Thursday, March 31, 2016

Book Spotlight: Start With the Backbeat: A Musical Novel by Garine B. Isassi

Title: Start With the Backbeat: A Musical Novel
Author: Garine B. Isassi
Published: April 2016, She Writes Press
Format: Paperback, 273 pages

It is the spring of 1989 in New York City when Jill Dodge, a post-punk rocker from Texas, finally gets her big promotion at Mega Big Records. She is thrust into a race to find a gritty, urban rapper before the Gangsta trend passes their label by. As Jill and her mostly middle-class coworkers search for the next big rap star, they fluctuate between alliances and rivalries, tripping over the stereotypes of race, class, and musical genre. They work to promote their current roster of acts as well as the new rap artist they sign to a contract. It turns out, he may not be what they expected. Full of original lyrics and wit, "Start With the Backbeat" is a compelling examination of the nuances of class, race, and culture in America which are sometimes ridiculously serious."

What readers are saying...

“Start with the Backbeat is the touching story of one idealistic young woman’s journey into the music industry when it was at its multiplatinum peak. Holding onto those ideals is a challenge, but Garine Isassi’s clear, smart, good-hearted storytelling is itself a blow against easy cynicism. She reveals a sharp eye for how quickly greed and self-interest can displace a love of music—and an equally sharp understanding of how a dedicated person’s daily principled decisions can make sure that doesn’t happen. It’s a tale that’s both poignant and uplifting.” —Anthony DeCurtis, Contributing Editor, Rolling Stone magazine

“Told with an insider’s ear for dialogue and setting . . . Start with the Backbeat is a fresh, interesting look at a little-known slice of the music industry.” —Sarah Pekkanen, best-sellling author of The Opposite of Me and Catching Air

“Music, friends, family, love, and a career anyone would envy! It’s 1989 and Jill Dodge is working her way up the ladder at a NYC music label. Her quirky friends and diverse co-workers saunter in and out of Jill’s life as she attempts to create a world that’s artistic but also pays the bills. Insight into the glamorous world of music as rap was coming on scene provides a backdrop that is unique and dynamic as we watch Jill move past post-college angst and insecurity. A fun read that brought a smile to my face and got my feet tapping as I went on Jill’s journey to fulfillment.” —Kathleen Shoop, bestselling author of Love and Other Subjects

“A joy ride through the heyday of the eighties rap craze with a heroine you can’t help but root for, Start With the Backbeat is smart, stylish, and fun from beginning to end.” —Kamy Wicoff, author of Wishful Thinking

“Fast-paced and entertaining, Start with the Backbeat is about a young woman’s search for love and success in the exciting but sometimes cutthroat music industry. It’s a fun and heartwarming―a genuine pleasure to read. Like your favorite tune, you’ll find yourself humming it for days.” —Andee Reilly, author of Satisfaction

“Garinè B. Isassi’s funny, tender, and smart novel, Start with the Backbeat, is one of the few books that give us a woman’s point of view of the music industry and an ethnically diverse range of characters. Set in the late ’80s, it tells the story of Jill Dodge, who, after several years as a temp in the Admin Pit (think, ‘armpit’) of Mega Big Records, is promoted to a staff position. The brisk pace and breezy style keep the reader turning pages as Jill struggles to maintain authenticity in the face of clueless execs, romantic snafus, and a wannabe rapper. Isassi skewers the racism and sexism at the core of the industry with a light touch while evoking the deep love of music that drives each of her delightfully unique characters.” —Céline Keating, author of Layla and Play for Me

Start With the Backbeat: A Musical Novel  by Garine B. Isassi is one of  BookSparks "It's Raining Books" reading selection picks. 

Follow the #itsrainingbooks hashtag on twitter to read reviews on this book as well as reviews on the other 4 books! 


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Book Spotlight & Guest Post: Stars Over Sunset Boulevard by Susan Meissner

Title: Stars Over Sunset Boulevard
Author: Susan Meissner
Published: January 2016, NAL
Format: Paperback, 400 pages

In this new novel from the acclaimed author of Secrets of a Charmed Life, two women working in Hollywood during its Golden Age discover the joy and heartbreak of true friendship.

