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Giveaway: Beyond Championships by Dru Joyce II

[ 4 ] March 6, 2015

beyond championships book coverOne lucky reader will receive both editions of Beyond Championships: A Playbook for Winning at Life by Dru Joyce II, the hardcover release and the teen version (paperback)!

Open to US residents only

About the book

Watch the trailer here

Coach Dru was LeBron James’ high school coach, and the father figure LeBron credits with having taught him about life. With the book, Coach passes on much of that wisdom, using 9 principles to lead readers to make better choices, reach their full potential and win in all areas of life:

Decisions Create Environment
The Myth of the Self-Made Man
Use the Game; Don’t Let the Game Use You
Master the Art of Discipline
The Power of Words
The Heart of a Servant
Make Lemonade
Take Charge of Your Own Mind
Dare to Dream

From the foreword by LeBron: “He knew what it meant to be poor, a feeling I was already too familiar with as a ten-year-old. He knew how to transcend his circumstances, and he wanted to share that knowledge with us too…There are a lot of principles in this book that have become cornerstones of my own philosophy on life. But the principle that has probably impacted me the most is to always have the heart of a servant. That’s something I learned from Coach Dru, and in many ways it was at the heart of my decision to return to Northeast Ohio as a basketball player.”

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Review: The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister

[ 4 ] March 6, 2015

magician's lie book coverReviewed by Colleen Turner

“My mother had called him weak, but I chose not to believe what she’d said. She had been searching for a way to justify her own choices. It was the first time I realized that we all bend and shape our stories to fit our own ends. It was certainly not the last.” – from The Magician’s Lie    

From page one of The Magician’s Lie the reader is drawn in when the main character, “The Amazing Arden”, the famous female illusionist, declares “tonight, I will do the impossible” by releasing herself from her torturer and killing him. Lo and behold, that very same night the illusionist’s husband is found dead beneath the stage where she performed a gruesome act of sawing a man in half, an act she has become renowned for. But did she murder him? Is this the man who tortured her and whom she vowed to kill?  What really happened that night?

Police Officer Holt, who was in the audience of Arden’s show, apprehends her trying to escape and decides to hear her full story before deciding whether or not she murdered the man and whether or not he should turn her over to those investigating the murder. As Arden relays her story to Holt he has to navigate through the shifting details to decipher fact from fiction. Could her wondrous story, filled with unfathomable hardships, travel and adventure and even a touch of real magic, be true? Holt, facing his own harsh reality and the potential loss of his career, knows that finding out the truth could not only save Arden’s life but his own. But as the hours tick by he realizes that the truth isn’t always as black and white as it seems.

The Magician’s Lie weaves back and forth through time, from Arden telling Holt her story in 1905 to her life as it happened beginning in 1892 and making it back to the actions that led to her arrest. Throughout the story the reader is firmly along for the ride with Holt, trying to decipher the truth from fiction in Arden’s story and trying to see where the story is headed while Arden is always ten steps ahead at all times. At the same time Arden, brilliant and brazen as they come, collects small dollops of information about Holt as she spins her tale of sorrow and joy that encompasses everything from a difficult upbringing to a psychopathic man who haunts her throughout her life whether he is standing before her or not. But even as you get lost in her story you can’t help wondering: how much of this is true?

I am fully amazed by not only this plot but this beautifully written story. There were sentences that I found myself reading over and over because they are just perfect. The lilting, dancing descriptions are captivating and I actually lost myself in the reading a few times so that when I finally paused I found that more time had passed then I anticipated. I heard nothing and saw nothing while with Arden!

There are also delightful tidbits of history throughout that are fascinatingly incorporated into the novel. The reader gets a behind the scenes view of not only traveling shows and magical acts but of The Biltmore Estate (which I now am dying to visit) and the horrific Iroquois Theatre Fire in Chicago on January 1st, 1904, which the author worked into the story at a pivotal point. The pacing is spot on, starting out slow and building and building until the end flies at the reader and leaves them breathless and satisfied as they turn the last page.

While the central question of whether Arden is telling the truth or not about the murder is certainly important, the story also brings up the question of whether or not what each character tells themselves is truth or illusion, or, as I believe it is for most of us, a mix of both. This is a story of true love, twisted obsession, magic, reality and everything in between. This one’s a keeper!

