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Review: The Hollow Ground by Natalie S. Harnett

[ 0 ] July 22, 2014

Hollow Ground, TheReviewed by Cal Cleary

Brigid Howley lives in a Pennsylvania mining town, descended from a line of coal miners whose livelihoods were destroyed when tragedy struck a number of Pennsylvania mines in the early 1900s. Her father is a drunk, a smart man broken by a secret buried in his past. Her mother is a mean-spirited woman long-since hardened by secrets of her own. Her brother appears to have been born mentally ill. After losing their home to one of the horrific underground coal fires that dot the Pennsylvania landscape, they move in with Brigid’s grandparents, a similarly-damaged couple with whom they have an uneasy relationship. But going home forces some of their secrets out into the open, and makes Brigid confront the curse that’s followed her family for generations.

The Hollow Ground tracks the struggles of the Howley clan as they seek to survive day-to-day life in a world where the Earth could literally open up and swallow their home whole at any moment. It’s a powerful hook, but the story often overplays its hand. Drama slips easily into melodrama, and here, The Hollow Ground periodically feels more like poverty-porn than genuine exploration of these people and their time. What’s more, author Natalie S. Harnett ends up shying away from going the distance, pulling some key punches at the last minute, which leaves me uncertain as to how I feel about the almost unrelenting depression of many of the book’s small segments.

Harnett’s novel is a fairly shaggy coming-of-age story, one packed with incident but light, at times, on connective tissue. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad, and if there’s a genre that plays well with loose, unstructured plotting, it’s the coming-of-age drama. Brigid is a frustratingly passive character in Harnett’s story, but not an uninteresting one, and her observation of the passing of one piece of classic American history and the arrival of the next is well handled. Indeed, Harnett cleverly structured the story to avoid most of the clichés inherent to many mid-1900s American stories I see these days, and it makes the aimlessness of certain segments of the book feel clever and practiced in a way I hadn’t expected it to.

The Hollow Ground is a moving novel, rough and captivating, and while I do have some reservations, I have to admit that Harnett is an immensely talented young writer with a keen eye for setting and a strong ability to use that to push a story relentlessly forward. What’s more, as frustrating as they can be, the Howleys are genuinely fascinating people stuck in an awful moment of America’s past with no reasonable way to move forward. And, not for nothing, but Harnett knows how to put words on a page, because time simply slipped away whenever I opened the book. It’s a debut with flaws, but it’s a debut that should get noticed regardless, and one that will speak powerfully to many readers.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Cal Cleary is a librarian and critic in small-town Ohio. You can read more of his work at his blog, The Comical Librarian, and you can follow him on Twitter @comicalibrarian.

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

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Review: The Fever by Megan Abbott

[ 1 ] July 22, 2014

Book-the-feverReviewed by Lindsay Yocum

Deenie, Lise, and Gabby have all grown up together and remained best friends all through school. High school proves to be the hardest on their friendship as new friends seem to pull them in different directions, especially Gabby.

Lise comes down with a mysterious and potentially life threatening illness that puts her in the hospital after a seizure like episode occurs at school. Deenie, who is closest to Lise, is shaken by witnessing her friend’s episode and finds little comfort in Gabby. Gabby is constantly surrounded by the new girl who is always less than thrilled to see Deenie.

Rumors swirl about Lise’s illness and other girls begin to report similar symptoms as the days pass. Some blame the new vaccine, Gardasil, and the community holds on to this as the answer, swearing their daughters were never the same after receiving the vaccine. No answers actually come, but Deenie becomes worried when she remembers the warnings given to them as children to stay out of the lake. Apparently, people are never the same after entering the lake. Deenie knows this from experience–whatever the lake has going on made her mother sick and she eventually died. But all the warnings didn’t stop the girls from sneaking through the fence and ignoring the “Keep Out” signs surrounding the lake.

As the days pass, Lise gets worse and worse and there doesn’t seem to be any viable explanations for her illness. Are the sudden onsets of new illnesses related to Lise? And if so, who or what could be the cause of this? Just when Deenie thinks she has it all figured out, she is blindsided with new information after months of coming up empty. Is it enough to save her friend?

