Tag Archives: books

5 questions with Amber Benson, author of The Witches of Echo Park

Book Cover - Witches of Echo ParkAmber Benson is an actress (you probably know her as Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) a director, and an author. Her most recent book, The Witches of Echo Park, comes out today. Here’s a quick summary of the book, courtesy of Amazon.com:

Unbeknownst to most of humankind, a powerful network of witches thrives within the shadows of society, using their magic to keep the world in balance. But they are being eliminated—and we will all pay if their power falls…

When Elyse MacAllister’s great-aunt Eleanora, the woman who raised her, becomes deathly ill, Lyse puts her comfortable life in Georgia on hold to rush back to Los Angeles. And once she returns to Echo Park, Lyse discovers her great-aunt has been keeping secrets—extraordinary secrets—from her.

Not only is Lyse heir to Eleanora’s Victorian estate; she is also expected to take her great-aunt’s place in the Echo Park coven of witches. But to accept her destiny means to place herself in deadly peril—for the world of magic is under siege, and the battle the witches now fight may be their last…

Luckily, I was able to catch Amber (via email) before she started her book tour, and ask her these five questions:Photo - Amber Benson

1) What inspired you to write The Witches of Echo Park?

It’s a bit of a mash note to Echo Park – which is my favorite neighborhood in Los Angeles. It was also a way to write about lady friendships – how women relate to each other, support each other, have each other’s backs. My women friends are what keep my going – my ladies are my rock and I wanted to explore what that means – and what better way to do that then to delve into the world of witchcraft – a coven of ladies who are forced to deal with each other.

2) Is it tough to switch between acting (where you become someone else and are directed on how to be that person) to writing and directing, where you are clearly yourself?

I get bored so easily that I need to be spinning lots of plates in order to stay fulfilled and happy. So it’s less about switching back and forth between all the different things I do creatively, and more about living in a state where I stay fluid and open to anything at any time. I want to live in a way where I can jump into any situation and not be overwhelmed.

3) Where do the characters names come from? For example, Hessika, Devandra and Lyse are very unique, but seem to fit the characters perfectly.

Aw, thank you! I love interesting names – I kind of collect them. There was this kind of timeless quality to The Witches Of Echo Park, so I thought it would be neat to throw in some old timey names to add to that ‘out of time’ feeling.

4) Your other books also deal with supernatural topics. What draws you to that subject material?

You can talk about all kinds of interesting, possibly volatile things in fantasy/sciFi books and keep the ideas just veiled enough that people can take them or leave them when they read the story. I like that you can talk about things without getting up on the soap box and preaching – that you can layer big ideas over genre tropes and the reader can peel back the layers if they want, or not.

5) What is the one thing that you want readers to take away from the book?

I want them to get lost in a magical world. I want them googling all the places in the book, trying to figure out which ones are real and which ones I’ve made up.

 

The Witches of Echo Park (Ace Trade books) is available in paperback form and in e-reader form today. I recommend that you go check it out.

Leave a comment

Filed under books

Book Review: Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell

Empty MansionsWhen most people think of prominent names of  the Gilded Age, a few common ones come up: Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, and so on. However, not many people come up with W.A. Clark, who made his money in the copper mines. What happens when a formerly prominent family line dies out, when the only remaining heir is a 104-year-old shut-in who owns expensive homes in three different states, yet prefers to live in a hospital? That’s the mystery that Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell take on in Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune.

Huguette and her older sister Louise Amelia Andree’ Clark were the progeny of W.A. Clark and his second wife, the much-younger, Anna. W.A. served in the U.S. Senate and made his money through railroads and copper mining. When Huguette was young, the family owned a mansion on Fifth Avenue. Her older sister died at the age of 17 in 1919, and her father passed on a mere 6 years after that, leaving Huguette and Anna (as well as the family from W.A.’s first marriage) a substantial fortune.

Although Huguette finished high school and married briefly, she spent the rest of her life essentially in solitude. She communicated with others via letters and phone calls, but spent a good deal of her time painting and arranging (and commissioning) her lavish dollhouses while her actual inherited property – a house in New Canaan, Connecticut and another in Santa Barbara, California, went largely ignored, except for the attention of the caretakers who were paid handsomely to take care of them.

Dedman discovered the mystery surrounding Huguette Clark after stumbling upon the empty New Canaan house, and set about piecing together her history. Although he never really comes to the reason as to why she behaved as she did (childhood trauma? overt shyness? mental illness?) he and Paul Clark Newell, a distant relative of Huguette’s, do manage to paint a very detailed picture of her life.

Empty Mansions is available now through booksellers everywhere and on Amazon.com. If you love a good, real-life mystery (like I do) you’ll enjoy this book.

(Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book to review through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are my own. For more information, please see my disclosure policy above.) 

