Book Review: Above All Men by Eric Shonkwiler

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Years from now, America is slowly collapsing. Crops are drying up and oil is running out. People flee cities for the countryside, worsening the drought and opening the land to crime. Amid this decay and strife, war veteran David Parrish fights to keep his family and farm together. However, the murder of a local child opens old wounds, forcing him to confront his own nature on a hunt through dust storms and crumbling towns for the killer.

In Above All Men, Shonkwiler thrusts us into the future, but not the kind of future you might expect, yet one that is painfully possible. The economy has collapsed. The landscape isn’t lush and healthy. Life isn’t filled with ridiculous gadgetry, as one might expect to encounter in a far off version of our now.  Instead, the unfortunate inhabitants of our tomorrow are forced to live a worse-off version of life than their long-ago ancestors once did. And the desperation which plagues this future is deliciously palpable and drips off the page, dances its way right into our hands and our hearts. And for as hard as times might be for our main character, David Parrish, the words which are used to tell this story are anything but. Page after page, you’ll quickly find yourself immersed into one of the most beautifully and artfully crafted tales about courage and strength and the power of resilience. It takes an author of real talent to tell a tale that is filled with a lot of ugly and make it anything but. And that’s what Shonkwiler is – an author of immense talent.

Above All Men now resides on my list of top reads of my lifetime. If you like your fiction more real than not and you’re a fan of magnificent literature, you’ll want, no, need to pick up a copy.

Available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Eric Shonkwiler has had writing appear in the Los Angeles Review of Books, The Millions, Fiddleblack, [PANK] Magazine, ed2383dd5d4e0a7f023591.L._V361843851_SY470_and Midwestern Gothic. He was born and raised in Ohio, received his MFA from The University of California at Riverside, and has lived and worked in every contiguous U.S. timezone. Above All Men is his first novel.

Connect with Eric on Facebook, his website, and follow him on Twitter.

Book Review of Scars from a Memoir by Marni Mann

“So many times, I had questioned whether I would make it…”

imagesIn Scars from a Memoir, the follow-up novel to Marni Mann’s spectacular debut, Memoirs Aren’t Fairytales, readers follow Nicole Brown as she works her way through rehab and through the pain of her past, trying to pave the way to a better future.

Life isn’t easy. And sometimes we find ourselves stumbling down a path we didn’t mean to traverse. Nicole’s entire life has been a path she never planned to traverse. And just as she learns to let go of the hand that has threatened to strangle every ounce of life from her, she also learns that letting go and coming to peace with it doesn’t mean it’s gone. Our past – the dark and light bits – is a permanent fixture in our very being. Forever.

Nicole’s story is a hard one to read. And you don’t have to be a drug addict to relate to it. I’m not a recovering addict, but I am a recovering sufferer of life. Having spent the better part of a decade in a very dark and lonely place. Having made my fair share of very bad choices, and having to come to terms with the consequences of those choices, I often found myself sitting back after reading a few chapters and reflecting on my own journey. And the many hiccups along the way.

So many novels give us an unrealistic view of life and paint the picture of a cheery perfect ending, but the hard truth of the matter is… life is anything but a fairytale. And while fairytales are wonderful to read, they don’t really give us hope. It’s the stories we can relate to, the stories that, although riddled with sadness and doubt, also show us hope and kindness and love. Those are the stories we learn the most from.

Anyone who has crawled around in the pits of despair knows how hard it is to wash the stench of the darkness off.  But, while it does take a great deal of effort, it is possible to be clean again. And while there is no escaping our past and no guarantee of what lies ahead, we should never stop trying to be better. To help others. And to find happiness. And love. Nicole reminds us of this.

Nicole’s story is one that everyone should read, young and old. For the younger readers, her story serves as a lesson of what can happen. And for the older readers, a reminder that we have survived.

To say that Marni Mann is going places in the literary world (and in life) would be quite an understatement.  Her words, and their lessons, I know, will transcend time.

