Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Goodbye 2014...

Although I was going to post a book review, I felt that the time was right to kick 2014's ass.

It's been a tragic year for this Book Hog. The loss of two lives has been a constant reminder that everything I hold dear will not last forever.  It was a wake-up call.  A call to go out and smell the roses.  A call to get off my butt and work on my own stories.  But, most of all, a call to keep reading and discovering authors who have the guts to put something out into the world and weather any criticism...and find joy and acceptance in positive reviews.  

I've enjoyed my year of reading.  There are so many books that have claimed my heart and mind.  On the other hand, there are some that didn't really grab me.  A few in particular *cough* The Goldfinch *cough* Fifty Shades of Gray *cough* didn't hold my interest, no matter how many times I tried to get into them. But then there were the surprises.  The stories that surprised me with their brilliant research, their simplicity.  Their originality.

Books have been my salvation this year, and I hope they keep providing salvation to you, too.  Without you, dear reader, there would be no stories to lift our souls, to make us consider, to help us find our better selves.

As most of you know, I'm a huge advocate for independent bookstores.  And I love libraries. They are our last best hope for this book-hungry world.  Sure, some of you love e-books, but there is a large percentage of us who savor a real book.  But words are words, no matter where and how we read them.  And, I must add, there are some sensational self-published stories out there.  John Grisham?  He was a self-published author.  And Hugh Howey, author of the phenomenal book, 'Wool'?  Yup...self-published.  Give them your time.  You won't be sorry.  You could provide the 'step up' that that writer needs to keep going.  And who knows? That author just might write a story that could change the world.  Remember someone by the name of J.K. Rowling?  Well, there you go...

Just read.  Give new authors your attention.  Respond to them; let them know if you have enjoyed their tales.  Write to the publishers and give them your sincere opinion.  And, please, for the sake of all that is good and holy, don't be an ass and post hurtful reviews.

Read for the joy.  For the excitement.  For the chance to leave the tragedies of this world behind for just a little while.  Cuddle up on the couch with a book, a cup of tea, and your favorite animal friend.  Turn off the television and get off your phone.


Book Hog isn't sad to see 2014 leave.

But I am very excited to see just what new tales are brought to us in 2015.

And you can be sure that my fellow book bloggers, librarians, and I will keep you informed!

Happy New Year!!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

'The Accidental Empress'

It's the Christmas season, and I just bought gifts.  Yeah.  One day, many gifts. I wrapped them when I returned home.  Easy peasy.

After making a salad for our family gathering on Christmas Eve, and a chocolate pie for dessert on Christmas day (don't judge, pumpkin pie lovers), I sat down and finished reading an advance copy of Allison Pataki's new novel, 'The Accidental Empress'.  It was a nice break from mystery novels...not that I'm tired of reading mysteries.  Just a break, people. Just a break.

The main thing I really liked about Pataki's novel is the amount of research she brings to her story.  Of course, it is historical fiction, but reading about Empress Elizabeth made me want to learn more about her life.  And Pataki got it right.  So right.

With any story about royalty, you will find forbidden romance.  Nothing is hidden anymore, now that the public clamors for 'truthiness' (thanks, Stephen Colbert!). Imagine having to marry someone you don't know.  And imagine having to spend the rest of your life tied to that person. What if you don't like him/her?  What if their very existence makes you want to vomit when you're alone (it wouldn't be a good thing to do that around your chamber maids; gossip, you know)?  

That wasn't the case with Elizabeth, Duchess of Bavaria.  

In 1853, when the Habsburgs are Europe's most powerful ruling family, 15-year-old Elizabeth ('Sisi') travels to the Habsburg court with her older sister, who is betrothed to the young, handsome Emperor Franz Joseph.  But shortly after they arrive, Elizabeth has fallen in love with him, and he with her.  Franz reneges on his earlier proposal and stakes a claim on Elizabeth.

But Elizabeth doesn't count on being ordered around by her aunt, Franz's mother, Sophie. Trapped at every turn by the commanding Sophie and her spies, Elizabeth upsets political and familial loyalties in her quest to win, and keep, the love of her emperor and the empire.

This story isn't just a romance, although reading about Franz and Sisi's flowering relationship is interesting to behold.  It's the politics and intrigue that held my attention.  The rich history and attention to detail really kept me turning the pages.

Author Allison Pataki
But what I really loved is that almost all of it is true.  The author's attention to detail (palace life, the clothing, the rooms and the furnishings...and the food!  Oh, the food!), and empathy for Elizabeth truly make this novel flow.

It's heartbreaking, it's uplifting, and yet very depressing. Elizabeth was a very intelligent woman, and if she had had a collaborative relationship with her mother-in-law, history might have been different.  

I hope that Pataki writes a continuation of Elizabeth's story. She doesn't need to fictionalize it, really.  The truth is so much more interesting.

