The Windfall App by Teresa Richards
Many stories I’ve read have main characters who come from either one culture or another, and they often don’t navigate the in-between areas of our multi-ethnic and diverse world. Or if they do, the stories sometimes treat it as the be-all and end-all of the narrative – diversity for the sake of diversity. Where I come from, it was just another aspect of growing up, and this is how The Windfall App by Teresa Richards treats the main character Marina’s background. Her mother is Chinese, her father American, and she’s caught in the middle between both of their expectations. Since I was once a half-Asian teen growing up in the Bay Area just like Marina, I was especially thrilled to read about a main character my long-ago teenage self could identify with.
This is a book that has all the elements of a really fun story. It starts out with some common YA premises: Marina’s at the end of her senior year, trying to get into colleges, win academic competitions, hang out with her best friends and avoid her frenemies. And then it turns into a gripping novel with plenty of mystery and suspense, romance and betrayal, and a close look at the importance of family and friends.
Here's more info about the story:
Marina Berghman is a classical piano prodigy with parents who’ve had her life mapped out since she was in diapers. But their plan leaves no room for her secret love of alternative rock, or Sean, the edgy guitarist who recently moved to town.
When Marina buys a lottery ticket on her eighteenth birthday via the new Windfall app, she expects it to be nothing more than a rite of passage. But she wins – the grand prize of five thousand dollars a day, for life. Suddenly given the means to break free from a life she never felt in control of, she’s quick to cut her family ties and turn her back on everything she knows.
But her lottery win was no lucky break. Her prize comes with strings attached, and Marina soon finds herself at the center of someone else’s life or death game. When she discovers evidence linking her dad to the intrigue, she turns to Sean for help. But he’s harboring secrets of his own.
Now Marina must sort out who to trust and who’s pulling the strings, before her prize turns into a noose.
I’d definitely recommend it to YA fans, young and old alike. A full review of The Windfall App can be found at Bewildering Stories HERE.
Teresa is also doing a Rafflecopter giveaway, and you can win this great prize:
But there isn't much time left to enter - only until the end of day today! So head on over to the link HERE and enter to win.
I also was able to have a quick chat with Teresa about her book and writing in general.
What inspired you to write this book?
I actually got inspired by an ad I heard on the radio for the Connecticut Lucky-For-Life lottery game in which you win a thousand dollars a day for life. I remember thinking, "What if someone won who was really young—would the lottery really shell out a grand a day for the rest of that person's natural life? Or would they *somehow* get out of paying." And the story snowballed from there.
Who would you be if you were a character in your own book (and why)?
Honestly, there is a lot of me in the main character, Marina. I channeled my love of music--all kinds of music--into her. The scenes where she's playing the piano, or thinking about playing the piano, all come directly from my own experience, although I'm nowhere near as good as she is. Also, in another life, I am the bass player in a rock band, so I hold the same secret love of alternative rock that she does. Marina's love of hiking, and of exploring the city of San Francisco, also comes from me, as do the deep feelings she has for her family members by the end of the book.
What's next on the horizon?
I have another YA contemporary book, called Flippin' Skaters, near completion. It's about a girl who reinvents herself by starting a roller skating gymnastics team after a scandalous pictures of her goes viral and destroys her reputation. After that I'll be working on the third book in my Altered Stones series, Daughter of Pearl [Book 1 is Emerald Bound, Book 2 is Topaz Reign].
The Forgotten Ones by Steena Holmes
Steena Holmes’ novel The Forgotten Ones is a slow-paced thriller that questions the idea of what makes a family and how a family can break apart. At its heart, the story is about the choices a person faces when caught between family and what is right. Silence has a price, even if it seems convenient at the time.
It's an intriguing story with a compelling narrative and an enjoyable story line. The characters are alternately sympathetic and horrific. I thought Ms. Holmes also did a good job of exploring aspects of mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder. And the mystery will keep you on the edge of your seat from the start of the book until the end.
For a full review, check it out here at Bewildering Stories. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!
Sharp Edge by Marianne Delacourt
I’m not always the biggest fan of starting in the middle of a series; I usually like to go on the ride with the character from the very beginning of their journey. But I had no problem adjusting to Tara Sharp’s world of combating crime with her psychic powers, living the high life, and trying to juggle a bevy of men in Marianne Delacourt's Book Four of the series, Sharp Edge.
For my full review of the book, check it out here at Bewildering Stories.
Overall, the book is a fun, light read, perfect for when you have a free afternoon and perhaps a mimosa or two waiting. Tara Sharp is a likeable and flawed character who is struggling to figure out her personal life as much as she is struggling to solve crimes. Even if, like me, you’re not starting out with Book One, I hope you enjoy the ride.
Mean Streak by Sandra Brown
I've been hooked on thrillers lately, and what list of thrillers would be complete without Sandra Brown? I've read most of Sandra Brown's books, from her early romances to her later romantic thrillers, and I've enjoyed almost every single one. Her writing is very compelling and hard to put down.
