Blog Tour | A Beginning at the End

Blog Tour | Strangers? Friends? Survivors. A Beginning at the End explores what happens after the end of the world.

**Many thanks to MIRA Books and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Author: Mike Chen

(3.91 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Dystopian Science Fiction

Format: Kindle

Publication Date: January 14, 2020, by MIRA Books

Pages: 400 (Kindle version)

#ABeginningattheEnd #MikeChen #MIRABooks

Memories are meant to fade. They’re built with an expiration date.

It’s the end of the world as we know it. You know that song? The R.E.M. one? That keeps playing in my mind whenever I think about apocalyptic or dystopian novels. But this book is slightly different. It’s the beginning of a new world – rather, a reboot.

Life as we know it has been decimated by disease, and the 15% of the planet’s population left alive is trying to figure life out all over again. It’s in this season of discovering a new normal that four strangers’ lives collide. Let’s check out the blurb…

An emotional story about what happens after the end of the world, A BEGINNING AT THE END is a tale of four survivors trying to rebuild their personal lives after a literal apocalypse. For commercial readers who enjoy a speculative twist, or their sci-fi with a heavy dose of family and feelings.
Six years after a global pandemic, it turns out that the End of the World was more like a big pause. Coming out of quarantine, 2 billion unsure survivors split between self-governing big cities, hippie communes, and wasteland gangs. When the father of a presumed-dead pop star announces a global search for his daughter, four lives collide: Krista, a cynical event planner; Moira, the ex-pop star in hiding; Rob, a widowed single father; and Sunny, his seven-year-old daughter. As their lives begin to intertwine, reports of a new outbreak send the fragile society into a panic. And when the government enacts new rules in response to the threat, long-buried secrets surface, causing Sunny to run away seeking the truth behind her mother’s death. Now, Krista, Rob, and Moira must finally confront the demons of their past in order to hit the road and reunite with Sunny — before a coastal lockdown puts the world on pause again.

I saw all these people looking to one person, and that one person looking ahead, and they were moving together.

A running theme in A Beginning at the End is learning that no one can take on the big things all alone – least of all, the end of the world. Each of our main characters needs something from someone else in order to survive their new normal and their personal issues may keep each of them from receiving exactly what they need in time to make a difference.

Krista and Sunny have mommy issues, Moira has daddy issues, and Rob has Family Stability (read DFaCS) issues. It’s a nod to good writing to see these life dramas play out against the backdrop of the larger threat of a deadly virus looming over everything. That, and secrets… SO many secrets!

If you’re into dystopian fiction because you’re drawn to the destruction, terror, and mayhem that comes along with the imminent annihilation of the entire human species; well, this has plenty of panicked people, but its focus is mainly on humanity attempting a massive reboot. But that doesn’t mean all the thrill is gone! You’ve still got gangs, and looters, and cults – yes, cults! – chase scenes, and close calls. Reconstruction does not equal boring in this case.

We’re all hiding something.

In the beginning, I was expecting a cookie cutter end-of-the-world novel, but by the end of A Beginning… (see what I did there?), I was pleasantly surprised by a fully fleshed out story of strangers becoming friends and friends becoming family.

A Beginning at the End is now available at all of the following retailers:

Mike Chen

Mike Chen is a lifelong writer, from crafting fan fiction as a child to somehow getting paid for words as an adult. Mike lives in the Bay Area, where he can be found playing video games and watching Doctor Who with his wife, daughter, and rescue animals. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @mikechenwriter


Into the Wild

=> “Alaska has long been a magnet for dreamers and misfits,… The bush is an unforgiving place, however, that cares nothing for hope or longing.” -Into the Wild<=

Author: Jon Krakauer

(3.98 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Nonfiction / Biography

Format: Paperback

Publication Date: 2015, Anchor Books

Pages: 215

#IntotheWild #ChrisMcCandless #AlaskanWilderness

No longer would he answer to Chris McCandless; he was now Alexander Supertramp, master of his own destiny.

