything off.

Jeanne and Tim don’t know how they’re going to keep the inn open another year – or how to bridge the distance in their marriage. With a flurry of unexpected guests, they’ll have to work together to fix all the problems that crop up. But will it be enough to rekindle their relationship? 

Molly just needs to finish her latest book, but her writer’s block is crippling. And the arrival of Marcus, a handsome widower with two young girls, is exactly the distraction she doesn’t need.

As the characters’ stories intertwine, they discover that with faith, and a little bit of Christmas magic, they just might find hope where they thought it had been lost.

FLO'S REVIEW 
This book was pitched to me as "Love Actually meets The Holiday meets The Hallmark Channel," and since those are two of my favorite Christmas movies, I was immediately here for it. And it delivered to the full extent. I had a full smile on my face as I read this book. I was so easily transported to the beautiful inn. I felt as if I was there, eating all the delicious goodies that Jeanne made, chatting with the guests in the common room while sneaking pieces of pie, and even taking sleigh rides with Luke. Colleen did a great job with the setting and scenery here.

The characters, too. It was so easy to fall into their stories and start rooting for them. I fervently hoped that Jeanne and Tim would fix their financial and relationship strain. I cursed Hannah's fiancé, but then immediately was like, "You're better off without him, girl!" One of the characters threw me for a loop that I wasn't expecting, but it was a delightful loop. This book gave me the exact same feeling as sitting in my jammies on the couch watching Hallmark Christmas movies all day long. Every time I opened the book back up, I found myself once again in a happy place.

If you love Hallmark and Netflix romantic Christmas movies, just go buy this one. Just do it. You won't even regret it. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
COLLEEN WRIGHT was raised in snowy towns in Michigan, where she loved curling up by the fire with a good book at Christmas. She now lives and works in Brooklyn.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

Book review: Sadie by Courtney Summers

Book Summary
Sadie hasn't had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she's been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie's entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister's killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray―a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America―overhears Sadie's story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie's journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it's too late.

Courtney Summers has written the breakout book of her career. Sadie is propulsive and harrowing and will keep you riveted until the last page.

Flo's Review
Sadie got a lot of pre-publication hype, so as I was really looking forward to reading it. Luckily, it did not disappoint. The set up of the book was truly unique -- a podcast discussing a series of events that happened in the past alongside the narrative of the events as they unfolded. This parallel narrative was interesting -- it was fun to see West discover something that we, the reader, already knew from Sadie.

I can't discuss the end without being spoilery, but here is the feedback I tweeted to author Courtney Summers: asdlkjgao;dsuir[ew0qaj!!!

Speaking of Courtney Summers, I had the opportunity to meet her this year at YALLFEST while I was in the middle of the book. Having the opportunity to speak with her about her book as I reading it was a lot of fun for me. Plus, she's adorable and so sweet.

See?! Adorable and so sweet!
It is always refereeing to read a unique and engaging book, so I was delighted to find that in Sadie.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Bob Eckstein


We had the opportunity to sit down with illustrator, cartoonist, writer and snowman expert Bob Eckstein last month at the Miami Book Fair for a lively and informative conversation about independent bookstores, drawing Fair scenes, and quirky history about snowmen. Take a look!


About The Illustrated History of the Snowman
A thoroughly entertaining exploration, this book travels back in time to shed light on the snowman's enigmatic past -- from the present day, in which the snowman reigns as the King of Kitsch, to the Dark Ages, with the creation of the very first snowman. Eckstein's curiosity began playfully enough, but soon snowballed into a (mostly) earnest quest of chasing Frosty around the world, into museums and libraries, and seeking out the advice of leading historians and scholars. The result is a riveting history that reaches back through centuries and across cultures -- sweeping from fifteenth-century Italian snowballs to eighteenth-century Russian ice sculptures to the regrettable "white-trash years" (1975-2000). The snowman is not just part of our childhood memories, but is an integral part of our world culture, appearing -- much like a frozen Forrest Gump -- alongside dignitaries and celebrities during momentous events. 

Again and again, the snowman pops up in rare prints, paintings, early movies, advertising and, over the past century, in every art form imaginable. And the jolly snowman -- ostensibly as pure as the driven snow -- also harbors a dark past full of political intrigue, sex, and violence. With over two hundred illustrations, The Illustrated History of the Snowman is a truly original winter classic -- smart, surprisingly enlightening, and quite simply the coolest book ever.


