Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Book Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist
by Mohsin Hamid
published 2007 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

About the Book:
At a café table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with an uneasy American stranger. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful meeting . . .

Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by the elite "valuation" firm of Underwood Samson. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his infatuation with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore.

But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his budding relationship with Erica eclipsed by the reawakened ghosts of her past. And Changez’s own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love.
My Take:
When my mother-in-law handed me this slim volume and said, "This is a story you have to read," I didn't know what to expect. She's given me several books over the years with this same urgent recommendation, and not all of them have been enjoyable reads. Beside the fact that this didn't sound like light summer fare. But after several disappointing YA reads in a row, I decided to broaden my end-of-summer horizons and let this one jump to the top of the TBR pile.

On the cover it tells you it's a NYT bestseller, and was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. The cover blurb from the Washington Post review that graced my edition reads, "Extreme times call for extreme reactions, extreme writing." (The cover did not encourage me to want this in my beach bag.)
A mere 184 pages later,  I'm glad that I read this book, with its beautifully descriptive passages and extraordinary writing. I found myself at times savoring Mr. Hamid's words as if they were themselves some of the exotic fare he was describing at their cafe table in Lahore.
As the world news tells us daily about continuing unrest and bloody battles going on right now in Egypt and Syria, this post-9/11 tale remains relevant in helping to understand the dichotomy of thought which exists in the younger generations not only in Pakistan but in other countries of that region. 
The Reluctant Fundamentalist shows us the volatile and precarious relationship between the U.S. and the Middle Eastern region through the eyes of one young Pakistani man. Changez is our first person narrator, and he is telling his story from his point of view to this unidentified man he meets in a cafe - seemingly at random, but as the story progresses we find things aren't always as they appear on the surface.
By following this one young man's trajectory from Pakistan to Princeton to the upper echelons of Manhattan's business and social life, through the tragedy of 9/11 and the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan that followed in its wake, and then back again to Pakistan, the author leads the reader to understand that without empathy on both sides of the equation, relations between the West and the East will continue their downward spiral into chaos.

The ending is left intentionally oblique, and apparently my mother-in-law and sister-in-law have already argued over what happens to the narrator after the last page. Suffice it to say that the writing is beautiful and compelling and thought-provoking, and I totally recommend this slim volume to anyone who is up for an intellectually stimulating summer read. (My middle child has already asked to borrow this copy now that I've finished.)

And, as an author-ly aside, I have to give a shout-out to this particularly apt passage, in which Erica, Changez's fellow-Princeton grad and love interest, describes how she perceives her own novel writing. If you're an author, or have ever tried to write a story, this should strike a chord.
In this scene, Erica has just told Changez that her manuscript is complete and she's ready to send it off to an agent.

"Are you nervous?" I asked her. "I'm more unsettled than nervous," she said. "It's like I'm an oyster. I've had this sharp speck inside me for a long time, and I've been trying to make it more comfortable, so slowly I've turned it into a pearl. But now it's finally being taken out, and just as it's going I'm realizing there's a gap being left behind, you know, a dent in my belly where it used to sit. And so I kind of want to hold on to it a for a little longer."


Monday, August 26, 2013

Book Review: Another Pan (The Marlowe School #2) by Daniel & DIna Nayeri

Another Pan, by Daniel and Dina Nayeri
Published September 2010 by Candlewick Press
About the Book:

Sixteen-year-old Wendy Darling and her insecure freshman brother, John, are hitting the books at the Marlowe School. But one tome consumes their attention: THE BOOK OF GATES, a coveted Egyptian artifact that their professor father believes has magical powers. Soon Wendy and John discover that the legend is real—when they recite from its pages and descend into a snaking realm beneath the Manhattan school. As the hallways darken, and dead moths cake the floor, a charismatic new R.A. named Peter reveals that their actions have unleashed a terrible consequence: the underworld and all its evil is now seeping into Marlowe. Daniel Nayeri and Dina Nayeri return to reimagine Peter Pan as a twisty, atmospheric, and fast-paced fantasy about the perils of immortality.

My Take:

I hate to give any book a low rating - I know what it takes to actually finish a manuscript and get it through the process of becoming a book.


