Wednesday, April 16, 2014

review: ember island by kimberley freeman

Ember Island features the dual stories of novelist Nina Jones in 2012 and governess Tilly Kirkland in 1891. In their respective times, both are newcomers to Ember Island. Nina comes to the island to deal with the property that was abandoned by her renters and maybe finally write her overdue novel. She and her boyfriend have broken up and a reporter is hounding her, so Ember Island is a welcome escape. I wish there’d been more of Nina in this novel, but the focus is on Tilly and her young charge Nell who is an ancestor of Nina’s. Like Nina, Tilly comes to Ember Island to escape her past which includes a loveless marriage. Tilly makes plenty of mistakes on the island, but Nell loves her all the same. (Nell actually deserves a book of her own. She immediately hooked me with her statement about a previous teacher’s lack of knowledge as evidenced by her spelling of definitely with an “a.”) Too much cannot be said about Tilly without being a spoiler, but I appreciated the difficulties she experienced as a woman of that time and how she always tried to make the best of her situation. The characterizations, especially the precocious Nell, are marvelous and the parallels between Nina and Tilly are nicely done.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Monday, April 14, 2014

review: my life in middlemarch by rebecca mead

As the book is titled My Life in Middlemarch, I expected Rebecca Mead to include far more about her own life. The book instead focuses primarily on Mary Ann Evans who wrote Middlemarch under the name George Eliot. There's much here about parallels between the works of Eliot and the author's life which may have inspired the novels. Although it's an interesting and well-researched biography, I hoped to read more of Mead. I did appreciate her insights though. My biggest takeaway came from the following: “…All readers make books over in their own image, and according to their own experience. My Middlemarch is not the same anyone else’s Middlemarch; it is not even the same as my Middlemarch of twenty-five years ago.”
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Friday, April 11, 2014

review: far gone by laura griffin

Even though she’s facing a very big problem in her professional life, Detective Andrea Finch is willing to throw it all away to protect her younger brother who seems to have gotten mixed up in an anti-government plot. As with Laura Griffin’s other books, Far Gone features a strong female lead with a male counterpart to play the love interest and assist in the case. Andrea is an excellent flawed heroine—she loves her brother to a fault and sometimes gets in the way of her own best interests. The magnificent storytelling that’s standard for Griffin features her hallmarks of a gripping plot that beautifully combines suspense with a hint of romance. Although not part of the Tracers series, Far Gone makes a few references to the Delphi Center which is a nice little extra for fans.
Review copy provided by the author.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

review: the butcher by jennifer hillier

Decades after a serial killer was gunned down by the chief of police, a true crime author is writing about the case. As it happens, her boyfriend’s grandfather is the man who tracked down the killer. He was hailed a hero, but Sam is suspicious that the brutal murders were pinned on the wrong man. Sam believes her own mother was a victim two years after the Beacon Hill Butcher was supposedly killed. While Sam looks into the case, her boyfriend Matt moves into his grandfather’s home and discovers a devastating truth.

The real identity of The Butcher is revealed within the first few pages, so the focus is more on if Sam will figure it out and how Matt handles his discovery. The devolution of Matt was fascinating and handled believingly. There are many tense scenes and times when you want to scream at the characters who withhold information from each other and cause even more problems. Even so, the characters (even the evil ones) are fun to spend time with.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

review: swimming at night by lucy clarke

Lucy Clarke’s Swimming at Night explores the story of two sisters. As the novel opens, Katie learns her younger sister has died in Bali from a suspected suicidal jump off a cliff. Not only was Mia not supposed to be in Bali, Katie cannot believe her sister would kill herself. Although she’s set to wed her fiancĂ© Ed soon, grounded Katie decides to follow Mia’s adventurous world trip as laid out in her travel journal.

Swimming at Night is full of emotions as it alternates between Katie’s grief and Mia’s troubles. The flashback scenes of Mia give the sense that Katie is right about her sister while also creating enough doubt to make the reader wonder what really happened when Mia was on that cliff. The mix of flashback, diary entries, and present day slowed the pacing a bit, but the mystery of Mia was intriguing to the satisfying end.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

review: here we are now by charles r. cross

Twenty years ago today I was heading home from the mall when a DJ came on to say Kurt Cobain had been found dead in his Seattle home. Charles R. Cross knows where he was too—at The Rocket, the now-defunct Seattle biweekly paper where he was editor. Cross opens Here We Are Now with how he got the news from the KXRX DJ who broke the story. This is not a Cobain biography (for that, see Cross’s Heavier Than Heaven); it is a book about, as the subtitle says, “the lasting impact of Kurt Cobain.” Cross explores the “grunge” movement in both music and fashion (documenting some of the hilarious missteps of top designers) along with Nirvana’s lasting legacy and how Cobain’s former hometown of Aberdeen has mixed feelings about him. After these two decades, it was great to revisit the times of someone Cross calls “the last rock star” and see how his music has sustained over the years.
Review copy provided by the publisher, It Books.

Monday, April 7, 2014

review: the recessionistas by alexandra lebenthal

The Recessionistas takes place in September 2008 as the recession is starting to hit the wealthy citizens of the Upper East Side. The men are scheming while many of the women are continuing to outrageously spend. It sounded like a great plot, but unfortunately the writing is awkward particularly when it comes to the dialogue. The characters had such a formal way of speaking that it sometimes seemed like I was reading a very bad academic paper instead of dialogue. Furthermore, the characters, with the exception of Renee and Sasha, were not distinguishable other than in terms of gender. It was nearly impossible to remember which self-absorbed woman was married to which self-absorbed man, especially since they experienced the same events (divorce, loss of money, etc.).
Review copy provided by the publisher, Grand Central Publishing.