The Butterfly Crest- Eva Vanrell

(Reviewed by Ishita RC)

Exceptional

Between probability, possibility and inevitably, if you were destined to die, how would you choose to live?

On a day as unremarkable as any other, Elena Vicens, a young woman living a seemingly ordinary life except for disturbing dreams, receives a letter remarking upon an inheritance from her mother, nineteen years after her mother’s death. And, unknowingly during a journey halfway across the world, Elena’s life changes.

The Butterfly Crest has an other-worldly pace that matches the genre perfectly. Other than providing a crash course in Japanese culture and language, the plot is flexible and imaginative which does make it an interesting and entertaining read. The characters are bold and strong and built against a background of a detailed and beautiful setting that lives up to all expectations. While the story may have started slow, the build-up was almost anticlimactic and will definitely dissuade you from putting the book down. The language and narrative style is soft and poetic and synchronises with the main plot and the setting as well as with the characters. The anticlimactic ending is definitely keeping me hooked to the continuation of this series.

Though I understand the symbolism behind the title, I fail to see it reflected in the cover image. And, that would be the only bone of contention I have with this book.

I absolutely loved The Butterfly Crest and I am looking forward to future installments.

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Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating- Moira Weigel

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

“…dating itself often feels like the worst, most precarious form of contemporary labor: an unpaid internship. You cannot be sure where things are heading, but you try to gain experience. If you look sharp, you might get a free lunch.”

…or dinner. In fact, when women first joined the work force,that’s the only way many could afford to eat. But let’s fast-forward a a bit.

Since she was a child, Moira Weigel was told that romantic love was the most significant  thing that would ever happen to her or anyone.  Without it, all other accomplishments would be futile. But how do you find romantic love? The answer was simple…well, sort of. You find love by dating.

So she did. By her mid-twenties she  realized that something didn’t make sense. No one asked or cared about what she wanted. The con was that she had to convince herself that what she wanted was what everyone else wanted.  She felt that self-help books were part of the conspiracy. They tell women that they are the problem and can change when the problem is actually society’s expectations.

So how did we get to this point? Weigel researched the whole concept of dating from the early twentieth century to now.  How did dating go from an arrangement in the home to our hookup culture, virtual dating, computer erotica, cybersex  and other forms of accelerated intimacy?

Labor of Love is a captivating look at dating through the years. From shop girls to charity girls to the changing of roles in the 1960’s. How can you distinguish prostitution from sugar dating or even a free dinner? And let’s not forget the concept of “settling”.

What I  found particularly fascinating was how much of dating in the gay community influenced the dating protocol of heterosexuals  today. Also our general culture has been influenced by such events as rent parties prominent among Afro-Americans in the early to mid-1900’s.  Therefore we have to take a multicultural look at dating in order to get a grasp of where we are in the whole scheme of “finding love”.

Labor of Love goes into much more depth of each of the aspects I briefly mentioned above. That in itself makes for an interesting read.   But more importantly it may make you re-think  this whole dating culture and that you may be motivated to make your own  tweaks to it. Will we find answers and solutions  to this age old quest for love? Maybe not, but after reading this, you’ll definitely feel that you’re not alone.

 

 

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Blues Highway Blues (A Crossroads Thriller) – Eyre Price

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

“Poor mannish boy, Danny, hear me        singing straight at you
You know you sold your soul. And now
         you’ve lost that
                                                                 money
                                                                 too
If you wanna earn your soul back, find where you’re money’s
    hid
Better get down to the crossroads like young Robert did…”

The name “Robert” is referring to early-twentieth century blues guitarist, Robert Johnson.  Legend has it that he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his tremendous guitar skill. “Danny”, well he’s the protagonist in this novel.

Forty-seven year old Daniel Erickson managed to save over a million dollars by screwing over up-and-coming recording artists.  Now he owed that and more to a ruthless Russian mobster after a scheme gone sour . As the gangster’s enforcers accompany Daniel home to get in the safe that is supposed to hold all this money, they find that it’s all gone. In its place is a personalized blues song with lyrics suggesting how Daniel can get his money back.

