The Jeweler by @BeckAndersonID : #Review and #Interview

Today I have the pleasure of hosting excellent author BECK ANDERSON! Her new release The Jeweler is zipping up the charts just as good things are happening for her debut novel Fix You.

Love that cover!
Available HERE

I’ll share my review of The Jeweler, followed by an interview with Beck. But first I want to alert you to a super generous giveaway Beck is hosting: win a Kindle Fire!

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Beck is also giving away an ebook of The Jeweler to one lucky commenter for this blog post. Please leave your email address in your comment.

The JewelerThe Jeweler by Beck Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Intriguing Plot, Quirky Characters

I loved Beck Anderson’s debut novel Fix You, so I jumped at the chance to read an ARC of her second novel, The Jeweler. When I heard about the clever plot, I was even more excited.

Fender Barnes is a cynical jeweler who regards his eager, love-struck, engagement-ring-buying customer Brad with disdain. Love isn’t real, right? But then Brad dies in a car accident right outside the jewelry shop, and Fender knows he needs to get the ring to its intended recipient: Ginger Stevens. But Fender never does anything right or easily, and when he sees the grieving woman at Brad’s funeral, things go pear-shaped.

Ginger is a ski instructor who’s stunned by her boyfriend’s death. She’s “love, light, green eyes, and freckles.” Just like in Fix You, the author’s portrayal of grief is authentic and eloquent:

The house was filled with his things, their things together. What upset her was looking at all the mundane stuff. Toothbrush. Who cared about his toothbrush? How could she get rid of it, though? A person accumulated stuff, never figuring he wouldn’t be around to tie up the loose ends. Brad had arrogant, unfinished stuff, like half-drunk Gatorade bottles in the fridge.

In Fix You, the heroine’s husband died. In The Jeweler, the heroine’s almost-fiance kicks the bucket. Which begs the question: is Beck Anderson’s husband worried at all? ūüėČ I hope he’s exercising and taking his fish oil.

There’s a host of wacky side characters, including Fender’s dad “Pop”, a man with some romantic tricks up his sleeve, and his bff Sam, a slovenly guy who shows his affection the best way a male buddy can: by insulting the hell out of Fender.

As per usual, Pop focused on the woman in the conversation. “Fender went after a girl? Really? Does this mean little Sandy didn’t make you swear off women forever?”
Sam brightened. “I’d almost forgotten about Sandy. Isn’t she the one that wrote I HATE YOU with weed killer on your front lawn?”

I love the understated humor.

Jewelry customers Jimmy the mobster and his bling-seeking girlfriend Naomi provide some color as well. Naomi has a heart-to-heart with Fender:

“That’s what my therapist says. She says no woman should be bought for a shiny piece of glass.”
Fender realized he was in the wrong profession, obviously. He should be blowing smoke up somebody’s ass for a hundred bucks an hour.

Hey! Therapists make way more than $100 an hour now, hehe.

This is a sweet and subtle love story, and I encourage you to give it a try!

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And now an interview with author Beck Anderson:

Jennifer Lane (JL): First of all, big-time congratulations for all the success of your debut novel, Fix You, a RITA finalist picked up by Simon & Schuster for release. What was the award ceremony like? What do you know about the re-release in 2015?

Beck Anderson (BA): ¬†The award ceremony was unbelievable.¬† It was a huge ballroom in a hotel in San Antonio, and there were I think almost 3,000 people there.¬† My husband came with me, but we didn’t know a soul, except for the other nominees in the Best First Book category.¬† We sat at a table up front with like two other people who didn’t know anyone.¬† The whole ceremony I spent fretting because my dressing was creeping up and my cleavage was all out of whack.¬† Best First Book was the VERY LAST category to be announced, so I was a nervous mess by then.¬† Nora Roberts read the nominees.¬† She is such a cool lady.¬† I didn’t win, but it was unforgettable.¬† And the whole week of the conference I learned a TON. ¬†

I don’t know much about the re-release yet. I do know it’s coming out on 3/3/15.¬† I have already re-proofed it, and there will be another galley, but so far that’s what I know.¬† I am honored and completely thankful to get this chance.¬† It’s surreal still — it hasn’t sunk in.

JL: And hooray for your second novel, The Jeweler! Which novel did you write first? How did writing The Jeweler compare to writing Fix You?

BA: ¬†I actually wrote The Jeweler first.¬† I wrote the first draft a LONG time ago. It was a fun thing to come back to it, especially now that I have grown as a writer, and could add a lot to it to make it better.¬† The Jeweler felt easier? I think because Fender is such a strong character — he was really fun to write.

JL: Fender Barnes is the hero of The Jeweler. What influences formed his cynical personality? Was he inspired by anyone in particular?

BA: I think Fender’s mom dying when he was little really formed his personality — he’s always waiting for people to abandon him, so to combat that, he leaves them first, or gives them a reason to leave — kind of beating people to the punch in the abandonment department.¬† I love snarky guys — Chandler Bing from Friends is a great character, and Fender is actually a lot like many men I have known personally.¬† Guys with big hearts but a lot of doubts and a lot of sloppy mistakes.¬† It’s not easy to be twenty-something and not screw up constantly.¬† I know that’s what my twenties felt like.

JL: I love Chandler Bing. What draws you to writing grieving characters?

BA: ¬†One of my greatest fears is losing the love of your life.¬† I have had two very good friends experience it.¬† I think I may finally be done chewing on it, but it’s really scary to me, and I can’t help but wonder how women handle it.

JL: What are you working on now?

BA: Oh, ’tis the season of Nano, so I am starting a new novel.¬† I think it’s going to be set near Yellowstone in fly-fishing country and it may involve a character from Fix You.¬† We will see.¬† I do also have the sequel to Fix You done, but it needs a little love, so I need to put the finishing touches on it.

