February 28, 2012

Book Review: DEFENDING JACOB by William Landay

BOOK DESCRIPTION:   Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years.  He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob.  But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next.  His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.  

Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy.  Jacob insists that he is innocent and Andy believes him.  Andy must.  He's his father.  But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own - - between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he's tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.   

Award-winning author William Landay has written the consummate novel of an embattled family in crisis - - a suspenseful, character-driven mystery that is also a spellbinding tale of guilt betrayal, and the terrifying speed at which our lives can spend out of control.  

My Review

William Landay's Defending Jacob is one of those books that will slowly and methodically invade your mind, your thoughts and, yes, your fears.  As a parent, this book scared the hell out of me.  

The primary question generated from this intense and powerful work is how well do we really know someone?  While it's a conundrum faced by many characters, the character of Andy Barber is a novel one (no pun intended) because Andy looks at the situation as not only a father but as a prosecutor whose mind examines evidence legally and scientifically.  

Andy's inner turmoil radiates off each and every page, evidenced by his crumbling marriage to Laurie, his strained relationship with his son Jacob and a forceful reexamining of his own upbringing.  These scenes, those with Andy's agitation, grief and shame over what his son has been accused of, are so incredibly powerful they are unnerving to read.  I felt nervous and agitated, as if I was peeking in on a family situation that I had no right to view, and yet I couldn't put the book down.   

As much as I was frustrated with Andy, convinced that he was refusing to see what may or may not have been in front of him, I sympathized with him.  I sympathized with his predicament, being ostracized by his neighbors and community, his profession.  

Equally, my heart broke for Laurie, who desperately wanted to believe in her son but also wanted to connect with Andy, and wanted her family to heal and return to the happy and safe place they had been in previously.  I felt as though I was standing by her side as her marriage and headstrong joy for living slipped away, and as the trial started.    

The scenes dealing with the trial were fascinating to read.  There was a bit of legal terminology and procedure but the average reader should have no difficulty in following and absorbing the drama.  

Defending Jacob threw a few curveballs at me during the course of the book and the ending was a surprise, to say the least.  It certainly stuck with me after I had closed the book and while writing this review, I feel the same uneasiness and borderline panic I felt while immersed in the story.  

Defending Jacob was a compelling and thought provoking book that is a combination legal thriller, mystery and family drama.  The writing is near flawless and author William Landay tells this story with a simple poignancy that packs an incredibly powerful punch.  Portions of the book are akin to the eye of a hurricane, the calm before the coming storm and what a storm it is.  

I would not hesitate to wholly and unconditionally recommend Defending Jacob.  It is a read that is well worth every moment spent with Andy "defending Jacob".  

Job well done, Mr. Landay.  I anxiously await your next work.

Defending Jacob 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.  

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.

With thanks to Pump Up Your Book for including me on this virtual tour!

About the Author

William Landay is the author of The Strangler, a Los Angeles Times Favorite Crime Book of the Year, and Mission Flats, winner of the Creasey Memorial Dagger Award for Best First Crime Novel and a Barry Award nominee.  A former district attorney who holds degrees from Yale and Boston College Law School.  Landay lives in Boston, where he is at work on his next novel of suspense.  His latest release is Defending Jacob.  

You can visit William Landay's website at www.WilliamLanday.com.  You can also become a fan on Facebook by visiting www.Facebook.com/WilliamLanday.  

February 27, 2012

Book Review: RECESSION PROOF by Kimberly S. Lin

BOOK DESCRIPTION:  Sometimes going after what you want is the hardest thing you will ever do . . . 

Meet Helen.  Smart, successful and obliviously trapped.  For the past six years, Helen has given her life and her heart to her cushy corporate finance job and to Mark without question.  However, as the recession sweeps the nation, she is one of many left unemployed and with the burning question of what she really wants in life.  

Recession Proof is a debut novel for anyone that has settled in their career and relationship but has discovered that what really maters in life is living it. 

My Review

"When it's love, you just know."  So says the smart and savvy Helen within the pages of Recession Proof.  When it's fun and humorous, you know too and Recession Proof is nothing short of a fun and entertaining read.  

