*Giveaway* Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson


Every once in a while, an author attempts to make big statements about big ideas. To portray social subjects (racism, class, history, tradition, culture, etc.) in the confines of written words is no easy task. Often, any commentary becomes burdened by the mechanics of language. In his new novel, Welcome to Braggsville, author T. Geronimo Johnson attempts to tackle some of these topics.

As he begins his freshman year at UC Berkley, D'aron Davenport is clearly a fish out of water. Thousands of miles away from his hometown in Georgia, D'aron struggles to find his way in this new place. He has never had to put much effort into his school work, and quickly ascended to the top of his small high school class with minimal effort. But the rigors of collegiate academics have taken their toll on D'aron. After the first semester, he finds himself with unsatisfactory grades and the threat of academic probation. A meeting with his advisor reveals deeper internal issues. D'aron's advisor, who also made the move from small conservative town to large liberal city, diagnosis the young man's social conundrum. She tells him that his difficulty in reconciling his upbringing with the culture of his new setting is normal, but he must come to terms with these issues to achieve success in his studies.

It is not until an awkward turn at a party that things for D'aron begin to change. A misunderstanding finds D'aron, his roommate Louis Chang, Candice (from Iowa) and black prep school student Charlie being accused of being racially insensitive. From there, the group, 4 Little Indians as they call themselves, become close friends, and it seems that D'aron has overcome his social insecurity. It is an American History class on alternative perspectives that inspires the friends to create a performance piece that makes a political statement. D'aron's hometown, Braggsville, the kind of conservative place where "gay" is used as an insult or joke, holds an annual Civil War re-enactment. The group decides to make their statement at this event. When things don't proceed as expected, the foursome and the entire town of Braggsville are forced to face racial, social, and cultural issues that none of them could have anticipated.

Johnson tackles tough issues and interesting characters to middling results. The central plot and characters are very well conceived and offer natural ways to explore complex social issues. Unfortunately, Johnson's unique authorial voice takes a bit of time to get used to, sometimes making reading this novel a chore. As is so often the case with this subject matter, the mechanics of written language fail to portray the lofty ideas that are discussed. That being said, there is no denying Johnson's craft. Even when the plot becomes muddied by excess points and overtly obvious observations, Johnson manages to steer the story back to a central focus that is both timely and engaging. In the end, Welcome to Braggsville is not a book that everyone will enjoy, but definitely offers the kind of sharp satire and commentary that is difficult to achieve.

For more information, visit Amazon and GoodReads.

(2015, 6)

Giveaway Rules: 

1. Use this link to read the Amazon review. At the end of the review, indicate "YES" this review was helpful.
2. Leave your contact info in the comments of this post, and indicate that you have completed the above step. 
3. This giveaway will continue to March 5.
4. US entries only.
5. Two winners will be selected to receive an ARC of the novel and have 48hrs to respond.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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As someone whose life has been intimately touched by cancer, I was extremely hesitant to read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Regardless of the positive reviews, bestselling status, and movie adaptation, I simply was not ready to subject my emotions to a book about the awful disease. As time passed, however, I was overcome with curiosity. A year after cancer invaded my life, I finally broke down and read the book that everyone was talking about.

Sixteen year old Hazel has a terminal case of cancer. An experimental drug has held the tumors at bay, but the threat of the disease remains. Her lungs regularly fill with fluid and she requires the assistance of an oxygen tank to help her breathe. There is no denying the truth. Cancer will kill Hazel. But there is much more to this character than her illness. A voracious reader, college student (she completed her GED while undergoing treatments), and fan of America's Next Top Model, Hazel shares many attributes of a typical teenage girl. At the insistence of her overbearing mother, who fears her daughter is becoming a recluse, Hazel finds herself at a weekly support group for  critically ill teens. She grudgingly attends the meetings, but the shallow sentiments of the group leader and rotating group of teens (it's hard to keep a consistent membership when all of the members are terminally ill) do little to interest Hazel.

It is at these meetings where Hazel first meets Augustus Waters. A lanky, attractive, former high school basketball star, Gus lost one of his legs to cancer. The young man seems to live life by his own rules. For example, Gus frequently places an unlit cigarette in his mouth, a metaphor for controlling  something that has the power to kill him. The two immediately hit it off, bonding over literature and philosophizing about life and death. As their romance blossoms, they face the ugly truths about cancer and the ways the disease will inevitably affect their relationship.

