2014 – A Year in Review

fireworksHere we are again, at the end of another year! As today is the last day of 2014, it’s time for my annual “Year in Review” post.

As of the writing of this post I’ve finished reading 182 books. 13 of those books were ones I read with my 7 month-old niece, so for argument’s sake let’s say 169. My starting goal was to read 130 books, so I’m counting 2014’s reading challenge as a completed success! That means adding another ten books to next year’s challenge for a total of 140 books! (Here’s to hoping I make it!)

And now the difficult part…picking my top ten reads of 2014!

  1. Landline by Rainbow Rowell
  2. Lizzy and Jane by Katherine Reay
  3. Laugh by Mary Ann Rivers
  4. Romancing the Duke/Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa Dare
  5. Neanderthal Seeks Human by Penny Reid (Really, the entire Knitting in the City series)
  6. The Chocolate Touch by Laura Florand
  7. Cinder/Scarlet/Cress by Marissa Meyer
  8. The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway
  9. Before I Go by Colleen Oakley
  10. Murder at the Breakers by Alyssa Maxwell

With the amount of books I read in a year, choosing a top 10 seems stupid. With that said, here are all my runners-up (in no particular order)!

Ok readers, I’m passing the torch to you. What did you read this year? Any books or authors that stand out? Share them below! Enjoy the rest of your New Year’s Eve! See you in 2015!

Where You Been!?

Hello dear blog friends! (If there are any of you still reading this.)

I owe you all a serious apology for the dismal amount of posting that has (not) been occurring on the blog. Since I’ve become a bookseller with a non-traditional work schedule I seem to be trying to spend as much time (as this odd schedule allows) as I can with my darling hubby, friends, and family. Having your working hours occur while everyone else is free leads to missing everyone. And the free time I have while everyone else is working? Well I’ve been spending it on my deck, reading.

So let me give you a quick synopsis of what I’ve been reading/doing, what you should be reading, and what you can expect from the blog going forward.

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Charlotte, Four hours old

First and foremost I have to share my news! On May 1st I finally became an aunt! My niece Charlotte is the darling of my world. I love her to pieces. And having story time with her every time I babysit? The highlight of my life. She is super alert and listens to all the stories I share with her. What are we reading? Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, LOADS of Dr. Seuss, Jane Austen primer books, and Bill Martin Jr’s Brown Bear & Friends series among other things. I like to believe that I’ll be solely responsible for turning her into a bookworm as she continues to grow.

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Charlotte, 10 Weeks Old

Speaking of growing – holy crap has she grown a lot in two months. The picture to the left is Charlotte at four hours old. The picture on the right was taken during story time this past Wednesday.

I barely got any reading done in May, but I can happily say that I ROCKED it out of the park in June. My YTD total (as of today) is 80 out of 130 reads for the year. I am way behind on writing reviews for all of you, but want to give you a quick synopsis of some of my recommendations.

In the “should read” column:

  1. LANDLINE BY RAINBOW ROWELL – holy crap read it read it read it read it read it. Staffer Sam and I are working on a joint review for this one. Let’s just say there was lots of texting back and forth about how fabulous this book was (as if it could ever have been bad.)
  2. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer – 3 out of the 4 books in the series have been published. They are fairy tales retold with a science fiction/fantasy flare. Book one, Cinder, is Cinderella. Book two, Scarlet, is Little Red Riding Hood. Book three, Cress, is Rapunzel. And book four, Winter, is about Snow White. The series is fantastic, especially for fans of fairy tales. Sam and I are working on a series spotlight post for the Chronicles, so keep an eye out.
  3. Summer Rain – An anthology featuring authors Ruthie Knox, Mary Ann Rivers, Charlotte Stein, Molly O’Keefe, and more! All of the proceeds for the book go to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network). It’s filled with (mostly) fantastic contemporary romances.
  4. Murder at the Breakers by Alyssa Maxwell – If you’re in the mood for a mystery, look no further! Maxwell’s got a brand new series that takes place during the Gilded Age, set at the beautiful Newport Mansions.  As a kid my family would vacation for a week each summer in Cape Cod. Halfway between my childhood home and the Cape were the Newport Mansions. Reading a mystery series that revolves around said mansions is brilliant!!!
  5. And on the historical fiction front, I highly recommend The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway! It’s a great time traveling story that weaves in an epic romance. Ridgway’s debut novel is proof she’ll be around in the literary world for a while.

Though I haven’t written posts for my blog, I’ve written some posts that appear elsewhere! Reading BFF Kelly from Reading With Analysis and I reviewed the first book in Laura Florand’s Amour et Chocolat series, The Chocolate Thief. I also did some more reviews over at Austenprose  – the first was for a fabulous paranormal what-if version of Pride and Prejudice by KaraLynne Mackrory. In Haunting Mr. Darcy an accident places Elizabeth in a coma, with her ghost appearing (and haunting) Darcy in his  London home. He has to figure out how to join her mind and body together again. It really was a great book. You can read my review here. The other review was for a contemporary/new adult version of P&P entitled Pride’s Prejudice by Misty Dawn Pulsipher. There were a bunch of editing issues with the book that threw me off for a bit, but ultimately something about the story captured me. My review for that is here.

Keep an eye out for posts from me in the near future. I’m hoping that in the next two weeks I can get finish the plethora of reviews I’ve started. In closing, let me know what you’ve been reading. Have you read anything I mentioned above? What do you think I should be reading? I hope you have all been enjoying your summers and getting in lots of reading time.

As always, happy reading!

Kim and Kelly’s Dueling Review of Laugh (Burnside #2) by Mary Ann Rivers

lmarIt’s not a surprise that Kelly and I are back, together again, reviewing another Mary Ann Rivers novel. We are both in love with Mary Ann’s characters, stories, and the way there are ALL the feels in her books (you can also read my review of her first novella, The Story Guy, and our review of Heating Up the Holidays.) Kelly and I jumped for joy when Mary Ann announced her Burnside series. We loved the first book in the series, Live, so much that we wrote our review as a love letter to Mary Ann about it. The second book in the series, Laugh, blew us away (as expected). Thus, we are here to fan girl all over it and its main character, Sam.