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, and their dogs Oliver and Cleopatra. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship. You can find more of her reviews on her blog.

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

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Review: Finding Zoe by Brandi Rarus

[ 2 ] March 4, 2015

finding zoe book coverReviewed by Sarah McCubbin

Brandi Rarus knows what it feels like to hear and to be deaf. She has lived in both worlds. When she contracted meningitis at 6-years-old, her world shifted from communicating with words to a blend of language that included signing, reading lips and speaking. While her book is titled Finding Zoe and recounts the beautiful story of her daughter’s adoption, it almost feels like two books.

In the first half of the book, Brandi shares her own story. Her experience of being hearing and then deaf gave her a unique perspective unlike that of most deaf people who have hearing loss from birth. Some of her time was spent among hearing friends and other time among the deaf. Eventually, as a teenager, she had to make the choice of which world she would live in as it would determine the rest of her life. Tired of missing out on conversations and catching only some of what was said around her through lip reading, she chose to go to a deaf school and then a deaf college. In so doing, she submerged herself in the Deaf Culture and began to embrace their values. It was very interesting to learn about being deaf through her eyes. Her perspective gave me a better appreciation for their daily lives and some of the advances they have made through the years. As she told her story, she wove in the history of deaf people which was both tragic and enlightening.

The second half of her book is almost magical, as Brandi shares the events that led her and her husband Tim to adopt their deaf daughter Zoe into their family which already included three hearing sons. As a person of faith, she carefully weaves together Zoe’s story, seeing the hand of God’s provision through it all. While many adoption stories are amazing, what I really liked about this one is that Brandi took the time to go back and collect the stories of the birth mother, birth father, foster parents, first adoptive parents and placement worker. She took the time to understand each one’s unique perspective and valued how their stories were woven together. Brandi and Tim’s own stories and their familiarity with deaf culture made their family absolutely ideal for a child with Zoe’s needs.

This book is an excellent one whether it is read for the insights into deaf culture or the adoption process. It is filled with hope and grace as details are shared in a loving and edifying way. Brandi’s way of sharing about each person’s contribution to their adoption was really honoring. As an adoptive parent myself, I appreciated how she acknowledged each person’s struggles, empathized with their desires and gracefully dealt with their weaknesses. Anyone who reads this book will surely be touched. I highly recommend it!

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 BenBella Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: The Oracle by Michael Sedge

[ 3 ] March 4, 2015

the oracle book coverReviewed by Jessa Larsen

***Warning: contains spoilers***

According to the plot synopsis I skimmed before reading The Oracle, a monster from ancient Italy lurks in or around a house that is near the ruins of Cumae. As legends have it, a young girl was chosen by the gods to continue the reincarnation of the Sibyl, and oracle of the Greco-Roman people who lived there. Apparently the oracle’s spirit passes from one girl to the next infinitely.

This is about the time the book stops talking about the Sybil and makes a hard left over to the story of David Jeffrey, an American author who resides in Italy. I don’t know who was worse, David or his wife Jennifer. The Oracle reads as if the author has made himself into David’s character and, if this assumption is correct, he’s an egotistical author who has a general ill opinion of females. I say this because David’s wife is an alcoholic adulteress and his daughter is some type of beloved prude. But back to the main point…David and his daughter, Angelica, die in a “freak accident” and are survived by Jennifer.

The book then switches to the story of Jake Jeffrey, his wife Valerie, and his daughter Becky. Becky has imaginary friends that her parents find disturbing to the point of sending their daughter to therapy once a month for the past two years. I felt like the imaginary friends’ only purpose in the book was to allow the therapist to suggest a trip to Italy–a trip that would supposedly cure Becky.

I don’t want to waste too much time ranting and raving so I’ll skip to the end where we finally, in the last 2% of the book, get back to the whole Sybil thing, which is sort of, but not really, the ancient Oracle reincarnated. It turns out that Angelica isn’t dead, she’s really been a “creature” trapped in the cellar for the past several years. She gets out of the basement, murders her mother, and that’s the end of it. The epilogue makes a poor attempt at telling us about Angelica living the rest of her life in psychiatric care and freaking some nurse out by showing her a book about the Sybil. THE END.

