Oct 31, 2015

Bliss House by Laura Benedict (Kindle Edition)

If you're looking for a book perfect for Halloween, BLISS HOUSE may fit the bill for you. It's a spooky, ghost-filled story centering around a generations-old mansion that is clearly haunted and doesn't mind making it's inhabitants known.

Rainey Adams bought the old family home with the hopes that moving her daughter, Ariel, to Virginia from St. Louis would help her recover from a tragic accident that left her both physically and mentally maimed. It was their house that exploded from faulty wiring that caused Ariel's severe injuries and took the life of her beloved father, with whom she was so close. Since it was her mother's project, Ariel holds some resentment against her mother and their relationship has suffered greatly. Though Rainey has heard some stories about the house, she has a distant familial connection to it and hopes that in fixing it up it will give she and her daughter a fresh start. 

Once a grand home located in rural Virginia, it doesn't take long to realize there's something off about Bliss House. The creep meter goes way up when the morning after Rainey hosts her first party, a house-warming, one of the guests is found dead, causing a lot of unease and old fears in the community.

Simultaneously, there's another story connected to the house being told, the events of which reveal themselves in flashback chapters. It involves the relationship between a young couple from the 1980's that turns into something very frightening and disturbing. 

BLISS HOUSE is a dark, haunting tale with the main character being the house itself with its history of madness, not to mention murder. Rainey doesn't want to believe that the old beautiful home she has so much invested in could be a bad place, but the longer they are there, the more sinister it becomes. Even more troubling to Rainey is the changes happening to her daughter.

My Thoughts:

There is a lot going on in this book. There is the the house with its hidden rooms and runnels leading to who-knows-where; there's Rainey, the loving and broken mother fighting to help her daughter get her life back and, hopefully, along the way repair their damaged relationship; and the story of the young couple that is fighting to come out even though some people will do anything to keep it hidden. And there's the contractor Rainey hired to renovate the house who's wife becomes the latest victim of Bliss House. 

The story is not hard to follow, although I was skeptical about how the two different stories were going to come together. I'm not a huge fan of going back and forth in time, but those chapters were not long and drawn out so it didn't bother me as much as I thought it would. Rainey's story was a sad one and I immediately began rooting for her with what she hoped to accomplish in buying Bliss House. . 

The story was original but there were so many characters that it made it harder to connect with. Some aspects of these characters, I felt, were there just for shock value which made it feel forced. BLISS HOUSE was released in 2014 and is the first in a series. The second book, CHARLOTTE'S STORY, which came out October 15, 2015 actually takes place in the 1950's and divulges more of the mansion's deception. Since there were so many loose ends at the end of BLISS HOUSE, I thought the second book might pick up with some of the many characters but I don't believe that is the case. There is also a third book yet to be released.

The Bottom Line:

I have to admit I was a bit disappointed in this book.  Too many characters, and I didn't love the flashback story. It felt disjointed. Initially I liked the premise but it just went in too many directions for my taste. As far as the second book, I may give it a try but I'm not running to pick it up. All that being said, BLISS HOUSE is a good one to read this time of year with Halloween being upon us. If you've read it and have a different opinion, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

BLISS HOUSE (Kindle Edition)
Series: Bliss House, Book 1
Author: Laura Benedict
Publisher: Pegasus
Published: June 2014
Length:  449pp
Source: Purchased

Oct 28, 2015

Huntress Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff

This award-winning thriller that came out in November of 2014 was subsequently named Best eBook Original Novel. This is the first book in the Huntress/FBI Series.

In this premier installment Sokoloff has us following FBI Agent Matthew Roarke as he tracks a most unique suspect: a female serial killer. In fact, one of the victims, a fellow agent working undercover was on his way to meet Roarke and was killed almost right in front of him. As a former profiler,  Agent Roarke digs into the lives of the previous victims and develops a theory that he is reluctant to offer full disclosure to.

My Thoughts:

I found the premise of the story interesting and was curious to see where it would go. In my experience, I haven't read many thrillers with a female serial killer so I thought that was a bold move on behalf of Alexandra Sokoloff. That being said, there were a few times I felt she was reaching a bit but I was interested enough to keep going. Sokoloff was able to keep my attention throughout the book and I was anxious to return to it when I did have to stop reading from time to time. The book hints at the paranormal as well which gives it a mysterious element that I hope will become more prevalent in the future. The back story of the killer was a good twist and she even manages a link between the killer and the agent, albeit a distant one. That is one reason I feel like this series has a lot of potential. The growth of the characters and future encounters leaves the door open for another intriguing installment. BLOOD MOON is the second book and I already have it on my Kindle and will hopefully get to it before the end of year. .

If you're like me and enjoy audiobooks, you may be interested to know that the narrator of HUNTRESS MOON is non other than R.C. Bray, the voice of the astronaut in THE MARTIAN and, more recently, the narrator of DECENT by Tim Johnston, both of which I really enjoyed. So if you prefer audios, that is a good reason to pick this one up.