I have to say, I enjoyed The Fever. It was a little weird at times, but there was always this suspense that stuck with you through the entire book. It definitely kept me guessing and I have always enjoyed a book that keeps me on my toes. There were some parts in the book that I think could have been either left out or elaborated on more, but overall, it flowed together really well. I give this book a rating of 3, because while it was a good read it may not be everybody’s cup of tea. It had a very young adult feel to it and I am sure anyone in that audience will love it.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Lindsay is a young, Christian entrepreneur, owner of Spectra Marketing Solutions and Co-Founder of ChairWear Fashion, creator of the Chirt (a patent-pending custom office chair cover). In her spare time, she works as a promotional model for various talent agencies and enjoys reading, blogging, home improvement, Pinterest, and especially enjoying life as a new mom with her amazing husband and business partner.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Little, Brown and Company. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper

[ 1 ] July 21, 2014

downloadReviewed by Jessa Larsen

David Ullman is a literature professor at Columbia University and is among the world’s leading authorities on demonic literature, with his specialty being Paradise Lost, an epic poem about Satan and his court of fallen angels. Not that David believes any of it. Not God, not Satan. He simply studies it as a work of intriguing art. No more, no less. So when a mysterious woman arrives at his office and invites him to witness a phenomenon, he promptly turns her down. The woman is not to be deterred, however, and leaves a plane ticket, an address, and one last bit of advice… or is it a warning? Her employer sent her specifically to extend this invitation to David and he is not often disappointed.

As if his day couldn’t get any stranger, David’s wife greets him at home with the simple statement that she is leaving him. With this news, David impulsively takes the mysterious woman from earlier in the day up on her invitation and heads to Venice with his 12-year-old daughter, Tess. He has recently noticed that Tess has become increasingly more withdrawn and melancholy and figures, well, why not? It might cheer the both of them up and distract them from their current stressful situation.

Unfortunately, what happens in Venice isn’t what the pair was hoping for. Not even close. It starts with a visit to the address David received. He arrives to witness a man tied to a chair and muttering the craziest things. Could this be a man possessed or has he just gone clinically insane? Before David can decide, the man begins to speak in the voice of David’s dead father, repeating, word for word, the last words David ever heard him speak.

David rushes back to the hotel, clearly distraught, and discovers Tess perched on the edge of the hotel’s roof. Before he can get to her, she falls in the waters of the Grand Canal below and extends a final plea: “Find me”. Now David must rely on his expert knowledge of Paradise Lost, solve the devil’s riddles, and hope with all his heart and soul that it’s not too late to get his daughter back.

My first instinct was to dislike The Demonologist for its slow, meandering ways. But I fought against my desire to treat this as an action packed horror film and began to really enjoy the thoughtfulness that Pyper put into the work. I found myself recalling the mythologies of Lucifer and his demon apostles as I tried to solve the riddles presented to the character. It’s definitely a mind boggler and you get sucked into the story pretty good. I finished the book still thinking and a little unsure, but satisfied all the same. I will definitely be checking into more works by this author.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Jessa lives in Utah with her husband, 2 sons, 2 dogs and a cat called Number One Boots Kitten. She is a full time mom and enjoys writing short stories in her spare time. She also likes watching anime, reading books, and playing video games.

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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Blog Tour & Giveaway: Tempesta’s Dream by Vincent B. LoCoco

[ 2 ] July 21, 2014

Tempesta's DreamPlease join Vincent B. “Chip” LoCoco, author of Tempesta’s Dream, as he tours the blogosphere with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours!

Enter to win a copy below – open to US and Canada residents only

Reviewed by Lauren Cannavino

In the city of Milan, opera is life to twenty-five year old Giovanni Tempesta. Born to poor, Sicilian parents, Giovanni does not have the financial means nor the formal musical training to extend his love of the opera to much beyond singing part-time at Angelo’s, a local restaurant, that is close to the famous opera house La Scala. Giovanni’s love of music, his vast knowledge of the operatic greats and even his striking tenor singing voice, were all passed down from his beloved father Franco who died in a car accident. With a passionate wish to honor his father, as well as his own dreams, Giovanni dreams of one day singing himself at the historic La Scala. As friends, family, potential benefactors and music teachers continue to shoot down his dreams; Giovanni soon feels he will never fulfill his passion.

One Saturday night singing at Angelo’s, Giovanni soon finds his attention drawn to a beautiful young lady in the audience. Isabella is the eighteen-year old daughter of a prominent, wealthy judge, who forbids his daughter to speak to or see Giovanni due to his social rank. As Isabella and Giovanni realize their connection, he soon also realizes that he must do anything that he can to make his dreams a reality in order to be accepted by Isabella’s family and win her love. After entering the local retirement home Casa di Riposo that is exclusively for musicians and performers, Giovanni meets Signor Alfredo del Monte who agrees to teach and coach him in exchange for only his company and to share their love of opera. Alfredo also asks Giovanni to place him front row at La Scala when he makes it as an opera singer. Giovanni’s progress and failures rise and fall as his adulthood progresses and throughout it all, he continues to grow. There is an unspoken theme of the importance of relationships and the lessons that can be learned from every interaction. The love and hardships that Giovanni endures with Isabella, his family, himself and opera all manage to strike a chord on an emotional level that makes the reader want nothing more than for him to be happy and successful.