Daniel manages to get away, though temporarily, from these thugs and makes his way across U.S. Highway 61 through the Mississippi Blues Trail and then to the Crossroads where he can hopefully get his money back. Instead, he finds another CD with more clues.  This takes him on a scavenger hunt through American music’s major cities with blood-thirsty hit-men not far behind.

He takes us through New Orleans, Memphis, Nashville, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Seattle…and we visit the spots where legendary music studios like Sun, Stax, Chess, and Motown once stood. Names like Professor Longhair, Sam Phillips, Hank Williams, Alan Freed, Barry Gordy, Jr.  pop up as we visit the birth places of commercial blues, country, the Memphis sound, the Philly sound, rock ‘n roll, punk and more.  That,  in addition to learning about Daniel’s failed marriage and this organized crime ring,  all play into the story.

However, through all of this we can’t forget the ultimate questions, “Who is playing this dangerous game with him?”,  “Will he survive in the end?”and if he does, “Will he somehow make up for his  greedy past?”

This makes for a fascinating read that I couldn’t put down.  The novel is both plot and character driven and well executed in both areas. The characters are well fleshed out and we know what makes them tick.

The problem I had with Blues Highway Blues was that too much territory was covered and so the history and significance of these cultural landmarks were just touched upon.  I think this would have been better served if author Eyre Price cut out most of the locations and saved them for another book. I can’t tell  you which ones though, as I wanted  him to go into more depth at each stop. As a long-time fan of the Blues and R & B I was well aware of these musical icons and history.

However, I still recommend Blues Highway Blues for the crime and cat-and-mouse story . Fans of those music genres who are not  familiar with the history will be enticed to research further.  So I still think that both American music lovers and fans of crime fiction will enjoy this novel. In fact, I think I will look out for more books by this author.

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Round Seventeen & 1/2: The Names Have Been Changed to Protect the Inefficient – Rich Siegel

(Reviewed by Don Jung)

Exceptional

We’ve evolved from the mad men of the 1960’s and 70’s to the internet and  social media of the twenty-first century. However, one thing hasn’t changed. The advertising industry still tries to get you to buy products that you didn’t even know you wanted. And specifically, who does this? The copywriter comes up with these catchy slogans that manipulate you into buying all this stuff.

Round Seventeen & ½ is a series of short stories about the advertising business told from a copywriter’s perspective.

It’s about how these industry people try to work together to come up with brilliant ads and how they relate to each other. It’s about how they work such long, grueling hours, but still have a life that they can enjoy. These are war stories that are told with a dry humor that only a veteran ad man like author Rich Seigel can tell it. “The $45 Million Dollar Birthday Party” is one where trying to balance work with a family life can get you fired… or maybe rehired with more money? In any event, it’s just one of the many hilarious stories.

There are chapters that show how crazy the advertising world is and how Siegel had to survive the egotistical personalities that he had to work with. This is an easy read as each short story has a different tone that illustrates the copywriter’s experiences with all different types of people and how they reward themselves when they accomplish something. Sometimes wacky, sometimes daffy, the stories represent a view from inside the industry and you wonder how these people can maintain their sanity and have a normal life.

Round Seventeen & ½ will not only appeal to those interested in the world of advertising, but also to those who want to see the humorous side of hard work and coming up with crazy ideas.

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A Fine Imitation – Amber Brock

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

“She had sacrificed a friend to save herself, and for what? To be disdained by her husband? To become the queen of meaningless social rituals? To be a good girl but a bad person?”

Vera Longacre knew her future. Her mother constantly reminded her of what was expected while she was at Vassar in 1913. She was to marry Arthur Bellington, ten years her senior, and live as part of Manhattan’s social elite. She knew her marriage would be like that of her parents’, “less of a choice and more of inevitability”.