I gave this book a one-star rating last week on Goodreads. (cringe!) (And I'm not sure it deserved one star.)

I want to warn anyone who picks this up thinking it'll be a cool retelling of the Peter Pan legend we all know and love. If you like/love/know-at-all the story of Peter Pan, you will be disappointed in this book and the characters Mr. Nayeri has turned them into.

I did read this whole book, and I kept waiting for it to redeem itself. It never did.

First let me say I didn't have a problem with the Egyptian curse twist to the storyline, or some of the added plot twists like Mrs. Darling having run off with a grad student. Or the modern day setting in an exclusive New York prep school. I had a little bit of a problem with the writing style itself as it seemed over-written and old fashioned.

My biggest problem with this story is that there isn't a single likeable character, and that Mr. Nayeri took well-loved, time-tested characters and totally ignored why they were likeable.

Wendy is supposed to be a strong, independent spirit, the embodiment of early girl power. The author has made her into a 16-year-old girl who doesn't know her own heart, who questions the motives and feelings of everyone around her as well as her own, and who is so self-absorbed in her own internal drama that she's totally unlikeable.

Her little brother John is smart, but also so totally self-absorbed and starved for "popularity" that he can't connect with anyone. His lame attempts at making friends with the cardboard cutouts of popular kids don't ring true in the slightest.

And Peter. He is painted as a selfish, bossy, dictatorial leader of a world-wide organization of miscreant "LBs" or Lost Boys - who steal, cheat, and create all kinds of major crime around the globe. He's an underworld crime lord with no redeeming qualities. He has no fun in his soul, nor any sparkle in his eye. And his sidekick, the feisty but unmagical "Tina" is an extremely poor stand-in for Tinkerbell.

I kept thinking, At least there will be redeeming romance. Nope. At least Peter will do the right thing in the end. Nope. At least someone will realize something that will change their life or their character. Another big nope.

There are other Peter Pan books out there that are better retellings. Find one of those. Or read the original. Save yourself the heartache of this disappointing story.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Puppy Tale Friday: One Hundred Sunrises

It's official. Since the start of our house rennovation project at the beginning of May, Puppy and I have watched 100 sunrises from our beach during our morning walk. This takes into account the days we've been off-Cape and the two days it was raining too hard to go to the beach.

One hundred sunrises.

Some mornings it's been too cloudy to see the sun. Some mornings we've slept a little later and the sun has already crested the horizon on its upward ascent.

But most mornings she and I watch the new day break together. Some days we have company - just yesterday, someone's houseguest was on the beach when we got there, big camera in hand waiting for the red sun to rise up. Most days, our company is in the form of sandpipers, sea gulls, terns, and the great blue heron who moved into the neighborhood just this summer.
It's been interesting comparing sunrises, seeing if the old maxim about "Red Sun in Morning, Sailors Take Warning" rings true (which it mostly does -- orange skies herald the best beach days.)

One hundred sunrises. I'm not going to post all hundred, but a few of my favorites for you to share in the beauty that is Cape Cod at dawn. Have a great weekend - and maybe catch a sunrise or two yourself!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: Abandon by Meg Cabot

Abandon, by Meg Cabot
Published April 2011 by Point
About the Book:

Though she tries returning to the life she knew before the accident, Pierce can't help but feel at once a part of this world, and apart from it. Yet she's never alone . . . because someone is always watching her. Escape from the realm of the dead is impossible when someone there wants you back.

But now she's moved to a new town. Maybe at her new school, she can start fresh. Maybe she can stop feeling so afraid.

Only she can't. Because even here, he finds her. That's how desperately he wants her back. She knows he's no guardian angel, and his dark world isn't exactly heaven, yet she can't stay away . . . especially since he always appears when she least expects it, but exactly when she needs him most.

But if she lets herself fall any further, she may just find herself back in the one place she most fears: the Underworld.

My Take:

Let me start with I have the utmost respect for Meg Cabot as an author, that I’ve purchased oodles of her books for my daughter (including every Allie Finkle book.) Ms. Cabot was the subject of my daughter’s Girl Scout “Women to Watch” bio project a few years back. We love Meg Cabot.