From Goodreads:

Dr. Sam Burnside is convinced that volunteering at an urban green-space farm in Lakefield, Ohio, is a waste of time—especially with his new health clinic about to open. He only goes to mollify his partner, suspecting she wants him to lighten up. Then Sam catches sight of Nina Paz, a woman who gives off more heat than a scorcher in July. Her easy smile and flirty, sizzling wit has him forgetting his infamous need for control.

Widowed when her husband was killed in Afghanistan, Nina has learned that life exists to take chances. As the daughter of migrant workers turned organic farmers, she’s built an exciting and successful business by valuing new opportunities and working hard to take care of her own. But when Sam pushes for a relationship that goes beyond their hotter-than-fire escapades, Nina ignores her own hard-won wisdom. She isn’t ready for a man who needs saving—even if her heart compels her to take the greatest risk of all: love.

Kim: I need to start off by saying that this book was a balm for my soul. Sam Burnside is in MANY ways an extreme version of myself. We’ve both been diagnosed with ADD and have had it be debilitating for us in some way, shape, or form. We’re both highly obsessed with needing the people around us be happy. This results in us trying to fix all their problems or protect them from hardship. While you may be saying, “Hey! That’s a pretty generous thing to do,” it’s my unfortunate duty to tell you that it often results in animosity from the people we love, much to our chagrin. They perceive us as interfering with their lives. Lives that they need no help with.

I can tell you firsthand it’s really difficult growing up like this. Knowing you’re struggling with concentration issues, hyperactivity (for some ADD people), and a constant sense of letting everyone around you down all the time. It certainly doesn’t help when people tell you that you don’t work hard enough, tell you everything you do is wrong, or tell you that you’re just too _____. A lifetime of feeling this way begins to make you feel less and less adequate of a person until you find people who realize you are filled with an fathomless amount of love.

Kelly: I really wish we’d known each other when we were younger. I would have been OK with a fathomless amount of love. 🙂  [Here’s my own personal rant: I will never understand why people choose to go through life thinking the worst (or, at least, not thinking the best) of the people around them. I don’t understand why it took people so long to figure out that you, Kim, are amazing. And, shifting to the fictional, I don’t understand why Sam’s own family was so perfectly blinded to his sterling qualities. I cannot fathom why anyone would tell him to be anything other than what he is.]

Kim: First, you’re the best. Second, I totally agree with your above statement. Sam is NOT a bad guy. He’s a doctor who wants to open up a clinic in his hometown to help people who are struggling. He wants to help out Nina’s farm and create a lasting partnership for his community. He wants to take care of his sister Sarah, badly injured from her racing accident. He wants to help his sister Des, who is all the way overseas, traveling and falling deeply in love for the first time. His list goes on and on. All he does is care about the people around him, to the detriment of his own self sometimes. His house is an absolute disaster zone, one that reflects how his mind is always jumping to his next task.

Kelly: Laugh is definitely Sam’s book. Sam, through a lifetime of being told what he is, being told that he’s too much this or that and (very much) not enough this or that, is not able to see himself clearly. He believes what he’s been told, and that’s heartbreaking. But let’s think for a second about ourselves: Sam’s not the only one who believes these things that are not true. He’s not the only one who can’t fathom that failure is not (or does not have to be) the motif of his story. We all suffer, to one degree or another, from the terrible messages that surround us, those sent to us by our (if we’re lucky, well-meaning) parents, friends, siblings and those sent by our society and culture. We all see a funhouse-mirror version of ourselves and need to learn how to see the shapes that are really there, learn to love ourselves — our real selves — before we can truly love anyone else. Laugh shows us what that process looks like, and it does it in such a beautiful way. I wish that Nina’s journey towards seeing herself more clearly were given a little more page time, but… I find so much value in Sam’s journey (and Nina’s involvement in it) that I don’t actually care as much about it as my brain tells me I should.

Kim: I agree. As much as I would have liked to see more of Nina’s journey of self-discovery, Sam’s was just perfection. I cared about Nina a lot, especially as she started telling the people around Sam to lighten up on him. Realize that his love for them was endless. Self-less. Pure.

Kelly: Nina’s journey felt very private to me, even though she has more friends and — on the outside, at least — appears that she’s got her shit together. I mean, Sam’s chaos is super obvious. His apartment is a wreck; he’s going through a crisis dealing with the responsibilities associated with opening the clinic; he’s taking extra shifts at the hospital to avoid thinking about it all; he’s not talking to two of his siblings (well, more accurately, they’re not talking to him) and is sending desperate emails to Des; he’s choosing to spend time learning about urban farming to avoid thinking about all the balls in the air that could (and will) come crashing down at any moment. He’s a hot mess. But Nina, who has built a business from the ground up, who has cultivated the earth and the people around her, is just as messed up. She’s an uprooted plant struggling to grow. She’s the other side of Sam’s coin. Where Sam is root bound by his past, Nina is surgically cut off from hers. Where Sam is certain of his ability to love, Nina is certain that she sacrificed her ability to love.

Nina resonated with me… and I know I said before that the story feels like Sam’s story and I almost wish that Nina’s journey had been a little more front and center, but I wonder if Mary Ann Rivers was just giving Nina the space and freedom (and privacy) to live out her grief and learn how to make room for love. Maybe that’s the most generous thing Mary Ann could have done for Nina (and for all of us reading the story) is give us the privacy and respect to let grief fill us up and then let it all flow out. Does that make any damn sense?

Kim:I think you’re absolutely right. Maybe it’s just me, but when I am overwhelmed with grief it all comes out as a huge scream (i.e. pounding on pillows and my bed.) I need to let it all out physically in a cathartic way. I can’t even imagine what Nina would need to do to get all the grief out that she’s felt all those years due to her husband, her dreams, her family, etc. The glimpses of her grief that we’re given are heartbreaking. And as Kelly said above, her inability to see how she can love. How she already does love, but just doesn’t see its value or weight.

