November 29, 2010

Mailbox Monday: November 29, 2010

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house during the previous week. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists! Mailbox Monday, which was started by Marcia at The Printed Page, is on blog tour—and Julie at Knitting and Sundries is hosting during the month of November.

The first item I received was The Remains by Vincent Zandri, which I received from Pump Up Your Book Promotions for a blog tour. 

SYNOPSIS:  Thirty years ago, teenager Rebecca Underhill and her twin sister Molly were abducted by a man who lived in a house in the woods behind their upstate New York farm. They were held inside that house for three horrifying hours, until making their daring escape. Vowing to keep their terrifying experience a secret in order to protect their mother and father, the girls tried to put the past behind them. And when their attacker was hunted down by police and sent to prison, they believed he was as good as dead. Now, it s 30 years later, and with Molly having passed away from cancer, Rebecca, a painter and art teacher, is left alone to bear the burden of a secret that has only gotten heavier and more painful with each passing year. But when Rebecca begins receiving some strange anonymous text messages, she begins to realize that the monster who attacked her all those years ago is not dead after all. He s back, and this time, he wants to do more than just haunt her. He wants her dead.


The second item I received last week was Thr3E by Ted Dekker which I received from Hachette Book Group for review. 

SYNOPSIS:  Enter a world where nothing is what it seems. Where your closest friend could be your greatest enemy.

Kevin Parson is driving his car late one summer day when, suddenly, his cell phone rings. A man who identifies himself as Slater speaks in a breathy voice: You have exactly three minutes to confess your sin to the world. Refuse, and the car you're driving will blow sky high.

Kevin panics. Who would make such a call? What sin? Kevin ditches the car. Precisely three minutes later, a massive explosion sets his world on a collision course with madness.

From the #1 best-selling fiction author comes a powerful story of good, evil, and all that lies between.



That is my Mailbox Monday. What goodies arrived in your mailbox last week?



Book Review: On Maggie's Watch by Ann Wertz Garvin

Book Description:  Maggie Finley has returned with her husband from the big city to her Wisconsin hometown, where she reunites with her best friend and awaits the any-minute-now birth of her baby. She's determined to create a safe haven on Hemlock Road, a neighborhood that has always meant security, community, and love. One way to do that: resurrect the defunct Neighborhood Watch program.

The Watch folks are mostly concerned with dog poop and litterbugs. But Maggie's done some digging and discovered a potential threat living just around the corner-a threat that must be eradicated. And the more Maggie tries to take control, the more out of control she gets...


Article first published as Book Review: On Maggie's Watch by Ann Wertz Garvin on Blogcritics.

On Maggie's Watch is author Ann Wertz Garvin's debut novel about a dark subject but handled with lightness and humor.  I was interested in the book because I normally find books that revolve around a small community and cast of characters fun to read.  On Maggie's Watch did not disappoint mainly because of main character Maggie's over the top actions and reactions. 

As someone who herself has gone online to see what sexual predators are residing in and around my neighborhood, I related with Maggie's quest to keep her child and her neighborhood safe. I chuckled out loud picturing Maggie in her purple pajamas, on her bike, stalking the stalker and her handful of pranks.  Her attempts at vigilante justice are humorous and yet also have a strong, serious undertone.  In less capable hands, Maggie could have been a brash, borderline annoying character but Ms. Wertz Garvin keeps her from falling in that precipice while also allowing her to remain very relatable, a commendable task.

I enjoyed the supporting characters, from best friend Julia whose no-nonsense personality allows her to tell it like it is to husband Martin who oftentimes seems oblivious to Maggie's obsessive nature to the overzealous Beverly Finker and helpful handyman David.  Personally I would have loved to read more about some of the neighbors - - who knows what delicious secrets and dirt Maggie, heading up the Neighborhood Watch, could have learned - - but the neighborhood cross between Melrose Place and a Fannie Flagg novel  is simply too tasty to resist. 

The best part of On Maggie's Watch is Ms. Wertz Garvin's writing style and overall story.  She has taken a relevant and timely issue and managed to pen a thoughtful, funny and inspiring book.  Maggie's journey, as told through Ms. Wertz Garvin's eyes, is worth the read - - from her marriage teetering on the brink of disaster to the domino effect her Neighborhood Watch sets off to the deep affection she shares with her best friend.  All ring true and will leave you, the reader, anxious to share in Maggie's tale and desperate to know how it all ends. 

For a debut novel On Maggie's Watch is surprisingly poignant and sinfully rich with plotline and personality.  It will strike a powerful chord in every parent out there and every female will relate to the joy and fear pregnancy brings and the inate maternal instinct to protect your child at all costs.   On Maggie's Watch is worth the read and I encourage you to pick it up.

On Maggie's Watch is available for purchase now at major booksellers, including Amazon.  I am an Amazon affiliate. If you make a purchase through my link, I will receive a small commission. 

For more information on author Ann Wertz Garvin, please visit her website HERE

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






November 24, 2010

Book Giveaway: Prisoners in the Palace

Thanks to the lovely Lara Starr at Chronicle Books, I have one copy of Michaela MacColl's new historical fiction jewel Prisoners in the Palace up for grabs!

I loved this book and I think you will too, so don't miss out on your opportunity to win yourself a brand new copy.  To read my review of this book, click HERE.

To enter, simply leave me a comment and let me know which member of the Royal Family, living or deceased, is your favorite and why.  That's it!

U.S. and Canada only (my apologies to our overseas friends) and no P.O. boxes.

NO EMAIL ADDRESS WITH YOUR ENTRY = NO ENTRY!

Contest to end on Friday, December 3, 2010 at 11:59 P.M. PST and the lucky winners drawn by randomizer.org on Saturday, December 4, 2010.

Good luck!





November 21, 2010

Mailbox Monday: November 22, 2010

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house during the previous week. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists! Mailbox Monday, which was started by Marcia at The Printed Page, is on blog tour—and Julie at Knitting and Sundries is hosting during the month of November.

