Saturday, September 24, 2016

review: crossing the bridge by michael baron

In a touching novel, Michael Baron brings a man named Hugh home after his father suffers a heart attack. Since the drunk driving death of his younger brother (which Hugh feels he could've prevented), Hugh has been a wanderer--never staying at one job or in one city for long. Returning to his hometown though finds Hugh reconnecting with his deceased brother's girlfriend, who Hugh always had a crush on. The characters here come alive through their flaws and frequently evoke an emotional response through their actions. As this is partially a romance, the male perspective provides an interesting insight into the interactions between Iris and Hugh.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, The Story Plant.

Friday, September 9, 2016

review: the yokota officers club by sarah bird

Bernie and her family have moved around quite a bit due to her father’s career in the Air Force—six moves in the last eight years, in fact. Now, in 1968, Bernie is visiting her family in Japan after completing her first year of college in New Mexico. It is a pivotal year as Bernie discovers a long-kept family secret and realizes the strong bond of her family.

In some ways Sarah Bird’s semi-autobiographical The Yokota Officers Club is simply a glimpse into the life of a military family, but there are amazing moments in that family life with fantastically drawn characters who feel very real. Bernie’s experiences provide a slice-of-life into sibling rivalry, the politics of life on a military base, and cultural differences while Bird’s vivid descriptions bring the scenes to life. The incorporation of music further establishes the setting and plays an important part as Bernie sets about Japan as a go-go dancer.

About the audiobook: The Yokota Officers Club is beautifully performed by Carine Montbertrand who skillfully gives voice to the characters. Each character is distinctive because of Montbertrand’s voice. It was a pleasure to spend almost 15 hours with her. Recorded Books released the audio version in 2016. It runs 14.75 hours.
5/5
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

review: the dread line by bruce desilva

Now that he’s involved in his mobster friend’s book-making business, recently fired newspaper reporter Liam Mulligan finally has the money for a house on the water and a new Mustang. He’s also occasionally writing for a local news website (one just can’t shake the news business) and working as a private investigator. All of these jobs come together for Mulligan in a number of fashions as he works on three cases—a bank heist, a background check on a potential NFL draft pick, and horrific acts of animal cruelty—during The Dread Line, the fifth book in Bruce DeSilva’s excellent Mulligan series. As the cases heat up, Mulligan and his associates find their lives being threatened. The stakes are high, especially when Mulligan finds himself committing an act that will forever change him. Mulligan then faces a moral dilemma that adds another layer to the character who has become so familiar. The Dread Line, which works as a standalone, is an intense journey with multiple threads that are worked out expertly.
5/5
Review copy provided by the author.

Friday, August 26, 2016

review: falling by jane green

Falling by Jane Green begins as the a fairly typical love story between a man and a woman of very different backgrounds, but winds up ending in an unexpected way. Much of Falling is about Emma's path to finding happiness after leaving her job at a Manhattan bank and moving to Westport, CT, which is fairly boring until she begins connecting with her handsome landlord and his young son. Once Emma sees that she could have something with Dominic, Falling picks up and begins rushing toward what seems like an inevitable happily ever after until obstacles in the form of people start popping up. As Falling reaches its heartbreaking conclusion, one realizes that there are different types of happily ever afters.
4/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Monday, August 22, 2016

review: already home by susan mallery

When Jenna returns to her hometown after a divorce, she has no idea just how much her life will change. As Jenna struggles to get her new business off the ground, her birth parents suddenly pop into her life and cause even more upheaval. Although Susan Mallery makes use of some clich├ęs (slimy ex-husband, abusive boyfriend, overbearing birth mother, women concerned about their weight), Already Home is a touching story about the family we're not only born into but the one we make. While a few characters bordered on too outrageous, the plot and pacing are excellent. Jenna also shows some real growth as she transitions to a new phase of her life.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, MIRA.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

author guest post: bruce desilva

Bruce DeSilva's latest book in the Liam Mulligan series will be released by Forge on September 6. I'll be posting a review of it soon (check out my review of A Scourge of Vipers beforehand). In the meantime, I'm excited to share a guest post from the author about the new book, The Dread Line.

What’s a Mystery Writer to Do When His Hero Loses His Crime-Fighting Job?

A lot of mystery story heroes used to do something else for a living.

For example, Robert B. Parker’s series character, Jesse Stone, was a professional baseball player before he became a police chief. Ace Atkins’s Quinn Colson was a soldier before he became a small-town lawman. Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder was a cop before he became a private eye.

But what nearly all of the job-changing heroes of crime fiction have in common is that their old jobs are part of their backstories. They already had begun their new lives when their creators started telling their stories.

The lone exception I can think of (although with tens of thousands of mystery novels out there, there must be a few more) is Bill Loehfelm’s Maureen Coughlin, who was introduced as a Staten Island barmaid in The Devil She Knows and then morphed into a rookie New Orleans cop in The Devil in Her Way.

With a dearth of role models for inspiration, I wasn’t sure what to do when Liam Mulligan, the hero of my hard-boiled crime novels, got fired from his investigative reporter job at the fictional Providence (R.I.) Dispatch in A Scourge of Vipers, the fourth book in the Edgar Award-winning series. But I had to figure out something. I owed my publisher another Mulligan yarn.