Sounds great! Thanks to Beck for visiting the blog, and don’t forget to comment to win an ebook.


Review: Hard Time by Cara McKenna

Hard TimeHard Time by Cara McKenna
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hot for Prisoner

Since Shawshank Redemption and the time I met hero Michael Scofield from the TV show Prison Break, I’ve been fascinated by prison stories. While this novel captured some of the thrill of a forbidden prison romance, Eric Collier is no Michael Scofield.

Annie Goodhouse is woman in her mid-twenties who recently moved from her hometown of Charleston to a town near Detroit. There are two reasons for her move: 1) a new job as a librarian in Michigan and 2) an ex-boyfriend who abused her in South Carolina.

“I’d needed a change of scenery. A place with snowy winters, where the men spoke in honest, sharp-edged Northern accents, incapable of glazing their empty promises in sweet Southern honey.”

One day a week, librarian Annie teaches and mentors at a local prison. There she meets tall, handsome, and quiet inmate Eric. When she helps him with his learning disability, he practices how to write better by penning her the most beautiful love letters, like:

“I like to watch your mouth when you read from that book. I can’t tell you what the story’s even about but I’ve got your lips memorized. I shut my eyes sometimes and just listen to how you talk. I’ve never been with a southern girl but it’s like every word you say comes out rolled in sugar. I think about kissing you. Real deep and slow with our eyes closed. Maybe feel your hands on my chest or my back. As I hold your face or your hair. As I got to see if you taste like sugar to match how you sound.”

Isn’t that so sweet and sexy?

This book had a fantastic beginning. I felt Annie’s fear and excitement about helping the inmates, and I swooned over Eric’s letters. But the rest of the story didn’t enthrall me as much. The author did a great job with the authentic characterization of Eric, a simple man from an impoverished, dysfunctional background, but I just didn’t find him very appealing. Perhaps I need a more intellectual hero to turn me on. The sex scenes seemed almost crude at points. This is all a very personal reaction to one character, and some readers may fall for Eric head over handcuffs.

I definitely did enjoy the growth of both Annie and Eric over the course of the story. And the writing was excellent, like this passage:

“His hand closed around mine, strong and possessive. The hand that’d done unspeakable things in the name of brotherly love. A hand capable of the tenderest acts of intimacy and affection. The hand that had penned the most breathtaking letters, for my eyes alone.
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Questions for Romance Readers

1. How much does your individual preference affect your enjoyment of the story?
2. How much erotica do you like in a story?
3. How much “dirty talk” do you like in romance novels?¬†


Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The GoldfinchThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Development of a Criminal…The Development of a Good Man?

What a fascinating psychological study! This epic story begins when Theo Decker is 13 years old and ends when he’s twice that age. Wow, does the author torture him in this story. What does not kill us, makes us stronger? I’m not so sure that’s true in this case. Tragic events weaken Theo and it’s unclear if he will ever regain his strength.

Theo lives with his mother in New York City after his alcoholic father abandoned them. His beautiful, fun mother has to take him to a late morning disciplinary meeting at school, so they stop in an art museum on the way. Then a terrorist’s bomb explodes. The blast rips Theo’s life apart when it kills his mother. In the ensuing surreal melee, a dying man insists Theo take “The Goldfinch”: a famous painting.

The painting haunts Theo for the rest of the story just like the story has haunted me.

The characterization is raw, real, and detailed, and the author made me care deeply for Theo. Every time he suffers a post-traumatic symptom, I wanted to hug him. Every time he veers into drug use, I wanted to smack his neglectful father. Here’s a vivid description of Las Vegas Dad, who has shifted from abusing booze to pills:

From his genial cursing, his infrequent shaving, the relaxed way he talked around the cigarette in the corner of his mouth, it was almost as if he were playing a character: some cool guy from a fifties noir or maybe Ocean’s Eleven, a lazy, sated gangster with not much to lose.

Thank goodness for quality mentors like furniture-restorer Hobie, who is connected to the dying man from the museum.

Theo’s Ukranian friend Boris is simultaneously endearing and infuriating. Boris is the saving grace to a lonely boy, and the loving shove to a boy perched on the precipice of a deviant, criminal life. I freaking love how Boris nicknames Popper the dog “Popchik”.

The writing is exquisite. I dog-eared so many pages with impressive passages, like these:

Tormented by what was happening, yet unable to stop it, I hovered around and watched the apartment vanishing piece by piece, like a bee watching its hive being destroyed.

When I got off the phone, I felt sick — like someone had just reached a hand in my chest and wrenched loose a lot of ugly wet stuff around my heart.

Spring in New York was always a poisoned time for me, a seasonal echo of my mother’s death blowing in with the daffodils, budding trees and blood splashes, a thin spray of hallucination and horror. (What a vivid description of PTSD)

My moods were a slingshot; after being locked-down and anesthetized for years my heart was zinging and slamming itself around like a bee under a glass, everything bright, sharp, confusing, wrong — but it was clear pain as opposed to the dull misery that had plagued me for years under the drugs like a rotten tooth, the sick dirty ache of something spoiled.

Speaking of pain, Theo pines for a girl who also survived the museum bomb: Pippa. But she doesn’t seem to requite his love.

“Well, girls always love assholes,” said Platt, not bothering to dispute this.
No, I thought bleakly, untrue. Else why didn’t Pippa love me?

Aww, Theo. You are quite lovable!

One of the reasons I became so involved in the characters is the impressive length of the book: 770 pages. Unlike some readers, I didn’t find the story unfocused, though the end did drag just a little. I’m glad I invested the time to read this moving drama.

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