The sole item I received last week was The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook by Matt Dunn, which I received from Sourcebooks for review. 

SYNOPSIS:  "It's not me-it's you." 

After ten years, Jane's had enough of Edward Middleton. "You've let yourself go," she tells him. "So I'm letting you go too."

Determined to get her back, Edward realizes he must learn how to make women want him again. But right now, he's the kind of man who puts the "ex" in "sexy." One thing is certain: if he's going to be Jane's Mr. Right, he needs to turn himself around. From Atkins to Waxing, Edward begins working his way through the makeover alphabet.

But is a change in appearance what Jane really wants? Can cuddly Teddy really become sexy Eddie? Or is there more to the dating game than meets the eye?



That is my Mailbox Monday. What goodies arrived in your mailbox last week?


November 18, 2010

Author Interview: Michaela MacColl

Today I am happy to welcome Michaela MacColl, author of the newly released Prisoners in the Palace, a fascinating and exciting look at Queen Victoria's life the year before she was crowned, to Psychotic State.  She has graciously answered some questions about her writing, inspirations and, of course, Queen Victoria. 

Hi Michaela, welcome to Psychotic State and thank you for taking the time to chat with me and my readers.



I just finished reading Prisoners in the Palace and absolutely loved it! What gave you the idea to write about Victoria in the year before she was crowned Queen?

MM:  I’m so glad you liked it! An editor gave me the idea originally. She wanted to see Phillippa Gregory but for teens. Queen Victoria is such a good subject because we have a view of her as an old woman – in perpetual mourning, stooped and stout… but she was a teenager once. She liked boys and dancing inappropriate dances (the waltz!) and judged every party by how late she stayed up. That was the Victoria I wanted to introduce readers to. Picking the time before she is crowned gives me some flexibility. After she is Queen, every moment of every day is documented. But before… all bets are off!

I found Victoria to be an enchanting character - - headstrong, willful, charming, spoiled and still very much a child while awaiting for the throne of Great Britain. Did you keep solely to history when writing her or did you inject your own quirks and characteristics on her?

MM:  I started with the quirks that are part of the historical record. She gobbled her food and preferred bright colors. Her mother wouldn’t let her sleep alone or go down stairs by herself. She kept her chin unnaturally high because her mother would tie a piece of holly under her chin to help keep up her posture. From there, I began to wonder how does this shape a girl’s personality? I came up with a girl who had natural charm but had very little experience considering other people’s feelings. She’s got a good heart though and changes through the course of the novel.

The supporting characters in Prisoners in the Palace were a varied bunch but I thoroughly enjoyed each and every one of them and found each of them extremely significant to the story. Who was your favorite character from Prisoners in the Palace to write and why?

MM:  I’m not supposed to have a favorite… but I do! The character that I enjoyed writing about most was Inside Boy. He’s such a personality who lives between the strictures of society. He’s not part of the palace, nor is he of London; he lives in the walls. He was just what my main character, Liza, needed. An ally in the palace and a guide to the outside world.

The descriptions of Kensington Palace, the back alleys of London, the fashions and way of life as presented in Prisoners in the Palace were phenomenal! I could literally picture each and every scene in my mind, as if I was watching a movie. How much research goes into writing historical fiction like Prisoners in the Palace?

MM:  What a nice compliment! I have had a few people contact me about film rights… so let’s keep our fingers crossed. Luckily there are a lot of sources for description about Victorian England, including many works of fiction. I also took a trip to London after the first draft was done – that helped enormously with the little details that make a story work. For example, after climbing up to the top of the Fire Monument, I realized that I had to ratchet up the tension if my character was going to run to the top!

How long did it take you to write Prisoners in the Palace from inception to completion?

MM:  I started in January of 2006 and sold it in March in 2009. It was finally published in October 2010. At least six months of that was research.

Did you always want to be a writer?

MM:  Alas, I think I did, but I forgot. I got distracted by academia and then the necessity to work for a living. Then I got married and had kids. Happily, when I was traveling with my daughters I rediscovered my love for finding stories in history.

Did you receive any advice as a struggling or new writer that you’d like to share with budding writers out there?

MM:  Patricia Reilly Giff is my teacher and mentor. She’s amazingly generous with new writers. Her advice is always born from twenty-five years of writing. She tells us to write every day – even if it’s just for ten minutes. The other bit of advice was when you finish something – send it out. It’s a product that you have to sell. Save your love and attachment to the work in progress.

Are there any particular authors that inspire you or that you enjoy reading?

MM:  I’m a huge fan of Karen Cushman’s work. I also love Madeline l’Engle and Lloyd Alexander.

Can you take us through a normal day in the life of Michaela MacColl?

MM;  It’s so dull – why would you want to make that journey? I have two daughters, four cats and one husband. My mornings are all about feeding everybody (I count down). Once everybody is out of the house, including the cats, I try to write for a few hours in the morning. I have a critique group that meets weekly which is the highpoint of my week. I’m active with the local historical society and an International Visitors Committee – so I’m often helping out with their events. Right now I’m planning a Victorian Christmas event at the historical society and arranging for 40 international guests to come to my town to join local hosts for Thanksgiving.

Can you tell us what you’re working on now? Any chance that you may revisit Victorian England?

MM:  I’m putting the finishing touches on a book about Beryl Markham. She was an aviator in the 1930’s who was the first to cross the Atlantic solo from East to West. She crashed, but lived to tell the tale. But what interested me most was her childhood in Colonial Africa. Her father was one of the original colonists in the Highlands above Nairobi. She was raised by an African tribe and learned to hunt lion and warthog. The novel comes out next Fall, also from Chronicle. I can’t wait to see what they do with the cover (since they did such an amazing job with Prisoners in the Palace).

If you could ask Queen Victoria any question, what would you like to ask her?

MM:  I would love to ask her if it was worth it? Was being Queen and the first and only Empress of India was worth giving up a normal life?

If you could time travel back to Victorian England for one day, what would you like to see? What would you think would be the best part of being in Victorian England? What would be the worst part?

