Finding the fountain of youth

Finding Forever by Ken Baker
Running Press Teens // September 8, 2015
ISBN-13: 978-0762455942
paperback, 256pgs
source: ARC from publisher

About the book:
In this YA series, Brooklyn Brant is a celebrity news blogger dying to have her big break. Her blog, Deadline Diaries, features the clickbait hook-ups, break-ups, and screw-ups of the Hollywood glitterati, but she has yet to nab the one juicy scoop that will establish her as the ultimate insider.
Actress Taylor Prince is America's sweetheart—beautiful, talented, successful, and sober. With a Golden Globe win, Oscar nom, clothing and fragrance line, and too many magazine covers to count, Taylor is ready to celebrate her sixteenth birthday with a big poolside bash. However, she is not prepared for a police raid and blacking out in the arms of a dangerously handsome stranger.
Brooklyn is called by Taylor's assistant to locate the missing starlet under the radar and on a very tight deadline. And she will need both her sleuthing and journalistic skills to solve the mystery and get the story of a lifetime.
In this suspenseful, dual narrative thriller alternating between the perspectives of Brooklyn and Taylor, author Ken Baker uses his in-depth experience with celebrity journalism and behind-the-scenes truths to explore the ugly underbelly of Hollywood's obsession with finding the ever elusive fountain of youth.

My thoughts:
This is a series that is NOT to be missed!
Last summer, I reviewed How I Got Skinny, Famous, and Fell Madly in Love by Ken Baker and loved it. I was then offered the opportunity to read and review Finding Forever, the first in his new series, Deadline Diaries. I need to admit, that at first glance I wasn't sure I would love this (and I remember feeling the same about How I got Skinny) but knew that I had previously enjoyed Baker's writing so I wanted to give this a go. I am so glad that I did.
Immediately, I was hooked into the story and the characters, not to mention the format. I didn't feel an immediate tug for Taylor, but I did for Brooklyn. Her opening story just seemed to pull at me. Then, as I got further into the story and learned more about Taylor (and Brooklyn), I found myself rooting for both girls. The remaining cast of characters were also intriguing, especially Simone. I didn't find myself caring much about Brooklyn's just-friend Holden, but I did like how it added depth to her character and it gave her more footing for being relate-able to the teenage reader.
As the characters were quickly developing, so was a major mystery - what happened to Taylor? As Brooklyn, Simone, and Holden dive headfirst into uncovering the truth, the reader has the knowledge of what is the truth behind Taylor's rehab stint. It is nerve wracking (I was thinking often "c'mon guys, connect the dots"!) and terrifying (thinking "seriously, what is wrong with this rehab?!) at the same time. I felt compelled to reach out and give Brooklyn those tidbits she was missing. The book draws you in and keeps your heart racing as you guess at the next crazy turn in rehab and the next twist in the investigative reporting that Brooklyn is conducting.
As I sat on the edge of my seat and furiously turned the pages to find out what would happen next, I never realized, until reflecting on the book, how tongue in cheek this book was. It is a commentary on the reality of stardom, wrapped into a great mystery. I feel like sitting around in a book club with this book, we could discuss for hours the impact of social media on celebrity and society as a whole. As well as fear mongering and the health cult mentality- especially when it swirls out of control.
The book format lent itself to both plot and character development, as well as keeping the pace fast but not so much so that the reader gets lost in a mess of information. It is written in dual perspective- that of Taylor's and Brooklyn's. The girls both have voice and their own way of telling the story. Not only do they have distinctive voices, but the physical look helps too. The girl's voices are split with each coming in under a heading- much like you'd see in social media. It has a date, timestamp, and location. It makes it easy to follow and adds visual interest as well.
The books concludes well too- often times, a series will have poorly written endings for each book which can either intrigue the reader to read on or turn the reader off from exploring more of the series titles. Finding Forever balances a clean ending with just enough to make me want to read the next in the series. Baker gives enough of a hook in the ending to make me want to continue to follow Brooklyn to find out more about her and her backstory, as well as where she is going in the world of investigative journalism. I will absolutely be reading the next in the series, after experiencing how thrilling this title was.
Overall, a highly recommended book. I would definitely offer this up to those looking for a fast paced mystery in the teen market, and will absolutely be suggesting it to my teenage students to pick up. Not only do I think they will enjoy it, I think it could very well inspire readers to pick up journalism. It removes the stigma and adds excitement. This is a great book and I am so glad I got to read it! I'm not a big 5-star giver, but this one certainly earned it!!!

About the author:
Ken Baker is an E! News Correspondent. He is the author of How I Got Skinny, Famous, and Fell Madly in Love and Fangirl, and his memoir, Man Made: A Memoir of My Body, is the inspiration for the film The Late Bloomer. He lives (and writes) with his family in Hermosa Beach, CA.

write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow

Cover image, book synopsis, and author information from Amazon
This book was sent to me as an uncorrected proof the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review


Dinner is served... fresh.

Supper by Carolyn McCray*
September 2012 // Off Our Meds Multimedia
Kindle Edition, 39 pages
*you can find this title in her Don't Read After Dark box set

About the book:
Supper by Carolyn McCray is a short story reminiscent of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It is filled with gore, family, twists, and turns. This short story focuses on a group of co-eds that just so happen to get lost and stumble upon a home and decide to stay for supper.

My thoughts:
I thoroughly enjoyed this short story! I am a huge horror fan, so of course I have seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre and when I saw this was basically the entire description provided for this book, I thought I'd give it a go. I had my suspicions that this would be a knock-off and not very original, and that did hold true. However it was still quite good and filled with it's own original twists. I thought the amount of gore was just right - enough to make me cringe, but not so much to make me toss the book aside. This balance is one that short stories seem to struggle with. Carolyn McCray did a fine job with that element. She also did a good job with the characters - in just a few pages I was interested in the co-eds connection to one another. She did throw in a few details that seemed silly and had no relevance to the story (ahem- calling out a character's sexual preference) but I can overlook that and assume her goal was to reach readers. The story moved fast and the plot had great little twists. A few were predictable, a few were not. Again - a good balance, in my opinion, for a short piece.
Overall, I truly enjoyed this short story. I have had it on my Kindle since it came out and am just now getting around to it... and now I am wondering why. I can no longer find it for purchase individually, so I linked the box set above that it is included in. I am probably going to purchase that box set because I am interested to see how her other short stories compare. I would recommend this to horror buffs and those looking for a quick creepy (and gory) read. Perfect fit for RIPX!

I read and reviewed this short story for RIPX

write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow

Image from Goodreads


The Frangipani Hotel

The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith
Spiegel & Grau // April 1, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0812993318
hardcover, 256pgs
source: egalley from publisher

About the book:
A beautiful young woman appears fully dressed in an overflowing bathtub at the Frangipani Hotel in Hanoi. A jaded teenage girl in Houston befriends an older Vietnamese gentleman she discovers naked behind a dumpster. A trucker in Saigon is asked to drive a dying young man home to his village. A plump Vietnamese-American teenager is sent to her elderly grandmother in Ho Chi Minh City to lose weight, only to be lured out of the house by the wafting aroma of freshly baked bread. In these evocative and always surprising stories, the supernatural coexists with the mundane lives of characters who struggle against the burdens of the past.

Based on traditional Vietnamese folk tales told to Kupersmith by her grandmother, these fantastical, chilling, and thoroughly contemporary stories are a boldly original exploration of Vietnamese culture, addressing both the immigrant experience and the lives of those who remained behind. Lurking in the background of them all is a larger ghost—that of the Vietnam War, whose legacy continues to haunt us.

My thoughts:
Reading the description of this book of short stories, I assumed I was in for a wild ride of scary ghost stories that would keep me up at night. What I got instead was a collection of stories that were weird and left me hanging.
The Frangipani Hotel is really a collection of strange little tales that connect to Vietnam- either by setting or character. I wouldn't classify these as ghost stories, but rather as unique folklore. The stories are indeed strange. They evoke a sense of unease and bring up more questions than answers. Both of those things are essential in the telling of a good story, but what this collection is severely lacking is closure. I assume that could be purposeful - there is still a large lack of closure for many surrounding the Vietnam War- however, I thought that most of these short stories needed a lot by way of ending than what was provided. 
A few other things to note was the lack of time frame and lack of continuity. I felt adrift while reading most of the stories... was this present day Vietnam or was this the 70s's, 80's, 90's, 00's? Lack of a certain time made me feel unbalanced as I read the short stories. I had a hard time placing them in any time, but maybe that is just me. As for continuity, what I mean is this: each story was a standalone tale, but they were so disjointed that I felt like I was reading a bunch of student essays instead of a collection of stories. They didn't flow and they had no connection other than the post-war Vietnam theme (which runs deep in this book), leaving me frustrated while reading. Since they had no tie, and the ending of each story was left open to interpretation (way more than necessary, in my opinion), I felt like I was reading something unfinished. It is lacking polish.
Overall, the stories were creepy and weird. It fits the bill for a RIPX read (weird, morbid, etc), but not in the way I had imagined. Instead of scaring me while I lay in bed reading, this had me more confused and thinking "what the hell just happened?" as I read through this collection of Vietnamese folklore.

This review is part of the RIPX series for Peril of the Short Story

write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow

Image, book synopsis and information from Netgalley.com



September is here, which means it is time for one of my favorite reading challenges - Readers Imbibing Peril! Can you believe that it is the 10th year for this challenge?! Carl, from Stainless Steel Droppings started this reading challenge to honor all things creepy for the beginning of Fall in 2005 - and this year has decided to turn the hosting over to Andi & Heather from The Estella Society. I am so excited to get started on this reading challenge... Fall is my favorite time of year for many reasons - I love the cool temperatures, the beautiful foliage, Pumpkin Spice Lattes, all things Halloween, creepy reads, and scary movies. That is why RIP is always a must-do for  me. RIPX features multiple levels of the challenge - Peril of the First, Peril of the Second, Peril of the Third, Peril of the Short Story, Peril of the Group Read, and Peril on the Screen.

Here's an quick run-down:
~ RIPX runs from September 1st to October 31st
~ Readalong The Quick by Lauren Owen with Amanda at Fig and Thistle for Peril of the Group Read
~ You can watch and review creepy movies and shows with Peril of the Screen
~ Everyone can find a reading level to participate - levels are as follows: 1 book (Peril of the Third), 2 books (Peril of the Second) or 4+ books (Peril of the First)

~ RIPX has it's own review site, which you can find here

I will participate at the Peril of the First level. I will also complete the Peril of the Short Story and Peril on the Screen This year's group read is The Quick by Lauren Owen - I am undecided on this one... I started this 2 times over the past year and gave up both times. In May, I read 35% of the book and then did not finish. I am not sure yet whether or not I will be giving it a try again. For me, it was just a bit too slow... however, with a group read, it makes the book seem even more fun and with people to discuss it, maybe I will find pleasure in it and power through - I've heard many a great things about this book but I just haven't been able to finish it and find those great things for myself. Time will tell.

I don't yet have a stack - I've been camping and just returned home so throughout this week I will be hunting down my book stack for RIPX. In the meantime, I will be starting out by reading The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith

So, please join in and have fun reading everything creepy, gothic, macabre, horror, mystery, thriller, suspense... you get the idea. Just don't turn out the lights!!

write to be understood, speak to be heard, read to grow