The Bottom Line:

For me, this book is a win. I give it 3.5 stars, because I had a few believability issues with the story, however, it has a paranormal aire about it so I took that into consideration. I think the stories will improve and I will be reading more from this series. It's the perfect type of book to be reading this time of year with Halloween approaching. It's a quick read, too, and that is a plus as well.

There are currently three books in the series with a fourth coming in 2016. For more information on Alexandra Sokoloff and her books, visit her website.

HUNTRESS MOON (Kindle Version)
Series: Huntress/FBI Book 1
Author: Alexandra Sokoloff
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Published: November 2014
Length: 373 pp

Oct 27, 2015

Guest Post: Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis Reviewed by Emerson Clauss

Once again, I've invited my friend Emerson Clauss to be a guest reviewer and he has chosen a wonderful memoir called GIRL IN THE WOODS by Aspen Matis.  He has a personal connection to the subject matter of the book and came away with some interesting insights.

GIRL IN THE WOODS: A Memoir by Aspen Matis

This is a seemingly familiar story of running away from something into nature to find yourself, except it has some new twists and sheds light on an epidemic in this country.  In GIRL IN THE WOODS, Aspen Matis shares her story of a campus rape, hers.  Crimes like this we see too often in the news and the incidence is rising in frequency, by most statistics.  Unfortunately she is the victim, yet becomes a gifted storyteller in her account of this act and her journey to overcome it.

Aspen tackles the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT), which is notably one of the epic hiking experiences in the US.  She embarks on this journey armed only with some childhood wilderness experiences and little planning or preparation.  She takes on this epic hike as a "Thru Hiker", meaning her goal was to accomplish the entire route in one try, all  2,650  miles of it.  Aspen also makes the decision to do it in "light" mode; carrying only bare essentials, which add several times to her challenges along the way.

As an avid and experienced  outdoors person, I was almost appalled at her lack of prep and seemingly rash decisions at the onset of this adventure.  Then I recalled being 19; life then is full of those kinds of decisions.  Through her experience of this campus rape, she is left feeling empty, lost and in need of something drastic in her life.  She finds those things in herself on the PCT.   

I'll admit, I was attracted to this story for several reasons; first as an outdoorsman and secondly, I wanted some insight to how to deal with the subject of rape, especially with the victim.  I wanted to see a woman's perspective on how people treat her afterwards, how they are stymied with what to say and how to react.  And it was insightful how, probably because of our lack of knowledge and openness about these emotions surrounding this crime; those around her do not handle her or her feelings well.

It is such a quagmire of  emotions for everyone involved, most of us are ill equipped to deal with it well and be supportive of the victim at a vulnerable time of need; for their daughter, friend or sibling.  Along the trail, strangers begin to act oddly around her, in this little wilderness click on the PCT.  She is forced to make some statements and actions to dispel that miss-information and set some people straight.  She does well to explain to the reader, how this wilderness community rises up each spring then dies away each fall. 

The story has some real interesting moments, both in nature and in human relations.   She (obviously) makes it through okay, but sometimes only by luck and possibly a series of small miracles, and with the aid of "Trail Angels".   Her feat of surviving the PCT is something tremendous, no matter her motivation.  And her goal, to find herself again, is noble and heartfelt.  Aspen's story is unique, but also too familiar.  

I believe this is a good read for couch potatoes and outdoors people alike.  It is certainly one more MEN should read; for too many reasons to list here.  This book may offer us all some insight to how to help, talk to and support a woman in this trap of a most personal of crime against her.    GIRL IN THE WOODS even hints of a continuing mystery in its Epilogue... one I had to research myself and found immensely intriguing as a student of human nature.   

GIRL IN THE WOODS is definitely a good read.

Author: Aspen Matis
Publisher: William Morrow
Published: September 8, 2015
Length: 384pp

Oct 25, 2015

The Sunday Salon: A New Chapter for Me

I've had this post in mind for many weeks but had to put it off when my neck issues arose but now that I'm fully recovered I'm excited to finally share my news.  There are a lot of changes in store for me hopefully in the next 6 months.

After living in my house here in Ocala, Florida for 22 years, I've decided to sell it. My ex-husband and I bought the house in early 1993 a few years after we married. It was a perfect starter home for us and even after he bailed in 2000, I took over the mortgage alone and have continued living here. It was the perfect solution for me but as time has gone on and I've lost so much of my sight and become less independent, it's time for me to make a change. The house and property are too much for a partially blind single woman to handle. I need to get away from the stress of it and I would like to be able to start afresh without old memories lingering everywhere I look.

I'll begin showing the house to prospective buyers next month and hopefully the right opportunity will present itself. I'm so anxious for the next chapter in my life and to see what is in store for me. Admittedly, I had been in sort of a slump but now I am filled with hope and excitement for the future! Thanks for letting me share this special news here at the salon!