About Footnotes From the World's Greatest Bookstores
New York Times Bestseller

From the beloved New Yorker cartoonist comes a collection of paintings and stories from some of the world’s most cherished bookstores. 

This collection of 75 evocative paintings and colorful anecdotes invites you into the heart and soul of every community: the local bookshop, each with its own quirks, charms, and legendary stories. 

The book features an incredible roster of great bookstores from across the globe and stories from writers, thinkers and artists of our time, including David Bowie, Tom Wolfe, Jonathan Lethem, Roz Chast, Deepak Chopra, Bob Odenkirk, Philip Glass, Jonathan Ames, Terry Gross, Mark Maron, Neil Gaiman, Ann Patchett, Chris Ware, Molly Crabapple, Amitav Ghosh, Alice Munro, Dave Eggers, and many more.  

Page by page, Eckstein perfectly captures our lifelong love affair with books, bookstores, and book-sellers that is at once heartfelt, bittersweet, and cheerfully confessional.

Miami Motel Stories premieres tomorrow!

MIAMI MOTEL STORIES: MIMO AT THE GOLD DUST BY SELINA 
Immersive Theatre to Narrate Miami History in Unconventional Spaces

WHAT: Miami Motel Stories: MiMo, presented by Juggerknot Theatre Company, in association with Avra Jain
WHEN: Nov 30th - Dec 23rd, 2018 
WHERE: Gold Dust by Selina, 7700 Biscayne Blvd. (Developer- Avra Jain)


Miami Motel Stories is back! Juggerknot Theatre Companyreturns for a second season of Miami Motel Stories. With presenting sponsor Chivas Regal, in partnership with Miami’s Avra Jain, founder of The Vagabond Group, Miami Motel Stories: MiMowill highlight the glamorous and historic Biscayne Corridorfrom the 1950’s to the present day at the Gold Dust, the future home of Selina, formerly known as Motel Blu on 7700 Biscayne Biscayne Boulevard. Audience members are invited to the tiki themed 1957 grand opening of The Gold Dust Motel. Audience members will have the option to purchase a pink, blue or yellow key, unlocking doors to different decades, with costumes and sets sponsored by Goodwill Industries of South Florida,between 1957 and 2018They may experience inspired-by-true- life stories that took place in the motel. These may include an encounter with a Playboy Bunny who worked across the street at the Playboy Club in 1964; A young hustler from gritty 1995, or a 1950’s couple on their first road trip the Magic City, amongst others. 
Awarded the Knight Arts Challenge Grant, Miami Motel Stories is a real-time immersive theatre experience that takes place inside hotel/motel spaces within developing neighborhoods. Writers work alongside developers to tell the story of Miami’s past, present, and future: one room at a time. The work will reflect the undercurrent of history, both real and imagined, bringing artistry and homegrown craft to Miami’s ever-quickening rush to develop.In 2017, Juggerknot Theatre Company launched their first edition of Miami Motel Stories in Little Havana at the historic Tower Hotel, to critical acclaim and sold out houses.
One of the stories will also take place in an authentic 1950s Miami Dade bus, courtesy of Miami Dade Transit, because said Alice N. Bravo, P.E., Director of the Miami-Dade County Department of Transportation and Public Works, “our transit system has been an important part of people’s lives throughout the years, giving people access to opportunities. It’s through the understanding of our past that we can build a better and brighter future. We are delighted to be part of Miami Motel Stories.”

“We have a responsibility to preserve these authentic Miami stories. Our unique relationship with developers allows us to provide Miami audiences a new way to experience history through immersive theatre. It is a special partnership we have created, and we look forward to telling Miami Motel Stories in every neighborhood,” said Tanya Bravo, Executive Artistic Director of Juggerknot Theatre Company.
"Miami is a city of stories, with many of them rooted in our ever-evolving neighborhoods and buildings. This project provides a chance to tell those stories and bring our city together through the arts,” said Victoria Rogers, vice president for arts at Knight Foundation.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Miami Book Fair 2018 Preview: The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael Lopez

It's pretty much November, which means we are almost up to one of my absolute favorite events of the year -- Miami Book Fair! The Fair goes from November 11th to the 18th this year, but you can bet I'm already getting ready for it. As a lead up, I'll be doing a few preview posts where I share a review of a book by an author that will be presenting at the Fair. 