I know that those of you reading this review must think this book is such a downer. But it’s really not. It’s beautiful in its honesty. In its realness. It doesn’t even matter if you see yourself as Sam or Nina – there is someone in your life that is like them. Reading this book will have you seeing them in a new light. Maybe realizing you need to be overly compassionate for someone who still grieves, and trying to understand someone like Sam (or me!) that wants the best for you and sometimes may not go about expressing that in the best way. We all have quirks within our personalities that make us puzzles to the people around us. It’s the people like Nina and Sam (and Kelly & I) that work to figure out those puzzles, knowing that once you do the love you’ll receive is boundless.

Kelly: Yes! There are a handful of books that felt very important to me for one reason or another. (I have felt that way about every single piece of writing — novels, novellas, short stories, blog posts, and tweets — I’ve read by Mary Ann, by the way.) I felt that way about Snowfall and The Story Guy and — in a huge way — about Ruthie Knox’s Making it Last. (And Laura Florand’s Snow Kissed, if we’re making a more comprehensive list.) And Laugh is another. It’s an important book. It’s important to me because it says something true that resonates with me, that lifts me up, that reassures me, and that teaches me. It’s important to all of us (if I can make such a pronouncement) because its message is universal. We need more love. We need more acceptance. We need to love and accept ourselves, and we need to love and accept each other. We need to give each other the space to grieve, and we need to step in occasionally to help cultivate the best parts of our loved ones.

Kim: So in closing, as always we’d like to write Mary Ann a letter.

Dear Mary Ann,

THANK YOU for Sam. And for Laugh. And for writing a story that gives voice to people like Sam and Nina. For showing that a disability doesn’t have to be debilitating. Its effects can be disastrous, but they can also have amazing outcomes. The ability to love unconditionally. To care more about others than yourself.

Thank you for showing the world that being “too ____” isn’t always a bad thing. For giving a voice to those of us who are sometimes so burdened with the amount of stress we put on ourselves that we have no voice. For showing that giving “too much” love is never a bad thing. But most importantly for giving me a character that I related to more than any other character I’ve ever read in my entire life. That act alone has shown me I’m not alone in my feelings. For just that, I’ll thank you for a lifetime.

Love,

Kim

Kelly: Dear Mary Ann,

Thank you for Nina, for her background, her grief, her hangups, and her strengths. Thank you for her friends (and for writing a book that passes the Bechdel Test. Seriously… thank you so much for that.). Thank you for showing her full life (alongside Sam’s full life) and for writing her so generously that I was free to accept her generously (and to accept myself generously as well). Thank you for loving Nina and for allowing Nina to love Sam, to see him clearly, and to fight for him. And also to fight for herself.

Love,

Kelly

Laugh by Mary Ann Rivers
Random House – Loveswept (2014)
eBook: 288 pages
ISBN: 9780804178228

Special thanks to Loveswept for our review copies via Netgalley!

Kim’s Guest Review of Live (Burnside #1) by Mary Ann Rivers

lmarHello my fellow reading friends!! As you may know, reading bestie Kelly (from Reading With Analysis) and I have almost exactly the same taste in books. We frequently find each other reading the same books, gushing over similar plot points, or hating on some characters while falling in love with others. We’ve taken to writing our reviews for a lot of these books together as a way of (attempting) to write our thoughts coherently instead of SQUEEEEEEEEEEE!

ANYWAY –  Last week we reviewed Tessa Dare’s Romancing the Duke together as well as Mary Ann Rivers’s Live. 

Somehow Kelly and I always manage to write a letter to Mary Ann in our reviews for her books. In keeping with that theme we decided that for our review of Live we’d write it in an epistolary format. The results were hilarious.

For a direct link to our Live review, click here.

What Are You Reading This January?

Here we are, almost a month into the new year and I have yet to ask what you’re all reading! Pardon my bad manners folks. This month’s reading schedule is chock full of new releases. January seems to be the month when a lot of my favorite authors release new novels. So without further ado, here’s what I’m reading!

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Julie Klassen has become one of my favorite historical fiction writers over the last year or so. Her latest release, The Dancing Master, is high up on the list of books I MUST read this year. Continuing on my binge of historical fiction books for January will be new author (to me) Anne O’Brien and her latest release The Forbidden Queen. I love the rich history of the English monarchy, so any chance to read more about it I’ll take. And finally, Tessa Dare’s historical romance Romancing the Duke. It’s the first in her new Castles Ever After series and features a blind hero!!! The first 50 pages were released online this past week (click here) and after reading them…..I was hooked.

Other books releasing this month that I’m excited about: A Match Made in Texas is a compilation of short stories by several authors, Karen Witemeyer being one of them. I’m also pumped about The Destiny of Violet and Luke by Jessica Sorensen, Believe by Erin McCarthy, Live by Mary Ann Rivers, and Seeking Her by Cora Carmack.

Over to you readers! What’s currently on your nightstand? Any new releases you’re excited about this month?

Excerpt of Live (Burnside #1) by Mary Ann Rivers

I am UBER excited to share with you today an excerpt from Mary Ann Rivers’s first full length novel, Live! And friends, this is not just any small excerpt — it’s the first three chapters of the book!

I’ve been a fan of Mary Ann’s since I read her debut work, a novella entitled The Story GuyMary Ann has a knack for finding beauty in extraordinary people and situations. Her second novella, Snowfall, was part of the anthology Heating Up The Holidays. Upon finishing both of these novellas I found myself at a loss for words. Such beauty. Such writing. Reading bestie Kelly of Reading With Analysis and I promptly told Mary Ann that we wanted her to write ALL THE THINGS.