So when we found ABANDON in the local bookstore, I urged my daughter to get it. She was looking for a new series, and this was an author we knew and liked.

Big mistake.

My daughter abandoned the book after the first 5 pages. “The main character already died,” she told me. “Why keep reading?”

Having recently read another (truly wonderful) novel based on the Persephone myth, (FOR THE LOVE OF HADES, by Sasha Summer) I decided I’d give it a go and then tell my daughter why she was wrong.

Except she was right.

First of all, the plot is hard to follow because it jumps back and forth in time so much that it’s hard to follow. At first I kept telling myself it was the narrator’s ADHD voice… but it was supremely confusing. The main character, Pierce, keeps making oblique references to key events that she hasn’t explained yet. The first few times it was enticing. But it got old pretty fast, and there were so many different events in the past that the narrative was muddled.

And then there was the narrator herself.

I’m used to a lot of first person POV in current YA. I’m used to the narrator being self-deprecating, hard on herself, even full of self-doubt and insecurity. As long as there’s something for the reader to like, to hold onto, to see in the character that we can then root for her to discover in herself.

Pierce was just unlikeable. She keeps telling us how much she cares for others, for wild creatures, for the birds she tries to save – she admits that her biggest problem is that she cares too much. But telling the reader you’re sooo selfless doesn’t make it so.

She frequently compares herself to Snow White, and her life to a glass casket. Which kind of makes for a boring main character – she’s watching things happen, and she gets info-dumped on rather than making things happen or discovering for herself who the mysterious boy truly is.

Which brings me to the “hero” John, who is anything but heroic and at times more like an abusive boyfriend. Perhaps there really is a tragic story that explains his violent mood swings and odd behaviors, but we aren’t privy to it. When Pierce finally finds someone who believes that John even exists, the guy basically tells her to be nice to John because he’s had a rough time of it. Really?

The romance was almost non-existent as Pierce and John spend most of the book angry with each other when they are together, although Pierce spends a lot of time daydreaming about her dark stalker and wondering what he wants with her. Duh.

Anyway, I don’t want to “spoil” the book in case someone really wants to read it. I’d advise against it, but other readers have read the same book and enjoyed it. ABANDON is the first book of a trilogy that includes UNDERWORLD and AWAKEN, all three of which are currently available. ABANDON ends without resolution, and from what I read online, UNDERWORLD does the same thing. Not stand alone books at all, but I’m not going to continue.

If you want a great retelling of the Persephone love story, I totally recommend FOR THE LOVE OF HADES, by Sasha Summer.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Writing Wednesday: A Gentle Word About a Rough Subject - Reviews

So, you may have noticed that I've been posting a lot of reviews again lately. Yes, I've been reading more books since it's summertime, but I've also been reading more books that I feel I CAN review.

What? Can't a person review everything they read?

Well, yes and no.

Some people do post reviews of everything, both positive and negative. Especially if you're a paid reviewer and someone tells you "Review This." Then you have little choice. You need to say what you think.

But for those of us who aren't paid for our efforts, there's more leeway. I read a lot of books by authors who are just starting out, and not all of them are good. I understand there's a learning curve involved as well as the fact that not every book is my cup of tea.

If the author is a newbie, I'm not going to post a bad review. Heck, if I don't think it's worth recommending, I'm not going to post any review at all. As my grandmother always said, if you can't say something nice, don't say anything." So there are books that I read, both beta and published, that no one else ever hears about. At least, not from me.

If, however, the book I read and don't like is published by one of the Big Publishers, and the author is an established author, then I kind of feel free to express my opinion if the book disappoints. In that case, my review is not going to make or break an established career arc, and I feel I want to warn my friends not to waste their reading time or book money.

Does that make sense?

In general, most of my reviews are positive because I'd much rather share my good experiences than the bad ones. But sometimes I just need to complain. And even then, I think my complaints are rather tame compared to some of the things you read on Goodreads. Just sayin'.

How about you? Do you have a personal review policy? What does it take for you to pen a bad review? Or do you always keep it positive?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Book Review: The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) by Rick Riordan

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1)
by Rick Riordan
first published 2005 by Miramax books; now published by Disney Hyperion

About the Book:
Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school... again. And that's the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy's Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he's angered a few of them. Zeus' master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.

Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus' stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.

My Take:
I can't believe it's taken me this long to read this book, but where I was developing my own underwater mythology, I didn't want to be swayed by Rick Riordan's best seller. So I waited. I'm glad I finally gave in and read it, as I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

Well done, Mr. Riordan.

The Lightning Thief is a fun and exciting read, barreling along at break-neck speed with cliff-hanging chapters that keep you reading as fast as humanly possible.

I can totally see why this series is so popular with middle schoolers, as well as with their teachers.

The writing is a crisp and easy to read first person adventure. The story itself is laden with true-to-history mythological references, albeit transferred into the modern world. No offense to Edith Hamilton, but this book would seem much more fun for a middle schooler than her more straight-laced classic. And I can totally see why there's currently a resurgence in myth-based YA fiction in the wake of Riordan's huge success.

I did read some criticism of the book's similarities to the Harry Potter series; a half-blood boy who splits his time between the mortal and magical realms, a misfit hero with two best friends - a boy with heart and a girl with brains - to help him on his quest to save the world... yes, there are similarities. But I don't think the author was imitating a formula, as the critics seem to imply, and I don't think the series would have been so popular if it were merely a knockoff.

I do, however, think the story and the voice appeal much more strongly to younger readers and have less cross-over appeal than some other YA series. I know plenty of fifth graders who swear by these books, but not as many eighth graders, and certainly not high schoolers. I'll be sure to recommend this book and this series, but am not sure I'm tempted to read the rest of the series for myself.

Bottom line? If you have an 8-12 year old who needs a great summer series (or school year reading, for that matter) start them on this series (that is, if you can find a child who hasn't read them already.) You'll both be happy that you did.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Puppy Tales: How to be Happy, Puppy-Style

How do you make Puppy happy? Easy. Just add water.
Dirty water or clean, it doesn't matter all that much.

Oh, and food. Food makes her happy.

And car rides. She loves to ride in the car. She doesn't have to "go" anywhere. Just as long as she's allowed to hang her snout out the window and feel the breeze...
Life is good if you keep it simple.

What makes you happy?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

DIVERGENT, by Veronica Roth
First published hardcover May 2011
Available from Katherine Tegan Books/Harper Collins

About the Book:

In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue--Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is--she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are--and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, Tris also learns that her secret might help her save the ones she loves . . . or it might destroy her.

My Take:

My daughter heard about this book and bought it in the spring with some of her Easter money. She raced through it and dragged me to the library two days later to check out the sequel, Insurgent. She's now counting the days until the third book is released in October. So, noting that she liked it so much, I added it to my summer TBR pile, and I wasn’t disappointed.

This dystopian YA was a fun, fast read, despite a few minor plot holes and problems. Definitely a fun summer read, especially for fans of The Hunger Games trilogy who are looking for a fix to tide them over until the next movie comes out. There are a lot of strong opinions about this series on both the positive and negative sides of the aisle. I’m more toward the middle of the road, trending toward positive. I liked it. I enjoyed the writing and the voice, and I would recommend it. But. It’s not perfect. And it’s not life changing in the way I thought The Hunger Games or Harry Potter were.

The story starts as Beatrice Prior faces the first big decision of her young life. Her world is divided into factions, as explained in the blurb. At sixteen, each individual is tested for their aptitudes and then must choose which faction to join – but it doesn’t have to be the faction in which they were raised, or the faction that the Tester recommends. Freedom of choice, which is the one chance any teen has – ever – to change their life.

Beatrice was raised in the selfless faction (Abegnation) but never felt like she fully belonged. When her test results – the ones that are supposed to help her decide what to do with her life – come back inconclusive, the Tester uses the word “Divergent” to describe her but warns her not to tell anyone. Beatrice is left to make her choices on her own, and decide how she wants to live the rest of her life.

“Divergent” apparently means she is able to think for herself, a trait that has been bred out of the majority of humans at some point after some unnamed and un-talked about war that left Chicago a devastated shell of a city under tight authoritarian rule. No other cities or global locations are mentioned – the whole world in this book is Chicago, and it’s never quite explained what happened so that it ended up like this, or who is really in charge, or who decided on the 5-faction system.

