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Review: The French House by Nick Alexander

[ 0 ] October 31, 2014

the french house book coverReviewed by Marisa Deshaies

Frustrated by a career that she dislikes and a sense of loneliness amongst a circle of friends all in relationships, Irish-born Londoner CC makes a brave – but somewhat reckless – decision to move with her new boyfriend to southern French coast. CC desires nothing more than to make a simple life with Victor selling cheese and raising goats on his family’s ancestral farm. However, when a crazy aunt and her jealous girlfriend return to their home next door to the ramshackle farm house that CC and Victor are attempting to renovate, CC’s dream of an idyllic home-life along the Mediterranean Sea feels as far away as London. With a house in disrepair, renovations that seem never-ending, and few friends and neighbors for support, CC and Victor find that there is a lot more to a simple life than just living on a farm.

The French House, by British-born and French-based author Nick Alexander, is a contemporary fiction novel sure to make readers laugh and wonder at the hilarious escapades of its characters. The novel is written in a first-person point-of-view of its main character, CC, and so has plenty of appeal for female readers. However, while The French House technically falls into the women’s fiction genre—literature focused on a female protagonist who experiences life-changing events and maturation during the novel—the story stands out from its competition within the genre because of its quirky plot. The balance of bizarre but lovable male and female characters in The French House ensures that male readers, just as much as female ones, will enjoy Alexander’s book.

Along with the central story of Victor and CC’s attempts to renovate a farm house that refuses to come together, The French House also tells a story of family and friendship. These relationships are the selling point of the novel because they hold the theme of Alexander’s book: a home is more than a structure—it is the life a person makes for themselves surrounded by the people they love and who love them. CC discovers this idea when her move to the south of France does not bring her any more satisfaction than the life she had lived in England did. Despite not being brought down by a dissatisfying job or hampered by her crazy mother, CC finds that her experiences in France are more stressful than they would be under normal circumstances because she does not have the support of her family and friends to help her cope. The serious tones and emotional scenes Alexander creates for CC and Victor as the two struggle and learn about what is important in life will resonate with all readers that have to balance busy lives.

The deep emotional level on which The French House succeeds contributes to the high expectations of the book and readers are likely to hold all other aspects of the book to the same standard. Alexander’s writing is strong and his prose evokes the sadness, frustration, and hopes that CC and Victor experience; however, the character development is weak, which leaves a sense of emptiness to the novel that humor or love cannot fulfill. CC, instead of coming across as brave in her decision to leave her home for France, comes across as a shallow character who whines to get her way because Alexander never elaborates on the disappointments or frustrations that contribute to her actions. Her choice to quit her job and leave her home and friends for a boyfriend she has only known for a few months is truly an unwise one that almost all women are advised against at some point in their lives. In addition, CC tends to run away from her problems, blame others for unfortunate situations, and not take responsibilities for her actions. There is little to relate to in The French House’s female protagonist. Her counterpart, Victor, is somewhat more likeable than Alexander’s leading lady. Victor is strong, intelligent, and romantic—exactly what CC is looking for in a boyfriend. But Victor makes some questionable decisions in The French House that any modern man or woman would not be able to justify.

While the protagonists of The French House are at times are hard to love, Alexander’s secondary characters are hilarious, charming, and endearing. In fact, knowing that The French House is a sequel, readers may come to beg Alexander to continue his series with novels that feature Mark, SJ, or crazy Aunt Desteira.

Alexander fills his novel with sex scenes that leave little to the imagination. In addition, references are made to drugs, and characters often use crude language or swear words. This book is recommended for mature readers who appreciate a story of positive and challenging life experiences.

The French House is the second novel with CC as Alexander’s leading lady. While reading the first novel in the series is not mandatory to understanding the The French House, doing so may aid readers in understanding CC’s motivations.

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 Corvus. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: An Unseemly Wife by E. B. Moore

[ 1 ] October 31, 2014

an unseemly wife book coverReviewed by Amanda Schafer

Ruth and Aaron Holtz live in an Amish community and follow along with the Amish Order. Life is happy and Ruth is expecting another baby in the coming months. One day when the English come onto the farm and begin talking of more land out west, Aaron becomes intrigued and decides they will go west in order to have more land for their children and future grandchildren. Ruth, however, is dubious and questions his soundness in his decision making because to do so would directly go against their Order. She fears being shunned while Aaron assures her that they will be fine and will remain separate from the wagon train people while traveling.

