Review: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (Part 1 of 3)

Note: This is the first installment of a three part series reviewing New York Times Bestselling Author Gillian Flynn’s current releases.

Sharp Objects by Gillian FlynnTitle: Sharp Objects
Author: Gillian Flynn
Genre: Adult Contemporary
How To Purchase: Kindle | Paperback (Amazon) | Kobo

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart
Words are like a road map to reporter Camille Preaker’s troubled past. Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, Camille’s first assignment from the second-rate daily paper where she works brings her reluctantly back to her hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls.

NASTY on her kneecap, BABYDOLL on her leg
Since she left town eight years ago, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows: a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed again in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille is haunted by the childhood tragedy she has spent her whole life trying to cut from her memory.

HARMFUL on her wrist, WHORE on her ankle
As Camille works to uncover the truth about these violent crimes, she finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Clues keep leading to dead ends, forcing Camille to unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past to get at the story. Dogged by her own demons, Camille will have to confront what happened to her years before if she wants to survive this homecoming.

With its taut, crafted writing, Sharp Objects is addictive, haunting, and unforgettable.

Sharp Objects was a dark read, a tough portrayal of a woman still dealing with childhood scars. I liked it, but not as much as I wanted to, especially since I’d read Gone Girl first (which I review last in this series, since it was published last). Gone Girl was was so unrelenting that I couldn’t help but be slightly disappointed.

This book was unrelenting, too, but the big reveal was softer. Suspicions bounced through my mind as I crossed the halfway mark. Camille’s realization of who the killer is was outshadowed by her fixation on who she–and everyone–thought it was. The big reveal was poorly done. If you blinked, you missed it. But then again, I’m chasing that Sixth Sense “aha” moment. Sharp Objects doesn’t deliver that.

On the other hand, I loved the portrayal of Camille’s struggles. Her cutting, her hatred of self, even her own apartment–transient, sad, empty. This is not a happily-ever-after story about a girl with a disturbing childhood. This is a gritty story about a disturbed girl with a disturbed childhood.

I had some trouble getting on board with the depiction of a small town, which distracted from my enjoyment of the story. Wind Gap, Missouri is a fictional town of approximately 2,200 people. I come from an Iowa town of 1,200 people. I know small town Midwest, and I’m sorry, but no town has eleven bars, a diner, an “upscale restaurant” (for serious, GiFly?), a hardware store, and several convenience stores. I found myself obsessing over these details way too much, going so far as to look up whether this was a real town (it’s not) and where Ms. Flynn originated from (Kansas City). If Wind Gap was a hub, then that makes sense, but she never called it out. She just blithely put it in there like it wasn’t out of the ordinary at all, which leads me to believe she’s not as well-versed in small-town America as she thinks she is. (Sorry, folks, Kansas City is not “small-town America.”)

Sharp Objects was a sharp debut from a future New York Times Bestselling Author. If you like this kind of dark, no-holds-bar story, you’ll like this book. Although I didn’t love it, I am glad I read it. I still looked forward to reading Dark Places (the next book I review in this series) and continue to look forward to whatever else she publishes in the future.

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Review: Confessions of a ChimpManZee by J. E. Murphy

Confessions of a Chimpmanzee by J. E. MurphyTitle: Confessions of a ChimpManZee
Author: J. E. Murphy
Genre(s): Near-Future Science Fiction
How To Purchase: Kindle | CreateSpace

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Note: I received a free copy of Confessions of a ChimpManZee in exchange for an honest review.

Arthur Godschalk, an undergraduate student, innocent in the ways of the world and of women, finds part-time work at a lab that has contracted with the government to do experimental development of an army of killer chimpanzees. Becoming intimately involved with the family that owns the lab, as well as with several other women who work there, Arthur finds himself in a precarious position when he wakes up after an accident to find his fate is totally in the hands the person who hates him most in the world, his mother-in-law.

Leading his new chimp army from California to Africa, Arthur struggles to survive his new situation as he discovers secrets about himself, as well as the search for meaning that has driven all hominids for a million years–the quest of Life itself.