Los Angeles, Present Day. When an iconic hat worn by Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind  ends up in Christine McAllister’s vintage clothing boutique by mistake, her efforts to return it to its owner take her on a journey more enchanting than any classic movie…

Los Angeles, 1938.  Violet Mayfield sets out to reinvent herself in Hollywood after her  dream of becoming a wife and mother falls apart, and lands a job on the film-set of Gone With the Wind. There, she meets enigmatic Audrey Duvall, a once-rising film star who is now a fellow secretary. Audrey’s zest for life and their adventures together among Hollywood’s glitterati enthrall Violet…until each woman’s deepest desires collide.  What Audrey and Violet are willing to risk, for themselves and for each other, to ensure their own happy endings will shape their friendship, and their lives, far into the future.

The Wonder of Friendship

by Susan Meissner

When someone asks me what my new novel is about, my short answer is it’s a book about the amazing and complex gift we call friendship. Specifically, STARS OVER SUNSET BOULEVARD is about two studio secretaries who befriend each other on the 1939 movie set of Gone with the Wind, but thematically, it’s a creative look at the mystery and magnificence of friendship. I typically write dual time periods fiction that centers around at least one kind of human relationship. I like writing about relationship dynamics because it’s in the mesh of how we interact with people that the best stories can be found. We are wired to be in relationships with others. It’s one of those universal truths. Just peek back at Tom Hanks’ character in the movie Cast Away and a certain volleyball for quick evidence that we cannot survive if we don’t have someone to love.  

The truly remarkable thing about friendship, and this is something I sought to bring to the pages of STARS OVER SUNSET BOULEVARD, is that it’s a deeply personal affiliation that we choose. Other relationships that are as meaningful and intimate as friendship start with choice but quickly morph into moral obligation. We choose our spouses but then we marry them and take vows that are culturally and legally binding. We choose to be parents but then we are ethically and lawfully bound to care for our children. No one is going to come after you with a warrant for your arrest if you decide to stop being someone’s friend. 

We not only choose our best friends, we love them as if they are people to whom we are contractually bound. I’ve written about mother-daughter relationships, sibling relationships, spousal relationships, but the most mysterious alliance that I’ve yet to write about is the one between two individuals unrelated by blood or pledge who stick with each other despite the inevitable wounding that comes when flawed people bond.  

Setting this story on the movie set of Gone with the Wind, one of my all-time favorite movies, allowed me to study the unique friendship of the literary characters Scarlett O’Hara and Melanie Hamilton as portrayed in the film, and then borrow those traits for my two studio secretaries, Violet and Audrey, as they, too, interacted with each other, chased after their life-dreams, and sometimes trampled on the other in the process. The more you study the visible friendship between Scarlett and Melanie in this classic film, the more you see the depth and complexity of their affection for each other. Melanie knew exactly who and what Scarlett was and loved her anyway. Scarlett, though infatuated with the idea of having Melanie’s husband, was nevertheless more devoted to Melanie as a friend than any other person, including Rhett Butler. These characters aren’t naïve to each other’s flaws, nor are we to our closest friends’ imperfections, or they to ours. And yet we cling, we forgive, we support, we love, we protect, and then forgive again. 

I love this quote by Friedrich Nietzsche because it so aptly describes the heart of this phenomenon we call friendship: “Love is blind; friendship closes its eyes.” This is simply how friendship operates. The why of it isn’t simple at all though, but rather mysterious and magical. And it makes for a great storyline. 

The literary world is full of characters whose friendships left an impact on us. Kathryn Stockett’s Abileen and Minny in The Help, L. M. Montgomery’s Anne Shirley and Diana Barry in Anne of Green Gables, and Lisa See’s Lily and Snow Flower in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan are a few of my favorites. How about you? Who are your favorite literary best friends?  


About the Author:  Susan Meissner is a multi-published author, speaker and writing workshop leader with a background in community journalism. Her novels include A Fall of Marigolds, named by Booklist's Top Ten women's fiction titles for 2014, and The Shape of Mercy,  named by Publishers Weekly as one of the 100 Best Novels of 2008. She is also a RITA finalist, and Christy Award winner.

