Arden Reviews: June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

IMG_0629Book: June

Author: Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

Genre: Fiction

Basic Description: Cassie Danvers is holed up in her family’s crumbling mansion in small-town Ohio, mourning the loss of her grandmother, June. But the noise of the rusted doorbell forces her out of isolation. Cassie has been named the sole heir to legendary movie star Jack Montgomery’s fortune.

Soon Jack’s famous daughters arrive, entourage in tow, determined to wrestle Cassie away from an inheritance they feel is theirs. Together, they come to discover the true reason for June’s silence about the summer she was eighteen, when Hollywood came to town, and June and Jack’s lives were forever altered. Shifting deftly between the past and present, Cassie and her guests will be forced to reexamine their legacies, their definition of family, and what it truly means to love someone, steadfastly, across the ages.

Arden’s Thoughts: I found myself strangely intrigued, and annoyed, with the characters in June. The only character I truly loved was the house… A house full of memories and character yearning to reach its full potential again.

June, one of our main characters, was so stiff, I wanted to reach through the pages and break her a little. Cassie, our protagonist, felt slightly tragic, but slightly bratty too. Jack’s famous daughters and their employees were… well, every bit as Hollywood as any Kardashian or Swifty gracing the front of tabloids peppering grocery store aisles.

Yet… I rooted for each character to find his or her path. It took me longer than usual to read this book because every detail contributed a piece to the puzzle of June. We’re taken on a journey through Cassie, June’s granddaughter, and Lindie, June’s childhood friend, into a woman we never really know.

Even after completing the book, I’m still not sure I know the namesake of this book. And isn’t that what happens when others tell our story? They see only what we allow them to see. We cover pieces of ourselves we don’t like and reveal the areas with which we’re okay. Maybe that’s why this book was hard read for me… when we read our story through someone else’s eyes we see what they see; the good, the bad, and the not-so-true.

June‘s a mixed bag of internal struggle, youthful ignorance, and hope deferred. It’s a great one for a book club. You’ll need to discuss this book for hours to fully grasp its complete beauty.

Arden Reviews: Nemesis by Brendan Reichs (Interview Included)

IMG_2176Book:  Nemesis

Author: Brendan Reichs

Genre: Teen & Young Adult Mystery & Thriller, Action & Adventure, Fiction

Basic Description: It’s been happening since Min was eight. Every two years, on her birthday, a strange man finds her and murders her in cold blood. But hours later, she wakes up in a clearing just outside her tiny Idaho hometown—alone, unhurt, and with all evidence of the horrifying crime erased.

Across the valley, Noah just wants to be like everyone else. But he’s not. Nightmares of murder and death plague him, though he does his best to hide the signs. But when the world around him begins to spiral toward panic and destruction, Noah discovers that people have been lying to him his whole life. Everything changes in an eye blink.

For the planet has a bigger problem. The Anvil, an enormous asteroid threatening all life on Earth, leaves little room for two troubled teens. Yet on her sixteenth birthday, as she cowers in her bedroom, hoping not to die for the fifth time, Min has had enough. She vows to discover what is happening in Fire Lake and uncovers a lifetime of lies: a vast conspiracy involving the sixty-four students of her sophomore class, one that may be even more sinister than the murders.

Arden’s Thoughts: Y’all. This book blew my mind. I read it in 4 days. I only read books that quickly when I’m on vacation. I work with quite a few clients through my marketing business and Rodan + Fields business. They’re all paying me so I try to be the best darn steward of their investments as I can be.

Now, I promise you, all my work was turned in on time and very well done, but I didn’t sleep much the week I read Nemesis. I literally could not put down the book because every page felt like a cliffhanger swirled with a character development topped off with a plot twist.

I had no idea where Min and Noah were going, why they would be murdered (sorta) every two years, who was behind the conspiracy, and exactly how in the heck would Reichs find closure in a rapidly developing story that held as many questions as it did answers.

Lucky for me, I got to interview the author himself early on a rainy Saturday morning. Even in the middle of a clean eating diet, Brendan (we’re tight now so I can toss aside AP style) engaged me from the beginning of our phone conversation. Had it not been for my Southern upbringing that taught me to not over stay my welcome, I could have chatted with him for hours.

We recounted stories of his early days as a lawyer turned writer and our most embarrassing “only a book nerd could understand” fan moments. Mine involved chasing down John Grisham and Sarah Dessen at the same conference. His… well, you’ll have a chance to meet him on tour at a bookstore near you starting March 21. You can go visit him to learn his.

And we talked about Nemesis. Because our conversation was one of true creative types, sporadic with a hint of random, it wasn’t as linear as my previous author interviews. Hopefully, you’ll capture how engaging and personable he is as I share the highlights of our conversation with you…

Arden: Thanks so much for chatting with me this morning. I’ll be upfront with you. I don’t normally read books like Nemesis and enjoy them. I’m not a thriller kind of gal. But, wow! Your book is incredible. But, I’ve gotta ask… Where did you get the idea for this plot and your characters?