Mary Ann is a gem of a writer and one I hope you’ll take a chance on. Check out the excerpt below and look for my review of Live next week. It was exquisite and I can’t wait to share my thoughts here. So, less of me and more of Mary Ann!  The link for the excerpt is after the blurb.

lmarAbout the Book:

If there’s an upside to unemployment, Destiny Burnside may have found it. Job searching at her local library in Lakefield, Ohio, gives her plenty of time to ogle the hottest man she has ever laid eyes on: the sexy wood-carver who’s restoring the building.

But as the rejection letters pile up, Destiny finds an unexpected shoulder to cry on. With his rich Welsh accent, Hefin Thomas stirs Destiny so completely that, even though he’s leaving soon, she lets herself believe the memory of his scorching kisses will be enough.

Hefin can’t help but notice the slender, confident woman with ginger hair who returns each day, so hopeful and determined. So when the tears start to fall, his silence -penance for a failed marriage – finally cracks. Once he’s touched her, what Hefin wants is to take her back to Wales and hold her forever. But Destiny’s roots run too deep. What they both need is each other- to learn how to live and love again.

LIVE by Mary Ann Rivers – Excerpt by Random House Publishing Group

Side note! For those of you already fans of Mary Ann’s writing – make sure you sign up for her newsletter. A little birdie may have told me that a Story Guy epilogue may be sent out soon….

About Mary Ann Rivers

Mary Ann RiversMary Ann Rivers was an English and music major and went on to earn her MFA in creative writing, publishing poetry in journals and leading creative-writing workshops for at-risk youth. While training for her day job as a nurse practitioner, she rediscovered romance on the bedside tables of her favorite patients. Now she writes smart and emotional contemporary romance, imagining stories featuring the heroes and heroines just ahead of her in the coffee line. Mary Ann Rivers lives in the Midwest with her handsome professor husband and their imaginative school-aged son.

Connect with Mary Ann:  Website  |  Twitter |  Facebook

2013 – A Year In Review

fireworksIt’s totally cliché, but where the hell has this year gone? With today being the very last day of 2013 I figured I’d do a quick “Year in Review” post to talk about my progress with reading challenges and also to discuss my favorite books of the year!

Quick rundown on how I did with my reading challenges: I successfully read 120 books this year. In fact, as of the time of writing this post I am at 199 books for the year! (WOOT!) You can see all the books I’ve read with links to their reviews here. Now, a bit of bad news. I utterly failed (for the second year in a row) the audio book challenge. I didn’t listen to 1 audio book this year (read: pathetic.) I also didn’t do so great with the Book to Movie challenge either, with only 2 out of 12 read. Now, to the good news: I completed 78% of the Color Coded Challenge, or 7 out of 9 reads. I actually had a blast doing this challenge. You don’t realize how many books use colors in their titles until you do a challenge like this! Additionally, I unsurprisingly completed the Historical Fiction Challenge as well as the Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary challenge with no trouble at all.

And now for the difficult part: Picking my favorite reads of 2013.

  1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
  2. The Lavender Garden by Lucinda Riley (look for my review next week!!!)
  3. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  4. The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers/Making It Last by Ruthie Knox
  5. Beauty and the Billionaire by Jessica Clare
  6. Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson
  7. Death in the Floating City by Tasha Alexander/Easy by Tammara Webber
  8. Shades of Earth by Beth Revis
  9. Twice Tempted by Jeaniene Frost
  10. The Secret of Ella and Micha/The Forever of Ella and Micha by Jessica Sorensen

Having read almost 200 books this year, choosing 10 (really 12) of my favorites almost killed me. So, in the effort of easing my conscience I’m giving you some of my runners-up (in no particular order)!

  1. Pride, Prejudice, and the Perfect Match by Marilyn Brant
  2. The Edelstein Trilogie by Kersin Gier (Book one, two, & three)
  3. The Westfield Wolves/Regency Vampyre Series by Lydia Dare
  4. Return to Longbourn by Shannon Winslow
  5. The Tutor’s Daughter by Julie Klassen
  6. Losing It by Cora Carmack
  7. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  8. Bittersweet by Noelle Adams

This was hands down the hardest year yet to pick my favorite books. When you read almost 200 books in a year I guess that should be expected, no?

Ok, the burden is being passed to you. What did you love reading this year?!? Please let us know below. And finally, enjoy the rest of your New Year’s Day, hopefully with a great book. See you in 2014!

Kim and Kelly’s Review of Heating Up The Holidays by Lisa Renee Jones, Mary Ann Rivers, & Serena Bell

huthWith the holidays quickly approaching, what better kind of anthology to read than one about romances during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years?  The holiday season is the perfect setting for romances; it is a time where we are surrounded by loved ones and good cheer.  In the Heating Up The Holidays anthology, authors Lisa Renee Jones, Mary Ann Rivers, and Serena Bell celebrate the spirit of the holidays with some good old-fashioned romance. Reading bestie Kelly (of Reading With Analysisjoined me for another of our dueling reviews!

From Goodreads:

As leftover turkey and stuffing give way to stockings and little black dresses, this tantalizingly sexy eBook bundle offers up holiday-themed novellas from a trio of beloved romance authors. Lisa Renee Jones gives a dedicated reporter and a powerful businessman a chance to count their Thanksgiving blessings in Play with Me; Mary Ann Rivers presents Snowfall, the story of a woman who confronts a life-changing event—hopefully with a special man by her side—just in time for Christmas; and in Serena Bell’s After Midnight, an explosive New Year’s kiss leaves two strangers wondering whether they’ll ever see each other again.

PLAY WITH ME by Lisa Renee Jones

Kali Miller has spent three years reporting fluff stories, waiting for the article that will launch her career to new heights. When she suddenly finds herself forced to take a job as an executive secretary at a Vegas casino, Kali meets the subject of what will surely be a shocking exposé: her boss, Damion Ward, the arrogant and undeniably sexy CEO. But after Damion invites her to help him plan a Thanksgiving charity event, Kali begins to see another side of the man. And when she surrenders to the exhilarating tension simmering between them, Kali hopes her story will have a happy ending.