Mean Streak is no exception. It starts out with Dr. Emory Charbonneau being attacked while on a marathon-training run through the woods. She is found by a stranger who takes her back to his cabin and refuses to let her go - or even tell her his name while he holds her prisoner. Meanwhile, her husband Jeff is being questioned by cops in her disappearance, and it appears he is hiding something. But what is he hiding, and does it really have anything to do with his wife's disappearance?
The tension starts out high and doesn't let down until the end. Ms. Brown's writing style is very straightforward and carries the reader right along from start to finish. I don't want to say more, for fear of spoilers, but the book is well worth the read.
I can't get enough of Emily St. John Mandel! Normally, I wouldn't repeat authors too often in my reviews, since I read so many books, but I feel that every single one of her books is well worth a review. Each of her stories focuses on a different aspect of humanity and how it can fall apart - Station Eleven is about community, The Lola Quartet about friendship/relationships, and The Singer's Gun is all about family in its many incarnations.
The main character, Anton, hails from Brooklyn, although his parents are first-generation immigrants to the United States. His family runs a furniture business that is on the wrong side of legal, and Anton grows up in close proximity with his cousin, Elena. Elena's mother is an illegal immigrant who is deported when Elena is young, and her father shortly follows her mother back to her home country, leaving Elena stranded with Anton's family.
Anton's cousin, like his parents, has no problem with illegal activities. However, Anton's conscience is troubled by his family's seemingly insouciant disregard for the law. While he starts out participating in his family's business, he can't wait to get on the straight and narrow path, which he finally does. But when he meets the woman he falls in love with, he is drawn into one last family activity - and it is this situation that changes everything.
I've been working my way backwards in time through Ms. Mandel's books, and it is interesting to see her style change in reverse. There are some common motifs in her writing and definitely similar composition in her stories - they flash backwards and forwards in time, revealing the story piece by piece to heighten the tension. But one thing that has stayed consistent with her writing, even from her first book, is the strength of her writing style. It is literary but immediate, with flawed characters that are easy to identify with, and it is the immediacy of her writing that keeps the reader turning the page. This is another book I would recommend for those interested in literary thrillers - a beautifully told story, and well worth the read.
The Lola Quartet is a complicated story that shows that seemingly innocuous events can have disastrous consequences. Or, to repeat a common cliché - the road to hell is paved with good intentions. All the main characters might mean well, but there is a point where their actions change from helping others to helping themselves, a point where they cross too far over the line to return to what they once were.
The main character, Gavin, is a newspaper reporter. However, his story begins when he reaches a crisis - he discovers that ten years earlier, his high school girlfriend might have had a daughter by him. After that, his world starts to fall apart as he tries to find out what happened to Anna and her daughter, Chloe. The pursuit will lead him back to where he grew up in Florida, where he finds out what happened to his friends who played in a quartet with him back in his high school days. What he discovers will change all of their lives, including his own.
Like other books I've read by Ms. Mandel, the story leapfrogs easily between the past and present, slowly revealing bit by bit the interwoven lies and crimes that lead the characters to an irrevocable and final decision. The prose is beautiful and effortless to read, and carried me right along from start to finish. It is a fascinating story, and well worth the read - I'd definitely recommend it to fans of literary thrillers.
A Whisper of Leaves by Ashley Capes
A Whisper of Leaves is a novella that tells the story of Riko, a twenties-something girl who was raised in Australia, but whose parents are Japanese. She is currently living in Japan on a work visa, although she has just lost her teaching job because of a false sexual assault charge leveled at her by a government official's son. If she doesn't find a new job, she will be deported back to Australia. To get her mind off her problems, she decides to go hiking in the national park by Mount Fuji with her friend and roommate, Kiyomi. The mystery begins when they leave the hiking path at the smell of smoke and discover a strange old man kindling a fire in the woods. When they try to return to the path, Riko trips over something and discovers an old journal partially buried in the earth. She takes it with her and starts to read it, and as the story in its pages unfolds, strange things begin to happen to her. She can't decide if perhaps she is going crazy or if perhaps there is a supernatural explanation for everything that is happening to her. As her situation grows more dangerous and she becomes haunted by inexplicable events, she has to get to the bottom of the mystery quickly – or she might not survive long enough to be concerned about finding a new job.
I felt that this story started out a bit slowly for me. Although some explanation was necessary to establish the backstory of the characters, I probably would have liked to have a little less explanation at the beginning and more of a jump straight to discovering the journal. Having said that, the story does pick up quickly after that, and I especially liked the incorporation of poetry and journal passages into the text – it provided a nice contrast with the straightforward narration. The voice was very accessible to read and I think it would appeal strongly to a YA audience. It never gets too graphic, as a lot of modern horror tends to do, and it reminded me of classic teen horror stories I read when I was younger, à la R.L. Stein and Christopher Pike – hinting at danger, but never stepping too far over the edge and out of my comfort zone. I also enjoyed the exploration of cultural differences within a Japanese setting and incorporating Japanese beliefs/superstitions. The passages from the journal are particularly poetic and poignant, as they recall an earlier time in history, for example:
Mother still wore the Mofuku, the black of her hair was lost in the fabric when she bent to pour tea, but I
remember one day, right after Father died, she smiled. I had woven a scarf. She smiled and stroked my head.