I can see where this story resonated with my daughter, who is herself struggling with her sense of self and the changes in her friends and her immediate world. And the fact that Beatrice decides to ditch her family and the selfless faction is like a young teen’s dream – the character renames herself “Tris” and joins the Dauntless faction – the thrill seekers and fighters and protectors. Of course she did.

I read through several other reviews that took major issues with the level of violence in the Dauntless training sessions. I thought the fight scenes and training were well-written and fit seamlessly into the whole Dauntless culture that Ms. Roth created. My problem was more with the lack of recovery time or more severe consequences. I also read much criticism about the budding romance between newbie Tris and the “hottest” guy around… I’ll try not to include any spoilers, but want to address this, because I think a lot of reviewers missed the boat on this one.

The story is told from Tris’s point of view, so of course she is more than self-deprecating about her own looks and appeal (especially having been raised in Abegnation.)  Second, she seems to be the only one who finds Four quite so irresistible and intriguing, so it’s not like everyone is fighting over attracting his attention. Yes, her friends think he’s cute, but they aren’t drooling over him. Plus the fact that Four knows who she is and where she came from long before Tris knows all the facts about Four, which means he’s intrigued by her as well. Yes, maybe it’s a little predictable, but certainly not impossible or extraordinary. And I enjoyed the relationship building and the intimacy she created between them by building slow layers of trust. This part of the story worked well, in my opinion, and that alone made it a great beach book.

Bottom line? I would recommend this book for light summer reading. I don’t think it will change the genre and I’m not sure I’d line up early for the movie, but I enjoyed it and read it in two days. I may even read the rest of the series, but it’ll have to wait as my TBR pile is spilling over at the moment.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Writing Wednesday: Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Finding Time for it All

It's been crazy around here in so many ways.

My house has been under construction since before school let out. We tore down the garage and the family room to make way for a bigger kitchen and revised family room. It will be great when it's finished but more grating than great at the moment. If you've lived through renovations, you know what I'm talking about. This is my first time, so I had no idea.

My new YA mermaid book also came out around the same time as construction began (you might have read something about that), so I've been traveling the Cape visiting shops and bookstores, doing signings and events, and trying to spread the word as best I can about what I think is a GREAT summer read. I also finished the edits on the second mermaid book about Shea and his friends and sent those off to the publisher... and started the outline for the third book.

I've also promised a lot of reviews to various people, and have been trying to encourage more people to review my books as well. I didn't pay enough attention to my first two books when they were published, and didn't work at getting reviews and attention. I'm trying to remedy that with this book. It's work, despite the fact that so many people tell me they loved my book. "So write a review online already, for goodness sakes," is what I want to tell them, but feel the need to be more restrained in my requests.

So I've been reading and writing reviews, hoping to lead by example. Many of the books are by fellow newbie authors like myself, but some are popular books recommended to me by friends or my kids. I'm currently in the middle of an ARC by Joanne Brothwell of THE EVE GENOME which I'm really enjoying - hopefully I'll have a review of it up soon!

And then there's blogging. I participated in Blogger Book Fair in July, which sounded great when I signed up and then was a hectic mess the actual week of the online Book Fair. Another instance of "thank god for pre-scheduled blog posts" but it also meant I didn't have time to visit and enjoy so many of the participating blogs! I'm having enough trouble keeping up with my own this summer - it's just insane.

My boys both have jobs, my daughter is off at camp, my oldest is looking at colleges and busy with online applications... don't even peek in my laundry room for fear of being buried in a pile of old smelly dog towels that STILL need to be washed...

I know I've asked this before - the perpetual question of my life, it would seem - but how do other people keep up with everything in their lives both on and off-line? I'm once again in this place where I want to tear out my hair and scream until my throat is raw.

On the plus side, I broke down and actually bought two brand new brightly striped beach chairs. On the minus side, I've only gotten as far as taking the plastic off the wooden arms. I haven't actually carted them up the street to the beach yet.

When I find the time.

Suggestions? Ready? Go!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Book Review: A Taylor-Made Life by Kary Rader

Published July 2013

About the Book:
They lived the life they were given; they loved the life they made.