MM:  I think I’d like to ride along Rotten Row in Hyde Park and see the lords and ladies strutting their stuff. I would love the language – I’ve always wanted to live in an era that spoke like Jane Austen’s characters. But I’m not sure I’d be too happy about the sanitary facilities!

Lastly, if you could use one word to describe Prisoners in the Palace, what would it be?

MM:  Can I pick two? Because I’d love to call it a Modern Historical.

Thank you so much, Michaela, for taking the time to answer my questions and best of luck with the fantastic Prisoners in the Palace!

PRISONERS IN THE PALACE

London, 1836. Sixteen-year-old Liza's dreams of her society debut are dashed when her parents are killed in an accident. Penniless, she accepts the position of lady's maid to young Princess Victoria and steps unwittingly into the gossipy intrigue of the servant's world below-stairs as well as the trickery and treason above. Is it possible that her changing circumstances may offer Liza the chance to determine her own fate, find true love, and secure the throne for her future queen?


PRISONERS IN THE PALACE by Michaela MacColl
On sale now!  

Special Offer From Chronicle Books:  We’ve got a special promotion code PRISONER that you can offer your readers. When they use it to check out at Chroniclebooks.com they’ll get FREE SHIPPING and 25% off their entire order!


For more information about author Michaela MacColl, please visit her website




Book Review: "Prisoners in the Palace" by Michaela MacColl

Book Description:  London, 1838. Sixteen-year-old Liza's dreams of her society debut are dashed when her parents are killed in an accident. Penniless, she accepts the position of lady's maid to young Princess Victoria and steps unwittingly into the gossipy intrigue of the servant's world below-stairs as well as the trickery above. Is it possible that her changing circumstances may offer Liza the chance to determine her own fate, find true love, and secure the throne for her future queen?



Meticulously based on newly discovered information, this riveting novel is as rich in historical detail as Catherine, Called Birdy, and as sizzling with intrigue as The Luxe.





*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *
Article first published as Book Review: Prisoners in the Palace by Michaela MacColl on Blogcritics.

I was initially intrigued by Prisoners in the Palace due to the connection with Queen Victoria and the pre-Victorian/Victorian era but I wasn’t sure it would be my cup of tea as it is listed as a young adult book. I was not only pleasantly surprised but thrilled to discover this book easily qualifies for adult reading as well, particularly those adults who adore historical fiction and/or the Victorian era. Because this book excels at both. And it’s a phenomenal read.


I thought Prisoners in the Palace was an engrossing and entertaining historical fiction read, not falling into the literary pitfall that many historical fiction books can - - being so heavy handed on the history that the story is a bit dry and the reader isn’t allowed to form a real attachment or bond to the characters. Not so in this case.

Ms. MacColl weaves a rich tapestry of colorful detail of the pre-Victorian period, from the somewhat rundown state of Kensington Palace when Princess Victoria was in residence, to the lives of servants below stairs to the unseemly squalor of London backstreets and alleys and the beginnings of the competitive news business. She shows just enough unpleasantness to highlight the differences between the classes without being overbearing or depressive.

I thought Ms. MacColl did a phenomenal job showcasing Victoria in the year before she became queen. At times Victoria was a petulant teenager, a spoiled child, a lonely young lady and a willful heir to the throne. I have read about Victoria once she was queen but she seemed more alive and real to me throughout the pages of Prisoners in the Palace. Ms. MacColl took actual diary entries from Princess Victoria and wrapped her story around them, giving us a wonderful tale in the process.

Surprisingly, Victoria herself wasn’t the central character. That honor belonged to Liza, who found herself employed as a maid in Kensington Palace after her parents were unexpectedly killed shortly after she turned seventeen. Liza was a frustrating character for me - - some of her actions had me literally wringing my hands and wanting to pull my hair. I did remind myself that she was only seventeen and seventeen year olds in 1836 were far less savvy than some seventeen year olds today. Despite my frustration with her slips, I did like Liza. She was spunky without being annoying and she turned out to have quite a backbone on her. She ended up being more like a contemporary heroine, what with controlling her own destiny and being self-sufficient, which may appeal to some young adult audiences.

Newspaperman Will Fulton was a pleasant surprise. While the progression of his friendship with Liza was predictable, I enjoyed reading about his career path especially given as the year the book takes place in was immediately before the birth of the newspaper boom, when paper became more readily available and persons of all classes would read and purchase newspapers.

Of particular interest is the unusual character of Inside Boy - - an orphaned child of the streets who becomes the eyes and ears of Kensington Palace (and an ally of Liza’s and even Victoria’s) all while living in the walls of the Palace. I think I found him so captivating a character because he would have been one of so many “throwaways” back in the pre-Victorian era but he was smart and clever enough (even without schooling) that he was able to fool so many at the Palace and throw the proverbial wool over the eyes of someone like Sir John Conroy. He was also a very distinct, and living, bridge between the life Liza had lived and the one she could possibly face should she lose her position and job at the Palace. The reader doesn’t feel sympathy for Inside Boy, much as you do for the character of Annie Mason, but rather respects his intuitiveness and cunning nature.

Prisoners in the Palace is a great read for young adults who aren’t fond of reading history because it simply doesn’t read like history. For historical fiction buffs, you won’t find Jean Plaidy or Susan Higginbotham here but that’s no condemnation. Ms. MacColl’s writing style is engaging and her story is vividly alive.

On a purely shallow note, the cover art is lovely and I am particularly fond of the back cover, which is a crafty use of newspaper headlines and praise for the book. Bravo!

I would not hesitate to recommend Prisoners in the Palace to both young adult and adult readers; both groups will be satisfied with the magic that comes alive on this book’s pages.

Prisoners in the Palace is available for purchase now at major booksellers, including Amazon. I am an Amazon affiliate. If you make a purchase through my link, I will receive a small commission. Chronicle Books is offering a special promotional code for my readers - - when you check out at chroniclebooks.com, enter the code PRISONER and you will receive not only free shipping but 25% off your entire order!