Who has come and taken over my body?! I don’t know what’s happening folks, but my first completely finished non-ARC, print book of 2020 is… wait for it… a NONFICTION BIOGRAPHY! What the heck is happening here?

Chalk it up to Goodreads. I casually scrolled by a review of this book months ago and the reader/reviewer made it sound so interesting. Why was this kid out there? Where was his family? What happened to him?
It’s one of the things I love most about reading – a mystery, only this one is real. Here’s the book blurb:

In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter. How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.
Immediately after graduating from college in 1991, McCandless had roamed through the West and Southwest on a vision quest like those made by his heroes Jack London and John Muir. In the Mojave Desert he abandoned his car, stripped it of its license plates, and burned all of his cash. He would give himself a new name, Alexander Supertramp, and , unencumbered by money and belongings, he would be free to wallow in the raw, unfiltered experiences that nature presented. Craving a blank spot on the map, McCandless simply threw the maps away. Leaving behind his desperate parents and sister, he vanished into the wild.

Chris was good at almost everything he ever tried…, which made him supremely overconfident.

Walt McCandless

Let’s just get the obvious out of the way, Chris doesn’t make it out of the Alaskan bush. He dies. That’s not a spoiler – it says it right on the back of the book. Now, I have my own personal opinions about what kind of person Chris “Alex Supertramp” McCandless was, but I have to make it clear that what happened to him is a tragedy and I feel so sad for his family. Chris was a dreamer, but his dream ultimately didn’t end the way he intended.

I really appreciate the way that Jon Krakauer approached telling this story. He focused on Chris’s unique personality, his connections to his family and few friends, and the events in his life that prompted him to make his fateful journey into the Alaskan wilderness. Krakauer opens readers’ eyes to the nature and character of a young man who wanted a life outside of the rat race; something different, something… other.

It is impossible to know what murky convergence of chromosomal matter, parent-child dynamics, and alignment of the cosmos was responsible, but Christopher Johnson McCandless came into the world with unusual gifts and a will not easily deflected from its trajectory.

If you appreciate biographies or if you’ve ever heard of Chris McCandless and want to know more about him and his abbreviated life, this book will provide that insight. While what happened to him is sad, Krakauer takes a methodical and practical look at his journey across North America, the people he met along the way, and how he positively impacted each of them. It all makes sense in the end. From his initial escape from the status quo to his haunting final photograph, Chris Mccandless will be one of the most enigmatic people you will ever read about.

Jon Krakauer

Jon Krakauer is an American writer and mountaineer, well-known for outdoor and mountain-climbing writing.


The Tenant

“Writing a murder mystery is like trying to braid a spiderweb, thousands of threads stick to your fingers and break if you don’t keep your focus.” -The Tenant

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Scout Press, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Author: Katrine Engberg

(3.67 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Crime Fiction / Mystery

Format: Kindle

Publication Date: January 14, 2020, by Scout Press

Pages: 368 (Kindle version)

#TheTenant #KatrineEngberg

Sound is equivalent to life, except when the sound is a doorbell bearing bad news, then sound is equivalent to death.

We’ve all heard the saying that art imitates life. Is it true, and is it equally true the other way around? I think a solid argument for either is demonstrated very well in The Tenant. Here’s the blurb…

When a young woman is discovered brutally murdered in her own apartment, with an intricate pattern of lines carved into her face, Copenhagen police detectives Jeppe Korner and Anette Werner are assigned to the case. In short order, they establish a link between the victim, Julie Stender, and her landlady, Esther de Laurenti, who’s a bit too fond of drink and the host of raucous dinner parties with her artist friends. Esther also turns out to be a budding novelist—and when Julie turns up as a murder victim in the still-unfinished mystery she’s writing, the link between fiction and real life grows both more urgent and more dangerous.
But Esther’s role in this twisted scenario is not quite as clear as it first seems. Is she the culprit—or just another victim, trapped in a twisted game of vengeance? Anette and Jeppe must dig more deeply into the two women’s pasts to discover the identity of the brutal puppet-master pulling the strings in this electrifying literary thriller.