A California native, she attended Point Loma Nazarene University. Susan is a pastor's wife and a mother of four young adults. When she's not working on a novel, she writes small group curriculum for her San Diego church. She is also a writing workshop volunteer for Words Alive, a San Diego non-profit dedicated to helping at-risk youth foster a love for reading and writing.

Authors Links: 
Website   |   Twitter   |   Facebook 
|   Pinterest   |   Goodreads


Monday, March 28, 2016

Review: The Bitter Season by Tami Hoag (audio)

Title: The Bitter Season
Author: Tami Hoag
Series: Kovac & Liska, #5
Narrator: David Colacci
Published: January 2016, Brilliance Audio
Length: 13 hours 47 minutes
Source: Publisher


#1  New York Times Bestselling author Tami Hoag returns to the bestselling series of her career with a Kovac and Liska case that will delight fans and new readers alike.

A murder from the past. A murder from the present. And a life that was never meant to be... As the dreary, bitter weather of late fall descends on Minneapolis, Detective Nikki Liska is restless. After moving to the cold case squad in order to spend more time with her sons, she misses the rush of pulling an all-nighter, the sense of urgency of hunting a murderer on the loose. Most of all she misses her old partner, Sam Kovac.

Sam is having an even harder time adjusting to Nikki's absence, saddled with a green new partner younger than pieces of Sam's wardrobe. Sam is distracted from his troubles by an especially brutal double homicide: a middle-aged husband and wife bludgeoned and hacked to death in their home with a ceremonial Japanese samurai sword. Nikki's case, the unsolved murder of a family man, community leader, and decorated sex crimes detective for the Minneapolis PD, is less of a distraction: Twenty years later, there is little hope for finding the killer who got away.

On the other end of the spectrum, Minneapolis resident Evi Burke has a life she only dreamed of as a kid in and out of foster homes: a beautiful home, a family, people who love her, a fulfilling job. Little does she know that a danger from her past is stalking her perfect present. A danger powerful enough to pull in both Kovac and Liska and destroy the perfect life she was never meant to have.

My thoughts: This is the latest book in Tami Hoag's Kovac and Liska series and I really like this series. Tami Hoag is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors and I jumped at the opportunity to read and review this latest one.

I love Kovac and Liska and love how they work together. Even though they are no longer partners - Liska has moved to the cold case department in order to have more regular hours and be able to spend more time with her sons - they end up working their respective cases side-by-side. That is, until it seems that these two unrelated cases just might be related after all.

What I love about this series is that nothing is as it appears. Tami Hoag does a great job of taking what you think are separate threads and weaving them together into a complicated and intricate plot so tight that when you are finished with the book, you are left amazed. The twists and turns are are plausible and she is able to take two murders, twenty-five years apart, and connect them in a way that is completely believable. 
This was a great installment to this series and the ending was not what I expected. I thought I had figured out the bad guy a few times, but was wrong. There's never a dull moment in these books and I cannot wait to see what Tami Hoag has in store next for Kovac and Liska...I just hope we don't have to wait too long!
Audio thoughts:
I really enjoy listening to David Colacci narrate this series...he just does such a great job with the voices - even the female ones! He's pretty consistent from book to book and the pacing and tension he adds when the scene warrants is great. I really wish Brilliance Audio would re-release Prior Bad Acts and have David Colacci narrate it so I could be caught up with this series! I'm holding out hope that it's going to happen one of these days!!!

Books in this series:
1.   Ashes to Ashes
       2.   Dust to Dust
       3.   Prior Bad Acts
       3.5   The 1st Victim
       4.   The 9th Girl

       5.   The Bitter Season    

Saturday, March 26, 2016

#FitReaders: Weekly Check-in March 25


So, this past week was all about taking it easy - light, easy walks because I was still sick with that nasty cold that turned into a sinus infection. Luckily I got some good meds from the doc and am feeling much better! I think between the meds and just taking it easy, it really helped. I'm going to do another week of light activity before ramping things up - no need to end up sick again!
Here's how my week went:     
Mar 19:  6,646 steps
Mar 20:  3,964 steps
Mar 21:  15,614 steps 

Mar 22:  12,626 steps
Mar 23:  14,869 steps
(5K- 3.36 Charity miles for Girls on the Run)
Mar 24:
12,582 steps
Mar 25: 
14,545 steps

Audiobooks listened to this week: 

  • Finished Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, narrated by Emma Messenger
  • Started & Finished Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter, narrated by Kathleen Early

How did your week go? You can find this week's link-up here.