As Arthur’s mentor says, DNA is the wheel, and Life is the turning. This story tells how sex and evolution combine to make for one hell of an adventure.

Confessions of a ChimpManZee is a unique book. It’s broken into three major sections: Arthur’s life as a human, Arthur’s life in the body of a chimpanzee who translates between humans and chimpanzees, and Arthur’s life leading a group of chimpanzees in the wild. One of the reasons I was interested in reading it is that it sounded like it was about more than just a guy living in the body of a chimpanzee, and I was right. It’s about the nature of life, of humanity, and of the differences (if any) between people and animals.

Arthur, despite being self-described as unattractive, has a lot–a lot–of sex. For awhile, I was wondering if this was the author’s Mary Sue (What’s a male Mary Sue? Captain Kirk? Haha, a little gender humor there for you). But no, this is the point of the book–the human drive to procreate, the call of DNA, the need to sow one’s seed widely, and how little difference there really is between humans and chimpanzees.

The book made me think, which, as you probably already know, I love. Most of the biology and genetics lessons were rehashes of my introductory courses in college, but they were told in an endearing way. Arthur’s mentor, Dr. Axel, loved to talk … and talk … and talk … But it fit the story and didn’t seem too much like an info dump, even when it became one, since the guy loved the sound of his voice so much that it seemed real. (Hey, we all know that guy.) The narrator’s voice was what brought me into the story right away; I loved the conversational way that Arthur told his story.

The biggest frustration I had with this book was that it seemed unpolished. Proofreading errors abounded: Missing quotation marks, possessives in the place of plurals, and misplaced commas. One of the things that slowed down my reading and made the book feel like a slog at times was the dialogue. The author used some contractions in speech, but not enough. I have plenty of pet peeves, and that’s one of them, so take that commentary as you will.

I also got frustrated at time with the manner of storytelling, which would probably fall into the “developmental edit” category. I’m working on developmental edits on my book right now, so maybe this is my hammer and everything is a nail, so you’ll have to forgive me on that one. The way Arthur tells him story is to the reader from a point in the future, which is fine. But that point is undefined–we never get to it, or if we do, it’s not revealed as “now”–and some of what he says is misleading or unclear. For instance, he mentions a character that accuses him of murder. That sidebar mention brings to mind jail time, possibly, or another major plot point. Yet when the story comes to that point, it’s one small detail amidst a number of large, more important plot points. Don’t get me wrong: I liked the way Arthur told the story. It just needed, as I mentioned earlier, polish.

If you like books that make you think and don’t mind the ridiculousness of an overly amorous twenty-something man (whose antics made the story all the more entertaining), I would recommend Confessions of a ChimpManZee.

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Stories from beyond and Guarding Angel Cover Reveal

I’m very excited today to be able to share the cover of my book, Guarding Angel, coming April 28, 2014. Many book bloggers are sharing in my excitement today, so check some of them out (at the bottom of the post). But first, to commemorate this occasion, I wanted to invite my readers to share in some stories with brushes from beyond this life.

What do I mean precisely?

Have you ever had contact with a loved one who has died? Or have you ever been seeking something out and felt an answer from your guardian angel or spirit guide? Maybe God Him- or Herself? Have you ever seen a ghost? I will share a couple of stories, and I invite you to share yours in the comments below.

My Grandmother Says Goodbye

My first story happened directly to me. Although I’m absolutely certain that I had contact with my grandmother soon after she died, but you might not quite believe it–I’ll leave it up to you.

When I was 15 years old, my paternal grandmother had a stroke and went into a coma. We lived three states away, so unfortunately, it had been awhile since we’d seen her. My parents, brother, and I packed up the car a few days before Christmas and headed to Ohio. I was able to visit her in her room, but she was on life support and it didn’t feel like she was really there.

The other aunts and uncle came from out of town to say goodbye. On Christmas Eve, in the early morning, her children all gathered in her room to carry out her living will. They took her off the ventilator, and in a few short moments, she passed away.