Cheerleader Taylor Smith doesn’t want to die a virgin. Unfortunately, if the terminally-ill leukemia patient doesn't find a lover or a stem-cell match within months, her fear will become reality. When her cancer mentor is revealed to be a hottie entrepreneur from California, it seems fate might finally be on her side.

Tech-geek Gavin Taylor has everything he ever wanted, except someone to grieve for him when he's gone. With his melanoma cancer beyond the help of his riches, he agrees to participate in a cancer patient mentoring program where he's matched with a dying teen from Texas. Despite his immediate attraction, the Silicon Valley whiz intends only to provide friendship and happy memories to the beautiful, young woman who is determined to win his love.

When it's discovered that his frozen sperm and her harvested eggs could lead to a cure, Taylor's mother offers to be a surrogate. And Gavin must decide if he can risk the heart he has never given and a child he'll never know to a girl he just met.

My Take:

Teens and Cancer are two things that shouldn’t go together, like ever, but of course they do in real life and fiction is just trying to keep up. Ms. Rader does a great job of keeping it real while infusing the star-crossed love story with so much emotion is just bubbles right out of the pages.

Be warned, you will cry. But some of those tears are happy ones, believe it or not.

Okay, first of all I have to admit that I cried my way through THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green earlier this summer. It’s one of my new favorite books and John Green is truly amazing with words.

A TAYLOR-MADE LIFE is lighter than Green’s book, despite having similarities in theme. Cheerleader Taylor Smith is a much more optimistic heroine, and more of her focus is on the love aspect of her life than the looming spectre of death – not a lot of the gallows humor that Green employed. But Taylor is a totally believable, sweet and very likeable character, and all of her thoughts and actions are well within her range.

Tech genius and entrepreneur Gavin Taylor is a loner with a sad childhood and no real friends. He’s hired a matchmaker so that he can find a woman to marry before he dies. He just wants someone to miss him when he’s gone. On the edge of believable, but also truly sad. The string of women he goes out with are what you would expect a billionaire to date: beautiful, cultured, and in it for the money. Which is why Taylor is such a breath of fresh air in his life, even though he’s not thinking of her as a date. Just as a friend and fellow cancer patient.

The love story progresses quickly – by necessity – and some readers might have a problem with that aspect. Or with the difference in Taylor’s and Gavin’s ages, which seems large at first. Most high school seniors are at a different place entirely than a young twenty-something entrepreneur, but given Taylor’s experiences because of her cancer, she’s had to grow up faster than normal in so many ways.

The problem I have with the book is the last part, which I can’t go into in much detail or it will definitely spoil things for the reader. Everything about the love story was real and believable, hands down. The business side of things toward the end swerved off the road and felt too easy. But I kept reading, and was glad that I did.

Ms. Rader does a great job in giving us dueling perspectives from Gavin and Taylor, although I found it a little confusing at first that Taylor’s chapters were in first person and Gavin’s weren’t. But I got used to the shifts, which do help define the characters.

If you’re looking for a tear-jerker to add to your summer reading, I would totally recommend this book. Don’t put it in your beach bag, though – wait for a rainy day and curl up on the couch alone, or find that Adirondack chair at the edge of the lawn and bring a box of Kleenex. Because you’ll definitely need it.

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. It's available now on Amazon, and at $3.99 for Kindle is definitely well worth every penny. You can Buy it here.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Puppy Tales: Down on the (Organic) Farm

My sister owns an organic farm in Northern Vermont, where she grows all kinds of wonderful veggies, herbs, blueberries and flowers. She sells to local restaurants, at local farmers' markets, and through the Deep Root Coop, an organic collective that ships to supermarkets like Whole Foods.

It's a long drive from Cape Cod, but we try to get up there to visit once or twice a year and she tries to get to the Cape once or twice a year. We love visiting her farm in the summertime.
 This year we even planned to help harvest blueberries, but our helping time was limited by rain that was sweeping through New England. We managed to pick several containers full in between storms.

Even my dad got into it and helped pick berries...

Puppy's favorite part of the farm - besides hanging out with her cousin Louie - is the swimming hole.
Our newest addition, Zoe, wasn't too sure about the rushing river. She watched for a long while before venturing down onto the rocks.