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

Thanks to Lara Starr at Chronicle Books for the opportunity to participate in this blog tour.




November 17, 2010

Author Interview: LB Gschwandtner

Today I am happy to welcome LB Gschwandtner, author of the newly released (and vividly titled) The Naked Gardener, to Psychotic State. She has graciously answered some questions about her writing, Project Runway and, of course, naked gardening.  

Hi LB, welcome to Psychotic State and thank you for taking the time to chat with me and my readers.


LBG:  I’m so happy to be here with you.

I think the one big question on my mind, and the minds of all the readers out there, is where did you get the idea for a book about a naked gardener?

LBG:  At a certain point in my life, I knew three women who gardened naked. They all had different takes on why they did it but they all felt it was really important to them. So I began to think about a woman named Katelyn Cross who goes to her garden naked and what that might mean and in what ways it would be liberating for her and important in her life.

I really liked the character of Katelyn in The Naked Gardener. I thought she was relatable and I thought it was a nice touch to make the female have a wariness of sorts about marriage. Did you base Katelyn on anyone in particular or on a group of women you know?

LBG:  I love that question because I did not base Katelyn on one person but on many of the things I know women feel after they become wives. The feeling of losing who you are because of the demands of what I would call wifedom can be overwhelming. House, husband, children, work, laundry, and all the rest of what a woman is responsible for within marriage, can really be daunting. Katelyn, as a character, symbolizes the ambivalence many women feel post marriage – like ten years into it. We still carry around this Cinderella finding the prince fantasy and sometimes we don’t think past the wedding day to what the reality will be. Some women make the transition well and some don’t. Katelyn, having been in a relationship that made demands she couldn’t accept is wary about doing it again and losing herself through that commitment.

Speaking of fantastic characters, the supporting female characters - - the group of five women that take the trip with Katelyn - - are absolutely amazing! Is there any chance we will revisit them in a future book? (Please, please!) And if so, can you give us any hints?

LBG:  Oh, thank you. I love it when my characters resonate with readers. They seem so real to me. I do plan a follow up book called Trout River Falls or perhaps Saving Trout River Falls. It will expand on these characters but the protagonist will be Erica, the head of the town council in The Naked Gardener. I want to know what happens with her son and with her determination to save the town. I want to know how she follows through with that.

Based on the writing and descriptions in the book, I would venture to guess that you are not only a gardener yourself but also enjoy canoeing. What other hobbies do you have when you’re not penning a book?

LBG:  My husband and I kayak. We live on a tidal creek and sometimes, when he’s at work, I’ll go down to the boathouse and plop my kayak in the water and just take off for a few hours. The minute I feel the water under me, it’s as if I’ve entered another world.

I also raise orchids. I have a greenhouse but in the summer I move them outside. I always have some orchids in bloom. I love them.

How long did it take you to write The Naked Gardener?

LBG:  Actually this book went rather quickly. A little less than a year. Which is less time than I’ve taken with other writing projects. I think I know better what I’m doing now than I did when I began writing. So when I sit down to write, there’s less staring into space trying to figure out what I want to say.

Which character from The Naked Gardener did you most enjoy writing?

LBG:  Oh, that one is easy. Mrs. Ward, the elderly woman near the end of the story. She has great clarity about life.

Did you always want to be a writer?

LBG:  Not at all. If you want to know the truth, I thought I wasn’t smart enough to be a writer. I had this idea that all writers are erudite, highly schooled individuals who can quote great passages from Beowulf and make literary references to any literature in the world. Well, of course that’s a bit overblown but there certainly are writers more well read than I am and more able to speak in critical terms. I studied art for years and years starting as a small child. My mother was a painter. At one time I worked as a potter – I made wheel thrown pottery. Then I changed to painting. I began writing tentatively much later.

Did you receive any advice as a struggling or new writer that you’d like to share with budding writers out there?

LBG:  Writing is like playing a musical instrument. The more you do it, the better you’ll get at it and the more confidence you’ll create. You have to build up your writing muscle. There are no child prodigy writers. So the advice is – write. Anyone who thinks writing is a glamorous or easy task is naïve. Writing is a tough grind. If you love it, you don’t mind. But if you’re looking for instant gratification, writing is not the way to get it.

Are there any particular authors that inspire you or that you enjoy reading?

LBG:  There are so many. For years I read Russian literature. I loved it all, even the impossible names. My favorite book is Dr. Zhivago. It’s the only book that made me cry. Currently I’m a big fan of Margaret Atwood. Her work is chilling in its worldview and impeccable in its craft. But I also like certain works of Stephen King – Hearts In Atlantis for one. This year I read a translation of LeClezio’s The Prospector. He won the Nobel Prize in 2008. That book has stayed with me. It is haunting in its use of language and its imagery.

Can you take us through a normal day in the life of LB Gschwandtner?

LBG:  I seem to do a lot of laundry. And outdoor type work depending on the season. Clipping, weeding, watering, planting, raking, digging, leaf blowing, snow shoveling (last year was just unbelievable). And every day I write.

I also still work as a magazine editor so that takes some part of my day. And then chores. I’m a wife. So my day has quite a lot of wife type duties like grocery shopping. But children are grown so I’m no longer soccer (or in my case, dance & gymnastics) Mom. I don’t have any specific time of day reserved for writing but I always find or make the time. I also still paint some. Not a lot but some.

Can you tell us what you’re working on now?

LBG:  I’m writing a vampire spoof with another writer. She writes really funny. And I’m good at construction. We’re both good at character development. We’re having great fun with it. It’s going to be a fast, funny, satiric read.

If you could change places with one person (famous or not, living or not) for one day, who would you choose?

LBG:  What a great question. Heidi Klum. I would LOVE to spend one day on Project Runway.

Lastly, if you could use one word to describe The Naked Gardener, what would it be?

LBG;  Transportive

Thank you so much, LB, for taking the time to answer my questions and best of luck with The Naked Gardener!

LBG:  Thank you, Lori.

