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.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

TERMINUS by Joshua Graham




Description:   HOW FAR MUST AN ANGEL FALL TO FIND HIS DESTINY?

Having witnessed one too many senseless deaths, Nikolai, a disillusioned Reaper 3rd Class, resigns his commission with the Angel Forces after a tedious century of gathering souls.

Immediately, another division recruits him with the promise of a more rewarding career, and issues his initial assignments: To bring down a few very dangerous threats to the human race. In the process, Nikolai falls in love with one of his targets Hope Matheson, a woman who will lead thousands astray.

Caught between conflicting agendas, Nikolai chooses to fall from his celestial state and become mortal in order to circumvent angel law and be with her. But for angels and humans alike, things are not always as they appear. Still a target, the threat against Hope s life intensifies.

Now, in order to save her, Nikolai must rally the last remnants of his failing supernatural abilities to prevent her assassination, as well as the destruction of an entire city by a nuclear terrorist strike.

But his time and power are running out...

Terminus is a perspective-altering saga that delves into ageless themes of redemption, destiny, and the eternal power of love.



My Thoughts on Terminus

If you're a follower of my reviews (and I thank you if so) you know that I am a huge fan of Joshua Graham's and have been since his first book, Beyond Justice.    I know from the moment I pick up a new Graham book that I will like it - - the only question is how much. 

Terminus, like Darkroom before it, is different from the author's previous book.  Is it suspense?  Mystery?  Sci-fi?  Fantasy?  Yes, yes, yes and yes.  And it's written and executed extremely well.

Let's start with the characters first.  Nick, our fallen angel, is a hero extraordinaire.  I quickly became attached to him - - his pain, his desires, his humanity and his spirituality.   I was fascinated with our introduction to him, in which he collects the souls of the newly departed.  It was an incredibly original concept, as well as Nick's struggle with his place in the (other)world. 

This struggle leads us to Hope, a young mother dealing with the worst kind of pain and who presents Nick with the type of dilemma he had never before faced as an angel.  Violation of the angel rules leads this particular angel to fall and the effect is a ripple throughout humanity, culminating in an assassination and terrorist threat. 

Terminus speaks of spiritual warfare in a non-preachy way and I was entranced by the angels versus demons battle occurring, all while normal everyday life was occurring for the humans. 

The underlying theme of Terminus is hope.  Hope that good things await all of us, hope that there are angels on our side and hope that good will always overrule evil.  It's surely no coincidence that Mr. Graham chose to name his heroine Hope. 

Mr. Graham's writing, as always, is top notch.  He's plotted Terminus to be a fast paced, highly charged and emotional experience.    This isn't the type of book that you will put down and pick back up at leisure because you will be far too invested in Nick and Hope's conjoined paths.  The author isn't merely a technically accurate writer, he's also an incredible storyteller and his voice translates wonderfully well to the written word. 

Terminus is a delicious blend of thriller, mystery, suspense, paranormal, romance, fantasy and sci-fi and it's meant to be savored as well as educating.  What did I take away from this work?  Besides angels could very well be walking among us (and how I love and support that idea!) and that sacrifice and redemption go hand in hand, it's that love is the ultimate purpose of our human lives.  Not just romantic love but also love between a parent and child, love between friends and love between people in general.  Terminus left me with a wonderful feeling, an enriched heart, and a whole lot of hope. 

I highly recommend Terminus.  Go.  Go right now and get yourself a copy.  It's superb writing and you won't regret it. 

Amazon

Author Website

FTC Disclosure:  Review copy of this book provided by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.  In no way did the provision of this book affect the outcome of my review.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Giveaway Winner: DEATH ON EAT STREET




The lucky winner of a copy of Death on Eat Street is . . .

Donna Hammer Durnell

Congratulations Donna!  I hope you will enjoy your new book.  I will be emailing you directly to get your mailing address for your new goodie.


A big THANK YOU to all who visited Psychotic State Book Reviews and entered this giveaway.  I appreciate each and every one of you taking the time to visit and to post your entries. I hope you will stick around for future reviews, giveaways and interviews. 

Thank you to author J.J. Cook and Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours for making this giveaway possible. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

DEATH ON EAT STREET by J.J. Cook - Review, Author Interview and a Giveaway




Description:  Zoe Chase always wanted to own her own restaurant—but first, she’ll have to serve up a heaping helping of meals on wheels, with a side of mystery.

When she’s once again passed over for a promotion at work, Zoe decides to take the big leap and go for her dream. She quits, gives up her fancy digs, and buys a fixer-upper diner in a shady part of town. To keep above water during the renovation, she buys a used food truck to serve the downtown and waterfront of Mobile, Alabama. Zoe starts to dish out classic Southern food—but her specialty is her deep-fried biscuit bowls that blow traditional bread bowls away.

After a promising start, things start to go downhill faster than a food truck without brakes. First, someone tries to rob the cash register. Next, Zoe is threatened by the owner of a competing food truck for taking their spot. And when the owner ends up dead inside Zoe’s rolling restaurant, Zoe and her sole employee, Ollie, find themselves hopping out of the frying pan into the fryer. They need to find the real killer, before both of them get burned. 

My Thoughts on Death on Eat Street

This is my first book by author J.J. Cook (the pen name of husband and wife authors Jim and Joyce Lavene) and it was a fun escape into the world of Zoe, food trucks, biscuits and big boned cats.

I liked Zoe right away because she could be me.  She could be any of us and that made her entirely relatable.  She gives up her safe and secure job to do what she really loves and if that isn't what most of us dream of, I don't know what is. 

Reading of her trial and error with her Biscuit Bowl food truck had me chuckling and feeling as though I was there alongside her.  I wanted her to be successful - - damn the competition and damn her parents' opinions - - and I guarantee that you will too.

