Monday, February 17, 2014

Rec'd reads: 'Unbreakable,' 'Every Road to You,' 'My Wife, My Baby … And Him'

by Michelle Monko)

(Photo: Strebor Books)

Unbreakable by William Fredrick Cooper

Blurb, provided by Strebor Publishing:

It's Valentine's Day; seven years ago, William McCall lost Linda Woodson — the woman who restored his faith and hope. Still grieving her death, he drowns his sorrows at a local bar in Manhattan, when a new woman enters his life …

Keisha Gray is a Michigan schoolteacher visiting the Big Apple, and when she first meets William, they bond over their shared love for Michael Jackson. Soon they connect over much more and set out on a journey to heal their broken pasts. William is still trying to get over his heartbreak, while Keisha is on a journey to rediscover her self-worth after the double murder of her parents. The couple travels through New York, South Carolina, and Michigan to sort through their pasts and renew their faith in God, life, and love.

Why you should read it: This full-bodied story (over 400+ pages) is a long journey of two people who travel very different paths but intersect at a vulnerable moment in their lives. Cooper displays his literary prowess by seizing the reader's imagination and blasts it with a wide range of emotions, not limited to sorrow, joy, bitterness, effects of illness — physical and mental, lust, and romance. Lots of romance with great sentimentality and poignant sensibilities.

Cooper writes with a realistic rawness, as if opening the creative vein and letting out all of his thoughts and feelings, his dreams and wishes, his hopes and passions. This love ballad, which is also a heartfelt tribute to Michael Jackson, is both stylistically unusual and appropriate to capture and mirror the talented singer's fragility and strength, alongside the same emotional fate of the characters.

"Every Road to You" by Phyllis Bourne.(Photo: Harlequin)

Every Road to You by Phyllis Bourne

Blurb, provided by Harlequin Kimani:

Beauty's about more than just appearance—it's a state of mind. And at the helm of Espresso Cosmetics' spa division, Tia Gray gives clients makeovers of a lifetime. After an inspiring transformation, a runaway grandmother takes off for Vegas on the back of a motorcycle. But persuading the woman's powerful, sexy grandson that this trip is a rite of passage isn't going to be easy….

Esteemed lawyer Ethan Wright is convinced that he knows best. But a spur-of-the-moment road trip with Tia to find his grandmother, and all the wild mishaps they encounter along the way, show him just how irresistible passion—and Tia—can be. Is he willing to give in to the hidden desires of his heart?

Why you should read it: Confession moment: Romantic comedy is my least-favorite category in movies or books. I find that only a select few can create universal comedic threads so that a general audience can enjoy. With romantic comedy books, the humor tends to read as silly more than humor.

When I picked up Every Road to You and the reader letter mentioned comedy, I was prepared to have to deal with a heroine's silly antics. Wrong!

Richly crafted characters set the groundwork for the humor. So that when they acted and reacted throughout the story, the comedic tone is there without arrows pointing out when to Laugh Here.

And the romance, beautiful from start to finish. Great, fun story, Phyllis Bourne.

"My Wife, My Baby ... And Him" by Shelia E. Lipsey.(Photo: Bonita and Hodge Publishing Group)

My Wife, My Baby … And Him by Shelia E. Lipsey

Blurb, provided by Bonita and Hodge Publishing Group:

In the fifth installment of the My Son's Wife series, Senior Pastor Stiles Graham and First Lady Detria Graham s marriage is rapidly falling apart, thanks to her adulterous ways. Stiles had hoped and prayed that the time they spent away from Memphis would make their marriage stronger, but after just months from returning from Myrtle Beach, Stiles questions whether that is truly the case. When what's done in the dark comes to light, and Stiles discovers that Detria is cheating on him with his good friend Skip Madison, the marriage quickly unravels.

This startling revelation brings out the worse in Stiles Graham, and leads to his eventual downfall. During the midst of it all, Detria learns that she is pregnant. As much as she wanted to steer clear of Skip Madison and give her marriage to Stiles a fighting chance, her heart says something different. Now she finds herself worried about who is the father of her unborn child.

Turmoil, trouble, deception and disaster infiltrate this marriage, and much is at stake, including Stiles pastoral position at Holy Rock. When tragedy strikes this already dysfunctional marriage, it sends life, as they know it spiraling down a never-ending tunnel of hurt, anger and grief, leaving both Stiles and Detria questioning their faith and belief in God to restore their lives and relationship.

Why you should read it: When I'm ready to squeeze the living daylights out of certain characters, I'm ready to call the book clubs' attention to this book recommendation.

Lipsey writes seriously flawed characters with such realism that they deserve their just desserts. This is Christian faith fiction with powerful lessons to be learned and talked about even after the book is closed.

Great drama that makes those pages turn. Lipsey will not disappoint.

Author Spotlight: Let's meet Crystal Hubbard

Michelle: Share three interesting facts about you.

Crystal: I'm a certified cake decorator. I earned my certification through a Wilton course in 2004. The most elaborate cake I've ever created was a three-dimensional rendering of the solar system, complete with rings for Saturn.

I'm a colon cancer survivor. Every March, I like to campaign for colon cancer prevention. Colon cancer is the one cancer that can be prevented through early detection, and I'm convinced that most people would prefer a routine colonoscopy to the discomfort and expense of colon cancer.

I have five sisters. Kim, my oldest sister, works for NASA. Kelly is autistic. She's a delightful artist and she's illustrating a counting book for me. I'm third in line, then there's my sister Joelle, an engineer for Ameren Electric in Missouri. Next comes Lauren, the wittiest person I know, and then Anneliese, who's a social worker by day and a dancer and fashion designer the rest of the time.

Michelle: A memorable fan moment was ...