The Naked Gardener is available for purchase at major booksellers now.  To read my review of The Naked Gardeneri, go HERE

For more information on author LB Gschwandtner please visit her website here, or go to Facebook or Twitter.



November 15, 2010

Mailbox Monday: November 15, 2010

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house during the previous week. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists! Mailbox Monday, which was started by Marcia at The Printed Page, is on blog tour—and Julie at Knitting and Sundries is hosting during the month of November.

The first item I received last week was Cake Boss by Buddy Valvastro which I received from Simon & Schuster for review. 

SYNOPSIS:  In this heartfelt memoir, master baker and star of the #1 hit TLC show, Buddy Valastro tells his inspiring story—and recounts his family’s warm memories from a lifetime of living, loving, and cake making.

Television viewers have fallen in love with Buddy Valastro, master cake maker, and his funny and fiery family, proprietors of Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey, on the smash hit TLC series Cake Boss. Now, to coincide with Carlo’s 100th anniversary, cake designer extraordinaire Buddy Valastro brings together his passion for baking and his high-energy family stories in the pages of this charming, heartwarming book—complete with 25 recipes and tips that will make every reader the “cake boss” of their own kitchen.

Buddy’s beautifully designed cakes are the stuff of legend—and so is the remarkable story of his father, a beloved pillar of the community and himself a talented baker who set the stage for his family’s rise to the pinnacle of their industry. Cake Boss recounts the story of Buddy’s life and of his family’s bakeshop, originally established in 1910 and now a Hoboken, New Jersey, landmark and culinary tourist destination. Here also are twenty-five recipes for Carlo’s Bakery’s most sought-after pastries, pies, cupcakes, and cakes, an irresistible combination of time-tested old-world recipes and modern creations, all founded on a rock-solid “old-school” baking foundation and classic techniques.

This is the incredible true story of how Carlo’s Bakery came to be, how one hard-working family realized their patriarch’s dream of making their beloved bake shop a household name. The special bond and loving dynamic of the Valastro clan make this an uncommonly touching and truly inspiring memoir.

The next item I received was Why You Should Store Your Farts in a Jar and Other Oddball or Gross Maladies, Afflictions, Remedies and "Cures" by David Haviland which I won through a drawing on The Penguin Group's webpage. 

SYNOPSIS:  The next book in the strange and fascinating series that began with the national bestseller Why You Shouldn't Eat Your Boogers & Other Useless or Gross Information About Your Body.

The national bestseller Why You Shouldn't Eat Your Boogers & Other Useless or Gross Information About Your Body uncovered everything one might want to know (and a few things one might not) about the human body. The follow-up bestseller Why Fish Fart & Other Useless or Gross Information About the World contained an artful selection of odd and/or unsavory facts about the world. Why Dogs Eat Poop scoured the animal kingdom for gross and or off-color facts about animals. In this delightfully disgusting new book in the series, David Haviland plumbs the world of medicine to uncover the answers to such vitally important questions as:

*What exactly is urine therapy?
*Is it safe to fly with breast implants?
*How did a nine-and-a-half-inch spatula find its way into a surgery patient's body?
*Why do some boxers drink their own pee?
*What is cyclic vomiting syndrome and how can one avoid it?

Any fan of the absurd and/or obscure is sure to delight in this strange (and slightly stomach-turning) book.


The next item I received was The Sherlockian by Graham Moore, which I received from the Hachette Book Group for review. 

SYNOPSIS:  In December 1893, Sherlock Holmes-adoring Londoners eagerly opened their Strand magazines, anticipating the detective's next adventure, only to find the unthinkable: his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, had killed their hero off. London spiraled into mourning -- crowds sported black armbands in grief -- and railed against Conan Doyle as his assassin.

Then in 1901, just as abruptly as Conan Doyle had "murdered" Holmes in "The Final Problem," he resurrected him. Though the writer kept detailed diaries of his days and work, Conan Doyle never explained this sudden change of heart. After his death, one of his journals from the interim period was discovered to be missing, and in the decades since, has never been found.

Or has it?

When literary researcher Harold White is inducted into the preeminent Sherlock Holmes enthusiast society, The Baker Street Irregulars, he never imagines he's about to be thrust onto the hunt for the holy grail of Holmes-ophiles: the missing diary. But when the world's leading Doylean scholar is found murdered in his hotel room, it is Harold - using wisdom and methods gleaned from countless detective stories - who takes up the search, both for the diary and for the killer.




The last item I received was The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer, which I received from the Hachette Book Group for review. 

SYNOPSIS:  #1 New York Times bestselling author Brad Meltzer returns with a pulse-pounding new novel of lies and deception at the highest levels of government. There are stories no one knows. Hidden stories. I love those stories. And since I work in the National Archives, I find those stories for a living.

So says Benjamin January, a young archivist who spends his days working with the most important documents of the U.S. government. When Clementine Kaye, his first childhood crush, shows up at the Archives asking for his help tracking down her long-lost father, Benjy tries to impress her by showing her the secret vault where the President of the United States privately reviews classified documents. It is also where Benjy and Clementine accidentally happen upon a priceless artifact-a 200-year-old dictionary that once belonged to George Washington-hidden inside a desk chair. Eager to discover why the President is hiding this important national treasure, the two soon find themselves entangled in a web of deception, conspiracy, and murder that will reveal the most well kept secret of the U.S. Presidency



That is my Mailbox Monday. What goodies arrived in your mailbox last week?




