Thursday, July 31, 2014

Cover Reveal: CHRONICLES OF A LINCOLN PARK FASHIONISTA by Aven Ellis




Recent college graduate Avery Andrews is ready to begin a new life in the big city. She’s landed an apartment in Chicago’s famed Lincoln Park neighborhood–and has her eye on the cute commodities trader just a floor above.

If Premier Airlines knew about her fear of flying, they never would have hired her to be their marketing assistant—but it’s not like Avery wants a lifelong career. Right now she simply wants a job to pay her bills…and fund a few little shopping excursions, too.
 
Her new lifestyle comes with a price tag, as Avery is not only faced with paying a ridiculous rent but finds she’s perceived as one of the vacant, husband-hunting fashionistas who live in the area. Avery resents this stereotype—so she doesn’t want a lifelong career, and she loves fashions she can’t afford, but that doesn’t mean she is empty-headed and spoiled, does it?
 
When an opportunity to participate in a documentary at work arises, Avery finds a two-fold solution to her problems. She’ll earn extra money for it, and the documentary will show her as a serious career woman, enabling her to shed that husband-hunting fashionista label for good.
 
When the camera is on, Avery attempts to be a motivated professional woman. But when she is challenged by Deacon Ryan, the videographer assigned to cover her story, Avery finds herself wanting things she was never supposed to want—like a lasting career—and Deacon. And Avery might just gain more from the experience than a perfect career image and extra cash to put in her Tory Burch wallet…
 
Chronicles of a Lincoln Park Fashionista by Aven Ellis is available this fall!
 
Connect with Aven!
 
 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Worst Breakup Ever Contest ~ ALMOST ROYALTY by Courtney Hamilton

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Courtney Hamilton is giving away a signed copy of her novel, Almost Royalty, to the top 2 winners! To enter, all you have to do is tell her:

What is your “Worst Breakup Ever” experience?

Share your story in the comment section below.

After the contest has ended, Courtney will personally read every participant’s entry and pick the top 2 worst breakup stories. The winners will be announced through Courtney’s Facebook page, Twitter, and blog. This contest will also be hosted on various blogs, social media sites, and forums found in the “Participating Websites” section of this post.

Only 99¢

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Enjoy the “Worst Break up Ever” contest and, for the first time, download your Kindle copy of Almost Royalty by Courtney Hamilton for only 99¢!
Download the novel here: http://amzn.to/1klLFo1

Terms and Conditions for Entry Eligibility
No purchase necessary to enter. Sponsored by Forrest Thompson Publishers. Giveaway ends August 5, 2014 at 11:59 PM (PST). Open Internationally. 18+ years of age. Void where prohibited. Winners will be announced on Courtney Hamilton’s blog at www.Ecochainofdating.com/blog, Eco-chain of Dating Facebook Page, and @ecochaindating. Winners have 48 hours to claim their prize once they are chosen, or their winnings will be forfeited. By entering the giveaway, you give Courtney Hamilton and Forrest Thompson Publishers permission to repost your story or recite it in a video for media purposes. Forrest Thompson Publishers reserves the right to withdraw or terminate this contest at any time without prior notice.

Participating Websites: The full list of participants in Courtney’s “Worst Breakup Ever” Contest is available on her blog at: http://ecochainofdating.com/blog/?p=1579

Let the Worst Breakup Stories Ever begin!

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What is my worst breakup story?  Hmmmm . . . let's just admit all breakups pretty much suck.  And sometimes the relationships themselves were actually worse than the breakup.  But I'd have to say being told I was perfect on paper and yet one-on-one . . . not so much.  And then to add insult to injury, being compared to a top of the line Mercedes (I was not the Mercedes in this scenario).  But hey, at least I haven't been broken up with via a Post-It!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Movie Review: EVIL UNDER THE SUN (1982)



Movie Description:  It's the perfect vacation and nearly the perfect crime in this star-studded whodunit. Join Agatha Christie's famed Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot as he interrupts his holiday to investigate a brutal murder at an exclusive resort hotel.





