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Review: I Can Barely Take Care of Myself by Jen Kirkman

[ 1 ] July 31, 2014

15757384Reviewed by Carrie Ardoin

Even before I became a parent, I knew I never wanted to be one of those mothers who starts every other sentence with, “As a mother…” and then proceeds to give her opinion to anyone within hearing distance, regardless of their parent status or if they had asked for my opinion at all. For the most part, I think I have avoided being that type of mom. I do, however, know plenty of other parents like this. For as much flack as Jen Kirkman catches for being happy in her decision not to have children, I too have heard so many people offer their unsolicited advice on the fact that I am content with having only one child. So while it’s not exactly the same thing, I can relate to the author and understand why she felt the need to write this book explaining her stance.

The most disappointing thing though, was that for the most part, I Can Barely Take Care of Myself: Tales From a Happy Life Without Kids did not do what the title said it would; we don’t hear too many tales about Jen having a “happy life” without kids. Instead, she mainly defends her decision and answers the questions so many have pressed upon her through anecdotes about her multiple neuroses, failed relationships, and stalled career. I don’t think any of the tales I read in this memoir were happy at all, actually.

The book is divided up into chapters which are titled accordingly: they are questions or statements related to motherhood that Jen Kirkman has heard countless times such as, “But you’d make such a good mother” and “who’s going to take care of you when you’re older?” In each chapter, the author addresses the question and tells a tale about why she doesn’t necessarily need a child to fulfill her life or to accomplish the things people are telling her. The stories themselves aren’t funny or even particularly entertaining. I’m not sure if they are meant to be.

Kirkman has tried to explain her decision every which way to others, and no one seems to get the hint that she just doesn’t want to be a mother, period. Whether her reasons are valid to them or not is irrelevant–she is a grown woman and is allowed to make her own decisions without having to explain them to anyone else. The fact that Jen felt this book needed to be written at all lights a fire under me–it’s 2014, not 1914. Whether a woman wants kids or doesn’t want kids, I don’t think a book needs to be written about it. Either way it’s a bit narcissistic to think your decision is affecting the lives of so many, because in reality, it’s not. People ultimately just love to stick their noses where they don’t belong.

For answering questions Jen has been asked so much in her lifetime, this book succeeds. For trying to prove that she is happy without children…not so much.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

Carrie runs the blog Sweet Southern Home, and is a stay at home wife and mom to one little boy. When she’s not reading, she’s usually watching Netflix with her husband, playing outside with her son, or baking. Her family would describe her as sometimes annoyingly sarcastic, but mostly lovable. 

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Simon & Schuster. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher

[ 1 ] July 31, 2014

empire striketh backReviewed by Cal Cleary

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

For some reason, those words captures America’s imagination in a way that few other pieces of entertainment every have (or will). One of the most interesting aspects of the documentary The People Vs. George Lucas was the way that Star Wars, for some reason, ignited the creativity of a generation. There have been countless fan recreations, mash-ups, fan edits, costume mods, and much, much more as fans took something created by Lucas, threw it in a bag with all their other passions, and tried to turn it into something new. One of the most interesting examples of that in the last few years was Ian Doescher’s William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, a book that rewrote Star Wars as a Shakespearean play, borrowing the Bard’s language and structure. Now, Doescher returns with William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back.

Ian Doescher’s love of Shakespeare and Star Wars is clear from page one. Some of the jokes are subtle – an early callback to The Winter Tale’s infamous ‘Exit Pursued by a Bear’ went completely over my head when I first read it, for example – but for the most point, Doescher plays things admirably straight. This is an elaborate work of fan-love for a franchise, one that’s thorough enough, for example, to note that Shakespeare’s language varied by the class of his characters and put that into play by having Boba Fett speak in prose, indicating a lower class. Little touches like this make the book feel more complete, and more interesting.

The book’s biggest flaw comes in its overcrowding. The Empire Strikes Back is an epic adventure film, spanning multiple worlds and introducing a large number of tertiary characters to lend drama to its battle scenes. But rather than taking the opportunity to streamline, Doescher goes largely for accuracy, which makes the book too heavy on stage direction and too crowded with unnecessary characters. And while Doescher makes some interesting choices in adapting the work – Yoda, for instance, speaks exclusively in haiku, an excellent choice and one the author struggled with mightily according to his afterword – few are terribly insightful or interesting beneath the surface.