A lack of evidence and divergent theories are not the optimum combination for solving a crime.

I started out loving this book. There’s just something about Scandinavian crime-fighters that piques my morbid interest. We’ve got Danish backdrops, imperfect main characters, a grisly murder, and a killer who is going off the rails. Can it get any better? The jury’s still out on that.

Although I do consider this a good series debut for Anette and Jeppe’s characters, somewhere in the middle the wheels fell off. Were there too many suspects? Too much internal conversation? Too much of not enough? I can’t precisely put my finger on it, but whatever it was, it made a good book just not quite click for me.

The second we die, we become someone’s job. In some ways a crime scene is reminiscent of a theater production. A web of silent agreement that, taken altogether, makes up a whole. On cue.

Ultimately, I gave this book a star and a half for captivating character development in Jeppe, a star for the excellent first few chapters, and a star for the future potential of this police procedural/detective series. I wouldn’t mind reading more about these characters as long as the plots stay original and the action doesn’t drag.

Oh, and let’s learn more about Anette’s backstory next time!

Katrine Engberg

A former dancer and choreographer with a background in television and theater, Katrine Engberg has launched a groundbreaking career as a novelist with the publication of The Tenant. She is now one of the most widely read and beloved crime authors in Denmark.


New or Old – That Smell is Incredible

Welcome to my book review blog. Thanks for dropping in!

The only important thing in a book is the meaning that it has for you.

–W. Somerset Maugham

Whenever I get a new book, or mooch an old book, or borrow a book from the library, for that matter, I bring it close to my nose… and inhale.

Sometimes the smell is crisp and warm, almost woodsy. Other times it’s ancient and musky, like well-worn furniture. Either way, it’s a great smell. Remember that episode of Gilmore Girls where Rory is showing Anna (future Yale student) around the library and she picks up a book and smells it? Yes, just like that: #bibliosmia.

So now you know I read old books and new – and I love them both equally. So if you’re here to just see reviews on all the hot new releases that everyone else is reading and blogging about, then you’re not in the right place. Sorry.

I do read selective New Releases, but I also have a lot of “Dusty Bookshelf” reads that I am committed to getting through in this upcoming year (I said that last year too), and a lot of books that people have recommended to me that I will finally get around to. The books I read/review won’t always be current, but they’ll always be interesting.

I prefer reading hardcovers or trade-sized paperbacks (there’s nothing like the feel of a book in your hands), but I also read several e-books and listen to a few audiobooks each month, so you’ll likely see reviews for publications in those formats as well.

Occasionally, when she lets me, my daughter and I will read her books together. She’s in 5th grade and has a bookcase full of chapter books that we work our way through whenever she’s not bogged down with school-assigned stories. When our read-along books are especially good, I’ll review those too.

I’ll also occasionally be featuring my favorite authors, book events in Georgia, upcoming new releases, links to free e-book deals, and throwback looks at my favorite childhood reads.

I’m a Goodreads member and belong to several groups there. The book cover pics I post will most often come from Goodreads along with mentions of their overall rating of each book. However, I do not – I repeat, NOT – allow the rating from “the masses” influence my personal opinion of any book I read. Reviews are my own individual thoughts and I am absolutely not receiving any compensation for anything I post here.

As you may have guessed, this is my first foray into blogging so I’m sure I have some kinks to work out. If something isn’t working or posting correctly, just bear with me and I’ll get it worked out. Eventually. ♥



Blog Tour | The Little Bookshop on the Seine

Blog Tour | “It was time to stop hiding, and start participating in real life.” – The Little Bookshop on the Seine

**Many thanks to HQN Book and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Author: Rebecca Raisin

(3.64 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Romance

Format: Kindle

Publication Date: January 7, 2020, by HQN Books

Pages: 232 (EBook version)

#TheLittleBookshopontheSeine #RebeccaRaisin #LittleBookshop #HQNBooks

I’d left my home, my routine, and I was here where ancient beauty was abundant. I’d made the right choice, I could feel it in my bones.