Marni’s series is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

downloadA New Englander at heart, Marni Mann, now a Floridian is inspired by the sandy beaches and hot pink sunsets of Sarasota. A writer of literary fiction, she taps a mainstream appeal and shakes worldwide taboos, taking her readers on a dark, harrowing, and gritty journey. When she’s not nose deep in her laptop, she’s scouring for chocolate, traveling, reading, or walking her four-legged children. Scars from a Memoir is her second book, a sequel to the highly regarded Memoirs Aren’t Fairytales: A Story of Addiction.

Connect with Marni on her websiteFacebookGoodreads, and follow her on Twitter.

Book Review of Forbidden Fire by Kimberly Kinrade AND a GIVEAWAY (Yay!)

Forbidden Mind sealed my fate as a fan for life of Kinrade. However, still, I was a little worried about Forbidden Fire for a few reasons. One, I knew for a fact that this installment was written from varying point of views. And, while I quite like the idea of multiple POVs, not many authors can pull it off effectively. I was also worried because this was the second part of a three-part series. And from previous experiences, often, the books in the middle just sort of rehash the same ideas over and over, dragging it all out, and so often they fail to serve up much in the way of excitement.

Oh, but it only took a few pages of Kinrade’s writing to put a smile on my face, to cause me to scoot to the edge of my seat, to make me laugh at myself for even letting a worry surface about her impeccable writing. Because Forbidden Fire thrusts the reader into the depths of the story without pause. And I can tell you, Kinrade more than pulls off the varying POVs. The switch between narrators is effortless and smooth, and downright thrilling, leaving us hanging with the end of each section. Pulling at us. Forcing us to just keep turning, keep hanging on.

Her writing is simple, and I mean this as a compliment. She doesn’t get bogged down with too much description, and, yet, she gives us enough to satiate our growing curiosity. Her imagery is vivid, and the love which these characters share is sure to not only cause you to fist pump the air rooting for them, but cause you clutch at your chest as they invade you and warm your heart.

I can’t tell you how impressed I am with this series. How perplexed I am that anyone would ever not read these. Even if you don’t read YA or paranormal romance normally, I dare you to pick up this series and put it down. In fact, no, I double dog dare you.

So where does the last installment, Forbidden Life, take us? I’m not sure, but bring it on Kinrade. I’m ready.

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New to the Forbidden Series? There’s still time to get caught up before the final installment, FORBIDDEN LIFE, releases on October 2nd (did you hear that? Oh, don’t worry, it was just my epic squeeeeee of excitement!!)!!

Check out Kinrade’s books on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Connect with her on her website, Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

**AND if all this wasn’t exciting enough, you can enter to win signed books and more by clicking here**

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The road to redemption begins in darkness. 

A sinister force waits for them in darkness, ready to devour their powers and take their lives.

Sam’s baby is the key to a lock that must never been opened. To keep her child safe, Sam will do anything.

Drake might have found a way to get his powers back and save his family, but is it too late?

Luke and Lucy uncover secrets in an organization they thought they could trust, and the lives of all Rent-A-Kid children are at stake.

In this last Forbidden Trilogy installment, the secrets to Rent-A-Kid will finally be revealed.

Unlock the secrets: October 2, 2012

Do you review books? Yes. Yes, I do.

Book reviews. People ask me about them all the time. And I write a fair amount of them. And I’m endeavoring to schedule more time to read, and write, and relax, and work on finding that clone army I so desperately need. But, yes, on a serious note, I thought it was time that I address my thought process and rules behind book reviews, so that authors know a little bit more about me and how I work.