My Thoughts on Evil Under the Sun

Don't you just love Agatha Christie and especially the late 1970s/early 1980s theatrical versions of some of her books?  They are good mysteries, yes, but more importantly - - the costume and set designs are to die for.  Literally.  He he.

This version stars my favorite cinematic Hercule Poirot, Peter Ustinov.  I know, I know.  David Suchet is awesome and physically he's exactly as Poirot is described and drawn on Christie's older covers.  But Mr. Ustinov will always be my ultimate Poirot.  Maybe because he's the first Poirot I saw, maybe because he's a good actor.  Who knows - - irrelevant.   What's important is that he's back and he's back to sleuthing.

Ladies and gentlemen . . . the victim
It's roughly the late 1930s/early 1940s and Monsieur Poirot is on holiday while looking into retrieving his friend Sir Horace Blatt's big honking diamond from actress/singer/dancer/general ungrateful bitchy hobag Arlena Stuart.  Sir Horace made the big honking mistake of giving Arlena this diamond in hopes of marrying her but the heartless woman took the stone and then threw him over to marry her current hubs, Kenneth Marshall.  As luck would have it (and as luck always seems to have it), Arlena is holidaying with  Kenneth and his daughter Linda, who annoys Arlena by "standing there like a cough drop" on the very same island Poirot has chosen to relax. 

Whodunit?
Also fortuitously on holiday (don't you love how the Brits call it a holiday instead of vacay?) is every single person that hates Arlena with the fire of a thousand suns.  Okay, maybe it's not lucky for Arlena but it makes it a lot easier to have multiple suspects and make Poirot work those little gray cells. 

As you will find out, Arlena is a nasty person.  Other than maybe having a lot of money (or jewels, if Sir Horace is any indication) or being unbelievable between the sheets, I'm at a loss for explaining why men apparently fall down at her feet.  She's played with the appropriate bitchiness by Diana Rigg, who comes on like an F5 tornado, knowing that she's going to bite it an hour in and we won't see her again.  I guess that's what it known as making the most of the time you have.  No fault of Ms. Rigg's as she does sum up the character (and I use that word loosely) of Arlena very nicely.  Or the director just let her chew the scenery unchecked because, well, it's Diana Rigg. 

You will have absolutely no sympathy for the victim here, which seems to be a somewhat common occurrence with some of Ms. Christie's works.  Her victims are often not the nicest people, hence the waiting line for people who would have a valid excuse to do them in. 

As in most Christie films, there is a somewhat slow buildup.  As I previously mentioned, the murder itself doesn't happen for nearly an hour into the film which would be an eternity for anyone but Roman Polanski's films.  Also as in other Christie film adaptations, Poirot figures out whodunnit and with what instrument and reveals all in the last twenty or so minutes of the film.  This is usually the best part, when flashbacks will show you how the crime unfolded.

 
The stunning "summer palace" that Daphne Castle earned, err, was gifted
Evil Under the Sun is no exception.  We have the introduction to the characters, the introduction to the locale (which is so gorgeous, I could barely stand it) and the introduction to why the victim, in this case Arlena Stuart Marshall, must die.  Be forewarned that if you have read the book, this cinematic guilty pleasure veers off slightly - - some characters are condensed and others are forgotten but the general premise is the same.  Which is that Hercule Poirot is the smartest Belgian you will ever meet and Arlena Stuart Marshall is so disgusting that no one really cares when she's found dead.

 
Poirot, getting ready for his swim
Because it can't be said enough, Peter Ustinov is a stellar Poirot.  I particularly love the scene of him "swimming" in the sea in his hilarious early century swimsuit.  While he doesn't have the suave David Niven as a sidekick here, as he does in the just-a-tad-bit-better Death on the Nile, we do have the incredibly Maggie Smith as hotel owner Daphne Castle.  Even the feisty Daphne would have a reason to knock off Arlena, as she and Arlena used to be sparring partners on stage back when Arlena "could throw her legs up in the air higher than any of us . . . and wider."  Oh Daphne, you're a wit.  We also find out through a bit of backstory given as gossip that Daphne was the mistress of some King who then married someone else (men!) and gave Daphne a gorgeous Adriatic island with a "summer" castle on it as a parting gift.  You go, girl.  An island isn't a bad "thank you."  I certainly never walked away with one.  And does this mean the King has spring, fall and winter castles?  So Daphne took her island and her castle and turned it into a resort destination fit for royalty.
The ultimate frenemies - - Arlena and Daphne

Also aboard for hijinks and suspicion are Roddy McDowall, James Mason (in one of his last films), Sylvia Miles, Jane Birkin (who also appears in Death on the Nile), Colin Blakely and Nicholas Clay.   And yes, all of them have equal reason to want to rid the earth of the disease known as Arlena Marshall.