And Pataki brings it to us in a beautifully wrapped package. 

'The Accidental Empress' will be released in February 2015 from Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster.  Pre-order from your favorite local bookstore, or put it on your library list.  Book Hog would like to thank the publisher for the opportunity to review this book!

Friday, December 19, 2014

'The Magician's Daughter'

I think that one of the most exciting things about having a book blog is the chance to read stories written by new, and semi-new, authors.  There's such passion and...well, 'newness' to their work.  They take a chance, put it out there, and patiently wait.  Maybe not patiently (I'm sure most of them bite their nails down to the quick while waiting for reviews); perhaps anxiously.  But I hope they realize that I (and most of my fellow reviewers) appreciate them. They show such tremendous courage in 'putting it out there'.

When I handsold books, I was especially proud to put an author's first book into someone's hands.  These noble writers deserve respect.  Like I said, it takes courage (or 'guts', if you will) to let their little birds fly free.

So, I was quite excited to receive Judith Janeway's new book, 'The Magician's Daughter'. It's the first book in her 'Valentine Hill' mystery series.  Although Judith has had her romance novels published, this is her second mystery novel.

Magician Valentine Hill is a woman without legal existence.  Her mother, a skilled con artist, involved the young Valentine in her scams, and Valentine learned a lot about life. After her mother disappeared, Valentine went to live with her Aunt June, and it was then that she learned to respect herself and vowed she would never lie.

Robbed of her stake in Vegas, Valentine chases it to San Francisco and learns that her mother is living there.  Assuming her mother is playing one of the city's super-rich, she enters a world where nothing is what it seems.  After a friendly FBI agent is killed, Valentine is determined to find the killer and perhaps find out what her mother is really doing.

Janeway has written a story that pulls you in from the very first page.  She's an intelligent writer, and brings surprise after surprise.  The twists-and-turns kept me on edge, and her research is well displayed.

Author Judith Janeway
Aside from the fine writing and mastery of the flow of the story, it is her characters that really appealed to me. Valentine is intelligent, strong, and in charge of her life.  She has morals and courage, and her fighting skills are exceptional. Plus, she's a kick-ass magician. Even though she's a seasoned grifter and is trying to leave those lessons behind her, she does have to use them to her advantage...but in a good way.

And, of course, there is some romance.  I enjoyed it; it was a welcome addition to such a tense storyline.  

I'm anxious to read the second in this wonderful series.  

I hope it magically appears in the very near future.

'The Magician's Daughter' by Judith Janeway, will be published in February 2015 by Poisoned Pen Press.  Book Hog would like to thank the publisher for the opportunity to review this story!

Sunday, December 14, 2014


I've been a Stephen King fan for a long, long time.

Ever since I read 'Carrie' oh-so-long ago (and was quite impressed), I've followed Little Stevie's career over the years.  As I watched his books fill the Horror shelves, I was a bit taken aback to find that someone had added his wonderful memoir, 'On Writing', to the mix. Anyone looking for one of his horror novels might think that 'On Writing' is horror.  And it kind of is. Writing can be a horror show in itself.

But King isn't entirely a 'writer dude'.  He's a baseball dude, a reading dude, and a musician dude.

And in his newest novel, 'Revival', which spans five decades, his love of music and musicians comes in mighty handy.

Way back in 1962, when times were innocent and children played outside and not on video consoles, young Jamie Morton is playing with his toy soldiers when a shadow falls across him.  It is their town's new minister, Reverend Charles Jacob.  Along with his beautiful wife and sweet son, the reverend brings energy to his more ways than one.

Reverend Jacobs is infatuated with the science of electricity, and in his case, it's 'secret energy'.  After suffering a tremendous loss, the reverend curses God and is banished from the town.  But that's not the last time Jamie meets up with him.

As the years wear on, Jamie finds his talent in playing rhythm guitar, and crosses the country playing with bar bands.  After being left stranded and addicted to heroin, he once again crosses paths with the reverend.  Their bond becomes a pact beyond the devil's devising, and Jamie discovers that 'revival' means many different things.

King's newest is a straight forward read; no rants, no tangents.  It flows so smoothly, and he is still a master at character development.

Author Stephen King
As the story neared its end, building up to a dashing crescendo, I was growing ever more eager to see just what would be revealed.  I cannot in good conscience describe it (I, too, hate 'spoilers'), but let's just say I was a bit disappointed.

But, over the years, I've learned that King is a great writer.  I no longer care about the end of his stories.  It's the content, the compassion, even the sarcasm that I relish.  His touch with the past always makes me think, "Yeah, me, too. I remember when".

So, although 'Revival' isn't his greatest novel, I still admire Little Stevie King. He's still young, he still loves rock and roll...

...and he still makes us check under the bed before we go to sleep.