Once they get on the trail, Ruth begins to see things that she’s never seen before. Women in dresses and clothing that are far from anything she’s ever imagined. She also meets a preacher’s wife, Hortense, who she seems to always be at odds with, and also Sadie who seems to be an ally.  The trail is rough and Ruth is constantly questioning whether they are doing the right thing, but she is determined to trust her husband and follow his lead as the head of their family.

When the rest in the wagon train start getting sick, Ruth and Aaron remain separate and stay healthy, for a time. Eventually though, they succumb to the illness and are forced to remove themselves from the train in order to try and heal. When they left their farm, Ruth never expected the twists and turns her family would be forced to endure.

An Unseemly Wife is the first of E.B. Moore’s books that I’ve read and I enjoyed it as I was reading it. I was a bit frustrated with the ending, simply because I like happy endings when I read my books! However, I do understand that life is not about happy endings and we have to take the good with the bad. Being historical fiction, and being in a time when many people died on the trail, this book is definitely true to life. I look forward to reading more by Moore.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Amanda lives in Missouri with her engineering husband, two sons, and one daughter. In between homeschooling and keeping up with church activities she loves to read Christian Fiction, Women’s Fiction, and any Chick-Lit. She never goes anywhere without a book to read!

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

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Blog Tour: Man v. Nature by Diane Cook

[ 2 ] October 30, 2014

man v. nature book coverPlease join Diane Cook, author of Man V. Nature, as she tours the blogosphere with TLC Book Tours.

Reviewed by Alisha Churbe

Diane Cook’s debut short story collection is impressive. A collection of twelve rich and textured stories that pushes characters to the brink, leaving them there to observe what happens when left on their own. The majority of the stories have an apocalyptic feel or an end-of-days scenario where the characters try and often fail at ways to remedy their struggles. The stories are governed by nature and often the characters fight the natural world as well as the other characters around them. Themes of karma and fate intersect and overlap throughout.

In the title story, three men, who were childhood friends, embark upon their annual boat trip. They somehow manage to get utterly lost on a lake. Secrets and true feelings are revealed as days of solitude, hunger and the flip-flop of hope and hopelessness eats at them.  In “Moving On,” the character is stranded and alone in a house that protects its inhabitants from the disaster that encircles it. The character is forced to befriend a stranger for further protection and realizes too late that the trust was misplaced.

Cook places her characters at a crossroad where they are forced to make tough decisions as well as face challenges in which they are not prepared. The characters are not overly weighed by description at times, but it is not missed because the descriptions that remain are dramatic and memorable. The structures of the stories themselves lend much more to how a character deals with the events surrounding them and the decisions that must be made in order to survive rather than how a character looks. Cook strips characters of anything unnecessary superfluous, leaving them to their own devices, instincts and vulnerabilities. It’s a look at how people react when pushed to the edge and then beyond that, further and further until very little resembles anything the character can draw on from previous experience or knowledge. Some characters lose it, some give up, others sink into the abyss (quite literally).

Cook’s collection is well-written, surprising throughout and resonates with you after the stories are done. The stories stand on their own, connected only by theme, the plots and characters are not linked. Cook’s debut is impressive and she’s an author that represents the short story form very well.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.

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

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Review: Rush of Heaven by Ema McKinley & Cheryl Ricker

[ 2 ] October 29, 2014

rush of heaven book coverReviewed by Sarah McCubbin

In Rush of Heaven: One Woman’s Miraculous Encounter with Jesus, Ema McKinley shares her personal story of her miraculous encounter with Jesus. Along with Cheryl Ricker, she gives a detailed account of her life, before during and after her work related accident and again after she was miraculously healed on Christmas Eve 2011.

Admittedly, I was a little cautious when I started reading Ema’s story. I believe in miraculous healing but sometimes these stories sound like a scam or exaggeration. This story was none of these. I loved this book for the extra details included that let you see Ema as a real person who had real struggles physically and spiritually. She is ordinary with an extraordinary story.

In 1993, Ema was found hanging upside down in a loft in the storage area of the store where she worked. She had been knocked back by a blast from the heating system. In the fall, her foot caught her. She was left hanging unconscious and upside down for hours. Her ankle was injured in the accident and she developed and was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). This is an extremely painful condition caused by trauma. In Ema’s case it did not remain isolated but spread all over.

Initially, Ema experienced severe pain, swelling and twisting in her left foot, ankle and leg. Despite all manner of therapy, drugs and specialists, her condition deteriorated with the RSD spreading over most of her body, twisting her spine in the process. After three years, she was confined to a wheelchair where she remained for the next 15 years. Unable to care for herself, Ema required caregivers to assist with almost all daily basic functions. As the years passed, doctors basically attempted to keep her pain under control but there was no hope of improvement….until Jesus showed up on Christmas Eve. Without giving away her story, lets just say that Ema’s healing was dramatic and very sudden. It was an absolutely amazing and true testimony to the fact that our God is the Healer!