Flo's Review
What a beautiful, uplifting, and relatable story! Woodson's words are brief, but powerful. Young readers will see themselves in her words. And then, they will see what they can be. The accompanying illustrations by Lopez bring everything to life. The diversity of colors and patterns exactly depict what Woodson is saying. This well blended marriage of words and images make this book one little ones will consume, quickly and with delight. 

Jacqueline Woodson at the Fair
For Kids and Teens: Kwame Alexander and Jacqueline Woodson
Saturday, November 17 at 3:30 p.m.
Room 2106 (Building 2, 1st floor)
300 NE Second Avenue, Miami, FL 33132

As things are just starting to look up for two teenage boys, a chain of events alters their understanding of love, friendship, and fate in Kwame Alexander’s latest YA book, SwingJacqueline Woodson‘s children’s book The Day You Begin reminds us that we all feel like outsiders sometimes—and how brave it is that we go forth anyway.


Monday, November 12, 2018

Book Review: Never Never - Part 1 by Colleen Coover

Never Never (Never Never, #1)

Goodreads Overviw:

Best friends since they could walk. In love since the age of fourteen.

Complete strangers since this morning.

He'll do anything to remember. She'll do anything to forget.

Jacque's Review:

We are first introduced to Charlie, who is a high school senior.  During the middle of class she loses all of memories.  She has no idea who she is or where she is, but she can remember things like how to drive a car, songs, what things are, etc.  She is fumbling her way through the rest of the school day when she discovers another student experiencing the same thing.  Silas Nash was apparently her childhood best friend and has been her boyfriend for the past four years, but neither of them can even remember each other.  

They spend the next two days trying to reconstruct their past in an attempt to regain their memories.  Apparently they were not the most likable individuals in their previous lives, but I loved the Silas in this story.  He was very friendly, kind, funny, and a bit overly confident.  Charlie on the other hand, was very stand offish.  The more she started to reconnect with Silas, the further she pushed him away. 

I knew this was a series when I started reading this book, but I didn't quite realize each book is only part of a single story.  Book one is about 150 pages and provides the background and a jaw dropping twist just before it completely cuts off.  Fortunately, all three parts of the story have already been released.  I can't imagine what readers did back in 2015 and early 2016 when they had to wait 6 months between the release of each book.   I'm currently in the middle of a couple of other books, but I definitely plan on continuing this series very soon.  

If you like young adult and a bit of a mystery, this is a highly entertaining read.  I can't wait to find out how this situation arose and whether or not Silas and Charlie can find a cure.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Book Review: The Body Farm by Patricia Cornwell

The Body Farm (Kay Scarpetta, #5)

Goodreads Overview:

The Body Farm - a research institute that tests the decomposition of corpses. Black Mountain, North Carolina: a sleepy little town where the local police deal with one homicide a year, if they're unlucky, and where people are still getting used to the idea of locking their doors at night. But violent death is no respecter of venue, and the discovery of the corpse of an 11-year-old girl sends shock waves through the community. Dr Kay Scarpetta, Chief medical Examiner on a similar case in Virginia, is called in to apply her forensic skills to this latest atrocity, but the apparent simplicity of the case proves something of a poisoned chalice - until Scarpetta finds enlightenment through the curious pathologists' playground known as the Body Farm.

Jacque's Review:

The Body Farm is the fifth book in the Kay Scarpetta murder mystery series.  The murder has a striking resemblance to a case solved in one of the prior books, so Kay and her colleagues from the FBI are called in to investigate.  When an additional body is found in a rather peculiar situation, they aren't so sure their original assumptions are correct.  The more evidence that turns up the more confusing the case becomes.  

In addition, Kay's niece, Lucy, is caught up in an FBI investigation that could ruin her chances of joining the FBI full time upon graduation.  She is exceptionally gifted with computers and is working on a top secret software that could greatly improve information sharing among law enforcement around the world, but someone else must want access to the information for sinister reasons.

This is an older series that I started reading at least 20 years ago.  I would definitely recommend reading the books in order since the personal relationships between the characters develop throughout the series and some of the knowledge gained from the cases are referenced in later books.  There are currently 25 books in the series, but you do not need to read all of them back to back in order to remember what is going on.  I read one every now and then when I am looking for a good mystery and haven't had any trouble remembering the basics needed to fully appreciate each story.  Each case is independent, so the majority of the information acts as a stand alone novel.  