I read The Oracle via my Kindle and it was not correctly formatted, making the layout choppy and occasionally confusing. I wasn’t impressed by the writing style nor the manner in which we were jerked around throughout the book. There were many factors that made no sense whatsoever and simply irritated me. I will end my review with the worst line in the book, which read: “the door made a scream on its single hinge, sounding like a woman being raped in a New York alley.” I don’t even have words. I would NOT recommend this book to anyone.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ 

Jessa lives in Utah with her husband, two kids, two small chihuahuas, and a cat called Number One Boots Kitten. She balances her work as a website admin with her hobbies of watching anime and playing video games.

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

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Review: Dark Rooms by Lili Anolik

[ 3 ] March 3, 2015

dark rooms book coverReviewed by Cal Cleary

Beautiful but wild teen Nica Baker is found dead, raped and shot in a graveyard just off campus from her prestigious Connecticut boarding school. In her wake, she leaves a family in chaos. Her mother leaves and abandons them to pursue further academic and artistic achievement, her father descends into alcoholism, and her older sister Grace slips hard into drug addiction. But while Grace manages to get clean after blacking out on pills and  waking up in a strange bed, a surprise pregnancy from the night derails her life. She drops out of college, moves back home, and rededicates herself to solving her sister’s murder.

It’s a story you’ve probably seen a thousand times: A young woman lives fast, dies young, leaves a beautiful corpse. What Lili Anolik offers in Dark Rooms focuses less on originality and more on plumbing the depths of her characters’ depravity. Grace’s relationships, her sister’s friendships, it was all based on a web of a thousand small betrayals that all add up to the monstrous death of a young woman. Anolik throws a lot of twists at you throughout the book, and while most miss, the ones that do hit land with the force of a freight train. A late-book reveal, for instance, about Grace and Nica’s mother found me gasping audibly. Indeed, while the book is fairly uneven, Anolik found a genuinely chilling character in Grace’s mother, who brings every scene she’s in vividly, horrifyingly to life.

But where Dark Rooms works, basically, as a character study, it largely fails as a thriller or a mystery. While it borrows some of the rhythms and a lot of the tropes from those genres, there’s never really any danger. Most of the cast likes Grace, and they’re oddly willing to open up to her about horrible things they’ve seen or done often with very little provocation. In some ways, Anolik’s book reminded me of Tana French’s groundbreaking In the Woods in its combination of gruesome crime and small-town conspiracy told by a narrator who is all too easy to hate. But French gave us more of a sense of who her characters were, more room for them to breathe outside the cloud of suspicion, which made her revelations all the more powerful. In Dark Rooms, everyone has a dark secret and everyone is a suspect to start off with, which drains a lot of the tension from the investigation, and a lot of the interest from the cast.

Dark Rooms still works, to a degree, thanks to Grace. While Grace is an immensely frustrating character, weak-willed and self-loathing, she’s also a well-rounded one, and what leeway I grant the book, particularly regarding the fairly foul resolution to Grace’s rape-and-pregnancy subplot, comes from the strength of Anolik’s characterization of her and her voice. But is two strong characters enough to hold up an entire novel? Well, that depends on what you read for. Dark Rooms has some truly fantastic elements, but it lacks the restraint necessary for compelling drama, the pace for melodrama, and the tension of a solid mystery. Genre fans will likely leave disappointed, but folks who don’t mind a nice, seedy wallow should find something to love.

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Cal Cleary is a librarian and critic in small-town Ohio. You can read more of his writing at Geek Rex and follow him on Twitter @comicalibrarian.

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

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Giveaway: Manwhore by Katy Evans

[ 4 ] March 3, 2015

manwhore book coverI have 1 copy of Manwhore by Katy Evans to give away!

Open to US and Canada residents only

About the book

New York Times bestselling author Katy Evans is back with a new series and what Sylvia Day is calling “your new addiction”–billionaire playboy Malcolm Saint, the bad boy alpha of Katy’s upcoming Manwhore.

Sylvia Day got her hands on the first advanced copy and had this to say: “Meet your new addiction. A sizzling, decadent, tender love story that kept me up all night. I call dibs on Saint!”

Rachel Livingston is a young and hardworking reporter trying to save her magazine and given the assignment of a lifetime: write an expose on Malcolm Saint and reveal his juiciest secrets. When Rachel poses undercover to better understand the mysterious Malcolm, she finds both her body and her heart in danger of succumbing to the city’s most notorious womanizer.

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