Light as meringue on top of a literary delicacy, this book and its irrepressible heroine struck me as an Americanized Bridget Jones, although decidedly less obsessed with weight and cigarettes.   She does, however, worry over her professional future and worry over her love life.  In this regard, Helen is Every Woman.  Or should I say, Every Woman Facing Down Thirty, Unmarried and Unemployed.  I felt a kinship to Helen; I was once thirty and unmarried (and sadly, some people seem oddly obsessed with why you are unmarried and when you are getting married) and I was once unemployed myself after being laid off.  Helen's fears were real - - her fear of being in a relationship and not being in a relationship; her fear of continuing on the professional path she was on and not doing what her heart really wanted to do.  

Helen was real, the type of character that you could imagine kicking back with and enjoying a coffee or a margarita.  Author Kimberly Lin writes Helen as sassy and straightforward, with a deadpan sense of humor that had me alternately giggling out loud and making a mental note to remember some of her comebacks in the future.  

I loved Helen's relationships - - her tense relationship with stepsister, Jamie; her by-the-book relationship with boyfriend Mark; her enduring relationship with glamorous Sophie; her fear at telling her father that her interests and her passion lies in writing and not finance; and the handsome and exciting Nate, who shares her affection for writing.  Each of these relationships were so vital to the central theme of the book; even the "smaller" relationships, such as Helen's co-worker Justin and her boss Gary, were so well highlighted and sketched out and added additional dimension to Helen's character.  

Have I mentioned how much I loved Helen?  Really, she was just a delightful character to share a book with.  

Recession Proof is a timely subject, given the recession and our economy's current state.  The topic may hit home for a lot of people; hopefully for those that it does, Helen's journey will also provide a positive impact.  She does have her "woe is me" moment but life comes along and gives her a swift kick where and when she needs it.  

Recession Proof is a great chick lit book and ticks all the boxes.  If you're looking for a lighter read, something for vacation or during travel, I think you will find this is the answer.  Be forewarned, however, that there are sexual situations and language that some might find objectionable.  I absolutely enjoyed reading this book - - Ms. Lin's debut - - and I was left happy and upbeat with Helen's story.  I look forward to Ms. Lin's next work! 

Recession Proof 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.  

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.

With thanks to CLNB Blog Tours for including me on this tour stop!  

About the Author

Kimberly S. Lin, a California native, graduated from UC Irvine with a degree in Economics.  After college, she moved to Los Angeles and worked as a financial writer and hedge fund analyst but always dreamed of becoming a women's fiction author.  

Utilizing her experiences, she writes stories that are witty, heartwarming and relatable to the modern woman.  

She now resides in Orange County, California and is working on her second novel.  She is also the co-founder and publisher of Minted Magazine, a digital career and lifestyle magazine empowering women.

For more information on Kimberly, please visit her website, Facebook page, Twitter page and Minted Magazine's webpage.  

February 24, 2012

Book Review: BRIDGE OF SCARLET LEAVES by Kristina McMorris

BOOK DESCRIPTION:  Los Angeles, 1941. Violinist Maddie Kern's life seemed destined to unfold with the predictable elegance of a Bach concerto. Then she fell in love with Lane Moritomo. Her brother's best friend, Lane is the handsome, ambitious son of Japanese immigrants. Maddie was prepared for disapproval from their families, but when Pearl Harbor is bombed the day after she and Lane elope, the full force of their decision becomes apparent. In the eyes of a fearful nation, Lane is no longer just an outsider, but an enemy.

When her husband is interned at a war relocation camp, Maddie follows, sacrificing her Juilliard ambitions. Behind barbed wire, tension simmers and the line between patriot and traitor blurs. As Maddie strives for the hard-won acceptance of her new family, Lane risks everything to prove his allegiance to America, at tremendous cost.

Skillfully capturing one of the most controversial episodes in recent American history, Kristina McMorris draws readers into a novel filled with triumphs and heartbreaking loss--an authentic, moving testament to love, forgiveness, and the enduring music of the human spirit.