But while it is a gimmick, it’s a gimmick that works, at least. Doescher may not have the Bard’s sense of rhythm, immaculate pacing, or gift with wordplay, but William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back offers a reasonable facsimile – and, more importantly, a good time. While I can’t imagine the book being of much interest to the average public, Star Wars diehards can (and have) done worse when it comes to adapted or spun-off material, and fans of Shakespeare’s work should enjoy the care Doescher’s taken to combine the two. As a novelty, it’s more than worthy, but I’m not sure it succeeds as anything else.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Cal is a librarian, critic, and writer in rural Ohio. You can find more of his writing at his blog, The Comical Librarian, or follow him on Twitter.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Quirk Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Blog Tour: The Bone Church by Victoria Dougherty

[ 4 ] July 30, 2014

02_the-bone-churchPlease join Victoria Dougherty, author of The Bone Church, as she tours the blogosphere with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours!

Reviewed by Lauren Cannavino

The Bone Church takes the reader on a harrowing journey through post World War II Europe and bounces around between a decade beyond the war and the dark times near the end. Much of the book is set in Prague during the war, but the characters and the story touch upon many other countries and locations throughout the book. Author Victoria Dougherty fills the book with history, intrigue, suspense and even love in a disturbing time which allows for the reader to feel transported to a much different era than today. The Bone Church does start slowly and is a bit difficult to follow due to the switching between settings, characters and time in order to lay the groundwork, but as the story progresses, the plot in the early chapters suddenly begin to make sense.

Felix Andel is an ex-Olympic Czechoslovakian hockey player who is discovering after his father’s death that not everything in the world is as it seems. He is in love with the beautiful Magdalena (Ruza) Melan, with whom he has much history with. Magdalena is a Jew and much of Felix’s life is dedicated to making sure that she is safe and free from Nazi persecution. Felix works relentlessly to try to smuggle Magdalena out of Prague and as a result, the two are exposed to a shady, underbelly of society that exists in the form of the Resistance. The couple soon learns that there is much more to the Resistance movement than simply aiding refugees. Svoboda, an old family friend of Felix’s father Marek, lets the couple in on an assassination plot on Nazi Leader Josef Goebbels which is ultimately unsuccessful, there are dubious dealings of religious icons, forgeries and thefts and no one is exactly as they seem. Much of Felix’s aid and information comes from the shifty Gypsy Srut who always seems to show up unexpectedly when Felix needs him the most. The action is heavy in the novel and the air of oppression and the constant fear/running that Felix and Magdalena face do not go unnoticed. Felix is a strong and smart main character that presses on for the ones he loves, not only because he wants to, but simply because there is no other choice.

The Bone Church itself is a chapel near Prague that has altars and decorations inside made completely out of human remains. Action and pivotal interactions do take place within the walls, but the idea of the Bone Church seems to act more as a representation of mortality and even evil that surrounds this time in history. Felix has not only his body tested, but also his faith and values throughout the story and the Bone Church stands as a great reminder that no one is immortal. Dougherty’s novel is rich, different and touching. Her dual story lines, while at times jumbled, are captivating and interesting. The Bone Church provides glimpses into dark history and shares whispers of the past through an interesting cast of characters who strive to survive above all else.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at

Review and giveaway copies were provided by Pier’s Court Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: The Revealed by Jessica Hickam

[ 3 ] July 29, 2014

The_Revealed-Jessica_HickamReviewed by Carrie Ardoin

I do enjoy it when a young adult book has a well executed kidnapping in the plot. That probably makes me sound sadistic, but what I mean is it’s hard to find one where the kidnapping itself doesn’t take over the whole plot of the book. The difference with The Revealed is that the victim knew her kidnapping was coming. This is in large part why I decided to read this book. How can you hide from something and someone that you know is coming, but don’t have any idea how to stop?