This wasn’t something they wanted the kids experiencing, so I was at home, still asleep, since it was so early morning and I was, after, all, a teenager. Right before I awoke, I had a dream that Grandma came to me: We talked about her life and my life, everything that had happened and lots of things that were going to happen. I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of peace about the rest of my life, but I can’t remember any of the specifics. At one point, I recall her saying she had to go, that she couldn’t stay. I begged her not to leave, but she disappeared, and I ran through a strange dreamscape looking for her. But she was gone–I couldn’t “feel” her there any more.

My mom was shaking me awake as I searched for Grandma. I opened my eyes. “Grandma’s gone, isn’t she?” Mom looked surprised and nodded. I said, “She visited me before she left.”

I don’t know for sure that she did or didn’t. Maybe it was my overactive imagination making this up, since I knew what was happening that morning. But I really felt her there, and I honestly believe that she did, indeed, stop by before she went into the afterlife. If only I could remember all the secrets she’d divulged about my upcoming life before she left …

My Uncle Comforts My Dad

My second story happened to my dad last year. He has four sisters but only one brother, and they were fairly close despite not living near one another. Unfortunately, Uncle Lanny had a clot that moved into his brain at the beginning of April, and he died within seconds.

Right before the visitation, Dad was getting out of his car when his pocket starting making noise. At first he thought his phone was ringing, but when he pulled it out, he saw that iTunes had started. “El Paso” by Marty Robbins–one of his and Uncle Lanny’s favorite songs–was playing. The last time he’d played that particular song was when they’d visited months before.

Was it Uncle Lanny, comforting Dad, who was quite distraught over his brother’s death at a relatively young age and only the beginning of his retirement? Or did the phone somehow happen to pocket dial a song that hadn’t been played for months and months? I, and my dad, like to think that it was Uncle Lanny’s way of saying goodbye.

What about you? Do you have any stories of contact with the “other side?” I want to hear about them in the comments.

Guarding Angel Cover Reveal

Now … The moment I, at least, I don’t know about the rest of you!, have been waiting for. I wrote Guarding Angel because I believe in something beyond this life. It started with a question: What if angels, just like humans, have personalities and struggles? What if they’re more than just silent watchers but have friends and lovers and decisions to make? Thus Enael, my main character, was born.

This cover was created by the fabulous Regina Wamba of MaeIDesign. As soon as I saw her work, I knew I had to have her. She did an amazing job, so if you just like gazing at beautiful fantasy/paranormal romance book covers like I do, take a gander through her portfolio on her website and Pinterest.

Here it is, Enael and her struggles, all summed up in one beautiful piece of cover art:

FallenRedemption-ebooksmgoodreads-badge-add-plusAbout Guarding Angel (Fallen Redemption #1):

Guardian angel Enael can’t seem to keep her human Wards in check. They’re the ones who choose their paths before reincarnating—she’s just there to help make sure they stay on track. But it’s not as easy as it might look.

When she meets and falls in love with charismatic Kaspen, a fellow Guardian, Enael’s feelings about Heaven, Hell, demons, and the life she’s known are turned upside down. Worse, angel-turned-demon Yasva, Kaspen’s former love, still holds him in her clutches. Even as Yasva works toward obtaining complete control of Earth, she taunts and haunts Kaspen’s and Enael’s lives.

Now Enael is forced to face her past (which is centuries long and bursting with secrets), her present (which is terribly unfulfilling and full of questions), and her future (which becomes more uncertain as time passes). Armed with a newfound love and fear of losing it all, she must figure out how to save the world—-and the angel she loves. Which side will win? Who will Kaspen choose? Will Heaven and Earth continue to exist, or will everything go to Hell?

Thank you to all the bloggers who helped me share the news of my cover:

Leave me comments to let me know what you think! Then find me on Twitter and Pinterest. If you’re a book reviewer and would like a review copy of Guarding Angel, send an email to Samantha.Saboviec@gmail.com or leave a comment with contact info. eBook ARC Copies will be available at the beginning of March, and Guarding Angel will go on sale April 28, 2014 at several online retailers.