My Review

Imagine, if you will, a book that is rich with historical fiction, ripe with sweet romance, containing a story that stays with you days after you finish it and will have you in tears and your heart alternately aching and full of joy.  This is a fair description of Bridge of Scarlet Leaves.  

This is author Kristina McMorris' follow up work to her spectacular Letters from Home and she absolutely does not disappoint.  Like Letters, Bridge takes place during World War II and centers on a main heroine while telling the emotional story from a handful of voices.  Also like Letters, I found myself utterly engrossed in the story, the time period and feeling nostalgic as I flipped the pages and shared Maddie and Lane's lives.   

While Ms. McMorris' debut work focused more on the war at home, this book goes for the jugular in its raw descriptions of the war, prisoners of war, lack of humanity and the underlying human spirit of compassion and generosity.  While the mental images are anguishing, the violence is not gratuitous and the language is not objectionable.  In fact, the tale is a stark reminder of how many men were lost to friendly fire and while being kept prisoners versus doing battle.  

This area of history - - concerning the treatment of Japanese Americans here in the States and abroad in Japan - - I am not particularly well versed on and it was painfully enlightening to read of the discrimination and torn loyalties faced by so many.   

I truly loved and related to the character of Maddie.  She was strong - - much stronger than she even knew - - and her enduring dedication to her husband, Lane, in the face of discrimination and disgust, even by those whom she previously considered friends before Pearl Harbor, was inspiring.  I was particularly touched by Maddie leaving the relative safety of her hometown in Los Angeles behind to voluntarily live in a war relocation camp.   The bleak circumstances of such relocations were told with frank honesty by Ms. McMorris and I found myself rooting for Maddie and Lane, desperate for them to stay together and prove all the naysayers wrong.  

Much like Darcy and Elizabeth, Heathcliff and Catherine and countless others, the path to joy and romantic fulfillment is not a smooth and easy one.  Their struggles, set against the background of a quickly changing nation and world, centered and solidified the book and truly gave it heart. While I desperately wanted things to come together for them and quickly resolved, their challenges proved their spunk and tenacity, their deep loyalty and commitment and that, my friends, is what really defines a true literary couple.  These two defy the odds to stay together, even angering family and friends.  Ah, true love!

The supporting characters, too, were well defined and crucial to the story.  Ms. McMorris does a tremendous job in sketching out their backstories as well and I most particularly enjoyed the relatively small subplot involving baseball and the All American Girls Baseball League. Maddie's brother was probably the most important character behind Maddie and Lane themselves and his personal and emotional growth during  the book was inspiring.

As I did with Letters, I both loved and hated for the story to conclude.  I felt connected to these characters and I didn't want to leave them behind.  Bridge of Scarlet Leaves was a difficult book to put down and trust me when I say it's unforgettable.  I read a lot of books and while I can and do get passionate over books that move me, it's not often that a book brings me to tears.  This book brought me to tears and it touched my heart.

I would not hesitate to unconditionally recommend Bridge of Scarlet Leaves to any reader who appreciates historical fiction and/or realistic romances.  It is a top-notch work and I anxiously await future books from the talented Kristina McMorris.  

Bridge of Scarlet Leaves is available for preorder now at major booksellers, including Amazon.  It is scheduled for publication on February 28, 2012.  I am an Amazon affiliate.  If you make a purchase through my link, I will receive a small commission.  

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.  

About the Author

Kristina McMorris is a graduate of Pepperdine University and the recipient of nearly twenty national literary awards. A host of weekly TV shows since age nine, including an Emmy® Award-winning program, she penned her debut novel, Letters from Home (Kensington Books, Avon/HarperCollins UK), based on inspiration from her grandparents' wartime courtship. This critically praised book was declared a must-read by Woman's Day magazine and achieved additional acclaim as a Reader's Digest Select Editions feature, a Doubleday/Literary Guild selection, and a 2011 Goodreads Choice Awards semifinalist for Best Historical Fiction. Her second novel, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves (March 2012), has already received glowing reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, among many others. Named one of Portland's "40 Under 40" by The Business Journal, Kristina lives with her husband and two sons in the Pacific Northwest, where she refuses to own an umbrella. 