November 10, 2010

Book Review: "The Naked Gardener" by LB Gschwandtner

Book Description:  In a remote forest of northern Vermont, Katelyn Cross takes five women on a wilderness canoe trip where they hope to come up with ideas for saving their dying town. Although the river is not always what it seems and the women have not left their problems behind, a painting ritual creates a new way to look at the world - and themselves. Artist Katelyn Cross loves Greg Mazur and he loves her. He wants to be married but a previous relationship that went sour has made Katelyn overly cautious about any permanent commitment. And what about Greg's first wife? He lost her to cancer and Katelyn worries that he's only looking for a replacement. What's a girl to do? Canoe down a river with five gal pals, camp out, catch fish, talk about life and men. The problem is, a river can be as unpredictable as any relationship and just as hard to manage. On their last day, when the river turns wild, the women face the challenge of a lifetime and find that staying alive means saving themselves first while being open to help from a most unlikely source. As Katelyn navigates the raging water, she learns how to overcome her fear of change in a world where nothing stays the same. When Katelyn returns to her garden, she'll face one more obstacle and the naked gardener will meet the real Greg Mazur. What readers are saying about The Naked Gardener: Lyrical ... Scandalous ... Empowering ... Exhilarating ... Honest ... Sensual ... Fun ... Gentle ... Pleasurable ... Transporting ... Timeless In her first novel, award winning writer L B Gschwandtner explores the push and pull of love, a woman's need to maintain her individuality within marriage, and the bonds that can make women stronger even when the world feels as if it's breaking apart. (from Amazon)

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Article first published as Book Review: The Naked Gardener by LB Gschwandtner on Blogcritics.

The Naked Gardener by LB Gschwandtner is like a slow, sweet dance; nothing showy or fancy and not a lot of explosions but with a stable steady progression into women’s friendships.

Main character Katelyn is the naked gardener of the title. That would certainly make her interesting enough - - honestly, have you ever met a naked gardener or tried naked gardening? I haven’t but I found the premise stirred my interest. Katelyn not only gardens naked but she lives with her boyfriend in a renovated chicken coop on a farm in Vermont during the summers. It’s Katelyn, surprisingly, who is wary of marriage and seemingly happy with the status quo of co-habitating.

I found the pace of the book to be as leisurely as a Sunday afternoon down south. So much so that I had to remind myself during the course of the book that it takes place in Vermont and not south of Virginia. For that reason, The Naked Gardener may not be for every reader. If you are looking for a book chock full of action, explosions and/or supernatural events, The Naked Gardener is definitely not for you. Rather than the excitement-a-minute found on each page, The Naked Gardener is a study in characters and the diversity found in relationships.

For me, the relationships between Katelyn and the five ladies who accompany her on a canoeing trip is the best part (and majority) of the book. Each woman is individually distinct and brings an engaging aspect to the overall plot. It’s rare that it’s the supporting characters that bring so much shine to a novel but it so happens in this case. In fact, I enjoyed Erica, Hope, Charlene, Roz and Valerie so much that I hope Ms. Gschwandtner writes a follow up to The Naked Gardener focusing on the exploits of these ladies, either separately or together. Each of them has a worthy story that would make for an excellent follow up.

I did wish, however, that there was a bit more development for Katelyn’s boyfriend Maze who felt a bit lacking to me. We did get some background on his previous relationship but he was very much a secondary character to Katelyn and her coterie of friends.

Overall, though, I thought The Naked Gardener was a satisfying read with an underlying female empowerment theme. It left me feeling grateful for the circle of female friends I have and desiring a girls’ weekend with them (although perhaps not canoeing!) I would not hesitate to recommend The Naked Gardener as a subtle, yet fulfilling, read.

The Naked Gardener is available for purchase now at major booksellers, including Amazon.  I am an Amazon affiliate. If you make a purchase through my link, I will receive a small commission.

For more information on author LB Gschwandtner please visit her website here, or go to Facebook or Twitter

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


Please check back with Psychotic State Book Reviews next Wednesday, November 17, 2010, for my interview with author LB Gschwandtner. 

A New Winner!

And we have a new winner for a copy of Sharon Lathan's In the Arms of Mr. Darcy (Vee never responded to her win with a mailing address) . . .

crazywriter84!


Congratulations, crazywriter84!  I will be emailing you so please forward me your mailing address and I will see that the publisher gets your new book to you. 

Thanks again to the lovely Danielle Jackson at Sourcebooks for making this giveaway possible.

Compliments to randomizer.org for selecting the lucky winner.




November 9, 2010

Mailbox Monday: November 8, 2010

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house during the previous week. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists! Mailbox Monday, which was started by Marcia at The Printed Page, is on blog tour—and Julie at Knitting and Sundries is hosting during the month of November.

My sole item received last week is sure to be a good one - - author Pamela Samuels Young's Buying Time was one of the best thrillers I've read this year.

I received Murder on the Down Low by Pamela Samuels Young from the author for review.






SYNOPSIS:  A high-profile lawsuit erupts into chaos, revealing its place in a larger spree of violence in this scandalous tale of lust, lies, and vengeance. A brazen gunman is targeting prominent African American men on the streets of Los Angeles, and police are completely baffled. At the same time, savvy big-firm attorney Vernetta Henderson and her outrageous sidekick, Special, lead the charge for revenge against a man whose deceit caused his fianceé's death. For Special, hauling the man into court and suing him for wrongful death just isn’t good enough. While she exacts her own brand of justice, a shocking revelation connects the contentious lawsuit and the puzzling murders


That is my Mailbox Monday. What goodies arrived in your mailbox last week?





November 5, 2010

Book Review: "Lucky Stars" by Sarah Baker

Book Description:  From their first iconic pairing in 7th Heaven (1927) and in eleven films that followed, Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell created an unparalleled cinematic romance. Their partnership was so utterly complete that in the minds and hearts of their adoring public, they were as one. Even though both enjoyed successful solo careers-Janet Gaynor won the first Best Actress Oscar and played Vicki Lester in the original A Star Is Born (1937) and Charles Farrell enjoyed a successful television career, playing Vern Albright on My Little Margie-their work as a team stood out. Even decades after their onscreen partnership ended, any mention of Gaynor in the press merited a mention of Farrell, and vice-versa. Behind the camera, Gaynor and Farrell carried on a secret romance that lasted from their first meeting in 1926 until Gaynor's first marriage in 1929. Supporting and encouraging each other's lives beyond Hollywood, they were able to maintain a mellow friendship that lasted their entire lives. Drawing upon previously unpublished interviews with Charles Farrell and Janet Gaynor, formal interviews with family and friends who knew them best, and meticulous archival research, author Sarah Baker details the fascinating behind the scenes story of the greatest romantic team of all time. The book includes a detailed filmography and is lavishly illustrated with over 100 photographs, many from Charles Farrell's estate. Includes a foreword by director Allison Anders (Grace of My Heart, Things Behind the Sun). (from Amazon)

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Article first published as Book Review: Lucky Stars: Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell by Sarah Baker on Blogcritics.