SNOWFALL by Mary Ann Rivers

Jenny Wright can’t get enough of her erotic conversations with someone she knows only as “C.” Flirting online helps Jenny temporarily escape confronting the changes to her life as she slowly loses her vision. Jenny’s occupational therapist, Evan Carlisle-Ford, is helping her prepare for the challenges ahead, but the forthright, trustworthy man can no longer ignore his growing attraction to his fiercely intelligent client. Now Jenny must choose between the safe, anonymous “C”—or the flesh-and-blood Evan, whose heated kisses can melt snow faster than it can fall.

AFTER MIDNIGHT by Serena Bell

The clock is ticking down to midnight on New Year’s Eve, and all Nora Hart and Miles Shephard can think about is kissing each other—even though they met just minutes before. Then, as fast as Miles enters Nora’s life, he’s gone . . . and she never even gets the name of the man she thinks might just be “the one.” One year later, Nora and Miles are reunited. The chemistry between them is just as strong as they remember. But Miles broke her heart once before—and this time around, Nora’s not sure whether she can give love a second chance.

Play With Me:

Kim: Almost as soon as I started reading Play With Me I got a funny feeling I wasn’t going to like the story.  The interactions between the two main characters, Kali and Damion, were strange and honestly never gelled.  Even after I finished the story I asked myself, “What attracted them to each other?”

Kelly: I think the writing contributes to the strangeness.  The story is told in a funky first-person, present tense narrative that just feels awkward.  From the first page: “‘Ms. Williams’ charges down a narrow hallway and I chase after her, just as I did for the reporting job at the Vegas Heat that fell through before I ever started to work. She disappears into an office and I follow, swiping at a strand of my long blond hair, which suddenly feels as disheveled as the new life I’ve gambled on.” Maybe it’s the infodumping — I don’t know — but the narrative feels about as comfortable as a pair of burlap yoga pants.

Kim: Not only is the writing strange, but the entire timeline of the book is completely unbelievable.  We’re expected to believe that Damion, who is dealing with a massive cyber threat to his company, knows after 5 minutes of meeting Kali that she has no part in it?  (Even though we find out ::SPOILER ALERT:: later that it’s people who have been with his company for years. And that he considers to be good friends with? It’s obvious from THAT that he doesn’t have the best judgement of people.)

Not even that, but how is there some weird storyline about the mob and homeless shelters that gets shoved into this love story that goes from first introductions to marriage proposals in less than a week? Oh did I mention that they started living together less than a week after their initial introduction?

Kelly: Wait. I’m just going to butt in for a moment.  Full disclosure: I didn’t finish this story.  On the first go, I got to the beginning of chapter four and just dropped it with an eyeroll.  But, just now, I started reading again where I’d left off, and… UGG.  So it’s our intrepid heroine’s first day on the job, and she spends the morning stuck in HR.  At some point, she gets rescued from ignominy by a phone call from Damion, who then yells at the HR lady and forces her to explain herself to Kali: it’s just that time of the month.

UGGGGGGG.  I dunno, Kim. Are you ready for final thoughts?

Kim: Hell yes.  Having finished the whole book, it’s sad that this was the story chosen to open it up.  The other two stories in the anthology don’t even belong in the same stratosphere as this one.  The other two authors and stories completely blow this out of the water.

Kelly: Ain’t that the truth.  I stopped reading this book because I got a weird sexual harassment vibe from it, and I just didn’t feel like taking the time away from the other two stories.  It’s possible I’ve never made a better decision in my entire life.

Snowfall:

Kelly: I’m having a difficult time corralling my thoughts about this story.  I mean, the bottom line is that I loved it more than peanut butter, but my thoughts and my feels are still all mixed up.  I should start with the writing, though, because this book immediately follows Play With Me and because it’s also written in a first person present-tense narrative.  In Snowfall, however, that narrative works (as opposed to Play With Me) and it really feels like Jenny is telling the story.

Kim: I completely agree with you about how difficult it is to put thoughts and feels on paper for Snowfall.  Let me say this at least: Mary Ann Rivers was put on this Earth to be a writer.  She is a writer that possesses the rare skill of making their storytelling seem effortless.  Kelly will tell you that after we finished her debut novella, The Story Guy, we were ruined trying to write our thoughts about it, let alone read anything else.  There weren’t words to express our feelings and nobody else could match up to the beauty present in her story.  Snowfall is that all over again.

Kelly: I described The Story Guy as effortlessly deliberate, and Snowfall is, too.  With so much of the story focusing on Jenny’s narrowing field of vision, it was lovely how Rivers used such vibrant language, rich with imagery, to develop Jenny’s world and to demonstrate just how much Jenny is losing with her sight.  For this story, the first person narrative is perfect, because it enables the reader to get deeply involved with Jenny, to feel emotionally invested in her struggle, and to enjoy the mystery of the story.

Kim: I remember when I finished I said, “For a character going blind, her vision and sense of the world around her is stronger and more poignant than most.” Like sighted people – she sees and senses everything despite her disability. This is a person who is truly absorbing the world around her.

Kelly: It’s often difficult (apparently) for writers to craft believably brilliant characters, but Jenny is exactly that.  Rivers doesn’t have to tell us that Jenny is a smarty mcsmarty pants; it’s obvious from the turn of Jenny’s mind and the amount of perception and observation Jenny employs (and her stories about stressed out e. coli help, too.)  Further, while Jenny’s off-the-charts intelligent, she’s still accessible — certainly emotionally accessible — as a character.  Her intelligence is a facet of her character, not a trait that renders her an otherworldly being (in contrast to our common perception of geniuses in general and scientists in particular).  I loved that Jenny could be all these things: a scientist, a woman, a daughter, a difficult patient, an anonymous Internet acquaintance, a fuckup, and a person dealing with grief and fear and change.

And Evan? Wow.  Sometimes it’s difficult in a first-person narrative to connect with the other characters because readers are shown only one POV, but Evan manages to shine through.