Unfortunately, the actual kidnapping scene in this book was anticlimactic, and so many other negative issues overshadowed the plot that I barely got through to the end.

The main character, Lily Atwood is the eighteen year old daughter of a presidential candidate. The elections are the first that are scheduled to happen since a huge war changed the world several years ago. (I’m not trying to be vague on purpose–this is literally all the information the book gives on why this is supposed to be set in a dystopian America.) While the country is on the verge of electing a new leader, the world is also worried because eighteen year olds have been disappearing without a trace, and those to blame are called The Revealed.

The common people don’t know much about The Revealed–just that they seem to have secret powers and are able to do whatever they want to do without anyone being able to stop them. Since Lily turned eighteen, she has been under house arrest, her parents’ attempt to keep her from being the next one kidnapped. But that doesn’t stop the threatening notes she receives, and Lily basically does everything she can to defy her parents’ wishes–including becoming involved with the son of the opposing presidential candidate, Kai Westerfield.

Right from the beginning, Lily Atwood rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it’s because I’m older and a parent myself, but I found her to be very whiny and immature. After all, her parents, while not the warmest, are just doing what they can to keep her safe. But Lily time and time again escapes the house and puts herself in harm’s way, and The Revealed are not the only ones she has to worry about hurting her. With a highly emotional election about to happen, isn’t it not the smartest idea for the daughter of a candidate to be out in public, unprotected?

What actually irritated me the most about this book was the so-called romance between Lily and Kai. Lily mentions that she and Kai have known each other since childhood, but once they got to high school he ignored her existence. However, once he comes back into her life, only one short year after high school, she immediately falls for him. As in, she is literally saying, “I hate him. I’ve never hated anyone more in my life.” in one chapter, and in the next, “I can’t stop thinking about Kai.” It’s not exactly insta-love since they have known each other for so long, but the feeling of an underdeveloped, out of nowhere relationship is there anyway.

I really only kept reading because I wanted to find out what The Revealed were all about and why they were doing the kidnappings. I suppose what I found out was supposed to be a shocking twist, but it felt forced to me. I can’t share too much because I don’t want to spoil the book, but I will say that the X-Men comparisons I have seen in other reviews seem like a very, very far reach.

When the sort of love triangle got wedged in as well, I knew this book wasn’t going to get a good rating from me. It felt as if the author was trying to cram in as many YA stereotypes as she could into one plot without it falling apart. Well, it didn’t fall apart…but it didn’t make for very good reading, at least for this no longer young adult.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

Carrie runs the blog Sweet Southern Home, and is a stay at home wife and mom to one little boy. When she’s not reading, she’s usually watching Netflix with her husband, playing outside with her son, or baking. Her family would describe her as sometimes annoyingly sarcastic, but mostly lovable. 

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by SparkPress. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Ice Shear by M. P. Cooley

[ 1 ] July 29, 2014

18769649Reviewed by Meghan Hyden

Officer June Lyons works the night shift at her station in Hopewell Falls, New York–a quiet little town where nothing really happens and everyone knows each other. The most she has to deal with is the occasional drunk driver or disorderly conduct. No one in this town was ready for what would happen when, one night, June finds the body of Danielle Brouillette impaled on an ice shear at the local river. This is no accident. The murder stuns everyone, especially Danielle’s parents, Congresswoman Amanda Brouillette and her husband, Phil, a local businessman.

The police have lots of suspects – Danielle’s husband, Marty; Marty’s brother, Ray; Danielle’s ex-boyfriend from high school, Jason; the Brouillette’s pilot, Craig – but no real evidence.

As the investigation goes on, things go from bad to worse–Ray is murdered, his body found on the Brouillette’s property, where June also finds a meth lab. Everyone is convinced that it was Marty who killed his wife and then killed his brother, but the evidence leaves them with more questions than answers.

And when Marty and Ray’s parents, the Jelicksons, arrive on scene …

Ice Shear was a little slow starting out, but then it got really good–local cops, FBI, the government, a big biker gang, meth, murder … and a lot of secrets. And talk about two messed up families–the Brouillettes and the Jelicksons, neither of which could see what they had done to their children.