Work it, girls
The costuming on this movie, like its predecessor Death on the Nile, is stupendous, particularly if you love the 1930s and 1940s.  While the men are dapper in their suits and tuxes, the ladies are just gorg in their slinky evening gowns and lounging pants and smart suits.  And let's not forget the hats.  Watching this movie makes me want to jump into a time machine and go back to this oh-so-glamorous period (fashion-wise, at least) and hit up Daphne's royal resort.  And like Poirot, I'll skip the ocean travel to get there and take the train, thank you very much.




Just a stroll around the resort
Just chilling on the terrace



Stunning vista
Even if you know the mystery by reading the book, Evil Under the Sun is still a good watch and in general, an underrated film.   It's a fun, light-hearted look at murder happening on holiday (ha) by some of the most glamorous, smooth people you'll find. 

I would definitely recommend this film . . . heck, it should be required viewing for Christie lovers.

Amazon





Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Audiobook Review: FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC by V. C. Andrews



Description:  At the top of the stairs there are four secrets hidden. Blond, beautiful, innocent, and struggling to stay alive…

They were a perfect family, golden and carefree—until a heartbreaking tragedy shattered their happiness. Now, for the sake of an inheritance that will ensure their future, the children must be hidden away out of sight, as if they never existed. Kept on the top floor of their grandmother’s vast mansion, their loving mother assures them it will be just for a little while. But as brutal days swell into agonizing months and years, Cathy, Chris, and twins Cory and Carrie realize their survival is at the mercy of their cruel and superstitious grandmother…and this cramped and helpless world may be the only one they ever know.

Book One of the Dollanganger series, followed by Petals in the Wind, If There be Thorns, Seeds of Yesterday, and Garden of Shadows.






My Thoughts on Flowers in the Attic by V. C. Andrews

Let me start this off with a big disclaimer.  Spoilers ahead.  Let me repeat, SPOILERS AHEAD.  I read this book way back in the early 80s and I am going to assume that you did also.  So do not read any further if you have not read the book or watched either movie version.  You have been warned.

As I posted in the paragraph above, I read this book back in the early 80s when it was new and Ms. Andrews was still alive and writing.  I thought it was creepy then but I loved it.  Listening to it as an adult with a fully functioning brain not inebriated by hormones and a general impaired intelligence brought on by adolescence, it is not only creepy but super creepy and WRONG.  But I still love it.

Where to start?  Maybe with the fact that even before Daddy died (which happens in the first chapter) and the kids were carted off to be locked up in the attic, this family was not right.  I'm not just talking about the fact that Cathy's parents were half-uncle and niece (ewwwww) but the fact that both Cathy and her elder brother Chris are fascinated with their mother, her legs, her breasts, everything.  NOT.  NORMAL.   Somehow I missed that fact when I read this as a teen myself, probably because I was suffering from adolescence (see disclaimer above) and I was in a rush to get to the "good stuff" (i.e., the dirty parts and the romance which - - ewwwww - - is dead ahead). 

Listening to this book not only drives home how often Cathy and Chris both watch their mother like love-starved stalkerish hawks but how neither of them actually talks like teenagers.  Not even teenagers from the 1950s, when Flowers is mostly set.  They speak much too formally and about things that I can't imagine teenaged boys and girls really care about, much less siblings.  Another thing about Cathy's narration . . . she is incredibly self-centered.  I guess it's to be expected.  She is the narrator and she's a twelve year old at the start of the book but how many times does she ask her own brother how pretty she is?  How many times does she point out how handsome and awesome her own brother is?  This book is creepy.