Kim: Her characters completely speak for themselves.  Between their conversations and actions they become real people.  There is no question whatsoever at you (the reader) getting attached and invested in their lives.  Rivers’ characters are some of the most beautifully complex creations I’ve ever read.  If she wrote a story about two characters reading a grocery list I’d read it. Because somehow, while those characters were reading that grocery list, we’d be treated to an amazing story about two people and their way of finding beauty in the world, themselves, and each other.

Kelly: I want to talk about the contrasts between the first and second stories.  Both use the same narrative format but to very different ends.  Both feature seemingly difficult relationships that push the bounds of what’s appropriate… Boss and employee… occupational therapist and patient… (!!!)  But the difference seems to be that Rivers actually thought through those things and anticipated the reactions of reasonable readers.  Also, her writing is a thing of beauty.

Kim: I totally agree with you.  Evan goes through a whole inner conflict about what’s appropriate in his feelings for Jenny as her OT.  That’s actually a major part of the story and the way that Rivers chose to deal with that issue shows both professionalism and poise.

Kelly and I think she’s a great lady, so we wrote her a note to share our affection.

Kelly: Dear Mary Ann, please publish a novella anthology in which you are the sole author.

Kim: Because there is no way on Earth anyone else’s stories can even compare to yours. Also, you write so well that we literally cannot speak about your works appropriately.

Love,

Kelly and Kim

Kelly: P.S. Please write all the things.

After Midnight:

Kim: So this was my first Serena Bell read and I have to say I was super impressed.  The romance genre is so large that I find it hard to find those “gem” authors.  These authors write romances, but underneath the romance teach us about life, relationships, and ourselves in the process.  In After Midnight we get to see two people who are filled with self-doubt and confidence issues stemming from previous breakups.

Kelly: I loved how Bell turned a rebound romance story into something more.  I’ll admit, when I read about these characters fresh from disastrous breakups, I was a little concerned about how it was all going to play out, especially when I considered the extent of Miles’ issues.  But this character-driven story shows — rather concisely — these two characters healing from the past and learning to embrace a future.

Kim: I felt that their individual journeys were completely realistic.  I did an air fist bump to Bell for making them deal with their shit on their own.  So many times authors write romances where everything is magically ok once a character finds love.  Unfortunately real life doesn’t work like that.  If you’re not “together” as an individual, you aren’t going to be “together” in a relationship. The inner journeys that Miles and Nora take are completely necessary for their individual happiness.

Kelly: The first scene with Miles and Nora does an excellent job of establishing their characters and hinting at where they’ll go, but then they part ways and there’s a time-lapse.  You know, time lapses can be rough, and I worried that the characters’ development towards each other would seem choppy or badly paced, but it never felt that way.  I think that’s because the story covers pretty much all the time that the characters are interacting and lapses only when they’re not in contact.  It gives the story an episodic feel — in a good way — and enables the characters to get to know one another again and again and to note how they’ve changed.

Kim: Can I also say how much I loved that Bell made their first interactions after a year a bit awkward?  Again, realistic.  You meet someone for the first time ever, never catch their name, yet have strong feelings for them.  A year later you reconnect.  Wouldn’t you be slightly nervous and awkward too? I know I would.  That’s probably my biggest compliment to give Bell’s writing.  Her story is based in a realistic world, with realistic people, realistic problems, and realistic solutions.  It’s refreshing to have characters that aren’t developed by using tragic pasts of abuse or rape.  They’re developed with everyday situations and issues.

Kelly: Tangent: isn’t it sad that it’s refreshing to have an author take the trouble to create character development apart from tragedy and violence?  I’m with you… I loved this story all the better because of its reality and accessibility.

:Spoiler alert: One thing that ever so slightly bothered me about this story is that Nora was set up almost from the beginning to be the one to make geographical concessions, and the gravity of those concessions was never mentioned in the story.  It’s a big deal to move all your things and find a new job in a new city just to be closer to someone, and I really wanted the narrative to acknowledge that sacrifice.  Instead, it felt like the narrative downplayed it by making Nora less tied to any geographical area.

Kim: Final thoughts on the story? Great introduction to Bell’s writing.  She’s definitely an author I’m going to start following for new releases (especially since she wrote about New Haven pizza in After Midnight.  Clearly the girl’s got some awesome taste when it comes to picking places to write about!)

Kelly: I loved this story, and I’m glad it introduced me to Serena Bell’s writing.  I’m looking forward to more great stories from her.

Kelly’s Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Kim’s Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Heating Up The Holidays by Lisa Renee Jones, Mary Ann Rivers, & Serena Bell
Loveswept (2013)
eBook: 378 pages
ISBN: 9780804178402

Special thanks to Loveswept for our review copies via Netgalley!

Banned Book Week: Ban the Alphabet with author Mary Ann Rivers

Please join me in welcoming back Mary Ann Rivers, author of The Story Guy, to the blog today! Mary Ann was kind enough to write the essay Ban the Alphabet in honor of Banned Book Week.  Thank you Mary Ann!! 

When I was in the fifth grade, I was underdeveloped and awkward. I had long hair that terminated in ropes of tangles around my ribs. I had to wear glasses, and because of my family situation, they weren’t glasses for children, but worn, overlarge, and owlish glasses meant for an adult. This was the year that many of the other girls had started to dress a bit older, experiment with some version of the clothes worn by their sisters and siblings’ friends in high school. I had my usual jeans and t-shirts to wear, a pinching bra I didn’t need, but didn’t dare go without lest the boys comment on my nipples.  My teacher was a disco baby, glamorous, permed, and looking back, often hungover, and I was kind of the bane of her classroom.

Here’s the thing—I didn’t care.

This was also the year I had worked out a world of my own, away from my family, away from school.  Two worlds, really. One world was in an oversold and abandoned suburban development lot that had been overtaken with scrub and third-growth trees. The other was in the library, and that was the year I discovered romance novels.