The author did a great job with most of the characters. I really cared about what was happening to them, was hoping the murderer wasn’t this person or that person, felt sorry for some, got angry at others. My only problem is that I really didn’t feel for Danielle. She was murdered before we ever met her (which does happen, especially in police procedurals), and the way that she was described by others didn’t really make me care that she had died. I mean, I did because I’m human, but I didn’t feel heartbroken over it, not like I did when I found out that Ray had died. Danielle, the more I got to know her, the more I just didn’t like her, but the way her character was, I think I was supposed to, at least on some levels.

The last several chapters were one big thrill ride. I’m talking edge-of-your-seat-what’s-going-to-happen-next moments. And the murderer? All I will say is that I love a mystery where I am completely shocked at the end by who it was.

I would like to see more with June Lyons – and Hale, the FBI agent – and Ice Shear has a nice little opening at the end that could make this possible. I liked June and Dan, her partner–the chemistry they had was great.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

You can find Meghan (that’s Meghan spelled the right way) over on her book-ish blog The Gal in the Blue Mask. She’s an avid reader, a book editor, a story teller, a purveyor of delectable fare and pulchritudinous confections, and the best aunt in the world. She loves gardening, hiking, cooking and spending time at the zoo, library and museums. She may not be able to find her wallet, car keys or sunglasses, but she always knows where her Kindle is.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: The Forgotten Roses by Deborah Doucette

[ 4 ] July 28, 2014

032914-N Forgotten RosesReviewed by Marisa Deshaies

Deborah Doucette’s The Forgotten Roses blends mystery and suspense with lessons about marriage, child-rearing, and self-identity in a unique novel that captivates readers with its many plotlines. Set in the fictional town of Havenwood, New Hampshire, Doucette’s characters wind their ways through the sleepy New England town that offers its inhabitants much more variety to their days than any post-card depicting a standard lighthouse set along the Atlantic coast could ever represent. In fact, the hypocritical nature of setting and characterization exemplifies Doucette’s most important lesson: the face of a person or place often is only a shadow of what lies inside.

In a blend questioning, parenting, rebellion, and mystery, Doucette’s novel brings abnormality to what would normally come across as a common experience. Her characters seem ordinary: a working mother, a busy father, and two daughters weaving daily lives around jobs, school, and family obligations. Doucette layers her novel with complications, however, that make The Forgotten Roses stand out amongst competitor novels of straight romance or friendships plots. The teenager daughter, for example, is not merely of rebellious nature—instead, she actively pursues avenues of danger and uses language that cuts down adults; the female lead, a mother as well as a real estate broker, often chooses actions that many people probably consider taking but would never follow through with in real life. Throw in glimpses of the female lead’s extended Italian family and Doucette has created a world of the senses readers can only dream about.

The Forgotten Roses is a novel of many facets; readers need to prepare themselves for a litany of plots that at times do not seem to coincide. Like Doucette’s lesson about identity (mentioned above), her symbolism for the novel’s themes is two-fold: Havenwood, roses, houses, and a prison—amongst other places and objects—not only serve to move along the story but also to bring readers a fuller meaning of the author’s lessons. Nevertheless, remembering the various plotlines and their purpose holistically when, for a majority of the story, they seem to have no relevance to one another can be cumbersome to the reader. Chapters are short, and each one focuses on a different subplot and character’s point of view. Have a pen and paper by your side to jot down notes since the rapid switching is anything but smooth.

Pick up Doucette’s novel for a reading experience that combines love and mystery in a manner different than common boy-meets-and-saves-girl. The author’s plot is creative and her style unique in that suspense truly holds out until the end of the novel. While enjoyable for its differences from standard romance or mystery novels, The Forgotten Roses still is only for the most adventurous of readers because stylistically the book lacks in plot comprehension and its end is inconclusive.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

An alumna of the University of Delaware’s English department, Marisa holds a Master’s degree in professional writing from New England College. Her dream job is to work as an editor for a publishing company. A voracious reader of all types of literature, her favorite genres include the classics, contemporary and historical fiction, Christian fiction, and women’s “chick-lit”.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Deborah Doucette. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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