John Green does an incredible job of accurately portraying the horrors of cancer and the way it shapes the lives of those who come in contact with it. As a young adult novel, this book could easily have fallen into the trap of romanticizing a love story about teens facing the hardships of a disease. Fortunately, Green's characters are written with the kind of depth that allows readers to naturally become enraptured in their story. It is great to see an author write intelligent characters who are smart because of their thoughts and actions. . . not because he told us they were! There are no "against all odds" or "wisdom beyond age" sentiments in this story. Rather, the character grapple with the fear and unknown that comes with a terminal diagnosis. We see the horrific toll that cancer can take on the human body, mind, and soul. Yes, cancer largely influences the story, but it is the incredible, once in a lifetime kind of love between Hazel and Gus, that makes The Fault in Our Stars the rare, must read book that it is.

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

(2015, 5)

Breaking News: Harper Lee to release New Novel

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More than fifty years after the release of her acclaimed novel "To Kill A Mockingbird", Harper Lee will publish a new novel. "Go Set a Watchman", a sequel to Lee's previous work, will be published on July 14 by Harper. In a statement to the AP, Lee gave some insight into the conception of this new book:

In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called ‘Go Set a Watchman.’ It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman, and I thought it a pretty decent effort. My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel (what became To Kill a Mockingbird) from the point of view of the young Scout.
I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told. I hadn’t realized it (the original book) had survived, so was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it. After much thought and hesitation, I shared it with a handful of people I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of publication. I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years.

The new novel, set in the same Alabama town as Mockingbird, will feature many of the same characters. Scout, now an adult, will return from New York to visit her father in her hometown. 

Everything to Lose by Andrew Gross

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Hilary Cantor is a good person, but like all good people, she has seen her share of hardship. A single mother of a son with Asperger’s syndrome, she has been working hard to maintain a quality life for herself and her son. Despite her best efforts, her world has begun to drop out from under her. Her deadbeat ex-husband is waning in his financial and emotional support, her bills have begun to stack up, and she has recently become a victim of the recession when she loses her job. Facing bankruptcy for herself and the possibility of losing the ability to properly care for her son, she makes a final trek to beg for her ex’s assistance.

On her way through the country to try and right her upended life, a miracle occurs. When Hilary witnesses a freak car accident and stops to help, she finds what seems to be a godsend… a bag containing $500,000. In the split second before someone else arrives on scene, Hilary makes the decision to keep the money. With the money, Hilary begins to fix her life; she pays off her debts and even makes sure that the money is not missed. 

However, no miracle comes without a price, and for anyone to make money, someone else has to lose it. When another person associated with the crash is found dead it becomes apparent that the money is missed, and the owner is determined to get it back. Pursued by a ruthless hired gun, Hilary must work with the son of the crash victim and trace the origin of the money through death, desolation and 20 years of history before it’s too late for her and her son.

Andrew Gross produces a thrilling journey in Everything To Lose. The main protagonist is relatable and well rounded. Further, Hilary is filled with a sense of morality that closely mirrors what would be expected of anyone else facing her situation. The writing is typical of the genre and kept me engaged throughout my reading. Despite the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I couldn’t help but compare the plot to that of No Country for Old Men. While the books did not share an atmosphere, setting or writing style, I continuously drew connections to characters and plot points from the earlier novel. However, this did not detract from my enjoyment, and I am now excited to read more of Gross’s work. I would highly recommend this as a fast-paced, plot-driven thriller that could easily consume a weekend. 

Review by Brett Schneider

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

(2015, 4)

Flesh and Blood by Patricia Cornwell


I have a tumultuous relationship with Dr. Kay Scarpetta. Author Patricia Cornwell captured my imagination with her first books featuring the famed medical examiner, but I soon became burned out. Cornwell has a knack for the kind of complex and disturbing stories that leave mystery buffs like myself reeling, but I found that I was losing interest in her protagonist. After a couple solid installments at the start of the series, Scarpetta became less likable, and I found myself caring less and less about her. After reading the first five Scarpetta novels, I decided to take a break from the series. Knowing that my taste in reading material has evolved over the years, however, I decided to give Scarpetta another go.