I had found, in the basement, an old army shoulder bag of my father’s. I could cinch the strap so that it sat, no matter how full of books, in the small of my back while I rode my bike.  In my mind, no one would suspect that the stiff drab-colored bag held paperbacks every color of the rainbow, embossed with gilded titles I would copy into my diary with the date of check out and a coded rating system that included how many characteristics I thought I shared with the heroine.

Of course, my true stealth was that no one pays a lot of attention to underdeveloped girls with tangled hair tearing along the back streets on their bikes. I hadn’t entirely realized, yet, that girlhood was invisible, the best, strongest parts of it, anyway. I had already learned about the things that a girl like me wished were invisible, but were not.

I protected what I could.

bttkpBy then, I had read Katherine Paterson’s A Bridge to Terabithia and so when I would point the front wheel of my bike into the rough, foot-wide trails of the abandoned subdivision, it’s Jess and Leslie I would most often think of. I was a little uneasy with those paperbrick novels from the library, less confused than I should have been about parts of them, but walking my way through those parts in a different and less violent context than I had known. The green light that filtered into the lots where I escaped was some kingdom of actual childhood, quiet and private and ruled by the most innocent parts of my imagination.

By then, too, I knew I could learn almost everything I needed to from books. Often, books affirmed what I had figured out for myself. Jess said there “was the rule that you never mixed up troubles at home with life at school. When parents were poor or ignorant or mean, or even just didn’t believe in having a TV set, it was up to their kids to protect them.” Jess was right, and if kids couldn’t protect their parents, then you worked on some magic to protect yourself, because “life was delicate as a dandelion. One little puff from any direction, and it was blown to bits.”

By then, I had been in love. His name was D–, the smallest boy in the fifth grade, and the only other kid in my class who wore glasses. He seemed to me somehow impossibly smart and fearless. He would answer the teacher’s questions without raising his hand, had in fact, on more than one memorable occasion, called the teacher by her first name, and made it sound somehow natural. He could climb the rope in gym, all the way to the gym’s ceiling, and would terrify the gym teacher by swinging out an arm as if to grab onto the gym’s rafters and scramble across the ceiling like an ape in the canopy. “That’s enough!” She would boom, and he’d grin down at us from above, and test the rafter one more time before sliding down the rope with the soles of his cons turned in, trying to make smoke from friction and rubber. It wasn’t the kind of love I was learning about from romance novels, though it sometimes gave me the same low-down flip, it was something more like something that was “too real and too deep to talk about, even to think about very much.” In fact, my diary from that time is rare to mention him, but when it does, it is always at the end of an entry, and is never more than a mundane “D—talked to me today, in the lunch line.”

Too deep and too real. Nothing like the romance novels I read in my closet, a flashlight anchored to my head with a plastic headband. The novels were countries I had never been to, D—was the street where I lived and all of its minutia, how the clothes in my closet smelled, the scar on my forehead I liked to worry. Things known and not spoken of for their intimacy.

By then, most subversive of all, I had been afraid I would die, and I had wanted to. Diaries and romance novels and secret trails in the woods don’t tell a child very much about death, but books for children do. The first time I had been afraid, I rode my bike, hurting and bleeding, all the way to the furthest boundary of the development, where there was the basement and foundation of a house that had never been built. The concrete shell in the earth was scribbled over with graffiti and the edges were thick with weeds and poison ivy, but I bumped my bike down a spill of dirt that made a natural ramp into the basement.

I sat down there, leaning against a corner, looking at the sky. I cried, and I thought about how I was too old to cry, anymore. I wondered how far away I could get on my bike. I wondered if my fourth grade teacher, who had taken an interest in me, would remember me enough to talk to her about my problems, what I was afraid of, and if she could do anything. I wondered about a librarian, if she was too old to be a friend, or to trust.

I gravitated towards books that made me cry. I had loved A Summer to Die, and Where the Red Fern Grows, and Bridge to Terabithia. What I loved in those books, besides the permission they gave me to cry and cry, were the adults. The adults who were at first absent, at first abandoned by the protagonists for the tantalizing worlds they had discovered, and then, when those kids were visited by the worst they could imagine, the adults became present and important and understanding, which seemed like a magic more astonishing to me, and a fantasy more compelling, than any Terabithia ruled by child kings and queens.

“When my husband died, people kept telling me not to cry,” Jess’s fifth grade teacher told him. “People kept trying to help me forget . . . So I realize, that if it’s hard for me, how much harder it must be for you.”

I think there was planted some seed of hope that if even I could not find that understanding in the kingdom of childhood, I would live to bestow it as an adult. That I would remember what the privacy of childhood had given me and what books had trusted me with, and I would assume the agency of children to love and to appreciate death and the stakes of living.

Bridge to Terabithia was number eight on the American Library Journal’s list of most banned books from 1990-2000, and number twenty from 2001-2009. Adults have done their best since it was published in 1977 to protect children from Jess and his love of his music teacher Miss Edmunds, from his rough and mean life of crushing poverty. Adults did not want children to hear Jess’s loud if unspoken fear that his father believed him homosexual because he preferred to draw above all things. Adults especially did not want children to read about the death of Jess’s best friend, Leslie, who was the fastest kid in fifth grade, and the bravest, and who “made him leave his old self behind and come into her world, and then before he was really at home in it but too late to go back, she had left him stranded there—like an astronaut wandering about on the moon. Alone.”

As if children do not know love, or fear, or death, and are in fact, not protected from those things at all, ever, and experience them as often as adults do, because really, where is the bridge between childhood and adulthood? When is it that we walk across it? What is the rites of one kingdom that give you passage into the next? Is it a divide that we swing across and hope the rope doesn’t break? Where then, should the guardians stand, exactly? Is a book about love permissible, but not one with love and fear? Or are there fears exclusive to children that can be written about, read about, and fears common only to adults? Is it only adults who die and is it only adults who encounter their deaths?

When I read a romance novel, scabbed knees and too-big eyes, in the depths of a closet, what country was I occupying?