I thought I had this mystery all figured out about 75% of the way through, but as always there was a twist I didn't see coming until closer to 85 %.  By that point, I had it figured out and just needed to see how all of the loose ends would get tied up.  

The series is a bit graphic, so it isn't for everyone.  I am definitely enjoying it and look forward to seeing what is in story for Kay, Lucy, and the rest of the team in the next installment.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Miami Book Fair 2018 Preview: Rebecca Serle, The Dinner List

It's pretty much November, which means we are almost up to one of my absolute favorite events of the year -- Miami Book Fair! The Fair goes from November 11th to the 18th this year, but you can bet I'm already getting ready for it. As a lead up, I'll be doing a few preview posts where I share a review of a book by an author that will be presenting at the Fair.

Flo's Review
As soon as I learned of this book, I wanted to read it. The whole question about "What 5 five people, alive or dead, would you want to have dinner with?" is one that has floated around for years. It was definitely a great idea to take this question and run with it. Rebecca Serle did it in an interesting way. In her interpretation of the question, the 5 people you'd have at your dinner table are there because they reflect some aspect of your life -- unresolved issues, people you can't live without, etc. It's not just, "Chris Hemsworth, because he's hot and I want to listen to his accent." (HEY. No judging anyone on my list! 😂) 

It was interesting how Serle chose to bring this theory to life. She didn't dwell on the questions of "how." The main character, Sabrina, only quickly wonders where the people at her table currently are, how they got there, what happens after the dinner ends, and little thing such as what happens if one person leaves the table. I did like that these issues were minimized, because that's not really what the book was about. The book was about Sabrina's unresolved issues with her father, Tobias, and her best friend Jessica. 

At the same time, I would have liked a little more detail. The list starts off as Audrey Hepburn, Sabrina's grandmother, Sabrina's father, Plato, and Tobias. Serle explains that because Sabrina's relationship with Jessica changed, Sabrina went back and amended the list to include Jessica instead of her grandmother. At one point there is a sentence or so about how Plato got changed to Sabrina's old teacher, Conrad. This one, to me, wasn't explained well. Sabrina had a class with him and liked him? Okay? She had something with every other person at the table -- even Audrey Hepburn makes sense in the scheme of Sabrina's life -- but Conrad didn't. As far as the storyline, he was good at facilitating and moving the plot forward, so I understand why he was helpful in that regard. But his presence made zero sense as far as being one of Sabrina's five.

I read a lot of YA fiction. It's a good escape from adult reality, because at the end of a YA contemporary novel, the couples get together and kiss, and that's the end of it. But reality is that it's not. Reality is that the "Happily Ever After" is hard. That's what this book is about. As we grow, love grows and evolves for us, based on our lives. In other words, the idea of love at 25 years old is going to look different than the idea of love at 35 years old. And it should, because you, as a person, at 25 years old are different than at 35 years old. And 45 years old. Lasting love grows and evolves with both parties involved.

But for Sabrina and Tobias, it didn't. Their love flourished and worked best as first love, as young 20s love. But as they grew up, their love didn't. It stayed the same. And that led to problems for them and their relationship. A song from the 80s laments in the chorus, "Sometimes love just ain't enough." I feel like that song could be the theme for this book. Sabrina and Tobias loved each other. Fiercely. But that wasn't enough for them. Their love needed to be the foundation, the start, in order for them both to succeed in all areas of their lives. Not the be-all, end-all. That's what this book was about.

The Dinner List did a great job of exploring this topic is a fun, unique way. It was delightful to read about a dinner with Audrey Hepburn sitting there, telling everyone about the things she loved when she was alive. At times I was frustrated with Sabrina, but that makes sense -- I think she was frustrated with herself and her situation, and that translated into her actions. She was also deeply sad to her core and there was a lot that she didn't understand. I could feel her just wanting to understand. This dinner was her way of trying to do that. To understand, to accept, and to move on. 