Review: The Last Circle by Gretchen Blickensderfer

the last circle

Title: The Last Circle
Author: Gretchen Blickensderfer
Genre(s): Near-Future Dystopia
How To Purchase: Kindle | Barnes and Noble | iTunes | Booksamillion.com (Paperback)

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Note: I received a free copy of The Last Circle in exchange for an honest review.

“If you will not be saved, there will be consequences.” Based upon platforms and quotes from Conservative political and church leaders, The Last Circle chronicles the rise to power of a United States Evangelical theocracy and the small group of Pagan and LGBT friends who must escape the country to survive. A terrifying chase through the southern states tests the limits of their friendship and someone from among them is secretly tipping off their pursuers.

The quote that encapsulates the book’s premise opens chapter fifteen:

“When the Christian majority takes over this country, there will be no satanic churches, no more free distribution of pornography, no more talk of rights for homosexuals. After the Christian majority takes control, pluralism will be seen as immoral and evil and the state will not permit anybody the right to practice evil.” — Gary Potter, writer, Catholics for Political Action

The Last Circle creates this vision in vivid detail. Social and economic conditions have become difficult, and people are looking for guiding light. A man named Stephen Palmer is all too happy to step into the shoes of President and transform the country into a place he had only dreamed about.

That place is a place of concentration camps named “Salvation Centers.” It’s a place where homosexuals and Pagans must flee to the Mexican and Canadian border for amnesty. It’s a place where neighbors turn on one another, and where hatred and fear and starvation are the currencies. It’s Auschwitz; it’s the Crusades; it’s every terrible condition under every despotic regime man has ever created.

On the book’s website, the author describes how she researched the beliefs of extreme right-wing evangelical Christians to create this book. But I would need to do no research to know that what she presents is fact; I am quite familiar with this rhetoric. This was the atmosphere I grew up in, a small town in the Midwest where the condemnations and judgments were espoused regularly in sermons, in casual conversation, in after-school Bible studies. None of the extreme belief encapsulated in the book surprises me. It all hits home a little too hard.

Still, all of this begs the question: Why? Why does The Last Circle assert such extremes? In this day and age, we as reasonable people living in a technologically advanced society would never allow that. Or would we? That’s a question you will have to answer for yourself after you read it. My answer is that it’s the only solution. If you promise your followers to root out evil, you’d better be willing to take each and every measure necessary. Fear-mongering. Lying. Torture. Killing. Otherwise, how else will you get the job done? It’s one of the reasons I tried so hard for years to force myself to believe, only to be unable to accept this philosophy. It’s one of the reasons I walked away.

The Last Circle made me think. A lot. It made me think about the past I came from and what I believe now. It’s a powerful book with a message for all of us, one that we hopefully will never have to face.

But. As books go, I found it a tad frustrating. The writing was visual and distant, reminding me more of a movie than a book. I found the enormous cast of characters (the Pagans and LGBT group escaping the Palmer regime) difficult to keep straight. One of the big reveals–who is this Gwen that is telling the story of the last circle to the media?–was confusing because I thought I’d simply missed her introduction, losing her in the shuffle of so many people.

However, I feel that this book has a big enough idea presented in a realistic, albeit confrontational manner, that I would recommend it as food for thought. If you’re interested in the political and religious hot button issue of church versus state, I would give this a read. If nothing else, it will give you something to chew over long after you’ve finished reading.

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Coming Soon: Guarding Angel Cover Reveal

Guarding Angel Promo

I’m very excited to announce that the cover design for my upcoming book, Guarding Angel (Fallen Redemption #1), is finished! The talented and wonderful Regina Wamba of Mae I Design created it for me. She did a fabulous job, and if I don’t stop talking about it, I might just convince myself I can’t wait until the cover reveal date to share it.

If you’re a blogger, on Pinterest, on Facebook, on Twitter, or any other social media and are interested in taking part in the cover reveal day of Tues., Feb. 18th, leave a comment with your contact info or email me at Samantha.Saboviec@gmail.com and let me know how you’d like to participate.

I have something special (and interactive!) planned for the blog on the day of cover reveal, since of course, I can’t just have a cover reveal. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone back here!

Guarding Angel (Fallen Redemption #1):

Guardian angel Enael can’t seem to keep her human Wards in check. They’re the ones who choose their paths before reincarnating—-she’s just there to help make sure they stay on track. But it’s not as easy as it might look.

When she meets and falls in love with charismatic Kaspen, a fellow Guardian, Enael’s feelings about Heaven, Hell, demons, and the life she’s known are turned upside down. Worse still, angel-turned-demon Yasva, Kaspen’s former love, still holds him in her clutches. Even as Yasva works toward obtaining complete control of Earth, she taunts and haunts Kaspen’s and Enael’s lives.

Now Enael is forced to face her past (which is centuries long and bursting with secrets), her present (which is terribly unfulfilling and full of questions), and her future (which becomes more uncertain as time passes). Armed with a newfound love and fear of losing it all, she must figure out how to save the world—-and the angel she loves. Which side will win? Who will Kaspen choose? Will Heaven and Earth continue to exist, or will everything go to Hell?

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Review: Division by Karen A. Wyle

Title: Division
Author: Karen A. Wyle
Genre(s): Near-Future Science Fiction
How To Purchase: Kindle | Kobo| Paperback (NEW!) – US or UK

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Note: I received a free copy of Division in exchange for an honest review.

Conjoined twins Gordon and Johnny have never let their condition keep them from living full and fulfilling lives. Gordon looks forward to many years of closeness and cooperation. Johnny, however, faces their future with increasing restlessness, even dread.

When the boys are in their teens, the new technologies of accelerated human cloning and brain transplants are combined into a single medical procedure — Transplant to Clone, or TTC. Someone whose body has suffered such extensive damage as to make normal life impossible may — with court approval — be cloned and then given a brain transplant into the clone body. With Gordon’s unwitting assistance, Johnny realizes that the TTC procedure provides the chance he had never dared to hope for — the chance to live in a “normal,” separate body.

But Gordon considers their conjoined life a blessing, rather than a curse. He has no intention of accepting separation — not without a fight . . .

Division is one of the best books I read in 2013, a year in which I read Parasite and We Need to Talk About Kevin. (And the Divergent trilogy, but I didn’t actually like those books, so no competition there.) I liked it so much that I asked author Karen A. Wyle to write a guest post for the blog, which she did last Friday.

I read books to escape and be entertained, like everyone else. But more, I read books to be challenged intellectually, and Division does just that.

This is a story about a pair of conjoined twins. One twin wants to undergo an operation to separate them into two bodies, while the other wants to stay joined. This is set in the near future, where the twins must present their arguments in court because the procedure requires the use of clones and cloning is restricted. The book follows a variety of characters as they cope with the emotional atmosphere up to and after the decision.

I get swept away by books like these that explore what it’s like living in the skin of an unusual, unexpected person. Division puts us into the experiences of a twin who want to be free, showing us what life is like chained to another person. It shows us the struggle the other twin undergoes when he’s–in his mind–rejected by someone closer than a lover could ever be. It even examines how their struggle affects their mother, who’s loved them unconditionally from birth and must watch their relationship fall apart. It follows a girlfriend who believed she would, someday soon, marry two people in one body.

A variety of moral questions are opened without direct treatment, which was skillful and impressive. Should the twins be allowed to leave their body for clones? Should a court have the responsibility to decide the future of their lives? Can there ever be a “right” answer when both of them want something mutually exclusive? Yet the morality was never heavy-handed, but was instead a backdrop for the interesting and subtle character interactions.

This book is one of the beautiful pieces of self-published literature that inspires me. The author, Karen A. Wyle, has published several other books that I’m eager to check out. Not to get on my soapbox again, but meticulous attention to detail–plot, character, premise, grammar–is what makes people want to read books. You don’t have to be traditionally published, though you may have to work your bum off twice as hard to get noticed. I heartily recommend this book.

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