Actress Janet Gaynor once said of her frequent co-star and one-time love interest Charles Farrell “There will never be another love couple like Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell” and after reading Lucky Stars, I am most inclined to agree.


As much of a devout lover of old Hollywood and especially movies from the 1930s as I am, I feel somewhat ashamed to admit that I have never seen a Janet Gaynor/Charles Farrell movie. In fact, before picking up this book, I had no idea how very popular the duo were in the late 1920s/early 1930s - - a sad statement on how many of the silent screen stars and teams have largely been forgotten. I knew Ms. Gaynor from her wonderful performance in A Star is Born but have never seen her Academy Award winning performances (the first best actress winner) in Sunrise, Seventh Heaven and Street Angel (the first ceremony in 1929 was for films from 1927 and 1928). Additionally, I knew of Mr. Farrell from his 1950s television work but have never seen one of his films when he was a matinee idol. Lucky Stars does a solid job of delving deep into both actors’ backgrounds, showcasing not only their decades long careers and star-making roles but their (at times) flawed human sides of their personal lives.

Author Sarah Baker does a wonderful job in bringing Charlie and Janet to life, using interviews with family and friends, archives, libraries, historians and documents from Gaynor’s and Farrell’s own personal files. The result is a splendid dual biography which will leave the reader in no doubt as to why movie audiences took so strongly to Gaynor and Farrell. Ms. Baker leaves out the gossipy speculation and rumors that are found in many biographies but does address some of the speculation on sexual orientation that has dogged both Farrell and Gaynor throughout the years . She does so with straightforwardness and without an ounce of sensationalism.

I did wish that there was more on Gaynor’s marriage to designer Adrian and I would have loved to have seen pictures of their marital homes which certainly would have been a visual feast given both Adrian’s and Janet’s love of fashion and art.  However, I was gratified to learn that Janet was no shrinking violet and a woman very much ahead of her time. 

In the end, you will walk away from Lucky Stars feeling as if Charlie and Janet are friends, as if you know them personally. I was left with admiration at both of their careers, as well as a sadness that their real life love story, like so many movie plotlines, was left unrequited. It is a great joy to know that Charlie and Janet are forever captured and saved on film, for many generations to enjoy and treasure. I know that Lucky Stars has given me a desire and a passion to find these films myself and, as movie audiences of the 1920s and 1930s did, fall in love with the incomparable team of Farrell and Gaynor.

Lucky Stars is available for purchase now at major booksellers, including Amazon.  I am an Amazon affiliate. If you make a purchase through my link, I will receive a small commission. 

For more information on author Sarah Baker, please visit her website

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





ReCOVERy Friday: November 5, 2010


ReCOVERy Friday is a new weekly meme hosted by Sarah at Miss Page-Turner's City of Books and as the title suggests, the concept is to recover from a busy week of working and studying and relax as you like it. This meme should be fun for everyone and just a nice light start into our weekend.


This is how it works:

1) Think of a book cover you like (e.g. because of its cover art, model, author, title, etc.) It doesn’t matter if it’s an old or new one, you just have to enjoy it!

2) Create a ReCOVERy Friday post for your blog and post it with the whole wonderful weekend ahead (or post it one or two days later if you lack time).

3) Maybe add some sentences and explain why you like the cover…

4) Add your ReCOVERy Friday post to the link at Miss Page-Turner's City of Books so everyone can enjoy it.

5) Check out other ReCOVERy Friday posts if you like, to compare them, chat about them, get inspiration and just have fun!

My ReCOVERy Friday choice:


Vixen (Flappers #1) by Jillian Larkin

I saw this book online this week and absolutely, positively fell head over heels in love with the cover.  Isn't it just gorgeous? 

I love all things 1920s and flappers and so this cover just does it for me.  The girl is stunning - - her expression veers between a knowing sexiness and deep mystery.  I covet her dress (I was definitely born during the wrong era) and I think I'm in love with the flowers at her waist.  Her pose is unique and eye catching.  I like the ornate nature of the chair she's sitting in.  Heck, I even really like the font used for the book title.   

I have added this book to my TBR list and I fully expect to waste reading time just drooling at the cover.

What is your ReCOVERy Friday choice? 


November 3, 2010

And the Winners Are . . .

Sarah
&
Vee


Sarah and Vee are the lucky recipients of a brand new copy of Sharon Lathan's In the Arms of Mr. Darcy, a romantic continuation of Pride and Prejudice's Lizzy and Darcy and their married life at Pemberley.  


Congratulations, Sarah and Vee! I hope you will enjoy and be as entertained by this inventive book as I was. If you will forward me your mailing address, I will see that your new book gets out to you.

Thank you to all who visited my blog and entered this giveaway. I do appreciate each one of you taking the time to visit and post here. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on what makes Lizzy and Darcy the ideal literary couple.  I hope you will stick around for future giveaways, reviews and interviews.

Thank you again to Danielle Jackson and Sourcebooks for making this giveaway possible.

Compliments to randomizer.org for selecting the lucky winners.