'Revival', published by Scribner (a division of Simon & Schuster), is available at your favorite independent bookstore and local library.  ISBN 978-1-4767-7038-3.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"Crazy Love You'

Who cannot love Lisa Unger?

She writes weird and wonderful thrillers, stories that somehow scare the crap out of me.

Although thrillers are usually shelved right along with mysteries, there is a fine line.  While mysteries are like puzzles that keep our brains busy, thrillers give our minds no blanket under which to hide.  Some have subtle supernatural undertones, and those are the ones I truly enjoy. 

Lisa's new book, 'Crazy Love You' (due out in February 2015), was just as good, if not better than her previous novel, 'In the Blood'.  This new one is creepy.  It's full of tension, full of the ol' 'good vs. evil'.  It's so delicious that I almost gobbled it down in one sitting.

Ian is a famous graphic novelist; his long-running series, 'Fatboy & Priss', has made his career and filled his bank account.  Most of his fans do not realize that the series has a tragic truth:  In his youth, Ian suffered terrible losses, and as a result of the pain, he ate and ate, until he became seriously obese. He was tormented by bullies, and art was his escape.  His childhood friend, Priss, was his champion and the only person he trusted. As he grew older and success changed his life, he fell into drugs and booze, and wild, sexy Priss, is along for the ride.  But when Ian meets Megan, the love of his life, and tries to break ties with Priss, he finds that her anger knows no bounds, and when Priss is angry, terrible things begin to happen.

Such a dark premise, isn't it?  Priss is a character that you love to hate; she's so crazy and sexy, yet I feared every mention of her.  And the fear turned to heartbreak when I learned about Ian's losses.  I cared about him; I felt hopeful when he met Megan and decided to straighten out his life.   But then along came Priss...and everything came crashing down.  

Author Lisa Unger
The whole downward spiral left me feeling dizzy and anxious.  I was desperate to get to the end of the story and find out just what in the hell was taking place.  I thought I had it figured out, but, no.  And then another thought came to mind.  Another 'no'.

And that's why I read Lisa Unger's work.  She's a wonderfully warped writer who leads her readers off the garden path and right down to the mental hospital.  She has a knack for creating dark, tormented characters that earn our compassion...and fear.

I crazy love her.

'Crazy Love You', by Lisa Unger, will be published in February 2015 by Touchstone Press, a division of Simon & Schuster.  

Monday, December 1, 2014

'The Sculptor'

When was the last time you read a graphic novel and cried?

Usually, I get caught up in the action, wishing I could fly, or beat the holy crap out of the villain.  I end up wanting to wear fantastic armor and soar with Iron Man.  Or follow The Sandman on his travels.  

But when Scott McCloud's new graphic novel, 'The Sculptor', landed with a thud (literally; the book is 490 pages of amazement) on my porch, I couldn't believe my eyes.  I asked for an ARC from the publisher, and they were quick to honor that request.

I was in for a treat.  And lots of heartbreak.

It has a 'good guy', but he's not always so....good.  David Smith has a heart, he has morals. But he also has a dark side that he can't explain away.  You see, he's made a pact with Death, who comes to him in the form of his long-dead Uncle Harry. Despondent, broke, and lacking motivation, David will do anything to bring his name back into the art world.

And the pact?  In exchange for only having 200 days to live, David is given his heart's desire: The ability to sculpt anything with his bare hands.

But David is still searching for inspiration.  He takes to the streets and creates objects that are beyond imagining.  His childhood friend, Ollie, manages an art gallery, and David's latest work is not well-reviewed.  David's rivalry with fellow artist, Finn, is made even more difficult because Finn and Ollie are involved in a love affair.  

When David meets Meg, the love of his life, he finds happiness at last.  But that new life takes a sudden turn when he is unable to tell her about his pact with Death.

It's heartbreaking, yet uplifting.  It's about the sacrifices we make for the ones we love.  It's also about the sacrifices we make for our art.  And it's also about how far we would go to attain success in life and in work.

I adore Meg.  She is strong and compulsive.  She is weak and depressed.  She is everything that David needs.  As for David, I sometimes hated him, yet I loved him and my sorrow only grew as he neared the end of the road.

Yes, it's a big book.  And the graphics are in black and white.  But the lack of color only adds to the story; the incredible highs and sorrowful lows.  It keeps your mind on David's journey and makes you think about your own choices. Would you make a pact with Death?  Would you shorten your life just so you could have your heart's desire?
Author Scott McCloud

Scott McCloud has crafted an amazing story full of unforgettable characters.

I think you'll feel the same way.

Scott McCloud is the award-winning author of 'Understanding Comics', 'Zot', and many other fiction and non-fiction comics spanning thirty years.  Visit him at  'The Sculptor', published by Firstsecond Books, will be published on February 3, 2015.  Book Hog would like to thank the publisher for the opportunity to review this book.