And therein lies another issue.  Because it can't be mentioned enough, this book is creepy.  Cathy and Chris are far too close for a normal brother and sister (and "normal" is extremely overrated if you're a Dollanganger) even before going through puberty (which conveniently happens at the exact same time).  What twelve year old girl would want her fourteen year old brother in the bathroom with her while she takes a bath?  What fourteen year old boy would want to be in there with his sister?  Not normal.  Clearly the Grandmother knew what was up and had their number.  Hearing these things via an audiobook are even more disturbing than reading them, if that's even possible.

Stepping away from the brother-sister creepy factor for just a moment (and only a moment because this is a V.C. Andrews book, after all), the book is creepy in a gothic way as well.  We have the huge old house, being locked into a room indefinitely, the big attic full of secrets, the old man downstairs knocking on death's door and the Grandmother who alternates between spouting Bible verses and wanting people to strip so she can whip them.  Even outside of the Cathy-Chris situation, thinking of being locked into a room for years makes this reader/listener uncomfortable which is clearly the intention of Ms. Andrews with her writing.  Can any other book make you uncomfortable with the thought of siblings in a big house with their grandmother?

The twins, Carrie and Cory, relegated to supporting parts in the book are relatively the same in the audio version with the exception that Carrie is quite possibly the most annoying character ever.  She takes whining and screaming to a whole new level that I never want to visit again.  I totally get why the Grandmother picked her up by the hair and I'm only disappointed that she didn't hurl her out the window.   

What happens eventually -- the "dirty" part or the "romance" (or maybe both, depending on how you see it) should come as no surprise given that Chris likes to spend an inordinate amount of time staring at Cathy (dressed or undressed, irrelevant) and these two apparently consider it perfectly normal for siblings to hold, fondle and kiss each other while undressed.  Ugh, I feel gross just typing that.  In case you haven't figured it out, Chris will eventually decide that keeping it in the family is what it's all about, showing their parents that a half-uncle/niece relationship is small potatoes when you have a hot teenage sister around.    

This is what most people remember Flowers and V. C. Andrews for . . .the incest between Chris and Cathy.   While all of Ms. Andrews' books were gothic in nature and dealt with severely jacked up families, I think this is the only book that really went there.  This book is creepy.

And yet . . . this book is extremely addictive, obsessive and intoxicating.  What does that say about readers like me?  Yes, I wonder too.  I do think that Ms. Andrews was the 1980s version of Stephenie Meyer, who has received a lot of flack and criticism for her Twilight series of books (also read by me).  Both women may not have or have had the most stellar of writing abilities and skill but damn if they couldn't set a premise that would suck you in like nobody's business.  In Ms. Andrews' case, her setting of Foxworth Hall and the attic is spectacular.  You can't read (or listen) to Flowers and not visualize this grand estate with the sprawling (and somewhat scary) attic.  For the record, this is where the movies fall down because the sets simply cannot live up to what I created in my mind.

Back to the audio version.    Alyssa Bresnahan does an admirable job as our fearless and familially obsessed narrator Cathy.  She does not sound as I had imagined Cathy would sound but I liked her and it worked for me.  She also voices our other characters and outside of Cathy, I would say she does her best as Corinne, the children's spoiled and money-hungry mother.   The narrator can make or break an audiobook and Ms. Bresnahan only adds to the overall value of this guilty pleasure.

Flowers in the Attic continues to be one of the most readable trashy books you will ever pick up.  Once you start reading, or listening, you won't want to stop.   Knowing this is the first book in a series brings a special kind of pain because the story won't conclude on the last page and you know there is more dysfunctional "love" coming via Petals on the Wind.  Where Chris gets even creepier, if you can imagine, and Cathy makes the worst decisions imaginable.  Repeatedly.  And yes, I'm listening to that next.

Would I recommend this book?  Abso-freaking-lutely, if you want an enjoyable guilty read and/or are the type of person who enjoys secretive readings of the National Enquirer or Star and denies it.  This is far and away V.C. Andrews' best series and my favorite (dysfunctional) characters she created.  Her other books don't come as close to the gothic horror nature this book does.  Because this book is creepy.