Flesh and Blood marks the 22nd book in the Scarpetta anthology. Kay Scarpetta, now the chief medical examiner, is preparing for a tropical birthday vacation with her FBI profiler husband, Benton Wesley. The trip serves as a much needed break for the hard working couple who rarely get time to themselves. As they are enjoying what should be a relaxing morning at home, Kay notices seven pennies lining the wall of her garden. Each penny has been meticulously arranged, polished, and dated 1981. As she questions the meaning of the objects, Scarpetta is called to the scene of a murder that occurred nearby. She joins her longtime comrade, detective Pete Marino, at the investigation site. The victim, a music teacher who gained notoriety after being falsely accused of terrorism a few years earlier, was shot by a sniper while unloading groceries. Amidst the panic and confusion that surrounds the crime scene, one thing is certain. . . Scarpetta's vacation will have to wait.

The sniper rifle allowed the killer to remain distant from the scene, a fact that results in a disappointing lack of physical evidence. Autopsy results confirm the cause of death, but offer little in terms of identifying the killer. The bullet recovered from the victim's body presents more questions than answers. Formed from polished copper, the bullet is an unusual choice for sniper rifle ammunition. As Scarpetta thinks back to the pennies on her garden wall, she recalls a string of odd tweets from a user named Copperhead. When Marino informs her of two other sniper murders, both where copper traces were found at the scene, it becomes clear that Kay was meant to find those pennies. Someone is sending her a message. Someone is toying with her emotions. Someone is threatening her life.

I find my reaction to Flesh and Blood quite similar to the reaction I had to Cornwell's early novels. There are genuine thrills in this story that sent chills down my spine. The threat of the killer draws upon reality (the D.C. sniper comes to mind), allowing for the reader's imagination to come to conclusions far more terrifying than anything that is printed on the page. Seemingly unconnected points come together in shocking ways, providing the kind of satisfaction that mystery readers crave. Unfortunately, Scarpetta's advanced position at the medical examiners office makes her much more hands off that she was in the earlier novels. Rather than personally inspect the bodies, she comes to conclusions based upon the insight, or lack thereof, of the examiners working beneath her. This makes the investigation and revelations a bit flat. Further, the self absorption of many of the main characters makes them hard to root for. After a promising opening and several fantastic twists, Cornwell ends her novel with the whimper of a cliffhanger, a trend that many mystery series authors seem to be taking. For the sake of completion, I'll probably read the next Scarpetta novel, but the disappointing conclusion of this one leaves me wary of continuing the series beyond that.

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

(2015, 3)

Private LA by James Patterson

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Thom and Jennifer Harlow are Hollywood's celebrity power couple. Good looks, talent, kind hearts. . . the couple has it all. Paying forward their critical and financial success, the two sponsor schools in impoverished nations and even adopted three children from the countries they serve. As they near the completion of their magnum opus Saigon Falls, the entire Harlow family vanishes. No one in the Harlow's inner circle seems to have any idea as to the couple's whereabouts. Even worse, none of them want to threaten their employer's project by making the disappearance public. 

Enter Jack Morgan, owner and head of Private, a world-wide investigation firm. He is hired by the Harlow's lawyer to locate the couple. Jack learns that the Harlow's passion project, which they have written, directed, and star in, is so risky that most of the studios refused to invest in it. Despite the desire of the staff to maintain their client's pristine image, Jack's investigation begins to show cracks in the Harlow's picture perfect facade. Probes into the couple's well protected life bring revelations of financial troubles, fraud, and disturbing fetishes that all factor in to the shocking truth behind their disappearance. 

As if Jack's plate wasn't full enough, he is contracted by the city of Los Angeles to intervene in a very public terrorist attack. A group called 'No Prisoners' has leveled a full scale strike against the citizens of the city, sending residents into complete panic. Massacres occur at random locations as the Jack and the city seek to find the people responsible for the horrific acts. 

Whether you are a fan or not, there is no denying that James Patterson delivers tight, entertaining thrillers. Patterson and co-author Mark Sullivan continue the Private series of novels with the fast pace, interesting characters, and suspenseful twists that readers have come to expect. While the authors tell the reader that the Harlows are a great couple, they don't do much to actually establish sympathy for the family. Consequently, the mystery of the Harlow couple becomes overshadowed by the No Prisoners plot. Despite a few unexpected twists, both narratives come to predictable conclusions. Even so, it is Patterson's penchant for alluring protagonists and breakneck thrills that makes Private LA a gratifying experience. 

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

(2015, 2)

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