First and foremost, you should know, I do not write reviews for every single book I read. I’m sorry. I don’t. And just because I do review a book on Amazon and the like, doesn’t automatically mean I’m going to post it on my blog. I don’t generally post reviews for books that I feel are not, at the very least, worthy, in my insignificant opinion, of three stars or more. There are several reasons for this:

  • Genre: It may be a genre that I generally don’t really care for, but, for whatever reason, I decided to give it a go, and, well, discovered my tastes had, indeed, not changed. In this instance I don’t want to leave a bad review, because it has nothing to do with anything the writer did. It is, just my opinion on the genre and would serve of no benefit to readers. So what don’t I read? For the most part, Fantasy and Sci-Fi are not my cup of tea. But if you do a good job selling your story to me, I might just give it a try ;)
  • Unable to Finish: If I am unable to finish the book (yes, sadly this has happened). I also will not write a review because I don’t think it’s fair to the author for me to base my opinions on a story I did not read in its entirety. However, I will contact the author in a more private setting to let them know.
  • 3 Stars or Less: If I complete a book and feel, for whatever reason, the book is not worthy of at least a 3 star review, I will not post a review. I will, also, however, contact the author to let them know. I know authors appreciate feedback and some feedback, in my opinion, doesn’t need to be blasted all over the interwebs.

And don’t be upset if you tell me about your book and I tell you I’m going to read it and, boom, three months goes by and nothing. I assure you, I haven’t forgotten about you. You see, I’m not just a reviewer or a writer. I’m also a full-time legal secretary, student, runner, and baked goods eater (this takes up more time than one would think). So my free time is often limited. With this said, I will, for those writers whom I have a particularly close relationship with, and who have a big promo or release coming up, will do whatever I can to push them up the pile and get a review out when or as near as possible to their event. Otherwise, just be patient with me, I’m getting to it (I promise!).

And, lastly, please don’t just spam me with links to you book. Engage me in some conversation. Tell me a little bit about yourself and your writing.

So those are my rules. You don’t have to like them or agree with them, you just need to be aware of them. ;)

Questions? Got a book you want me to review? Want to be featured on my site? Easy – shoot me an email at lisa AT lmstull DOT com and we’ll talk.

Until next time, Happy Reading!

Book Review of Three Worlds by Nick Palmer

With influences of Robert Frost, Max Ehrmann and Roger McGough, in his superb first collection of a collection of thoughts, Nick Palmer explores the three worlds of human experience; what we are like on the inside, the beauty that inspires us to do great things, and the shadows that snare our hearts.

You know you’ve stumbled upon something special when you find your eyes drinking up the pages so quickly that, by the end, you’re intoxicated and in need of more.

In Palmer’s Three Worlds he offers up an impressive selection of poetry in a myriad of styles and themes. Impressively written, stunningly palpable, and relatable, Palmer’s collection has something for everyone. Broken up into three sections, I found the pieces which comprised the last two worlds my absolute favorite, and, in fact, revisited many of them several times over upon completion to let the beauty and wonder of each phrase seep into my soul some more.

With this collection, he’s created an addict in me. And I can’t seem to stop myself from returning to read a poem or two here and there. I do have one complaint with the collection… it has an ending! I want more Nick Palmer!

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Nick was kind enough to let me share with you one particular poem which I have re-read more times than I care to admit since first enjoying it. And, so, I share with you…Black Tea

As the birds begin the Dawn Chorus,
A sign that today has begun,
I’m drinking black tea and thinking
And waiting for sleep to come.
She asked what I was doing
Sitting alone in the morning sun
I said I’m drinking black tea and thinking
And waiting for sleep to come.
She said that she felt mistreated
Because I’m always moody and glum
I said I’m drinking black tea and thinking
And waiting for sleep to come.
She said she’d found a new lover
And all that we were was done
I said I’m drinking black tea and thinking
And waiting for sleep to come.
She left because she didn’t understand me
And now I’m lonely and numb
So I’m drinking black tea and thinking
And waiting for death to come.