Even with all the preparations of selling my house, I have managed to slip in some books too. I'm actually a bit covered up with them! Here's what I'm reading now:

  • TENACITY by J.S. Law. This thriller is a review book centering around a naval investigator in the UK's Royal Navy. It's the first in a new series and from the comments I've read about it, it's a real page-turner. I've only just begun so I can't really say too much about it yet. Its release date is November 3rd.
  •  ALONG THE INFINITE SEA  by Beatriz Williams  This is my first Williams book and this book is the third book about a trio of sisters, though I'm assured that it doesn't matter that I haven't read the first two books. I've just received this one so I haven't even started it but hope to this week. It's also due out November 3rd.
  • FALLEN by Karin Slaughter  This is the 5th book in the Will Trent Crime Fiction/Suspense series that I've become obsessed with. 

I'm also listening to a new audiobook:

  • A LITTLE LIFE by Hanya Yanagihara  This book has created so much buzz I couldn't pass it up. It's a very long book which is why I chose the audio version. (Over 32 hours long!) I'm about 5 hours in so I have a ways to go! So far, I have two word for you: Character Development
Surprisingly enough, I've not taken on any new TV shows this fall.  I am, however, waiting for Chicago Med to start in November because I do watch the Dick Wolf Chicago Fire and PD series. They are two of my favorites and they do a lot of crossing over which is always fun to watch. With my books, audios and a few Netflix shows I just don't want to add anything else. 

So that's what's going on in my world. As for today, I'm taking a break from sorting out three bedrooms worth of 'stuff' and I'll be reading and watching some football. Yes, I'm a multi-tasker! As for dinner, I'll be creating my version of Chicken a la King, which has been a retro favorite of mine since way back when microwaves first came on the scene! I'll be making it up as I go along, so wish me luck! How hard can it be, right?! 


Oct 17, 2015

[TSS] You: A Novel by Caroline Kepnes (Unabridged Audio Version)

Finally I'm back after having surgery to remove a ruptured disc in my neck and I couldn't be happier to be getting back into my old routine. I have several reviews to post to get caught up and I thought I'd start off with a bang!

YOU by Caroline Kepnas was quite a listen! I was looking for something fresh and different and I found it with this audio. The story is about Joe Goldberg, an intelligent guy who runs a book shop in NYC. The aging owner of the shop is more than happy to let Joe handle the day-to-day so Joe has the run of the place.

When Beck, an aspiring writer and college student, comes into the shop Joe is quickly smitten. Beck is sexy and she flirts with Joe and by the time she leaves, Joe is convinced that Beck wants him as much as he wants her.  And when Joe wants something, he gets it. No matter what. At first glance he comes across as a nice, kind of good looking guy with enough intellect to carry on interesting conversations but there is a side of Joe that can be quite scary. He gains access to Beck's phone, email and social media accounts and begins assimilating himself into her life and manipulating her friends without them even knowing it.  When he realizes she is involved with another guy Joe doesn't like that at all. As weeks go on, Joe is able to maneuver in and around Beck's life even more and the lines between reality and fantasy become blurred.  He obsesses over her 24/7 and all he thinks about is having her. Though Beck flirts with him and leads him on, she continues to hold him at arms length which just makes him more determined.

Joe's obsession with Beck quickly turns dangerous for the people in her life who get in the way of his plan to have her all to himself, which is what he thinks she wants too. Beck has no idea what a dangerous game she is playing.

My Thoughts on the Story:

I was looking for something new and different to listen to while I recuperated and this certainly fit the bill! The story takes off immediately with Joe meeting Beck and the outrageous thoughts he has and the bluntness of his desire for her was a startling beginning and it never let up.  Joe is the only one telling this story and he is talking directly to Beck, as if she can hear every word. It makes for a very intense read. To find that kind of creative and unusual writing style in a debut novel surprising and wonderful. Caroline Kepnes made a bold move with this book and I think it paid off in a huge way. YOU is as much a fast paced thriller as I've ever read and I didn't want to stop.  To put it bluntly, I was all in.

OK, all that being said, I have to make you aware that this is a very sexually explicit book. If sexual situations and dialogue don't bother you, you will be fine. I am by no means a prude but I even found myself blushing a time or two. I just had to throw that out there so you would be prepared if you take my advice and read this book, which, by the way was an Amazon Best Book of the Month last September when it came out. Another thing about this book is how current and relevant this story is in this age of technology and social media. Joe was able to hack her devices and Beck had no idea. That is scary in and of itself.

My Thoughts on the Audio Performance:

There is no other word for Santino Fontana than BRILLIANT!  His portrayal of Joe was nothing short of amazing.  I'm quite sure that hearing him narrate this book is why I enjoyed it so much. It's odd - it's a twisted story about a scary guy but I couldn't help feeling drawn to him.  Even though Joe was scary, there was something magnetic in Santino Fontana's voice that kept me riveted. I believe this is my favorite audiobook so far this year.

The bottom line is this is a great debut novel that I would recommend highly. I would also recommend the audio version. (You'll thank me later) I'm very anxious to see what Caroline Kepnes has up her literary sleeve next. Her new book, HIDDEN BODIES, hits shelves in February.

YOU (Unabridged Audio Version)
Author: Caroline Kepnes
Narrator: Santino Fontana
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Published: September 30, 2014
Length: 11 Hrs 6 Mins
Printed Length: 432 pages
Source: Purchased thru Audible