Crystal: When I met Mary Croom Hicks, a reader who attended one of the book signings I participated in as part of the Soul Expressions book tour in 2007. I was with so many talented, stellar authors, such as Beverly Jenkins (my Alpha and Omega of romance), Brenda Jackson, the late Francis Ray, Donna Hill, Rochelle Alers, Nina Foxx and Earl Sewell. I watched fans wheeling carts of books for Ms. Beverly and Ms. Brenda to sign. At our stop in Michigan City, Indiana, Mary Croom Hicks appeared, pulling a little wagon of books with her. They were MY books! She had dog-eared copies of my first three novels, and she purchased my fourth at the signing. That moment plays over and over on my personal highlight reel because it was the first time I truly realized that people were reading my books, and at least one of them was truly fond of them. I dedicated my fifth book to Ms. Hicks. We became Facebook friends, and when she passed away, her niece was kind enough to tell me the story of how Ms. Hicks, when purchasing my fifth novel, screamed in the middle of the bookstore when she saw that I'd dedicated the book to her.

Michelle: A typical writing day is ...

Crystal: Full! I start my day at 5 a.m., when I wake up to work out for an hour. I wake my two oldest up at 6 so they can get ready for school while I prepare breakfast, sign off on homework, fill out permission slips, pack lunches, and feed the dog and cat. I walk my oldest to school, come home, and wake up my two youngest at 7. I comb their hair, see that they eat breakfast, and then drive them and my oldest to school. If I have errands (groceries, post office, bank, donating to thrift stores and the food pantry, etc.), I run as many as I can before I have to be at one of the schools at which I volunteer, conducting writing workshops. By then I might stop for lunch, throw in some laundry, do the dishes or some other chore before I have to pick up my autistic older sister. I keep her with me in the afternoons when I pick up my oldest daughter and her friend from school. I drive the friend home, pick up my two youngest and my oldest from school, and start dinner when we get home. While the meal is cooking, I help my children with their homework, and I feed the cat, dog, and my lizards. We sit for dinner as a family, after which my two oldest finish their homework. I get my youngest kids into the bath or shower and off to bed, and then I take out the dog for the night. Once the kids are kissed and tucked in after a book or three, I sit down at my computer and work on one of my projects, or I edit articles for In the Game High School Sports Magazine. I typically work until 1 or 2 a.m., longer if I fall into the page and hit my stride. I'm more of a bat than a night owl because I work best when the only noises I hear are the soft snores of my children and my dog.

Michelle: If you've had a rough day, you like to …

Crystal: If writing troubles me, I read. Escaping via someone else's words always jumpstarts my own. If something really angers me, I like to break stuff. There's an abandoned warehouse on the riverfront in downtown St. Louis. It's covered with graffiti and the windows are broken. I like to throw rocks, to try to clear the jagged glass teeth from the windows. I also commit good deeds when I've had a rough day. Doing something nice and unexpected for someone else always makes me happy. I'll pay for the Slurpee of the person in line behind me at 7-Eleven, or I'll shovel a neighbor's driveway. Random kindness is my therapy!

Michelle: You can connect with Crystal on Facebook. And here are reviews of two of her books.

"Alive and Unharmed" by Crystal Hubbard.(Photo: Parker Publishing)

Alive and Unharmed by Crystal Hubbard

Blurb, provided by Parker Publishing:

Surviving the truth almost kills them.

Living the lie is far worse.

Drugged and carried off to a dilapidated homestead in central Missouri, 18-year-old Christopher August Daley III — St. Louis's spoiled, snobby "Billionaire Boy" — finds himself at the mercy of kidnappers greedy for ransom and brutal for sport.

Literally caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, Reece Wyndham is abducted along with Christopher. The popular, athletic and pretty teenager has nothing in common with Christopher, who uses his very worst personality traits to keep Reece safe.

The traumatic event brings Christopher and Reece closer, but in the aftermath of their rescue, it is Reece's strength and caring that save Christopher from his living nightmare.

Why you should read it: New Adult fiction Alive and Unharmed has a double kidnapping at its core. This brutal event reveals the strength and vulnerabilities of the key characters in vivid color.

Hubbard has a great handle on writing with youthful freshness. The story has a quick lift-off, and then the cruising altitude is hardly a casual coasting. The action scenes are graphic and ouch-worthy and will have you ready to boo or cheer with equal ferocity.

All in all, Hubbard is clearly charting her own path in the YA and NA genre.

"IQ High" by Crystal Hubbard.(Photo: Crystal Hubbard)

IQ High by Crystal Hubbard

Blurb, courtesy of the author:

On the last day of her junior year at Lesterville High, Charysse DiGregorio gets a letter that changes her life: an invitation to take the one coveted spot in the senior class at the prestigious Eichorn High School in Wakefield, Massachusetts. Nicknamed IQ High because of its highly gifted student body, Eichorn seems to be the perfect home for Charysse, who leaves behind her lifelong best friend Bonnie and the stigma of being "the smartest kid in school."

When Charysse captures the interest of class heartthrob Shane McKenna, she makes an enemy of classmate Mackenzie Cole. Mackenzie's hostility escalates into a cruel prank with repercussions that show the young geniuses that intelligence requires more than good grades, and true friendship leaves nothing to the imagination.

Why you should read it: Young Adult with a good, attagirl feeling. Hubbard writes a strong heroine with spunk, intelligence, and true-blue feelings. Regardless of age, those high school years never leave us. Quick read, painful-to-read bullying, and an outcome that can rival any "comeback kid" moment. Great book for the young at heart.

Michelle Monkou celebrates her new Kimani release, One Of A Kind, out now. Her website is You can also connect with her on Facebook.