Fictional characters make it seem so easy to pull off some pretty amazing feats – take switching lives for example. We’ve seen it 100 times – either through some kind of freaky magic, a rogue lightning strike, or just a spontaneous decision, switching lives always leads to some big adventures. I’ve never tried it – maybe because there isn’t anyone I’ve met so far that I would want to trade lives with, even for a few weeks. Not that my life is so interesting, my switcher would probably be bored out of their minds!

But Sarah Smith (gosh, even her name sounds like she needs some excitement, right?) needs a change. She needs to shuffle some things up, find a spark, and get recharged. And overworked, spurned-in-love Sophie in Paris offers Sarah just the opportunity she is looking for. Let’s check out the blurb…

When bookshop owner Sarah Smith is offered the opportunity for a job exchange with her Parisian friend Sophie, saying yes is a no-brainer — after all, what kind of romantic would turn down six months in Paris? Sarah is sure she’s in for the experience of a lifetime — days spent surrounded by literature in a gorgeous bookshop, and the chance to watch the snow fall on the Eiffel Tower. Plus, now she can meet up with her journalist boyfriend, Ridge, when his job takes him around the globe.
But her expectations cool faster than her café au lait soon after she lands in the City of Light — she’s a fish out of water in Paris. The customers are rude, her new coworkers suspicious and her relationship with Ridge has been reduced to a long-distance game of phone tag, leaving Sarah to wonder if he’ll ever put her first over his busy career. As Christmas approaches, Sarah is determined to get the shop — and her life — back in order… and make her dreams of a Parisian happily-ever-after come true.

In small-town Connecticut, there wasn’t a lot to do. And life here – calm, peaceful – was fine, but that’s just it, fine wan’t enough anymore.

OK, so we have one woman who is seeking adventure and change from her mundane everyday, and then we have another woman who is looking for an escape from a bad relationship and a way to relax from her hectic lifestyle. Come on… you know this story, right? The Holiday! My favorite Kate Winslet movie (and really, the only one I’ll watch with Cameron Diaz in it). Amanda and Iris (Cameron and Kate) switch houses/lives in LA and Surrey in an effort to “reset” themselves, their careers, and their love lives.

This Little Bookshop novel has the same premise – two women needing a hard reset to get their lives on track. Attractive premise, promising plot, I just wish I could say that I enjoyed this reading experience more. But let’s talk about the things I do like first…

…to me, books were alive, the words throbbed and pulsed, as important as a heartbeat,…

Raisin’s descriptions of Paris – its food and sights – actually made me want to go there, and I consider myself quite the anti-Francophile. There are beautifully crafted paragraphs about mouth-watering Parisian delicacies and equally enticing descriptions of Paris’ Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe that immediately thrust you into a magically, romantic world.

Plus, in every romantic novel, you need at least the promise of romance. Even though Sarah and Ridge are separated for most of the book, their romance shines through his absence – and this dude is really romantic.

I would find the heart of Paris, I would do all those things lovers did, and to hell with it if I was alone.

So, why only three stars? Why didn’t this book really resonate with me? There’s an easy answer: One thing that turns me off from a book and its story is if the protagonist is wishy-washy, and Sarah definitely is that kind of character. She keeps hearing what she needs to hear and know in order to feel confident in her man and her relationship, but she refuses all of that advice and chooses to feel abandoned and slighted instead. So, yes, an annoyingly needy main character can throw me out of the book because I feel I can’t relate to her motivation and choices.