Available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble

Nick is an intelligent, funny and lively postgraduate student and library worker (by day), and a playwright/poet (all the other times). He lives in Leicester, UK, and enjoys bourbon biscuits. Born in Spalding, Lincolnshire, Nick enjoyed growing up in the flatlands of the fens. He started writing stories when he was very young, as well as writing poetry. He moved to Leicester in 2003 to attend university and has not left the city or the university yet; now on his third degree – a PhD in History. He started writing plays in 2007, and finds it to be the best form of expression, though he is still very attached to poetry. He also feels he still has a few stories in him.

Connect with him on his website, Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.

Book Review of The Last Dance by Wyatt McIntyre

James Mueller has spent a lifetime of devotion to his wife Alejandra, and now as her life draws to a close, he looks back to the beginning when it seemed that time and fate conspired to keep them apart. 

A story that ends even as it begins, The Last Dance tells of two souls meant to be together but torn apart by war, misunderstandings and hurt. Bittersweet and deeply romantic, it moves through the significant moments in the lives of these two star-crossed lovers, raising the question not of if but how James and Alejandra will ever find their way back to each other and the love they were destined to share.

From a chance meeting to a look and a touch, to the promises made and the disappointment found, The Last Dance is a story of loss, longing, hope and faith, as James and Alejandra are forced to examine who they are and what they really need if they are ever to turn their fairy-tale romance into a lifelong love.

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McIntyre has produced a lyrical masterpiece with The Last Dance, a novel which follows the story of James and Alejandra as they traverse the often daunting road of love.

In its opening pages, The Last Dance reveals to its readers the ending. And you would think knowing this – where our James and Alejandra end up – would spoil their tale. When in fact, it does anything but. The finality of their story is so captivating, so heart wrenching, and so emotional, that it grabs us. Speaks to us in the most special of places deep within our heart, our soul, and makes us want to join them. To see how they got there. For their story is not a fairytale or fantastical in any way. It is real. And it is what all of us wish and dream and hope for each and every day.

Told at varying points in their lives, McIntyre feeds us little morsels of their journey. Satiating our hunger for more just enough to keep us turning. Keep us begging. The words which fill this novel are eloquent and roll off the page with a stunning ease.

Just as is the case in real life, love doesn’t come easy, nor at the moment or way we expect it. But in their tale, we are reminded of what makes love and life and everything in-between possible: hope and faith. It is a reminder that happiness awaits each of us if we fight hard enough and, most importantly, never stop believing.

It is quite symbolic that the author chose this title – The Last Dance – as it reads as one long, beautiful, and soulful song. It is as if we see James and Alejandra dancing, swaying gracefully to the heartbeat of their story.

In a sea of familiar, it is hard to find novels which stand out. The Last Dance, while filled with emotions and fears and characters which all evoke a palpable familiarity in its readers, is anything but familiar in a literary sense. It is anything but “just good.” The Last Dance is a story for all ages. For anyone who has hoped and dreamt, loved and lost, and ultimately lived to try it all again. It is a story written to and for and about each of us.

McIntyre has done a beyond superb job and should know he has gained a fan for life in me.

Curl up in a comfy chair, grab a box of tissues, open your heart, and let the beautiful words of The Last Dance seep in.

Get your copy on Amazon

Born in Valleyview Alberta and currently residing in Woodridge Illinois, as an amateur woodworker, Wyatt McIntyre sees crafting a story in the same way he carves. Starting with a blank and rough surface, each word, each sentence and line is meant to express a vision that slowly turns the original material into a finished work of beauty. Along with The Last Dance, his first novel, Wyatt is also the author of the theological work, Coping Through Christianity: Strengthening the Wounded Heart and Broken Spirit through God’s Love.

Connect with Wyatt on his website, Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.

Book Review of Spring Into Summer by Eden Baylee

In her latest release, Spring into Summer, Baylee has outdone herself yet again, taking her readers on a journey that is raw, passionate, and unmistakably human.