While at Vassar she met Bea, a free-spirit from Atlanta.  Though she initially resisted the friendship, Bea brought something out of her and for once she  felt happy and free. However when it came to friendship or family expectations, the latter won out.

After marrying Arthur she wanted for nothing material but longed for love and companionship. Arthur was hardly ever home and all he expected from her was that she publicly play the part of high society wife.  What she did in private, well, he really didn’t care. Vera felt useless, sitting “in the house full of empty, useless things.”

Not only was she depressed, but she ran into Bea and guilty feelings from her past came back to haunt her.

Then an intriguing French artist is hired to paint a mural on their building. He and Vera seem to keep meeting in public and though they talk, he is very secretive about his past. Is he for real or actually a con artist? Will Vera fall for him? More importantly will Vera be able to redeem herself, become free and have merit outside of high society?

These questions keep the reader engaged in the story.   A Fine Imitation  gives us a glimpse of 1920s prohibition and the Park Avenue social elite. Each chapter switches between Vera in college and then ten years later in Manhattan. The structure works well as it keeps the reader invested in the story , wondering how Vera’s life will turn out. Though I was invested in the story, I wasn’t invested in the characters. I found myself intrigued as a detached observer. Also, I’m not sure that I buy the ending, as it seems far-fetched.

Still, I don’t always need to care about the characters if the story-line gives me a fresh experience. I would recommend A Fine Imitation for those who are seeking a quick, fine read.

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United States of Japan – Peter Tieryas

(Reviewed by Don Jung)

Just image…what if the Axis powers defeated the Allies in WWII and Japan took over the western United States? This curious twist on history is what Peter Tieryas writes about in his novel, United States of Japan.

This intriguing story takes place in Southern California after the takeover. and a video game comes out that poses a world where the Allies can threaten to overthrow the regime.

A game sensor and a female secret operative get caught in a series of incidents that question family and loved ones as well as their loyalty to the Empire. They become an unlikely couple trying their best to get out of their predicament as they
face a bizarre set of circumstances that keeps you in suspense as they try to unravel the mysteries of their past and their future. Just when you think you know them, you get caught in a deceptive game of lies and distrust.

United States of Japan is more plot-driven than character-driven. It’s an entertaining story that goes from 1948 to 1988 and has a lot of twists and turns that keep the reader trying to see how this unusual world could have been a reality.
This is a fascinating read for those who enjoy conspiracy novels and the “what if”.

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Divine Ecstasy (The Guardians of the Realms Book 8) – Setta Jay

(Reviewed by Ishita RC)

Exceptional

Sacha was born into slavery to demented Gods. All her life she only knew the meaning of torment and anguish until she was gifted as a Guardian of the Realms. She has learnt how to hide her pain and shame under the cover of duty and family. The last thing anyone imagines waking her is a God with the strength and potential to unravel her entire world.

Hades is the most powerful of all Gods, but he finds himself surrendering to Sacha. Now that he has find his soulmate, will he lose her to the evil raging outside and the tormenting past that is raging inside Sacha?

This was a totally different way of looking at the Greek Gods for sure. The chemistry is definitely powerful and intertwined throughout the entire plot. Being the 8th book, there is obviously a gap in my knowledge regarding the plot line. But somehow I didn’t notice any lag while reading the book. The characters are strong and the familiarity definitely shows a smooth transition from the previous books of this series. I actually liked this version of Hades more than the ones I have seen and read.

As the title suggests, there is definitely abundance of explicit content and I can vouch for the explosive chemistry that has been used to sketch out the characters. However, more than the sex, the chemistry actually helps in building up the personalities of each character. This definitely adds up to the plot.

My opinion: Definitely an explosive series to get your hands on.

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Heirloom: A New Orleans Thriller – Lisa Rey (Author), LD Sledge (Contributor)

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

“…probably the most incredible story that ever came out of a city that was accustomed to sordid weirdness from Voodoo to political murder…how can a world so beautiful to the eye conceal such sick human behavior … Heirloom was the worst. I wish I could wipe the images from my mind that I witnessed in that case. “

These are the words of New Orleans private investigator, Walker Rowan as he recounts this wretched case involving a chemist, Colton Wellington and other unsavory characters.