Also, there were several places where the writing and action seemed too repetitive. Sarah was in Paris for months, and readers learn about her weeks of trouble and solitude in detail; however, when anything truly interesting happens, those events are glossed over and summarized down into one paragraph. Tell us about the late night art gallery visit! Tell us about the one night spent with the boyfriend you’ve been longing to see for months! That’s the stuff we want to know about. Honestly!

Even though this book didn’t quite hit its mark with me, there were many points where I could appreciate that it is written by a lover of books and by someone who really appreciates the written word. And for that, I would recommend it to those who love reading book about books, those who are instantly attracted to handsome little bookshops on historic corners, and to those for whom Paris is a dream. This book will whet your appetite for more than a cheap romance, you will want the adventure!

The Little Bookshop on the Seine is available now at any of the following booksellers:

Rebecca Raisin

Rebecca Raisin is the author of several novels, including the beloved Little Paris seris and the Gingerbread Cafe trilogy, and her short stories have been published in various anthologies and fiction magazines. You can follow Rebecca on Facebook, and at http://www.rebeccaraisin.com

Blog Tour | First Cut

Blog Tour | “I was being haunted by two women I didn’t even know. One was dead and buried — the other waited for me in the morgue cooler.” – First Cut

**Many thanks to Hanover Square Press and the authors for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Author: Judy Melinek & T. J. Mitchell

(4.10 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Crime Fiction / Mystery / Thriller

Format: Kindle

Publication Date: January 7, 2020, by Hanover Square Press

Pages: 336 (Kindle version)

#FirstCut #JudyMelinek #TJMitchell #HanoverSquarePress

I wondered, again, if I had mad the right choice in coming to San Francisco. Then again, I had to remind myself, there hadn’t been any choice involved.

Reviewing books isn’t always easy. There are expectations attached to every review you right; publishers want a good review to boost sales, readers want an honest review to fill TBR lists, and authors want outstanding reviews to know that others also love the literary children they’ve released into the world. Sometimes those expectations make a reviewer sentimental enough to bump up a rating – you know, give it an extra star because, hey, it wasn’t terrible.

Don’t get nervous, I am not about to trash this book in the name of keeping things “honest”. Just the opposite, in fact. This isn’t your mother-in-law’s gloppy potato salad that you have to smile and pretend is delicious. This is a Food Network chef’s gourmet potato salad that can more than hold its own at any family reunion picnic. OK, I’ll translate that: This is a good book.

Dr. Jessie Teska has made a chilling discover. A suspected overdose case contains hints of something more sinister: a drug lord’s attempt at a murderous cover up. As more bodies land on her autopsy table, Jessie uncovers a constellation of deaths that point to an elaborate network of powerful criminals — on both sides of the law — that will do anything to keep things buried. But autopsy means “see for your yourself, ” and Jessie Teska won’t stop until she’s seen it all — even if it means the next corpse on the slab could be her own.

Nothing puts a messy homicide investigation out of your mind like a newer and messier one.

When a book has a certain formula that captures my attention, I get a little giddy; and this one fits the bill. It has a flawed, but relatable, main character, love interests to the left and right of her, several mysteries to solve with villains in abundance, and diverse characters that keep the plot moving along at a rapid, engaging pace. There are different voices here, different backgrounds, and varied experiences – even though they all share one basic career category: law enforcement.

I am so satisfied that First Cut is my first blog review of 2020. I mean, I could have really picked a dud to start out the year, but instead, I happen upon this gem of a mystery/thriller! If you’re into forensic-based crime thrillers, check. If you’re into messy little love triangles, check. If you’re into strong female leads working their way into power positions, check. And if you’re into thorough, clever, inclusive storytelling with heart, check, y’all, check.

You aren’t responsible for the things other people do to themselves.

You can find First Cut at any of these major booksellers on January 7th!

Judy Melinek & T. J. Mitchell

Judy Melinek was an assistant medical eaminer in San Francisco for nine years, and today works as a forensic pathologist in Oakland. T.J. Mitchell, is a writer with an English degree from Harvard, who worked in the film industry before becoming a full-time, stay-at-home dad.

