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Blog Tour: Man v. Nature by Diane Cook

[ 1 ] 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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Review: Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead

[ 4 ] October 27, 2014

astonish me book coverReviewed by Carrie Ardoin

It’s been a very long time, probably since I was a little girl, since I read a book centered around the ballet. Even as an adult though, I still harbor a certain fascination for the art. I try as often as I can to at least see The Nutcracker at Christmas, and I’m only somewhat ashamed to say that on any given day you can find me doing sloppy pirouettes in my kitchen while I’m sweeping. So, I went into this ballet-centric novel with great expectations, especially after the great press it’s been getting. And I must say, I was not disappointed; the dance world and a dramatic family story are neatly rolled into one book.

The story is told in third person narration and the use of flashbacks while also moving forward through time. Our main character, Joan, is a ballerina in the corps (basically a backup dancer) who knows she doesn’t really have what it takes to ever be a prima ballerina, the star of the show. Still, this doesn’t stop her from falling hard for the Russian leading man, Arslan Rusakov. Arslan has recently defected to the US with Joan’s help, but he finds it impossible to stay focused and faithful when so many women are at his feet. Meanwhile, Joan’s best friend from home, Jacob, pines for her and clings tightly to the one night they had together. Joan leaves the ballet after becoming pregnant, and spends the next 20 years in suburban bliss with Jacob.

Joan’s son becomes a fantastic dancer, and has dreams of making it all his own. His infatuation for his hero, Arslan Rusakov, is only matched by his passion for the ballerina he grew up next door to, Chloe. As the lives of all these characters and more entwine, old passions and secrets from the past come to the forefront, changing them forever.

The star of the show here is absolutely the characterization. While my preference in a novel is usually for first person storytelling, there are certain books that use third person narration to its’ full extent, letting you hop into the minds of each character you encounter. In this book, you see yourself dancing with Joan, feeling her passion for it but having to grapple with the constant feelings of not being good enough. You step into Jacob’s shoes, wondering if your wife truly loves you or if you were just a convenient substitute for her when she lost her Russian paramour. Going into each person’s thoughts and feelings was a journey, and I learned surprising things about characters I at first hated.

Another thing that was pleasant about Astonish Me was how it balanced the world of ballet with the drama that the characters were going through. There are plenty of dance scenes and ballet jargon, but even those not familiar with the art at all won’t find themselves too lost. For most of the characters, ballet is their very lifeblood, and it shows in everything they do.

I sometimes hate when novels use flashbacks as a plot device, but for this instance it worked nicely. You not only go back, you go back and see through the eyes of different characters. I enjoyed seeing Joan learn she was pregnant then watching her son grow up. I loved watching him become his own man and how he bonded with each of his parents in very different ways. The relationships, both familiar and romantic, are all well developed and will grab at your heart with the way they play out.

The only problem I had with this novel was the twist at the end. I’m not even sure if I’d call it a twist, but I will say it’s nothing I had thought about prior to seeing it come out and happen. I’m not entirely certain if I liked it or not. In some ways, and for some characters, it changed everything, but in others it wasn’t all that important. I think ultimately I would have prefered the book without it.

Astonish Me is a dazzling novel that will appeal to ballet lovers, romance fans, those who like family drama, and many more readers with its’ ability to defy genre.

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 Random House. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Mailbox Monday

[ 6 ] October 26, 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:

Paper Review Copies

heart of stone book coverbishop's wife book covermeritropolis book cover

From PaperBackSwap.com

the girl who came home book cover

Additions to Personal Kindle Library

wish by jake smith book coverthis fine life book cover

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