Leave a comment

Filed under books

Book review: Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 486 easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown

Adulting BookThere are manuals for everything: vehicles, electronics, appliances, so why not one for adulthood? Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 486 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown fills that niche.

Part self-help manual, part manual, Adulting gets its point across with the help of plenty of graphics, including cute drawings (complete with a message) and flowcharts on various things. If you’ve ever wondered how to properly set up your own utilities or how to choose just the right apartment, then this book is for you. Other topics involve how to properly stock your kitchen and how to find a good, reliable auto mechanic.

Basically, it’s aimed at 20-somethings who haven’t quite successfully flown out of their parents’ nests yet. If you’re a 30-something, like me, odds are you pretty much know all of this or have experienced it already.

The book itself is cute, thanks to the doodles and flowcharts, and it’s set up in a logical manner. If you’re in your teens or 20s and have no clue how to become an adult – or are overwhelmed at the very thought of it – then I recommend this book. However, if you’ve been on your own for a while, then you probably don’t need it.

If you’d like more information or find that you need more than 486 steps to become an adult, check out Kelly Williams Brown’s blog by the same name.

 

(Disclosure: I received a galley of this book through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. For more information, please check out my disclosure policy.)

 

1 Comment

Filed under books

Book review: Return to the Big Fancy by Freeman Hall

Full disclosure: I used to work retail. In fact, I spent two years as a “seasonal” employee at Kohl’s while I was in college working on my first college degree. Of course, I was stationed at the cash registers and wasn’t a salesperson paid on commission like Freeman Hall was at The Big Fancy.

For those of who haven’t read his first book, Retail Hell, here’s a quick background: Freeman Hall moved to Los Angeles to become a screenwriter, but in order to pay the bills while working on his screenplay, wound up working in the handbag (don’t call it a purse!) section at a department store referred to as The Big Fancy. There he encountered numerous customers (dubbed “custys”), a shoposaurus (who pretty much bought out most of the store on a regular basis), piggy shoppers (who made a mess and were generally disgusting) and NATS (“nasty ass thieves” who stole merchandise and returned for a tidy profit.)

In the sequel, Return to the Big Fancy: A Riotous Descent into the Depths of Customer, Corporate and Coworker Hell, Hall goes into more depth on the many ways that a large corporation can suck the will to live out their employees. Many of the customer encounters, coworker disasters (never work with a “shark”) and awful examples of the trio of head honchos dubbed the “Gestapo” at work were both hilarious and wincingly painful at the same time.

What brought this on? Well, it turns out that writing a successful screenplay and having it actually go into development are two different things. So, once again, Hall goes to work for The Big Fancy. This time his manager is nice, but most of his co-workers are painful to deal with. Between corporate forcing stupid policies on its workers, buyers who purchase the wrong merchandise for the store, and, of course, those ever-present customers, his life is made into a walking, never-ending hell of insipid phone calls, annoying training sessions and hard to reach sales goals.

Anyone who has ever worked retail will simultaneously understand where Hall is coming from and laugh hysterically at the tales within Return to the Big Fancy. And if you haven’t worked retail, hopefully it will help you put yourself in the shoes of those people ringing up your purchases the next time you go shopping.

In order to help you sympathize with retail workers everywhere, Hall has declared that Saturday, November 24th is Be Kind to Service Workers Day. Next week, November 18th through the 24th, all of The Big Fancy e-shorts will be on sale for 99 cents each (I haven’t read them yet, but I’m sure they’re just as awesome as Retail Hell and Return to the Big Fancy) and his first book, Retail Hell, will be on sale for $2.99.

Return to the Big Fancy is available now at retailers everywhere, and for more information on Freeman Hall or to air your retail drone grievances in public, please check out his blog, Retail Hell Underground.

 

(Disclaimer: I received a copy of Return to the Big Fancy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. And honest I am; I loved the book! For more information, please see my disclosure policy.)

Leave a comment

Filed under books

Book review: I Am Lucky Bird by Fleur Philips

 Unfortunately for Lucky Bird, her name doesn’t match up with her life. She grows up without her mother – AnnMarie, who vanishes mysteriously and suddenly. Lucky is then raised by her grandmother, Marian, and forced to endure the abuses heaped on her by Tom, Marian’s boyfriend.

It’s very hard to go into the rest of plot without giving up key points, so I’ll leave things kind of general: Marian and Tom do despicable things, Lucky is “rescued” by a kind young man and his family, and after a tragic string of events, a horrible family secret is unveiled.

I Am Lucky Bird by Fleur Philips unfolds quickly, and the plot moves along at a rapid pace. There are a ton of small details that put you right into each scene and, since the story is told from the point of view of Lucky herself, you get a first-hand look at how she’s feeling. However, the only downfall of this point of view is the fact that you truly don’t find out what really happens to AnnMarie and Marian until the end — which is bad if you’re impatient like I am — although the ending is completely worth waiting for.

A ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year award finalist, I Am Lucky Bird is author Fleur Philips debut novel. For more information, or to order the book, go to her website here.

 

(Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. For more information, please read my disclosure policy.)

Leave a comment

Filed under books

Book review: Timeless Desire by Gwyn Cready

Raise your hand if you’ve seen the movie Outlander. You know, the one with Jim Caveziel where he plays a humanoid alien from another planet who lands on Earth in 709 A.D. and ends up becoming the king of a tribe of Norsemen? That’s the first thing that came to mind when I read the description of Timeless Desire as an “Outlander love story.”

But, I digress. While Outlander the movie was pure sci-fi with a teeny bit of romance thrown in, Timeless Desire consists of a lot of romance with a little time sci-fi-ish time traveling, just for good measure.

The main character, Panna Kennedy is librarian who has lost her husband. She’s sad and lonely until curiosity gets the better of her and she explores the library and finds an odd door that has been padlocked shut. If this has been a horror movie, a demon would have been behind it, but since this is a love story, that’s not the case at all. After walking through the doorway, Panna is magically transported to the 18th century. There, she meets and falls in love with the man whose statue was in her real-time office – the very British Colonel John Bridgewater.

Colonel Bridgewater is on house arrest and accused of betraying the crown, and he first thinks that Panna is a spy, sent to betray him further. The plot unfolds with both quietly falling for each other as their 18th century lives become more and more complicated. I won’t say any more than that – you’ll have to read it for yourself in order to see it ends!

If you’re a fan of both time travel based sci-fi and romance (or just romance) then you will love Timeless Desire. The unique plot and fast-paced storyline make it hard to put down!

To purchase a copy of Timeless Desire, please follow this link, or you can check out Gwyn Cready’s website.

(Disclaimer: A copy of the book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. For more information, please check out my disclosure policy above.)

1 Comment

Filed under books

Book review: Bond Girl by Erin Duffy

All that Alex Garrett has ever wanted to do is work on Wall Street. She gets her chance after graduating from college when she’s hired by Cromwell Pierce. Like all of the new hires, she starts off as an analyst,  assigned to the bond trading department. Her main job (besides fetching lunches for the other people in the department) is to sit on a folding chair behind her new colleagues learning every aspect of the business and completing spreadsheets. Throughout her first year working on the Street, Alex quickly learns that although Wall Street is a boys club, she can hold her own amongst them without becoming one of the two stereotypical Wall Street women (“floor whores” who sleep with their co-workers, and bitchy women who despise everyone.)

The best part of this book, besides the funny bits (fetching a $1,000 wheel of cheese, a co-worker who holds a slumber party in a conference room and the never-ending pranks that her colleagues play on each other) is that Alex is a well-rounded character. Unlike some other books that fall into the chick-lit category, there aren’t any ornate descriptions of designer shopping sprees, and when her one love interest (Will, a co-worker) plays hot and cold with his emotions, she neither gets clingy nor angry — until the end. Alex is fulfilled through her job and her friendships, the focus here isn’t on “landing a man” or buying a whole lot of Prada.

Bond Girl by Erin Duffy is a great book. The main characters seem real, not like stereotypes, and the plot moves along quickly. Don’t let the shoe on the cover dissuade you from picking it up, since this isn’t your normal, everyday chick-lit. The book is available for sale now at booksellers everywhere, including Amazon.

(Disclaimer – I won a copy of this book through Bookperk. A review of the book wasn’t a requirement of my win, I just enjoyed reading it, so I thought I’d throw my two cents out there. For more information on my disclosure policy, please click on the link above.)

Leave a comment

Filed under books

Book review: Starmaker: My Life as a Hollywood Publicist with Farrah, the Rat Pack and 600 More Stars Who Fired Me by Jay Bernstein, Larry Cortez Hamm and David Rubini

Wow. It really is about who you know (and who’s representing you) that gets you to the top in Hollywood. Although having talent helps, when you have a publicist/manager/producer/writer/director behind you like the late Jay Bernstein, you can make to the very top of stardom.

Bernstein started out his career working at P.R. company Rogers & Cowen. He got his first taste of working with the A-list while serving as a publicity assistant on Sergeants 3, a 1961 production starring Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr and Dean Martin, among others. Through the years that followed, he opened his own P.R. firm, then started managing talent and producing TV shows and made for TV movies starring some of his clients.