When I was hurt and invisible, small and mistrusted, when no adult would welcome me, where was I received?

A book is no more suppressible than the life of a child. It can be no more hidden than we can remove ourselves from death. My agency is now, as it has ever been—mine. Even the long and terrifying moments it was stolen, it still bore my name.

Banning a book is an action that assumes boundaries where there is only humanity and everything that it feels, from the very beginning. From the alphabet. Try to ban the alphabet. We have already learned all the letters. We have already heard all of their sounds.

Mary Ann RiversAbout Mary Ann Rivers

Mary Ann Rivers was an English and music major and went on to earn her MFA in creative writing, publishing poetry in journals and leading creative-writing workshops for at-risk youth. While training for her day job as a nurse practitioner, she rediscovered romance on the bedside tables of her favorite patients. Now she writes smart and emotional contemporary romance, imagining stories featuring the heroes and heroines just ahead of her in the coffee line. Mary Ann Rivers lives in the Midwest with her handsome professor husband and their imaginative school-aged son. The Story Guy is her debut novella.

Connect with Mary Ann:  Website  |  Twitter |  Facebook

The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers Blog Tour + GIVEAWAY

Joining me on the blog today is Mary Ann Rivers, author of The Story Guy, which I reviewed yesterday!  Mary Ann is here today to share Carrie and Brian’s (the heroine/hero of The Story Guy) favorite books.  But first, a little about the book!

The Story Guy Cover - FinalBook blurb:

In this eBook original novella, Mary Ann Rivers introduces a soulful and sexy tale of courage, sacrifice, and love.

 I will meet you on Wednesdays at noon in Celebration Park. Kissing only.

Carrie West is happy with her life . . . isn’t she? But when she sees this provocative online ad, the thirtysomething librarian can’t help but be tempted. After all, the photo of the anonymous poster is far too attractive to ignore. And when Wednesday finally arrives, it brings a first kiss that’s hotter than any she’s ever imagined. Brian Newburgh is an attorney, but there’s more to his life . . . that he won’t share with Carrie. Determined to have more than just Wednesdays, Carrie embarks on a quest to learn Brian’s story, certain that he will be worth the cost. But is she ready to gamble her heart on a man who just might be The One . . . even though she has no idea how their love story will end?

Mary Ann now gives us her insight on Carrie and Brian’s favorite books…

Books on Brian Newburgh’s Nightstand (which is really an overturned milk crate):

BOSSYPANTS by Tina Fey

Brian can’t resist a woman in glasses, or a funny one. I feel like he would be unable to stay away from a fronted display of this book on shelf at the library. Fey’s manifesto about bitches getting stuff done with hilarious recollections of theater camp and trying to write 30 ROCK scripts in her living room while nursing her baby would cover a whole range of Brian’s late night needs as a reader.

SHADOWHOUND by Suki Malahar*

After that edgy kiss in the park, when they were both a little, or a lot, turned on, Brian’s attention would have been on high alert. Carrie mentioned this author as a favorite of her teen population and tells Brian that maybe he should check her out. Of course, of course, he does. He probably read it in one night, thinking of Carrie and that kiss the entire time.

*I should mention that Malahar is a totally fictional author, but is one I will evoke in my work and you, if you’re reading me, and will find along the way, like an Easter egg.

MAUS by Art Spiegelman

This graphic novel about a father and son with a complicated relationship would appeal to the young Brian who liked to secretly draw and write his own comics, and also to his own meditations about loss and the meaning of family.

TORTILLA FLATS by John Steinbeck

A classic novel of insouciance featuring characters rambling from one scene to the next, would be nothing less than a completely compelling fantasy for Brian–warm desert breezes, drinking, improbable scenarios, lack of routine–all heaven for our story guy.

THE DA VINCI CODE by Dan Brown

He meant to get around to reading it when everyone was talking about it, but never did. This one actually fell off his milk crate and slid under his bed and he owes outrageous library fines on it.

Books on Carrie West’s e-reader

IT by Stephen King

If you’re an insomniac doomed to staying up all night, you might as well ride wave after wave of horrified thrills–or at least that what Carrie does. She knows she should be looking for thrills elsewhere, but this will have to do.

ALL OTHER THINGS by Charlotte Stein

Internet messaging, secrets, two hot enigmatic men. Carrie has this on her reader FOR REASONS.

GHOSTBOY by Suki Malahar*

Malahar’s first book has always been Carrie’s favorite. It has a kissing scene to die for.

*Bonus points, I mention this book, but not the title, in a free short on my website

1-800-HOT-RIBS by Catherine Bowman

This book of outrageous poetry would appeal to the language lover in Carrie, and her witty sense of humor.

ELEGY FOR IRIS: A MEMOIR by John Bayley

Carrie’s favorite stories have crying at the end, and this spare memoir of John Bayley’s life caring for his wife, the brilliant novelist Iris Murdoch, as she loses her battle with Alzheimer’s fits the bill and may have given Carrie a kind of perspective on Brian’s life.

THE STORY GUY on Goodreads | Barnes & Noble  |  iBookstore  |  Google Play  |  Other Retailers

Mary Ann RiversAbout Mary Ann Rivers

Mary Ann Rivers was an English and music major and went on to earn her MFA in creative writing, publishing poetry in journals and leading creative-writing workshops for at-risk youth. While training for her day job as a nurse practitioner, she rediscovered romance on the bedside tables of her favorite patients. Now she writes smart and emotional contemporary romance, imagining stories featuring the heroes and heroines just ahead of her in the coffee line. Mary Ann Rivers lives in the Midwest with her handsome professor husband and their imaginative school-aged son.

Connect with Mary Ann:  Website  |  Twitter |  Facebook

THE STORY GUY GIVEAWAY! 

Click on the link below to be taken to the Rafflecopter giveaway generously sponsored by Loveswept Publishers:

A Rafflecopter Giveaway

The Story Guy Blog Tour