Virtual 5K /10K Tally:
           5K  -  3
         10K -  0
           5K -  4
         10K - 1

          5K -  3
        10K - 0


Short & Sweet Review: Swamp Bones by Kathy Reichs (audio)

Title: Swamp Bones
Author: Kathy Reichs
Series: Temperance Brennan, #16.5
Narrator: Katherine Borowitz
Published: August 2014, Penguin Random House Audio
Length: 2 hours 54 minutes 

Forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan returns in a chilling original short story from #1 New York Times bestselling author Kathy Reichs. In the prequel to Reichs’s upcoming thriller Bones Never Lie, Tempe takes a much-needed vacation—but murder follows wherever she goes.

Although a trip to Florida is supposed to be about rest and relaxation, there’s no such thing as a day off for Dr. Temperance Brennan. She has come to visit her friend, a dedicated ornithologist who’s researching the threat that intrusive Burmese pythons pose to indigenous bird species in the Everglades. While sorting through the stomach of an eighteen-foot specimen, they make a disturbing discovery: bones that are unmistakably human. And when Tempe spots the telltale signs of murder by a very different kind of predator, she’s drawn into a case with its roots in the darkest depths of the swamp.
***Short & Sweet Reviews are short, quick reviews. These will mainly be used for series books where I have already done full reviews on some of the earlier books or for books that I feel will suffice with a quick review. These will not be used for review requests or blog tours.

My thoughts: Again, as I've often stated, I really do love this series...I absolutely love Tempe Brennan. She's a force to be reckoned with to say the least and I love that when she's on a case, she is like a dog with a bone - she will do whatever it takes to get that case solved, oftentimes putting herself in danger without thinking through the consequences. I also love that in every book I find I learn tidbits of information - whether it's forensics-related or just general knowledge, but somehow tied to the case Tempe happens to be working on. In this book, we learn about the Everglades and pythons - remind me never to go poking around there!

This book takes place over the course of a few days and Tempe thought she was going on vacation to visit a friend. She ends up doing a non-human autopsy - never heard of that one, and it takes off from there! It's a pretty quick moving, fast-paced story and filled with Tempe's quick wit that we've all come to love. 

This short story actually is a prequel to the next book, Bones Never Lie. While I've actually already read it, it's been a while, so I think I am going to re-listen to it, and the two that come after (see list below), just so that I have the stories, and the character developement straight in my mind. I'm big on character development in series - to me, that's the whole reason why you read series in order. This way, I am completely ready for the new book when it comes out, whenever that might be! 

Audio thoughts: So this is the book where the narrator changes...I think from this point forward, Katherine Borowitz continues on with the narration. Oh well! Nothing against Katherine, as she does a good job with the narration, but I had gotten used to the previous narrator, Linda Emond doing all the voices, and like most people, I'm not big on change. But moving on...I thought Katherine did good with the voices - she brings her own perspective to the series and I'm sure I will grow to enjoy it just the same. 

Books in this series:
  1. Deja Dead                                14.  Flash & Bones
  2. Death du Jour                       15.  Bones are Forever
  3. Deadly Decisions                 15.5  Bones in Her Pocket
  4. Fatal Voyage                         16.  Bones of the Lost
  5. Grave Secrets                        16.5.  Swamp Bones
  6. Bare Bones                              17.  Bones  Never Lie
  7. Monday Mourning              17.5.  Bones on Ice
  8. Cross Bones                            18.  Speaking in Bones                 
  9. Break No Bones                    
  10. Bones to Ashes                    
  11. Devil Bones 
  12. 206 Bones
  13. Spider Bones

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