Rebecca Serle at the Fair
Reading from New Novels
Sunday, November 18 @ 12 p.m.
Room 8201 (Building 8, Second Floor)
300 NE Second Avenue, Miami, FL 33132

In Rebecca Serle’s captivating The Dinner List: A Novel, Sabrina arrives at her thirtieth birthday dinner to find not just her best friend, but also three significant people from her past, and well, Audrey Hepburn. Joanna Cantor’s Alternative Remedies for Loss is a slyly funny coming-of-age novel about a young woman fumbling her way into the mysteries of loss and the travails of adulthood as she tries to make sense of a vanished mother’s legacy. Marci Vogel’s funny, tender, and wholly original, Death & Other Holidays is a year in the life of a young woman coming to terms with the death of her beloved stepfather, while attempting to find love in LA. Roxanna Elden’s Adequate Yearly Progress is a workplace novel that captures teaching with humor, insight, and heart. This perspective-hopping debut follows a diverse group of educators as their professional lives impact their personal lives and vice versa.

Author interview: The Color of Lies by C.J. Lyons

Book Summary
From New York Times and USA Today bestselling author CJ Lyons comes The Color of Lies, a world drenched in color and mystery.

High school senior Ella Cleary has always been good at reading people. Her family has a rare medical condition called synesthesia that scrambles the senses—her Gram Helen sees every sound, and her uncle Joe can literally taste words. Ella’s own synesthesia manifests itself as the ability to see colors that reveal people’s true emotions…until she meets a guy she just can’t read.

Alec is a mystery to Ella, a handsome, enigmatic young journalist who makes her feel normal for the first time in her life. That is, until he reveals the real reason why he sought her out—he wants to learn the truth behind her parents’ deaths, the parents that Ella had always been told died in a fire. Alec turns Ella’s world upside down when he tells her their deaths were definitely not an accident.

After learning her entire life has been a lie, Ella doesn’t know who she can trust or even who she really is. With her adoptive family keeping secrets and the evidence mixing fact and fiction, the only way for Ella to learn the truth about her past is to find a killer.

Perfect for fans of Caroline B. Cooney, Ally Carter, and Jennifer Brown, The Color of Lies blurs the lines between black-and-white facts and the kaleidoscope of reality.

Flo's Note
Happy book birthday to The Color of Lies! To celebrate its release, we're sharing an exclusive interview with author C.J. Lyons! 

Author Interview
What was your inspiration for The Color of Lies?
 CJ: For The Color of Lies,my inspiration was the idea of a girl who saw everyone else’s truth … but was blind to her own.
I loved that conflict; the paradox of what we see and believe versus what is real and true. And how we deny reality, sacrifice it to our dreams by what we chooseto believe … It happens every day in the real world. Just look at the epidemic of fake news posing as reality.
What if someone’s entire life was colored by what they wanted to believe instead of what was real? Answering that question led to The Color of Lies.

How do you build your characters?
CJ: After writing so many dark thrillers, for The Color of LiesI wanted to work with a character who saw life in all its beauty and who truly felt as if she knew and understood her world. Someone with a loving family and friends, although her main problem in life stems from that loving family as she feels obligated to stay in her hometown to take care of them. 

Of course, my next job as a writer is to figure out how to totally destroy this character’s perfect life!

I needed a character strong enough to survive the chaos and turmoil I’d engulf her in, and so Ella was born. I always knew she was an artist but wanted her view of the world to be even more unique. A friend of mine plays the violin and one night was describing how she saw musical notes as colors and that gift helped her to quickly master complex pieces because she wasn’t memorizing them, she was visualizing them. Painting with music.

This kind of sensory crisscrossing is a well-recognized medical condition called synesthesia. Studies suggest it’s actually twice as common as the gene that causes red hair.

While synesthesia might sound like fun, there are forms that are very uncomfortable and actually end up isolating people from the outside world. For example, tasting words. You can’t unhear a word and can’t control a taste—so if the word “football” tastes like baby poop, your life might be a bit unbearable. Or if you feel sounds, then simply venturing into the outside world can feel like being swept up in a tsunami of noise pounding you from every direction.

For Ella, I wanted her synesthesia to be essential to her worldview—a sixth sense that she couldn’t live without. So I gave her the ability to “see” people’s emotions via colorful auras. Ella believes her synesthesia reveals the truth that people hide routinely from each other and trusts it to navigate her way through the world.

Until she meets a boy whose aura she can’t see. And he tells her that everything in her life is a lie.

Read more with CJ Lyons after the break.