Ever the skeptic, there are some extras in this book that I greatly appreciate as they give validity to her claims. In the back of the book are reports from doctors and lawyers that verify her account. My favorite inclusion was the section of full color photographs taken before her accident, during her decline and immediately after she was healed. The before pictures show a broken, twisted, diseased body. The after pictures are completely the opposite. The effect is stunning. I highly recommend this book to anyone who needs a dose of hope, a reminder of God’s power or just a Christmas miracle.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Sarah McCubbin is a homeschooling and foster mom in NE Ohio where she resides with her husband and 7 children. In addition to reading great books, she enjoys gardening, traveling and blogging at Living Unboxed.

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

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Review: How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer

[ 3 ] October 27, 2014

toledo from the night sky book coverReviewed by Jax Kepple

“This is a love story about astronomy.”

George and Irene were destined to be together, ever since their mothers were best friends growing up and thought it would make their lives easier to already have someone who complimented them perfectly. Author Lydia Netzer is able to craft a love story interwoven with cosmic imagery that comes together in the end for a satisfying finale.

Irene Sparks is a genius researcher who is working in Pittsburgh and living with her boyfriend, Belion. The same minute that she has a major breakthrough involving black holes, her mother, Bernice, mysteriously falls down the stairs in Toledo and dies.

Netzer juxtaposes the complexities of the black hole discovery with the last breaths of Bernice, one example of how she sets up science, life, death and love as being linked. She uses this device often to paint the picture of how destiny and science are two sides of the same coin.

George Dermont sees imagery of gods and goddesses in modern dress floating around taunting him. His mother, Sally, is a corporate lawyer and is as cold as his father, Dean, an artist, is warm. He has bad headaches and needs to take medication to deal with them, leading to a difficult decision at the end about how to deal with his head.

George and Irene meet and literally immediately fall in love. Their connection is real and every second they spend together is wonderful. Irene is a virgin, and again, Netzer uses supercollider imagery to depict sex. They get along so well that Irene feels like she can’t handle it but George knows what to say to convince her this is real.

Sally and Bernice were under the impression that if their children were born the same day, the same second, then they would fall in love when they were older. They go through insane lengths to prove this, and when Irene and George are three years old they separate. Sally and Bernice eventually stop being friends, and Bernice tumbles down a hole of self-loathing and alcoholism.

Netzer uses a lot of devices here, but the ending wraps things up well. It took a long time to get there though, and I felt like some things could be streamlined.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Jax is in an accountant at a hedge fund. She resides in NYC with her husband.

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

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Review: Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix

[ 2 ] October 27, 2014

horrostor book coverReviewed by Melanie Kline

From the moment Horrorstor found it’s way from the mailbox and packaging and into my hands, I was in love. The concept of the cover and similarities to Ikea and their catalog is amazingly brilliant. Throughout the story there are employee evaluations, coupons to the store, maps, etc. and it was a completely fun book that I just couldn’t put down. The actual story was alright, but the book overall was magnificent.

Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio has something going on at night. Employees arrive in the mornings to open the store and find broken furniture, upended tables and even excrement smeared all over a sofa.

Basil, Orsk’s newly appointed deputy store manager, takes his job, the Orsk mottos and codes of conduct very seriously. An employee named Amy dodges him every chance she gets. She works there for a paycheck and doesn’t buy into the whole “Orsk is a “family” and something that should be loved and respected” mantra.

The events that are occurring in the evening after the store is closed never show up on the security cameras and Basil is determined to find out what is happening with the added stress of knowing the Corporate is arriving in the morning. Basil recruits Amy and two other employees to spend the night in the store with him to attempt to figure out who is sneaking in.

As the night progresses, stranger and stranger things begin happening. They discover a homeless man who says he has been hiding in the bathroom until the store closes at night but he swears he knows nothing about the damage that has been occurring. At first everyone believes him and feels sorry enough for him to not kick him out; they instead enlist his help in figuring the mystery out. That is until he walks through a picture of a door. While Amy knows this is impossible, soon enough they all find themselves walking through this picture into the horrors on the other side.

I would recommend Horrorstor to anyone with an imagination and sense of humor. I cannot express enough how much the cover, maps, coupons, etc. completely make this an extraordinary book and allow you to forgive the story for not measuring up to the cover. It was not a terrible read by far, but it wasn’t quite what I had expected after experiencing the cover of the book.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

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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