The use of operatic arias, essentially the lyrics, throughout the story and blended into the dialogue is a powerful creative tool used by Vincent B. LoCoco. These passages are used to share his love and knowledge of opera and add a higher level of dimension to the conversations in the story. LoCoco’s Giovanni is a careful, dedicated dreamer, a character that faces the odds stacked against him and yet still manages to keep his head up, remain noble and follow his heart. Tempesta’s Dream is a joyous story of art, opera, dedication and love.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

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

Review and giveaway copies were provided by Vincent B. LoCoco. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Mailbox Monday

[ 15 ] July 20, 2014

Welcome to Mailbox MondayMailbox Monday are hosted by Marcia at Mailbox Monday blog

Here are the books that made their way into my mailbox last week:

For Review – Paper Copies

9780142181485MQueen-of-Hearts-678x1024Bitter Greens(1)SuchGoodGirls-hc-c-226x34251RoUI690BL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

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Review: The New Mind of the South by Tracy Thompson

[ 3 ] July 20, 2014

08book "Tne New Mind of the South" by Tracy Thompson.Reviewed by A.D. Cole

If you’ve ever been confronted with the question of Southern identity—whether you’re a Southerner yourself, or have mistakenly taken cornbread sweetened with sugar to a potluck where Southerners are present, and then been subjected to decisive and passionate lectures about why neither you nor your cornbread are authentically Southern—then this title has probably snagged your attention. If you pick it up, you’ll find that Tracy Thompson’s investigative work seeks an understanding of what it has meant, in the past, to be Southern, and what it means today.

The New Mind of the South dives right into the issue at the root of the South’s identity crisis—race. Thompson explores the lies that Southerner’s believe about Civil War history, the sudden influx of Latino immigrants into the New South, the return of black Americans to the South, and the role of religion and politics in Southern identity. She caps it off with a scathing critique of the city of Atlanta as a blight on the Southern landscape and as a microcosm, or maybe even a symptom, of the Southern identity crisis.

What allows this book to exist at all, however, is that throughout the upheavals and overwhelming changes in The South, over the years, Southern Identity has refused to die. Southerners retain their tradition as friendly, hospitable, church-going folk amidst the tumultuous changes since the Civil War, the Jim Crow laws, Civil Rights, and immigration. The roots of Southern Identity run deep and it’s interesting to see, through this book, that despite all the disillusionment and change, that tree still stands.

Like with all sociological studies, I walked away from this one feeling slightly more marginalized than I had before. Even more so because I’m not a southerner, so I have no noble justification for holding to politico-religious beliefs that are so disparaged in the academic world where this author is writing from. I can’t simply say, “Well, I’m Southern, and this is who we are.” I also doubt that Southerners would appreciate the analysis being done here. Maybe a rare few who are wrestling with the same questions that the author addresses. But that’s a fairly narrow audience.

Still, I found moments of insight that lifted me—left me feeling more enlightened than I had before. For instance, she mentions a phrase coined by Freud, “the narcissism of small differences,” during a discussion of denominational Christianity; she discusses the doctrinal battles that exist among churches of the same religion and how those battles take on vast importance in the region despite being entirely insignificant in the broader view of the world. Later there is long description of “the person at the center.” At one point, Thompson says, “The person at the center is also deeply familiar with, and yet an outsider to, the religion of his culture.” I often wonder how many people feel this way and don’t know how to express it. I felt that reading these words opened my eyes, some. Though I’m not a Southerner, I understand the continual process of unraveling the strands of your own preconceptions and illusions in order to find a more truthful understanding of the world around you.

I’d say overall I enjoyed this book. Though I think when describing the “person at the center,” Thompson was also describing her audience, which I would guess is fairly narrow. Perhaps I’m underestimating readers and not everyone is as defensive as myself when it comes to having themselves analyzed. Still, I don’t know how to recommend this book other than to say, if you’re interested in the current state of Southern Identity…this is definitely the book to read.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

A.D. Cole is a homeschooling mother and aspiring romance novelist. She lives in the Ozark foothills and spends her free time reading, writing, baking and pondering life’s little mysteries.

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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