Wednesday, August 15, 2018

review: crux by jean guerrero

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With her father as the framework, journalist Jean Guerrero explores the dynamics of her family in a memoir called Crux. It is clear that Guerrero considers her father, Marco, the crux as he disappears from her life only to return with rampant drug abuse and outrageous claims. Everyone says he has schizophrenia (and Guerrero worries about genetics), but Marco claims he's the victim of a CIA experiment. Being a journalist, Guerrero investigates the claim, but the CIA and other federal agencies refuse her Freedom of Information Act requests. That combined with her research on MKUltra causes Guerrero to wonder if there isn't some merit to the wild story about being stopped by a soldier while other men planted something in Marco's vehicle. But Crux isn't all paranoia and conspiracy theories. Guerrero relates her father's past which begins with the tragedy around his birth and abusive early years that don't get any better when a violent stepfather comes into the picture. The stories are powerful and haunting, especially as Guerrero also shares her own story of growing up as a "gringa" at a Catholic school in San Diego despite her Puerto Rican/Mexican heritage.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, One World.

Friday, August 3, 2018

review: bring me back by b.a. paris

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Twelve years ago Finn's girlfriend disappeared after they had a fight. She was never found, but he was cleared of suspicion. Now Finn is set to marry the sister of that girlfriend. Life was good until Russian dolls started appearing at the house Finn and Ellen share. The dolls are significant because each sister had a set and Ellen had accused Layla of taking the smallest from her set when they were kids. It's also the only thing Layla left behind when she disappeared from the rest stop. It's a great premise, but the plot of Bring Me Back moves quite slowly. The big twist was also obvious early on. When that "twist" is finally revealed it comes with a big information dump to explain everything that happened in the last decade.
2/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, St. Martin's Press.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

review: from the corner of the oval by beck dorey-stein

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Trying to make ends meet with five part-time jobs, Beck Dorey-Stein starts dreaming of a full-time job with benefits. That's how she ends up applying for a stenographer job on Craigslist which turns out not to be at a law firm like she thought, but at the White House. In From the Corner of the Oval, Dorey-Stein shares her experiences as a stenographer for the Obama administration from 2012 onward. It's not all politics though as Dorey-Stein fails to heed a colleague's advice of "stay with your boyfriend" to have a fling with one of the others who travels with the president. With the White House (and Air Force One) serving as a backdrop, Dorey-Stein's memoir is an entertaining look at the mistakes one makes in her (or his) twenties when everything still seems possible, but nights of too much drinking get in the way. While some may find it off-putting that she includes compliments of her writing (when a staffer leaves, she gifts the person with a personal essay), those incorporations serve as a explanation that this memoir was a work that hadn't really been meant to be shared when Dorey-Stein was journaling such personal details (plus, she really is a great writer).
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Spiegel & Grau.

Friday, July 20, 2018

review: the cheerleaders by kara thomas

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Five years ago five cheerleaders died in three separate incidents within a month. Monica's sister was one of those cheerleaders. Now Monica is attending the same high school where a memorial is being organized. That reminder combined with other issues Monica's dealing with set her on a path to uncover if her sister's death really was a suicide. The Cheerleaders delves into some heavy subjects, but Kara Thomas handles it with a realism not always seen in a young adult mystery novel. It's difficult to state what makes The Cheerleaders great without getting into spoilers, but there are some excellent twists that tie together a few plot points.
5/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

review: the devil's half mile by paddy hirsch

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In 1799, Justice "Justy" Flanagan returns to New York after studying law in Europe. He plans to use his newly acquired knowledge and skills to avenge his father's death. Justy believes his father didn't kill himself, but was murdered by a man who bilked people out of money during the Panic of 1792. Justy's vengeance tale should've been filled with intrigue as he uncovers the details of the scam his father fell in with, but Paddy Hirsch crafts a convoluted plot with The Devil's Half Mile. The scam has multiple players and a number of layers making it far too complicated. Plus, Justy can't help but insert himself into the lives of others, such as a childhood friend now surviving any way she can. All that combined with extensive use of the Irish slang of the era (there's a glossary in the back, but I didn't find that until I'd reached the end) makes The Devil's Half Mile a sluggish read.
2/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Forge.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

review: providence by caroline kepnes

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A bit of a social misfit, Jon always cuts through the woods on his way to middle school in order to avoid a bully. It should've kept him safe, but instead he's kidnapped by a substitute teacher. Four years later, the man allows Jon to awaken from a medically-induced coma leaving him with only the slightest hint as to the experiments that were conducted--the H.P. Lovecraft book The Dunwich Horror. This is where Providence gets confusing for someone not familiar with Lovecraft's work. Apparently there are parallels between Jon and the main character of The Dunwich Horror. Fortunately, Caroline Kepnes provides a plot that's enjoyable even without Lovecraft knowledge. Jon's struggle with his new power to kill without even touching a person is real and painful as he isolates himself. Kepnes also provides a satisfying conclusion to a story that has a great deal of sadness.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Lenny.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

review: ain't she a peach? by molly harper

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After Margot moved to Georgia in Sweet Tea and Sympathy, she discovered her extended family is full of colorful characters. One of the most interesting was cousin Frankie, whose story is told in the second book of the Southern Eclectic series from Molly Harper. Frankie is the county coroner, but she's also quite childish continuing to live with her parents and engaging in an ongoing feud with a high school boy. Frankie was both awesome and aggravating as she sought to prove the teen was responsible for vandalism at the McCready funeral home. Fortunately, Frankie grows up a lot over the course of Ain't She a Peach? as she stands up to her parents, whose unwillingness to let her grow up stemmed from their fear of losing her (she had cancer as a child). Although the feud plot was annoying at times, the quirky McCready family is a treasure.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.