Was it the last time she truly smiled? I don't know."
So for those readers who enjoy horror that is not all blood and guts, but incorporates more of the traditional elements of true suspense, this would be a good novella to pick up. I've read other work by Ashley Capes before, and I'd read more by him in the future.
The Barnaby and Hooker Series by Janet Evanovich / The Fox and O'Hare Series by Janet Evanovich & Lee Goldberg
I'm a fan of Janet Evanovich. She does to thrillers/crime solvers what Terry Pratchett does to fantasy. She writes laugh-out-loud comedy, but still can get you to root for the characters. However, her work is a bit formulaic - take a kick-ass girl, a bad boy guy who she's attracted to, and plunk them right in the middle of an unsolved crime that they need to solve without going to the authorities for some reason. That would sum up the plot of every single one of her books. So you know what you're getting into when you pick up a book by her.
I started out by reading Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, but saw she had two other series on the shelf and picked them up also. In The Fox and O'Hare Series, there are three books: The Heist, The Chase and The Job. FBI Special Agent Kate O'Hare is teamed up with international thief Nicolas Fox to solve crimes. Things go wrong and hijinks ensue.
If you're a fan of Evanovich and/or thriller comedy, I'd recommend this series. It is written like stock romances - nothing seriously bad ever happens to the main characters or their families, and you know the good guys are going to win, usually in a ridiculous and silly way. It's not quite as over-the-top humor as her Stephanie Plum series, but I'm guessing that's probably the influence of her co-author, Lee Goldberg. I think it's probably my least favorite of her series, since one thing that I like best about Evanovich is her over-the-top humor. This series is "Evanovich lite."
Then there's the Barnaby and Hooker series composed of two books: Metro Girl and Motor Mouth. In the first book, Alexandra "Barney" Barnaby receives a strange call from her brother, Bill, in the middle of the night. She flies down to Florida where he lives to find out what's happened to him. She runs into Sam Hooker, a NASCAR driver whose boat has been stolen by her brother. Together, they find out that her brother is in deep, deep trouble. In the second book, this time it's Barney and Hooker who are in trouble, and they have to go to all sorts of lengths in order to get out of it again.
As I've said, I'm a fan of Evanovich. But if you're looking for subtlety or depth to your thrillers, these aren't the books for you. The good guys always win, the bad guys are punished (usually permanently). But these series are a nice, light read and perfect to take to the beach.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
First, I want to say how much I enjoyed the writing style of this book - it was hard to put down. I can see what the hype was about and why it was made into a movie - I haven't yet seen the movie, but I can perfectly see this story being carried out in film.
Having said that, I also have to say the second half of the book was just as well written as the first half, but the plot veered too far into the implausible for my tastes. There were a couple things that pulled me out of the story:
1) There were too many writers in the book. Perhaps I'm biased since I'm a fiction writer myself, but one of the first lessons we're told is: Don't write about writers. Not only are Amy's parents writers, but Amy and Nick are both writers. Although Amy's parents being writers helped fully flesh out the plot, Nick certainly doesn't need to be one also. Because of the fake diary Amy plants as part of the evidence piling up against her husband, it might lend credibility for her to pull off the con by being a professional writer... then again, perhaps it's not necessary. Many people have very wonderful blogs nowadays, but aren't "professional" writers. And the fact that ALL the main characters share the same profession? Too many writers in the book, in my opinion. Like too many chefs spoil the broth.
2) Amy's psychosis reads too much to me like a made-up story rather than a fully realized narrative. She is logically crazy. I felt myself being stretched a little past credibility with some of the actions attributed to her.
3) Amy's character is inconsistent. She goes to such great lengths to protect herself and set up the narrative to frame Nick. Then once she stages her disappearance and reaches the cabins in the middle of nowhere, she immediately starts hanging out with two strangers whom she knows nothing about, even going so far as to reveal where she keeps her money and watching a TV show about her own disappearance with one of them. I understand that to forward the plot, her money needs to be stolen in order to be forced to turn to Desi... but it really seems out of character for her. It seems stupid and spur-of-the-moment, and the whole point of the book is she ISN'T stupid or spur-of-the-moment. She's insane, but she's methodical and patient.
4) Nick staying with Amy at the end of the story seems implausible to me. While the child might be SOME motivation, is it worth the rest of his life with crazy Amy? Seems out of character to me. He's turned to another woman before, and he could again. At the end, he talks about not wanting to become Amy, then contradicts himself by saying he's reaching her level of craziness. Again, this struck me as inconsistent.
***END SPOILER ALERT***
Other than these few plot points that bothered me as I read the book, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I'd definitely pick up another book by Gillian Flynn.
I read a lot - depending on my writing schedule, I can usually read about a book a day. Some of the books are fantastic and I would love to recommend to everyone - some, not so much. Either way, I thought I would share a few thoughts on what I'm reading at the moment.