 Zoe inched closer, watching from atop different rocks until she was right at the edge. And then she took the leap!
We all cheered, and then watched her try to swim against the current - or swim at all as the rushing water swept her clear across the swimming hole to the line of rocks across the river... where she was finally able to grab hold with her nails and scrabble out of the water to safety.
(She stayed on the edge just watching after that, but was all like, yeah, I already did that. I swam. Been there, done that.)

Puppy, however, couldn't get enough and just enjoyed her spot in the deep water.

 ...And then Puppy found her new favorite spot. 
 Happy Puppy.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

New Release and Giveaway for A TAYLOR-MADE LIFE, by Kary Rader

Today my guest is my friend Kary Rader, talking about her latest release, A TAYLOR-MADE LIFE. I'll be posting my review of this book soon (I promise, Kary!) but in the mean time, she's bopping around the blogosphere all month, talking about her book and her inspirations, as well as hosting a great Rafflecopter giveaway on her blog! Make sure to check it out!

And now, here's Kary!

Always Time for Love
by Kary Rader

Katie, thank you for having me on your blog today!

In my recent release, A Taylor-Made Life, the heroine takes a journey of love, loss, and discovery. In the end, she learns a valuable lesson, one we could all benefit from—No one is promised tomorrow. Live today.

Five years ago while I was pregnant with my youngest child, my husband was diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma cancer. Thank God, he’s now cancer free, but last year when a friend's daughter was diagnosed with cancer, all those emotions I had came flooding back. A Taylor-Made Life is the result of those emotions.

I wanted to write a story that showed how cancer took not only life but time—time with family, time having fun or even working. From the moment cancer comes into your life, all you do, all you focus on, is fighting it—scheduling doctor appointments and treatments, worrying about living, about finances, about those you love. Cancer takes something from everyone in the family, not just the one diagnosed. I wanted the reader to feel the loss from both sides of the bed, because, in my opinion, watching someone you love suffer is much harder than suffering yourself. But more than the suffering, I also wanted to show that there is hope and joy and peace even in a hopeless situation, that we can still find love no matter how far we are from it or how little time we have left. There’s always room for love.

A Taylor-Made Life is a special story looking for a home in the hearts of readers. I pray you give the characters an opportunity to touch you.

They lived the life they were given; they loved the life they made.

Cheerleader Taylor Smith doesn’t want to die a virgin. Unfortunately, if the terminally-ill leukemia patient doesn't find a lover or a stem-cell match within months, her fear will become reality. When her cancer mentor is revealed to be a hottie entrepreneur from California, it seems fate might finally be on her side.

Tech-geek Gavin Taylor has everything he ever wanted, except someone to grieve for him when he's gone. With his melanoma cancer beyond the help of his riches, he agrees to participate in a cancer patient mentoring program where he's matched with a dying teen from Texas. Despite his immediate attraction, the Silicon Valley whiz intends only to provide friendship and happy memories to the beautiful, young woman who is determined to win his love.

When it's discovered that his frozen sperm and her harvested eggs could lead to a cure, Taylor's mother offers to be a surrogate. And Gavin must decide if he can risk the heart he has never given and a child he'll never know to a girl he just met.

Available at

 About the Author...
Kary Rader is a part-time Twitter sage, stay-at-home mother of three, and slave to the characters and worlds inside her head. Always creative, she's drawn to stories with fantastical worlds and creatures. With a little bit of magic and divine guidance, there isn't anything that can't be accomplished with words. It's the power of words that creates and destroys. Vanquishing evil and injustice while finding eternal love in the process is all in a day's work. With the help of her critique partners and master cartographer imaginary places come to life.

Author Links:
Website/Blog:  www.karyrader.com


Giveaway: $25 Gift Card to Amazon, a Charm Bracelet, a Crochet Hat, and SWAG for A Taylor-Made Life, and Queen of Jastain. 

Giveaway Rules:
Giveaway begins August 1st and will end August 30th 11:59 EST. The winner will be announced by email. Open to U.S. residents only. We are not responsible for items lost in the mail & have the right to disqualify anyone, at any time. Personal information given by the applicant in the giveaway will never be shared. All information is deleted once the giveaway ends. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway