*Giveaway* Beside Myself by Ann Morgan

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"You're locked into this life; your body is like a straitjacket, binding you to the world."

It all started as a simple game. Helen and Ellie, young twin sisters, decided to play a trick on their mother. Helen, the smarter and more popular of the two, suggested that they trade wardrobes and pretend to be each other. The plan worked brilliantly. Their mother did not notice the switch and the sisters successfully embodied their counterpart. But there was one major flaw in the game. Ellie really liked being Helen. So much so, in fact, that she refused to go back to being herself.

Fast forward many years and Helen, now going by the name Smudge, is a woman trapped in a life that was never supposed to be hers. With Ellie (Hellie) excelling in her role as Helen, Smudge is trapped in the downward spiral of her sister's underachieving world. Unnoticed and unloved by her family, Smudge drifts through her life with resent and a general disregard for her own well being.

All of that changes when Smudge receives word that her sister has gone into a coma. After years of no contact with her family, Smudge is thrust back into the world that she's tried so hard to escape. Can she finally convince her family that their whole lives have been a built around a childhood deceit? Is is too late to put the past behind her and live her life as the person she was born as?

In her debut novel Beside Myself, author Ann Morgan writes a dark and haunting psychological thriller that explores the importance of personal identity. The situation is deeply disturbing and could easily have become laughably unbelievable. Fortunately, Morgan layers each of her characters with a tinge of sadness that brings an authenticity to the entire narrative. The emotional character arcs are weaved into the quick moving thriller, making the novel an engaging and easy read. Beside Myself is a novel that fires on all cylinders and marks a promising start to its author's career.

To enter for a chance to win a copy of this novel, use the Rafflecopter widget below. Open to US residents, no PO boxes please. Ends 2/9. Winner will have 48 hours to respond after being contacted.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.
This review is part of TLC Book Tours.

(2016, 4) a Rafflecopter giveaway

Moon Up, Past Full by Eric Shonkwiler

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Fresh off the heels of his well received novel Above All Men, author Eric Shonkwiler presents a collection of short stories titled Moon Up, Past Full. I was made aware of Shonkwiler by Lori at The Next Best Book Club on GoodReads. The club hosts a monthly author/reader discussion in which several copies of a work are provided to readers and the author joins in the dialogue about that book. It has been a great source of discovery for new books, a great place for intelligent discussion, and an overall melting pot of diverse ideas. As soon as I read the description of Shonkwiler's collection, I knew I wanted to be a part of this discussion.

My favorite story from the collection, Rural Tendencies, chronicles one man's descent into a drug-filled life of crime and lust. I was completely drawn to the tragic way that the main character's one night of snorting lines at a party evolved into cooking meth in his basement and having an affair with a drug dealer's girlfriend. Shonkwiler's unflinching honesty and crisp words gave a depth and reality to this story and really captured the harsh lifestyle of a drug dealer.

Beyond that selection, Moon Up, Past Full contains other unique stories and novellas that are all connected by the Midwest setting that Shonkwiler depicts through his powerful prose. His writing has been compared to that of Cormac McCarthy, a comparison that both speaks to his undeniable skill with the written word and one that gives you an idea of the kind of stories that he excels at. Like McCarthy, Shonkwiler eschews the use of quotation marks and keeps his text clear and easy to read. More importantly, he writes stories about everyday people dealing with their own personal crisis. Whether it is a young lady dealing with noises in her head or the more pressing end of times, Shonkwiler masterfully writes stories that jump from the page and are an absolute joy to read.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, or GoodReads.

(2016, 3)

Seriously. . . I'm Kidding by Ellen Degeneres

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I've always been a fan of Ellen Degeneres. Her brand of observational humor and friendly personality has made her into one of the biggest stars of daytime television. Her book, Seriously...I'm Kidding, is an odd little collection of her musings on life, love, her career, and everything in between.

One chapter, a reproduction of entries from the journal she started just before the first episode of Ellen, reveals the author's excitement and anxiety at starting her own talk show. Amidst the highs of success came equally important failures such as short lived sitcoms and a brief stint as a judge on American Idol. Ellen writes, "My point is, life is about balance. The good and the bad. The highs and the lows. The pina and the colada."

While these personal reflections are quite engaging, some of the other chapters are less successful. Many sections feature Ellen's musings on seemingly mundane things that read like extractions from her stand-up monologues. Without the nuance of Ellen's verbal delivery, the written words come off flatter than the comedian intended. Yes, I found myself chuckling at several of the punchlines, but I also think I would have gotten more out of the audio version of this book.

Overall, Seriously...I'm Kidding is a funny but uneven collection that will probably divide readers. I enjoyed this short read, and am especially appreciative of Ellen's positive outlook on life. Even if you don't like her humor, there is no denying the good that Ellen has given to the world. Her decision to live life exactly as she wants to and encouragement to readers to do the same is the ultimate takeaway from this book.

“Find out who you are and figure out what you believe in. Even if it's different from what your neighbors believe in and different from what your parents believe in. Stay true to yourself. Have your own opinion. Don't worry about what people say about you or think about you. Let the naysayers nay. They will eventually grow tired of naying.” 

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads

(2016, 2)


The Killing Lessons by Saul Black

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"The world was a wonderful place. Full of nightmares"

Detective Valerie Hart is no stranger to the nightmares that fill the world. Unable to cope with the pressure of solving an impossible mystery, Valerie sabotaged her relationship with the only man she ever loved and fell into an alcohol laced depression. Her friends and colleagues worried about her wellbeing, but Valerie was too stubborn to accept any help. Even worse, her personal demons caused the force to question her ability to properly do her job. With a new string of murders surfacing, Valerie continues her downward spiral of overworking and personal neglect and faces the most sadistic serial killer that she's ever encountered.

Five days away from Christmas, ten-year-old Nell Cooper is facing a nightmare of her own. Her older brother is dead, and her single mother lies in a pool of blood downstairs. The two men who entered her home and caused all of this misfortune still don't know that Nell is there. Her mother uses her last breath to desperately urge her young daughter to run from the house and to find help. As one of the murderers becomes aware of the girl's presence, Nell escapes the terrors of her home to the equally inhospitable rural forest that surrounds the estate.

Xander King's whole life has been a nightmare, but he's beginning to put those days behind him. After years of going through life unnoticed and unloved, he's finally found a cause that he can put pride in. This cause . . . capturing, torturing, and murdering innocent women. What started as a solo endeavor was soon made more complicated by the addition of an accomplice who doesn't share King's vision. Now as he exacts his reign of terror, King struggles to maintain the composure and stealth that has kept the authorities in the dark about his true identity and intent.

In The Killing Lessons author Saul Black, a pseudonym for British author Glen Duncan, crafts a masterful story of intrigue and suspense. While the story follows many conventions of the genre, a detective on the verge of professional and personal collapse, a raging serial killer, etc, Black infuses it with enough depth and originality to make it stand out from the pack. Substantial time is devoted to the development of each character, allowing them to brim with a life and reality that keeps the reader engaged throughout. I've read many books featuring insane serial killers, but Black's character is written with a restraint and backstory that makes him one of the most terrifying villains that I've ever read. The Killing Lessons is the rare thriller that manages to be as smart as it is entertaining, and I highly recommend it.

For more information, visit the author's website, Amazon, and GoodReads.

(2016, 1)


Author Q&A/Giveaway: Desert City Diva by Corey Lynn Fayman

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A Book A Week is pleased to welcome author Corey Lynn Fayman to the blog! Corey recently chatted with me about his newest mystery novel Desert City Diva. In addition to spending some time with us, Corey has graciously provided a couple copies of his novel to give away. If this story piques your interest, please use the widget at the end of this post to enter to win a copy of Desert City Diva.

Desert City Diva is your third mystery to feature Rolly Waters. What can you tell us about Rolly, and how does this book continue the traditions established by the previous novels in this series?

Rolly Waters is a cozy mystery hero living in a crime noir world. He's overweight, over forty, and lives in a small granny flat next door to his mother. He's a talented guitar player and a musician whose glory days are behind him, so he makes ends meet by working part-time as a private investigator. He doesn't carry a gun and would probably shoot himself in the foot if he had one. His chief virtues as an investigator are his ability to make friends with almost anyone and an absolute dedication to helping his clients, even when their cases lead him into dangerous situation and criminal activity he never envisioned when he first took it on.

Music has always been a part of all the Rolly Waters mystery novels, but in Desert City Diva it's become central to solving the case. A special musical instrument and the 'celestial' notes it plays are keys to the mystery. It's the first time Rolly's had to call on both his musical and investigative skills to solve a case.

Let's dig a bit deeper into that mystery for a minute. In the novel, Rolly takes on a missing person's case from a golden-eyed orphan and dance-club DJ named Macy Starr. What's special about Macy and why is the search for the woman who raised her so important to her?

Macy is a willful and independent young woman who's worked hard to create her own sense of identity. She's never known her biological parents. She grew up as the daughter of the chief of police on an Indian reservation, but she's not Native American. She knows nothing of her parents, or where she came from, except that she has some sort of 'golden child' status with her adoptive father. That didn't help much on the reservation she grew up on though, where she was viewed as a bit of a freak. She's taken that outsider view to heart in her professional life and created different DJ personas to express herself.

Macy is almost completely lacking in impulse control in both her speech and actions. Whatever comes into her head, she says it or acts on it. Rolly finds this attractive. It's how he used to be. But it frustrates him too, and he knows from experience it can lead to all sorts of trouble.

The only clues Macy can provide Rolly are a curious one-stringed guitar called a Diddley Bow and a black and white photograph of a young girl with a man in a baseball uniform. Without spoiling the story, what is the significance of these items, and why did you choose this unique instrument as a pivotal object in your book?

I can't remember exactly where i learned about the Diddley Bow, but I used it in the story because it's a simple instrument that non-musicians can pick up pretty quickly to thump out some basic melodies. It's important to the story because I needed an instrument that the members of a UFO cult could all play together simultaneously. They use the Diddley Bows to play alternate tunings of 'celestial' notes that will reflect their ancient heritage and serve as a beacon to interplanetary aliens. I didn't make that part up! There are people out there who believe this stuff! Search the Internet for information on the Solfeggio Harmonies.

The Diddley Bow is a real musical instrument. It's a primitive one-stringed guitar that was first developed by sharecroppers in the American South, who were trying to recreate instruments that they knew from Africa. The instrument interests Rolly because he's a Blues aficionado, and Diddley Bows were one of the first instruments used in the development of Blues music.

The photograph laminated to the back of Macy's Diddley Bow is the only connection she may have to her biological parents. She knows the woman is her Aunt Betty, who disappeared many years earlier and may of may not be her real aunt. Macy doesn't know who the baseball player is, but Rolly recognizes him at ones as a famous major-leaguer and local celebrity.

Desert City Diva takes place on an Indian Reservation in an area near the Anza Borrego Desert. How integral is the setting to this particular Rolly Waters mystery, and why did you place the story in this environment?

We have quite a few Indian reservation in San Diego County. They are much smaller than the Navajo or Hopi reservations of Arizona, but they are true reservations, and as such they are independent sovereign entities with their own government and polices force jus like their larger counterparts. Many of them are located in the mountains of east San Diego County, which is still largely rural, and the kind of area where UFO cults might develop without attracting much attention. Legal and criminal issues can get complicated, as county sheriffs do not have authority on reservation lands and vice-versa. Many of the tribes have built casinos now, and that provides some tension related to the character's motivations, as well.

It seems like you make a real effort to ground your stories reality through factual places and objects. Can you describe some of the research you did when you where writing this novel?

My last two novels were inspired by fortuitous driving adventure with my wife. In the case of Desert City Diva, the drive took place in the southern desert of California where we happened upon tow places with rather interesting names - Salvation Mountain and Slab City. The first turned out to be a remarkable monument to one man's religious passions, and the second is an off-the-grid gathering of hippies, retirees and social misfits who have chosen to live together in an ad hoc desert community where they resist both the comforts and confines of modern society. Most of the residents live in trailers or RVs, which are parked on slab foundations left over from a U. S. Army fort used in WWII. Slab City residents have a library, a cafe, a modern sculpture garden, and a stage where they hold musical jam sessions every week. Once I found out about those jam sessions, I knew I had to get Rolly Waters out there to play his guitar.

The other thing I did some research on was the concept of sacred harmonies and the use of alternate musical scales, much of which is quite interesting and some of which is quite silly. There was also a bit of San Diego history I had to look into, such as the mini-gold rush in our mountains in the 1870s, as well as local Indian reservations and their history. San Diego County was where the Heaven's Gate mass suicide took place in 1997, so I did quite a bit of research on that and other suicide cults, to help me understand how something like that could happen.

Are you working on another Rolly Waters mystery? If so, what can you tell us about it?

I've sent Rolly to the far edges of San Diego County in my last two books, so I've decided to bring him back home for his next adventure. Most of the action takes place in and around San Diego Bay. The jumping off point is the very read U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program, which has trained captive dolphins and sea lions to perform tasks such as mine identification, sea floor retrieval, and enemy diver detection. The story centers on a Navy diver whose body was never recovered after a training accident twenty years earlier, but who seems to be taking revenge in the present day on some of the people who knew him. It also works in some of the recent controversy surrounding sea mammal captivity at Sea World and other animal water parks. The working title is Ballast Point Breakdown.

Our thanks to Corey Lynn Fayman for spending time with us. Desert City Diva is available from Amazon and Severn House Publishers. To find out more about Corey's works, visit his website

To enter for a chance to win either a physical or ebook copy of this novel, use the Rafflecopter form below. Open to US/Canadian residents, no PO boxes please. Ends January 17, 2016. Winners will have 48 hours to respond after being contacted.

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2015: The Year In Review

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2015 marked the fourth year of A Book A Week. Over those twelve months, I was able to read many books, discover new authors, and  most importantly. . . connect with other readers. Personally, the year saw me complete my masters degree and begin several new jobs. 2016 is already shaping up to be a great year for the blog! From the start, I plan on reading a few of the books that I simply didn't have time to get to last year. Additionally, I have several new releases awaiting review, author interviews scheduled to post, and exciting new giveaways to host. But before I kick off 2016 with my first review, I thought it would be fun to look back on 2015 and list my favorite books of the past year!

Here are my top 5 books of 2015 listed in no particular order:

Beneath the Surface by John Hargrove

This non-fiction book by a former SeaWorld trainer provides an inside look at the company's treatment of their animals and the people tasked with caring for them. John Hargrove chronicles his years of working for the company and the corporate reaction to the tragic death of veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau. The book is a riveting expansion of the author's interview in the documentary Blackfish that provides new details and offers fair solutions. Read the full review here. 

Not on Fire, but Burning by Greg Hrbek

In the most emotionally moving novel that I encountered in 2015, author Greg Hrbek presents a poignant and layered family drama that explores loss, grief, and prejudice. These difficult topics are approached with a poetic prose that allows the text to flow effortlessly from the page and to imbed itself into the deep recesses of your soul. Read the full review here.

Fortune Smiles by Adam Johnson

Adam Johnson follows his Pulitzer winning novel The Orphan Master's Son, with this eclectic collection of short stories. The stories showcase Johnson's masterful skill and provide unique contemplations on life and the human condition. With this release, Johnson is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors! Read the full review here. 

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

This was perhaps the most controversial novel of 2015. The details surrounding the novel's discovery, publication, and content seemed to overshadow the fact that this was one of the best novels of the year! In the book, Lee challenges our perception of her beloved characters and forces us to face the realities of racism, politics, and gender inequality. Like the classic novel that preceded it, I believe that Go Set A Watchman will stand as a great work of American Literature and further cement Harper Lee's status as a legendary author. Read the full review here. 

Slade House by David Mitchell

While this novel never attempts the same scope or depth of Mitchell's larger tomes, it is a taut and welcome departure that matches the imaginative originality of the author's best works. The fact that Slade House is a spooky story that never takes itself too seriously only adds to the delight of reading it and makes it one of the most enjoyable novels of 2015. Read the full review here. 

And so we end the last chapter of 2015 and begin the adventure of a new year. What were your favorite books of 2015, and what are looking forward to reading this year?


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