Author Website

Audible

FTC Disclosure:  This audiobook is from my own personal collection and was purchased by me.  I was neither paid nor compensated (don't I wish) for this review.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Audiobook Review: 'SALEM'S LOT by Stephen King



Description:  Ben Mears has returned to Jerusalem’s Lot in hopes that exploring the history of the Marsten House, an old mansion long the subject of rumor and speculation, will help him cast out his personal devils and provide inspiration for his new book. But when two young boys venture into the woods, and only one returns alive, Mears begins to realize that something sinister is at work—in fact, his hometown is under siege from forces of darkness far beyond his imagination. And only he, with a small group of allies, can hope to contain the evil that is growing within the borders of this small New England town.

With this, his second novel, Stephen King established himself as an indisputable master of American horror, able to transform the old conceits of the genre into something fresh and all the more frightening for taking place in a familiar, idyllic locale

My Thoughts on the Audiobook version of 'Salem's Lot by Stephen King and read by Ron McLarty

Being a recent subscriber to Audible and having credits to use, I wanted to select a book that I knew would grab me and I thought Stephen King made a good "go to" author.  The problem would be in selecting a work from his voluminous library.  When I glanced at 'Salem's Lot, I recalled watching the 70s era miniseries and how badly it scared me.  ("Let me in.  I want to play with you!"  Need I say more?)  So I was in! 

There is a reason that Stephen King is a prolific and well-respected author and 'Salem's Lot is largely why in my opinion.  This book is near perfection.  Yes, you have the requisite creepy/haunted house and small town where strange things begin happening and residents begin disappearing but King sets the atmosphere so flawlessly the book appears almost without effort.  These characters take on their own lives and very quickly you will find yourself immersed in 'Salem's Lot - - the town and the book.

Having watched the miniseries many years ago, I knew what the "secret" was and yet . . . I was still on the edge of my seat, full of suspense and plainly shouting at my car's radio "No!  Don't go in there!"  Crazy because they are characters in a book and they can't hear you.  And you also know darn well and good they are going to go there anyhow but I was so invested in every one of them I couldn't help it.

Ben Mears is a great hero for the book because he's not invincible and as readers, we can relate to him.   He's returning home to 'Salem's Lot for the first time in years and through his somewhat jaded eyes, we see the town as he does.  As King writes in many of his books, this is a rather ordinary small town with rather ordinary people subjected to an extraordinary event or events. 

The book is indeed horror but it's more a deep psychological terror than flat out gruesomeness.    It's far more frightening and intimidating to think the worst may be happening, with darkness descending on you, and no idea who you can trust versus you and the entire town knowing what's out there.  

I find it incredibly amazing that 'Salem's Lot was only King's second published work.  Many authors need a few books to work out the kinks of their writing but King manages to do it and do it handily by his second book.  This work is far superior to Carrie in my opinion and despite being written in 1974 or 1975, remains as fresh as it did forty years ago.  Sure, there are some areas that are dated - - prices of gas, food, etc. - - but the overall story could have been written this year.  Scary is scary, ya'll. 

I was delighted that this audiobook version is unabridged and serious kudos are owed to Ron McLarty, who does a fantabulous (yes, that is a word in my lexicon) job narrating.  Having many central characters could be a difficult job for any narrator but Mr. McLarty pulls it off with ease.  He has the correct nuance of sinister, plaintive and resigned to make this work. 

As an added feature to this audiobook version, there is a relatively brief introduction by Stephen King himself. 

I finished listening to this book last week and my mind is still with this story, not wanting to let it go.  I can't even begin to tell you how many evenings I would get home from my commute and still be in the car, wanting to listen just a little bit longer.  (The audiobook version of "one more chapter!")  This is storytelling as its very best and if you are a struggling writer, I encourage you to read or listen to 'Salem's Lot for a guide on how to write a genuinely good and genuinely scary story.

Amazon

Author's Website

FTC Disclosure: This book was from my own private collection, purchased by me. I was neither paid nor compensated in any way for this review.