Brendan: Haha, I love that question. It makes me think I’ve created something a bit original and the twists and turns might surprise my readers.

The idea came from Highlander. I was toying with the finality of death. Then, what if you died but it didn’t really count. What if you saw yourself murdered, felt it, but then… you were alive again. What would that do to you?

And really, Nemesisis the beginning of at least a two-part series. I’m working on the next book and it’ll dive even deeper into what happens with Min and Noah… what their lives of dying and then, well not dying, do to their personal development.

Arden: Yea… it’s interesting how Min handles it versus Noah. I think the idea of several people being in a similar situation yet reacting vastly different will resonate with readers. For me, it had me wondering… would I be the best version of myself in this story, or the worst?

Brendan: True. I wanted people thinking deeper than the thriller portion of the story. I also wanted Min and Noah to be very different. I chose Min to be the stronger of the two because so often it’s the boy in the story being the strong one. I didn’t want that. I wanted my girl lead to be strong, empathetic and understanding, but really strong. I wanted Noah to be the weak one, the character barely holding it together. I think more girls need to see that in characters so I wrote that in mine.

And, I don’t like characters who are flat or one-dimensional. I want to show that not everyone is perfectly good or perfectly evil. There’s depth to who I write.

Arden: Ah! I love it. And the depth shows. I mean, when the one guy… (Ha! Just kidding. I’m not giving away any twists.)

Brendan: No! Don’t give away anything. There’s so much to uncover.

Arden: Just keeping you on your toes since you’re sans coffee this morning. So, do these characters come to you in your sleep? Do you see the plot unfolding before you as you watch college basketball? What does your crafting process look like?

Brendan: I’m a former lawyer and current MFA (Masters in Fine Arts) student. I have to know the broad strokes, and a lot of the smaller strokes, before going into it. But, then I’ll be in the middle of a day-to-day activity and the link to the entire story will come to me. I actually have a 6’x4′ whiteboard in my office. I’ll storyboard in my office, outline chapters, and then write a paragraph for each chapter.

Thrillers should thrill. For me, that means carefully crafting the story from start to finish. I need a huge outline before me to keep me focused on where I am now and where the story is taking me.

I write so my reader is engaged, entertained. And every time I finish a book, I’m convinced it’s the last time I’ll ever write. I’ve poured everything into that book.

 

Are you dying to meet Brendan and hear more about his latest book, NemesisWell, if you’re in and around the Charlotte area, plan to be at the Barnes & Noble in the Arboretum Tuesday, March 21 starting at 7 p.m. For more tour details and his other locations including the D.C. area, Charleston, and others, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

Arden Reviews: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

IMG_2052Book:  The Language of Flowers

Author:  Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Genre:  Fiction

Basic Description:  The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.

Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

Arden’s Thoughts: I think it’s fair to say that most of us don’t want to be judgmental. We want to give people the benefit of the doubt or believe they’re doing the best they can.

But, what if you learned a person left her newborn baby in an apartment alone while she went to the grocery store? Would you be so quick to allow this person to explain herself or label her a bad mother?

What if you learned she’s barely 19 and had no support system because she’s a product of the foster system? That she lived with multiple families before she was deemed unadoptable. From age 10 until 18 she lived in a group home and at 18 she aged out of the system with no high school degree, no training, and no place to call home.

What would you think about her then?

It’s interesting how a book, a fictional character, can shake up the way we see the world. I’ve recently been introduced to an organization called Youth Villages, a private nonprofit organization dedicated to helping emotionally and behaviorally troubled children and their families live successfully. I’m working with the fine folks in Charlotte on its fundraising event KiteTales: An Evening of Stories That Soar that will benefit a program dedicated to helping young people like Victoria.

The event will take place May 2 from 6-9 p.m. at the Mint Museum Uptown. Our guest speaker will be New York Times best-selling author Vanessa Diffenbaugh. You’re invited!

Funds raised from KiteTales will support YVLifeSet, a program within Youth Villages. Since 1999, YVLifeSet has helped provide young adults with the tools they need to realize their own amazing potential. The model has been refined and tested and refined some more, but YVLifeSet begins with one simple tenet: Believing in the potential of every single kid to become an incredible adult. What an outstanding opportunity for our next generation.

What I loved about this book, and how it drew me into Youth Villages so rapidly, is I got to see Victoria be honest with who she is but also open up to the potential of being a stronger version of herself. She could actually love her daughter, be a mother, and be a functioning part of a family. She had never seen that scenario play out positively so it took her a long time to believe it could. It also took really patient people to love her through the process.

It excites me when a book can spark a new passion within me. The Language of Flowers sparked a fire to dive in deeper with Youth Villages. I invite you to consider diving in too. Save the date and plan to attend Kite Tales May 2, from 6-9 p.m. at the Mint Museum Uptown. For more information, email John Horton, director of development, at john.horton@youthvillages.org or me at ardensbookclub@gmail.com