This sinfully delicious collection of novellas begins with two stories set in the spring, and ends with two in the summer. And just as the turn of each season brings with it a change in temperature, so do the stories in Baylee’s collection. They begin soft and tepid, and end gritty and smoldering hot. The gradual increase of spice titillating the reader, enticing them to read just one more page. Just one more tale. And it is this gradual shift which tugs at our hearts and speaks to our most intimate of desires. A seemingly insatiable hunger intensifying as we savor each and every word, bringing us to the brink of insanity, until, finally, she delivers to us what we so desperately want – an ending so satisfying you wish it would never end. And you wonder how long you’ll go before you turn back to the beginning, to tease and torture and satisfy yourself all over again.

Baylee’s stories are a masterful dance of love and lust and passion and desire, and speak to more than just her reader’s loins. Each word, each scene, each story, a delectable treat for all the senses – the mind, the body, the soul.

Spring into Summer is more than literary erotica, it is a magnificent piece of art which will forever have a home on my bookshelf.

Buy Links: Ebook formats at Amazon.com, or at Amazon.UK

Bio: Eden Baylee writes literary erotica. Her stories are both sensual and sexual, incorporating some of her favorite things such as travel, culture, and a deep curiosity for what turns people on. Spring into Summer is her second collection of erotic novellas.

Links: Website; Blog; Facebook; YoutubePinterest, and Twitter @edenbaylee

Book Review: Melpomene’s Tears

Earlier this week I had the distinct pleasure of introducing you to Mr. Jonas Hyde, Author of  Melpomene’s TearsJonas had asked me if I had been afforded the opportunity of sampling any of his book yet. And, at the time, I had not. I was then, of course, intrigued to dive in and learn a little more about Mr. Hyde and his work. And the subsequent emotions which flooded me upon my eyes first meeting his words, was quite unexpected. So, it is with nothing but delight that I review Mr. Hyde’s work below…

This is probably one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever had to write. Not because I didn’t thoroughly enjoy every single line, word, feeling, and emotion within this collection, no. But because I wanted my words, my review, to do Hyde’s talent justice. And I very much hope that upon reading this, this truly magnificent author can feel the sincerity and true appreciation with which I write this review.

Hyde’s classical style is representative of an era when literature was savored. And the exquisite words which burgeon forth from each page are so divinely assembled that they bewitch the mind, the body, and the soul, transfixing the reader, causing them to do and desire nothing more than to turn the page.

The words that comprise each of these tragic romantic poems tell of stories that anyone who has lived, who has felt, who has loved, and whose soul has nearly died at the hand of heartache, can relate. Hyde’s voice is strong and, yet, so very vulnerable. And it is entirely evident that each piece was crafted with fervor and genuine honesty.

My soul ached when I turned the last page. Because, greedily, I wanted to live in this magnificent world he had created. Forever. I wanted these raw feelings that had taken over every fiber of my being to never dissipate. But then I realized that it was not a tragedy that it had ended; that the true tragedy would have been my never discovering this intoxicating collection.

I am not sure of many things in this world, but of this I am: MELPOMENE’S TEARS will transcend time and captivate its readers for an eternity. And that, ladies and gentlemen, can only be accomplished by writers destined for greatness.

Artists such as Hyde give writers such as myself motivation and inspiration to reach for nothing short of the stars with each piece we pen. And as a reader, he has reminded me why I fell in love with words so very many years ago.

I end this review with a hearty “thank you” to the author. Your words will forever have a place in my heart.

Do yourself a favor and download your copy today. I assure you, your soul will never be fed so well.

His latest work, Melpomene’s Tears, is a collection of some of his most popular poems with brief introductions by the author himself.  It can be found online at Amazon.com or at Hyde’s website, www.jonashyde.com  Always looking to engage with his readers, Hyde can also be reached jonashyde [at] gmail [dot] com.

Book Review ~ A Sea of Trees by Robert James Russell

This week, it is nothing but a pleasure that I share with you a novel whose release I have eagerly anticipated – Robert James Russell’s SEA OF TREES.