Wellington patented a formula to preserve garments like wedding dresses and other heirlooms, hence the name of his business, “Heirloom”. However, he also found another use– a rather sordid one– that was quite lucrative. Also he created another side business of utilizing an unpatented formula that would dissolve matter. That was even more lucrative.

Wellington brought in an attorney, Tryon Ireland, who had connections to the underworld that guaranteed the profitability of these formulas. He had other motives as he and his wife were desperately trying to enter the social elite, which unbeknownst to them was not predicated on wealth, but instead, by birth.

Interestingly enough, Walker Rowan wasn’t the person who unraveled this ring. Rather, it was Wellington’s grandson, Max. After returning from serving overseas, he came back to the family business unaware of its unadvertised and illegal dealings.  When he realized that his life was in danger, he began a quest to find out why and who was behind it.

Heirloom keeps the reader entranced with its fast, eerie plot  and sleazy characters. It still manages to  embrace New Orleans culture.  My only complaint is that the love story woven in seamed out of place and silly.

That said, I still think that fans of bizarre crime novels featuring a city’s rich culture will enjoy this short read.

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Searing Ecstasy (The Guardians of the Realms Book 7) – Setta Jay

(Reviewed by Ishita RC)

Exceptional

Drake, the powerful dragon and leader of the Guardians, had the responsibility of protecting all inhabitants of the four Realms for centuries more than that he can remember. He never imagined finding a mate while upholding his responsibilities. But then he meets her under the most unusual circumstances. The only problem is she is feral and her powers are increasing beyond control. With unknown enemies on the horizon and yet another God awakened, will he be able to save the one person who completes him? Or will he himself lose to the beast and turn feral?

I was finally able to catch up on all the books in the series and can  vouch  that I was not disappointed. I was completely hooked on this series since I finished Book 8. The plot line has been consistent and it is not only provoking and compelling, but the explicit content definitely keeps your dreams enticing and lively. Having so many predecessors,  Book 7 managed to capture the utter loneliness of a powerful leader while capturing his strength and weaknesses.

I did not like the cover image at all. Just because the content promises explicit narration, doesn’t mean it has to be represented so graphically as a cover image. The title is definitely apt and represents the love story of a dragon leader, but the image definitely lags behind.

I am really looking forward to the future finales and trust me, I am going to keep my eyes peeled open.

(Editor’s note:  Keep on the lookout for Ishita’s review of Divine Ecstasy -The Guardians of the Realms Book 8 coming soon!)

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The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction – M. A. Orthofer

(Reviewed by J.D. Jung)

As an aficionado of contemporary world fiction, I’m always on a quest to discover more works translated into English. The internet is a great resource, but I spend too much time desperately trying to find authors like ones I’ve enjoyed in the past. After all that work, I usually come up empty. Also, I want to discover new books that I may enjoy. But how can I explore unique and diverse literature if I don’t know what I’m looking for in the first place?
So I had high hopes when I received The Complete Guide to Contemporary World Fiction. I can honestly say that this book exceeded my expectations.

The guide is organized geographically with books and authors arranged by nation and continent. It also gives a literary overview of the region and how political and sociological factors affect the literature. Most of the work is post WWII, but significant literary traditions prior to that are discussed.

This is not just a reference guide. The introduction explains why we don’t see more world literature translated into English and problems with translated works. There is also a section on literary awards and their history and significance.

You may think that guides such as these will become outdated quickly due to new books being published. However, The Complete Guide to Contemporary World fiction serves as a springboard to seeking out and understanding foreign literature. Also, there are numerous recommended online resources to keep you current and help with your search for outstanding fiction. In fact, I have already bookmarked many of them.

The Complete Guide to Contemporary World Fiction is a resource that I will be referencing often. I highly recommend this to all readers who want to expand their knowledge of the vast literary world.

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