Blog Tour | Husband Material

Blog Tour | “Sometimes life has other plans. Or, as I’ve come to witness, no real plans at all.” – Husband Material by Emily Belden

**Many thanks to NetGalley, Harlequin Books/Graydon House, and the author for the opportunity to read a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Author: Emily Belden

(3.46 stars – Goodreads rating)

Genre: Fiction / Romance / Romantic Comedy

Format: Kindle

Publication Date: December 30, 2019, by Graydon House / Harlequin

Pages: 304 (Kindle version)

#HusbandMaterial #EmilyBelden #GraydonHouse

Life is a little scary when you have to sit one-on-one with it for any length of time.

Being a gown-up kinda sux. There are all kinds of things to worry about and be responsible for: bills, your job, and <gasp> taxes! Who thought all this up anyway? We could all just be lounging around somewhere fanning with leaves by a waterfall without a care in the world past which berry to pop into our mouths next. Adulting, bah humbug!

And I’m sure Charlotte Rosen, Husband Material‘s main character, feels at least a little of that same sentiment when her deceased husband’s ashes become her responsibility… again. Let’s check out the blurb:

Twenty-nine-year-old Charlotte Rosen has a secret: she’s a widow. Ever since the fateful day that leveled her world, Charlotte has worked hard to move forward. Great job at a hot social media analytics company? Check. Roommate with no knowledge of her past? Check. Adorable dog? Check. All the while, she’s faithfully data-crunched her way through life, calculating the probability of risk—so she can avoid it.
Yet Charlotte’s algorithms could never have predicted that her late husband’s ashes would land squarely on her doorstep five years later. Stunned but determined, Charlotte sets out to find meaning in this sudden twist of fate, even if that includes facing her perfectly coiffed, and perfectly difficult, ex-mother-in-law—and her husband’s best friend, who seems to become a fixture at her side whether she likes it or not.
But soon a shocking secret surfaces, forcing Charlotte to answer questions she never knew to ask and to consider the possibility of forgiveness. And when a chance at new love arises, she’ll have to decide once and for all whether to follow the numbers or trust her heart.

I’m officially in my last good year of dating… and I’m determined not to wind up with my dog.

OK, so granted, adulting isn’t the most fun thing in the world, but most of us don’t have to deal with an urn that needs re-homing and an overbearing ex-mother-in-law hounding us. Phew! But being a fly-on-the-wall as Charlotte navigates this extreme bump in her road turns out to be quite the adventure.

There are several prevalent themes in Husband Material: getting over the ex, becoming a legit professional in a cut-throat industry, and navigating the tricky lanes of dating after a major relationship ends. While this book is whimsical and doesn’t present itself as a serious tome, it does make you consider some serious subjects before thrusting you back into the humor of it all.

He wouldn’t do something to hurt me. He would, however, choose to protect me at all costs. Are those the same things?

All-in-all, Belden’s book is about starting over; beginning again when things didn’t quite go the way you expected the first time. Charlotte, in her own quirky way, is a poster child for pulling yourself up by the bootstraps and marching on into a new normal. And that’s a theme that I can certainly get behind.

Little things annoyed me about this book, like Charlotte’s manic retreat into algorithms whenever the proverbial poop hit the fan, for instance. But that was more a personal irritation than a fault with the story. Husband Material is a quirky, quick read that tackles some real adult issues with humor and a whole lotta number-crunching!

Buy Husband Material today at any of the following retailers:
Barnes & Noble
Indie Bound
Google Books

Emily Belden

Emily Belden is a journalist, social media marketer, and storyteller. She is the author of the novel Hot Mess and Eightysixed: A Memoir about Unforgettable Men, Mistakes, and Meals. She lives in Chicago. Visit her website at http://www.emilybelden.com or follow her on Twitter or Instagram @emilybelden.