Speaking of his clients – did you know who’s responsible for women throwing their panties at Tom Jones while he’s on stage? Jay Bernstein. And who made Farrah Fawcett a sex symbol, thanks to that poster of her in a red bathing suit? Right – Jay Bernstein. He also helping make Kristy McNichol a star (until she fired him and her career went off the tracks), made Suzanne Somers a household name, and resurrected William Shatner’s post-Star Trek career. These stories are just a fraction of the events that take place in Starmaker, which doesn’t always portray actors in a positive light, but also doesn’t hide the fact that Bernstein himself isn’t exactly a saint.

Some parts of the book appear disjointed. For example, at one point it jumps from Bernstein’s working with Tatum O’Neal directly into a section on his housekeeper, Delmy Tochez, with little transition in between. The first chapter also took a while to get going, but once it ended and the juicy details on his career in Hollywood began, I was hooked. Starmaker is written from the point of view of Bernstein himself, and I can almost hear him dictating it to the other authors as the book progresses. I was upset when it seemed to cut off abruptly (I was sure that there were more details!), and then I turned the page and was saddened to find out that Bernstein died suddenly of a stroke almost 6 years ago.

If you want juicy Hollywood stories on stars from the 1960s through the 1980s, this is the book for you. If you want to know how the Hollywood game is played, then this is the book for you. Heck, if you want to read a page-turner about the life of a Starmaker, then pick up this book. How many more times can I emphasize that?

Starmaker: Life as a Hollywood Publicist with Farrah, the Rat Pack and 600 More Stars Who Fired Me by Jay Bernstein, Larry Cortez Hamm and David Rubini is available now from booksellers everywhere. You can also purchase a copy here.

 

(Disclaimer: A copy of this book was provided to me by the published ECW Press for my honest review. For more details, please click on my disclosure policy above.)

Leave a comment

Filed under books

Book review: Far from Here by Nicole Baart

This book starts out with a horrifying event: Danica (Dani) Greene’s husband Etsell vanishes without a trace while in Alaska. He’s a pilot, and he was up there helping out one of his fellow pilots for three weeks. Danica has no idea if he’s alive or dead. He’s just… missing. While she’s dealing with this tragedy, a mystery appears in the form of a woman, Sam, who claims to have known and spent time with Etsell during the short time that he was in Alaska. Her secret deepens as the plot progresses, leaving the reader wondering how much of what she’s saying is the truth, and what really happened to Etsell on the day of his disappearance.

Far from Here by Nicole Baart is well written, and each character is vibrant. Everyone who appears has a purpose, a back story, and realistic flaws, making all of them three-dimensional. Although Dani was married young, and is less than 30 years old when these events take place, she is mature for her age and deals with everything in the best manner than she can. The ending is left ambiguous and open to interpretation, and all that matters is that she finds happiness again. I won’t say any more than that — you have to read it youself to find out what happens.

Far from Here is in bookstores now, and can be found on Simon & Schuster’s website here.

(Disclaimer: a copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher, Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. My opinions are my own, and I wasn’t encouraged or compensated in any way to say that I liked the book – I really did enjoy it! For more information, please click on my disclosure policy above.)

Leave a comment

Filed under books

Book review: The Darlings by Cristina Alger

This book answers an interesting question: what happens when you find out that one-third of the business that your hedge fund deals with has been under the control of a ponzi schemer like Bernie Madoff? While it’s hard to imagine what I would do in that situation, it’s another to read about how the family that owns the hedge fund dealt with the crisis. (Spoiler: there are a few underhanded dealings and some subterfuge involved.)

The Darlings by Cristina Alger is written from several points of view: primarily that of Merrill formerly-Darling, whose father owns Delphic Capital, the hedge fund in question; her husband Paul, who works as a lawyer for Delphic; and her father, Carter, who owns the fund. There a number of smaller players involved, like Merrill’s sister Lily and her husband, Adrian; Duncan who is the editor in chief of Press Magazine; and Alexa and David, both of whom work for the SEC. That only touches on a few of the many characters that weave and dance their way through this intricately written book. In fact, there are so many characters that I had to make up a flow chart to keep track of them all! Thankfully, by the end of the book, everything pulls together nicely and the relationships between all of the characters become clear.

The book starts out with the suicide of Morty Reiss, owner of RCM. Once its made clear that RCM was really a ponzi scheme, and that Delphic Capital was about to go down in flames and SEC fines for dealing with them, the plot really took off. The entire book takes place over a Thanksgiving weekend, with Morty jumping off a bridge the day before the holiday, and the main SEC negotiations taking place the following Monday. What started out to be family drama ended up as a thriller, with so many twists and turns I couldn’t wait to see who wound up on top. I won’t spoil the ending for you; I’ll just say that you’ll be surprised.

If you want to buy a copy of this awesome book (which I recommend doing) it’s available now through booksellers everywhere, including Amazon.com.

(Disclaimer: a copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher. This review is completely unbiased – I really did love the book! For further details, please check out my disclosure policy.)

Leave a comment

Filed under books