Deep inside each of us lives a darkness. A darkness that not even those closest to us can understand, and often, are unaware that it even exists. In Russell’s debut, he does what he does best – thrusts his readers into the stream of consciousness of not just any character’s mind, but a mind all of us can relate to. An everyday kind of mind.

SEA OF TREES follows Bill, an American college student, who accompanies his girlfriend, Junko, on a journey to come to peace with the disappearance of her dear sister. They traverse Japan’s Aokigahara Forest. A forest whose history is also filled with much darkness. With each step they take, Bill finds they are not only further inside this strangely beautiful and tragic forest, but that he is further and further away from answers about… everything. Confusion and fear and stress builds between Bill and his beloved girlfriend, and he struggles to understand not only the truth behind this trip, but also what plagues his Junko. What her inner thoughts are. Because he sees that with each passing moment, Junko seemingly becomes more and more detached from him. And from life.

Hold on tight, readers, because the road to answers and the truth is a bumpy one. Russell’s writing is raw, real, and stunningly palpable. A book that will grip your soul, SEA OF TREES, will envelope you and hold you until the very end. This book. It is nothing short of a masterpiece. And will surely place Russell on bookshelves across the world for readers to enjoy. Forever.

Robert James Russell, you have a fan for life in me.

SEA OF TREES, available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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Robert James Russell, a proud Midwesterner, has known he wanted to be a writer since he was ten years old. A fan of well-placed stream of consciousness and stories that feature everyday characters and dialogue, Robert has a penchant for stories focusing on relationships in all their many forms.

In 2010, he co-founded the literary journal Midwestern Gothic, which aims to catalog the very best fiction of the Midwestern United States. It’s an area he believes is ripe with its own mythologies and tall tales, yet often overlooked. He currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Connect with him on his website and follow him on Twitter.

Book Review ~ Poised for Success by Jacqueline Whitmore

Are you Poised for Success?

I had the pleasure of reading Jacqueline Whitmore’s latest book, Poised for Success.

Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other fine retailers

Poised for Success is broken out into four parts: Presence, Polish, Professionalism, and Passion. Jacqueline believes that when mixed together, these are the ingredients that make a successful professional.

… the ones that get ahead are often those who are able to muster enough courage to take risks and connect from the heart.

In her latest release, Jacqueline takes our hand and guides us through the maze of the business world. If you think your looks, your voice, and the manner in which you communicate make no difference in where you will end up in life… think again.

This isn’t a preachy manual. This is a book that sheds light on how we are perceived by others no matter what industry we work in. A book that will become your friend. A book that I believe should be a required part of any business ensemble.

Presence isn’t something you put on in the morning and take off in the evening; it’s a part of your essence.

Jacqueline helps us examine our appearance, the way we sound, the way we will ultimately market ourselves to the world. She teaches us to communicate from the “outside in.” Helps us form, maintain, and grow professional relationships.

Rise and Shine: you’ll be impressed with the results, because others will be impressed with you.

But this book is more than just undeniably helpful tips. Weaved into the advice, are glimpses into the life of a woman who made herself what she is today – a success. Jacqueline shares personal stories from her life. Stories that show how she has put the knowledge gained over her lifetime to use.

In short, Poised for Success has become my everyday reference guide; the guide that will help me traverse the often daunting road of business, leading me toward my own personal success.

Poised for Success is now available for purchase at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

JACQUELINE WHITMORE is an internationally recognized etiquette expert and the founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach. Her extensive client base includes the U.S. Department of Defense, Booz Allen Hamilton, Office Depot, The Hartford Financial Services Group, Deloitte, Merrill Lynch, Ernst & Young, Bloomingdale’s, Sprint, and Burger King Corporation, among others.

Jacqueline is a popular guest on radio and television and her etiquette advice has appeared in The New York TimesUSA TodayThe Wall Street JournalGlamour, CosmopolitanMarie ClaireReal SimpleFortune, and O: The Oprah Magazine. For more information, visit her website, her blog, and follow her on twitter. Jacqueline and her husband, Brian Gleason, live in Florida.