November 2, 2010

Review of "Regression" by Kathy Bell

Book Description:  Fourteen-year-old Adya Jordan swears that before her head injury she was a forty-year-old mother of six. Is she going crazy, or did she really live through an entirely different life? 1985 is nothing like she remembers, although her first day of high school certainly is! A typical girl with atypical genes, Adya tries to recapture her old life, hiding her growing conviction that she has done this before. Memories of the man she loved and a family she adored haunt her, even though her future husband doesn't even know she exists. Accidentally discovering the secretive Three Eleven Corporation might know more about her situation than she does, she is convinced the twenty-eight men heading up the company are responsible for the changes in her world. Adya finds her way into their ranks, journeying to the tropical island headquarters to begin an orientation into their prestigious internship program. The Three Eleven Company controls the development and distribution of Twenty-first Century technology brought with them from the future. Charged with the task of preparing the world for an impending disaster, each member of the team uses his scientific background to create a solution for a problem the planet does not know it is facing. They don't have time to deal with a feisty young girl poking around. Banished to the frozen Canadian Shield for asking too many questions of CEO Abraham Fairfield, Adya finds the men in the underground city of Sanctum are interested in more than just her genes as they search for the answer to her presence in the timeline. In the end, Adya encounters a choice no mother should ever face: save her children...or everyone else.  (from Amazon)

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As a reader who finds both time travel and alternate realities fascinating, Regression fit my literary bill with an absolutely fantastic (and slightly unnerving) premise.  The original idea explored by author Kathy Bell did not disappoint and I was thrilled with the idea of the forty year old central character awakening in a hospital in 1985, as a 14 year old.  You see, I too was a teen of the 1980s and I rapidly flipped through the pages, hoping to find references to that decade of excess that would make me grin and laugh and think "I remember that!" 

This is where Ms. Bell threw her first curve ball.  The 1980s aren't totally as I (or central character Adya) remember them.  Instead of the video game/television/me-me-me overload, the world has become a more utopian society.  Technology has advanced by twenty years and once devastating diseases such as AIDS have been eradicated or supremely controlled, with the superhuman Three Eleven Corporation controlling much of the world's progress and employing some of the greatest, once individual, minds.  

I was impressed by the alternate past and the revised future and believe it's one of Regression's strongest points.  However, I felt the book lost some steam and began to flounder after the first half.  Regression is steeped in genetics and scientific study and by the second half of the book, I found some of the references almost overwhelming, as if I was back in high school or college classes.  For a lover of science and physics, this may not be an issue but for this reader it became somewhat taxing.  Additionally, there was an event about forty pages into the book that was a major deviation from her original timeline that was life changing in every aspect and yet I felt the occurrence was rushed and neither the author nor Adya gave the event the appropriate reaction.



The character of Adya also began to lose me as the book progressed.  I wanted to like her character but in general I found her grating and borderline annoying.  For someone who began a day as a mother of six only to awaken as a teenager she seemed to have very little difficulties or emotional conflict.  I do understand that while physically she was a teenager, she still retained the mind and memories of her adult self but I would have appreciated more inner and external struggle at having to relive what can be some of the most difficult years of life.  Rather than being confused and humbled, Adya came across as self-righteous, superior and all knowing.  Furthermore, nearly every male crossing Adya's path instantly and inexplicably fell in love with her, even if they were physically adults and she remained (physically) a teenager.  Mental adult or not, I found it disturbing and creepy. It also reinforced my opinion that Adya was an unrelatable and unpleasant character. 


I also found a few supporting characters lacking in full development which is a shame as it could have been a fertile ground for harvesting and I would rather have learned more about them rather than the continual fluffing of Adya. 

I found the grammatical and typographical errors throughout the book distracting although I will admit that I am a grammatical and spelling snob and readers who aren't as particular about these things may not find them a hindrance.  Some of the dialogue felt a bit forced but I can chalk part of that up to the fact that this is Ms. Bell's first book and I hope that subsequent works by the author will be more fluid.  

As a reader beware, Regression is the first book in a trilogy and would not be fully satisfying as a stand alone book as the conclusion leaves many questions unanswered. 

Overall, while Regression didn't fully measure up to the high hopes I held for it, the story was appealing enough to keep me motivated in turning the pages until the end and most sci-fi readers will thrill with the time travel/apocalypse/alternate reality aspects and author Kathy Bell does hold promise as an entertaining storyteller.

Regression is available for purchase now at major booksellers, including Amazon.  I am an Amazon affiliate. If you make a purchase through my link, I will receive a small commission.

For more information on author Kathy Bell, please visit her blog

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


Regression counts toward my progress in the Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge.

Thanks to Dorothy Thompson at Pump Up Your Book Promotion for the opportunity to participate in this blog tour.



November 1, 2010

Mailbox Monday: November 1, 2010


Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house during the previous week. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists! Mailbox Monday, which was started by Marcia at The Printed Page, is on blog tour—and Julie at Knitting and Sundries is hosting during the month of November.

The first item I received was The Werewolf Upstairs by Ashlyn Chase, which I received from Sourcebooks for review. 



SYNOPSIS:  Desperate for change, public defender Roz Wells decides moving into a new apartment is just what she needs to shake things up. But she'll get more than she bargained for when she starts dating the drop dead gorgeous boy next door, who just happens to be a shape-shifter...and quite possibly a criminal. Security salesman Konrad Wolfensen has made a living staging break-ins to spook people into buying his security system, but when he's accused of a much more serious crime, he'll have to enlist the help of his sexy new neighbor/girlfriend to keep his cute, slightly wild rear end out of jail.










The second book I received last week was Blood of My Brother by James Lepore, which I received from the publicist for review. 



SYNOPSIS:  When Jay Cassio’s best friend is murdered in a job clearly done by professionals, the walls that he has built to protect himself from the world of others begin to shatter. Dan Del Colliano had been his confidante and protector since the men were children on the savage streets of Newark, New Jersey. When Dan supports and revives Jay after Jay’s parents die in a plane crash, their bond deepens to something beyond brotherhood, beyond blood. Now Jay, a successful lawyer, must find out why Dan died and find a way to seek justice for his murder.

Isabel Perez has lived a life both tainted and charmed since she was a teenager in Mexico. She holds powerful sway over men and has even more powerful alliances with people no one should ever try to cross. She desperately wants her freedom from the chains these people have placed on her. When Jay catapults into her world, their connection is electric, their alliance is lethal, and their future is anything but certain.




That is my Mailbox Monday. What goodies arrived in your mailbox last week?