I think this is where J.J. Cook excels - - the character depictions.  We are lucky to have such a likable and spunky character as Zoe but we also get Ollie, the oversize and dependable friend of Zoe's with his own questionable past, Delia, the hardworking but down on her luck gal who was involved with the victim and Miguel, the handsome attorney who started out defending Zoe and makes her cheating ex look like last week's lunch plate.  Let's not forget the feisty and fickle Creme Brulee, Zoe's big boned feline companion who accompanies Zoe in her food truck and who doles out friendly love bites.

Oh, and there is a murder mystery thrown in.  Terry from Terry's Tacky Tacos (don't you love the name?) is Zoe's competition and he's found dead in her food truck.  To top that off, there is an important item missing and everyone seems to be on the hunt not only to find the item but who killed Terry.  Was he killed over this item?  Will Zoe make the food truck and diner a success?  Will she fall for Miguel? 

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Mobile with Zoe and her biscuit bowls (be prepared for hunger pangs while reading) and I know you will too.  The mystery was satisfying, all the characters were a hoot and I'm now looking at food trucks in my area in a whole new light. 

On a completely superficial and shallow note, don't you just love the cover?  I do.  It speaks to me - - the colors are fantastic and you see the food truck, the umbrellas and Creme Brulee . . . all vital to this book.

If you're looking for a rollicking good time, a clean read with some mystery and some wonderful recipes thrown in for your enjoyment, pick up Death on Eat Street.  It's a first class dish and the start to a brand new series.  Recommended reading at its finest.




With thanks to J.J. Cook and Lori Caswell at Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours for allowing me to participate in this tour. 

Amazon

Author Website

Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours

FTC Disclosure:  Review copy of this book provided by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.  In no way did the provision of this book affect the outcome of my review.


INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR J. J. COOK 

A big welcome to authors Joyce and Jim Lavene, who pen cozy mysteries under the name of J.J. Cook.

Writing as a team must have its challenges.  What is the best part of being a writing duo and what is the hardest part?

The best part of writing together is the together part. We have always loved doing things together, and the writing is no exception. We ran an office supply business together for 15 years before we started writing. The hardest part is making sure each of us is really saying what we think, and not just what we think the other person wants to hear.

What author or authors influenced each of you and helped shape your writing career?
Jim: I have always enjoyed science fiction and fantasy from Andrea Norton, Robert Heinlein, Anne McCaffrey.

Joyce: I love Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Barbara Hambly, Tanith Lee

What is the best piece of advice you can give a novice writer?

Keep trying. The more you write, the better you write. Don’t give up. Learn to take criticism.

How do you get your story ideas?
We get a lot of ideas from looking around and reading everything. Sometimes it’s just passing a fire station, like we did with our Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade Mysteries. With Biscuit Bowl, the idea came from our daughter who thought it would be a fun book.

Do you have any unusual quirks or peculiarities that are a necessity in order to write?
Just being a writer is quirky and peculiar. Imagination is important, and being willing to see every point of view – even from people you don’t like.

What’s a normal day in the life of Joyce and Jim Lavene?
We get up, eat let the dog out, feed the cats, eat breakfast. We watch news and weather while we answer email on our recumbent bike. Then we have lattes, (Jim is our barista) and talk over where the story we’re working on is going that day. Then we write for two hours and take a 15 minute break. We come back and write again for another couple of hours. Usually we average about 5,000 words a day, five days a week now that we write full-time. We try to be off nights and weekends with our family. We also babysit three grandchildren for a couple of hours every afternoon while we do promo work (which is never ending).

What was your favorite part of writing Death on Eat Street?
The food! Without a doubt. It was fun researching the food, and the food trucks. Our cat, Quincy, really liked the new cat, Crème Brulee, and could empathize with his plight. Quincy is a little ‘big boned’ too, and doesn’t like to do anything more than he has to.

Was there a special reason you chose Mobile, Alabama as the setting for Zoe and her biscuit bowls?
Jim is from Mobile, and still has some family there. We were down there for the Azalea Festival a few years ago, and thought it would be  a great place to set a story.  You know  there is a Mardis Gras book coming in that series, right?

A few random questions . . .
The book currently on your nightstand is . . .

Jim: Forgotten Planet, Murray Leinster
Joyce: Re-reading Frankenstein after seeing the movie.
 
If you could time travel to one place it would be . . .

Jim: Woodstock. I missed it.
Joyce: ancient Greece. I’d like to be a priestess of Delphi.

The actor/actress who could best portray you is . . .
Jim: the one with the freckles

Joyce:  the one with the curly hair
If you were a character in Clue, you would be . . .

Jim: Colonel Mustard
Joyce: the butler

Next up for you is . . .
We have a new Peggy Lee Garden Mystery out in May, Lethal Lily, The Horses of Christmas Past is the new book in our Missing Pieces Mysteries coming in August, and also under our name, Spell Booked, book 1 in the new Retired Witch’s Spellbook Mysteries coming in December. Under another name, Ellie Grant, we have Murderous Mince in our pie shop mysteries with Simon and Schuster.

Finally, what one word do you think best describes Death on Eat Street? 
FUN Food! Wait! That’s two words. Sorry.

Thank you. Joyce and Jim, for taking the time to sit down with Psychotic State Book Reviews.  Best of luck with Death on Eat Street!
Thanks for having us here!

To win a copy of J.J. Cook's Death on Eat Street, click on the Rafflecopter widget below and enter by letting me know what you would do career-wise if you could do anything you wanted, regardless of education and/or economy. (Me?  I would have my very own little bookstore!)  Good luck!  U.S. entries only please.

a Rafflecopter giveaway