For more, visit www.KristinaMcMorris.com
Author links:

Web: www.KristinaMcMorris.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Kristina-McMorris/206963412668555
Twitter: www.twitter.com/#!/KrisMcmorris
GoodReads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/4384611.Kristina_McMorris

February 13, 2012

Book Review: DREAMING OF MR. DARCY by Victoria Connelly

BOOK DESCRIPTION:  Fledgling illustrator and Darcy fanatic Kay Ashton settles in the seaside town of Lyme to finish her book, The Illustrated Darcy, when a film company arrives to make a new adaptation of Jane Austen's Persuasion.  Kay is soon falling for the handsome bad boy actor playing Captain Wentworth, but it's the quiet screenwriter Adam Craig who has more in common with her beloved Mr. Darcy.  Though still healing from a broken heart, Adam finds himself unexpectedly in love with Kay.  But it will take more than good intentions to convince her that her real happy ending is with him.  

My Review
This is author Victoria Connelly's second entry in her "Austen Addicts" series (to read my review of her first, A Weekend With Mr. Darcy, please go here) and I was utterly delighted with this effort.  

From the first page, Ms. Connelly draws the reader in with the comparisons to Jane Austen's Persuasion, most notably the stunning location of Lyme Regis.  I wouldn't be honest if I didn't say that I was secretly envious of Kay, stepping into the role of bed and breakfast owner.  Wouldn't it be fabulous to run a cozy little bed and breakfast in the charming village of Lyme?  

Kay was a marvelous heroine for this book, the right balance of sweet and spicy, sensitive and headstrong.  Certainly she did a few things that made me say "oh no!" out loud but they were frustratingly realistic and not actions that were merely to move the plot forward.  

Ms. Connelly treats the reader with a smorgasboard of savory characters, from the sexy leading man portraying Captain Wentworth in the production of Persuasion being filmed in the village to the diva-like supporting actress, to the quiet and introverted leading lady and the humble writer, Adam.  We know from the get go that Adam is the "Mr. Darcy" in Kay's world but her journey to discover that is a fun and exciting one.  In that regard, Dreaming of Mr. Darcy has shades of Emma, where the heroine has her dream man right in front of her but doesn't see it immediately.  In fact, despite the "Mr. Darcy" in the title, there is little other commonality with Pride and Prejudice.  

My favorite character, however, is the seaside town of Lyme Regis.  The writing provides gorgeous mental pictures of Jane Austen's beloved village, from the largest to the smallest detail.  Ms. Connelly writes of the town with such love and care that I dare any reader to walk away from Dreaming of Mr. Darcy without a serious yearn to jump on the next flight across the pond.   

I was thoroughly enchanted with my time spent in Lyme Regis and saddened to have it come to an end, despite the very satisfying for conclusion for all characters involved.  I am somewhat gratified in knowing that a third offering in Ms. Connelly's series is forthcoming this spring.

I would not hesitate to recommend Dreaming of Mr. Darcy to any devoted Jane Austen fan, particularly those with an affinity to Persuasion and/or Emma.   

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

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

About the Author

Victoria Connelly was brought up in Norfolk and studied English literature at Worcester University before becoming a teacher in North Yorkshire.  After getting married in a medieval castle in the Yorkshire Dales, she moved to London where she lives with her artist husband and a mad springer spaniel.  She has three novels published in Germany and the first, Flight of Angels, was made into a film.  Victoria and her husband flew out to Berlin to see it being filmed and got to be extras in it.  Her first novel in the UK, Molly's Millions, is a romantic comedy about a lottery winner who gives it all away.  A Weekend with Mr. Darcy is the first book in a planned series to be set in the world of Austen addicts, which is a wonderful excuse for Victoria to read all the books and watch all the gorgeous films and TV adaptations again.  Victoria is a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association and has a short story called Mummies and Daddies - - set in the mummy rooms of the British Museum - - in their 50th anniversary anthology, Loves Me, Loves Me Not.