I hadn’t planned on Mulligan getting fired. Fact is, when I write I don’t plan anything. I just set my characters in motion to see what will happen. But looking back on it, I can see that Mulligan’s firing was inevitable.

When I first made him an investigative reporter at a struggling metropolitan newspaper, I had my reasons. I’d been an investigative reporter in Providence, too, and they say you should write what you know. I liked the fact that reporters can’t bring people in for questioning, get court orders to search houses and businesses, or compel people to testify, because it sometimes makes their jobs more challenging than police work. I liked it that unlike private eyes, reporters are supposed to adhere to a strict code of ethical conduct.

But the main reason is that I wanted my novels to be not only suspenseful and entertaining but to also address a serious social issue.

American newspapers are circling the drain. In recent years, many have shut down, and economic changes brought on by the internet have forced virtually all of them to slash the size of their news staffs. Soon, many more will be gone. This is a slow-motion disaster for the American democracy, because there is nothing on the horizon to replace newspapers as honest and comprehensive brokers of news and information.

It has always bothered me that in the popular culture, journalists are usually portrayed as vultures. The truth is that the vast majority of them are hard-working, low-paid professionals dedicated to the difficult task of reporting the truth in a world full of powerful people who lie like you and I breathe.

So it was my hope that as my readers followed the skill and dedication with which Mulligan worked, they would gain a greater appreciation what is being lost as newspapers fade into history. I strove to make the first four novels in this series both compelling yarns and a lyrical epitaph for the business that Mulligan and I both love.

With each novel in the series, The Dispatch’s finances became increasingly desperate, more and more of Mulligan’s colleagues got laid off, and his own job security grew perilous. As I was completing A Scourge of Vipers, it became evident that his newspaper career was coming to an end.

The Dispatch had been sold off to a predatory conglomerate that had no interest in investigative stories and saw news as something to fill the spaces between the ads. And Mulligan’s squabbles with his editors were making life untenable for both of them. By the time that novel ended, Mulligan had been fired in spectacular fashion, accused of a journalism ethics violation that he had not committed.

So as I sat down to write The Dread Line, I needed to invent a new life for him.

Mulligan had always said that he was a newspaper man because he could never be good at anything else. As he saw it, being a journalist was his calling, like the priesthood but without the sex. He figured that if he couldn’t be a reporter, he’d end up selling pencils out of a tin cup.

But as I looked back over Mulligan’s life, I realized he did have a few possibilities. Edward Mason, his young colleague at the paper, was leaving to start a local news website and wanted Mulligan to come with him. But the new business wasn’t making any money yet, so the job didn’t pay much. Mulligan’s pal Bruce McCracken ran a private detective agency, so perhaps Mulligan could do some work for him. And Mulligan’s mobbed-up friend Dominic Zerilli was retiring to Florida and needed somebody to run his bookmaking business.

What should Mulligan do? How about all three?

The opening of The Dread Line finds him no longer living in his squalid apartment in a run-down Providence triple-decker. Instead, he’s keeping house in a five-room, water-front cottage on Conanicut Island at the entrance to Narragansett Bay. He’s getting some part-time work from McCracken, although it rarely pays enough to cover his bills. He’s picking up beer and cigar money freelancing for the news website. And he’s running the bookmaking business with help from his thuggish pal, Joseph DeLucca.

For the first time in his life, he’s got a little money in his pocket at the end of the month. After twenty years as a reporter, he feels odd living above the poverty line—and even odder to be a lawbreaker. But as Mulligan puts it, he’s not breaking any important ones.

And of course, he still manages to find trouble when it isn’t finding him.

He’s feuding with a feral tomcat that keeps leaving its kills on his porch. He’s obsessed with a baffling jewelry heist. And he’s enraged that someone on the island is torturing animals. All of this keeps distracting him from a big case that needs his attention.

The New England Patriots, still shaken by a series of murder charges against one of their star players (true story) have hired Mulligan and McCracken (not a true story) to investigate the background of a college star they are thinking of drafting. At first, the job seems routine, but as soon as they begin asking questions, they get push-back. The player has something to hide, and someone is willing to kill to make sure it remains secret.

Mulligan may not be an investigative reporter anymore, but he’s still in the crime-busting business.

Bruce DeSilva’s crime fiction has won the Edgar and Macavity Awards; been listed as a finalist for the Shamus, Anthony, and Barry Awards; and has been published in ten foreign languages. His short stories have appeared in Akashic Press's award-winning noir anthologies, and his book reviews for The Associated Press appear in hundreds of publications. Previously, he was a journalist for forty years, most recently as writing coach world-wide for the AP, editing stories that won nearly every major journalism prize including the Pulitzer. His new novel, The Dread Line, is the fifth in his series featuring Liam Mulligan. You can visit his website here: http://brucedesilva.com/

Friday, August 19, 2016

review: something in between by melissa de la cruz

With Something in Between, Melissa de la Cruz examines the plight of an accomplished high school student whose parents reveal the family is in the United States illegally after she earns an academic scholarship. The novel is both about the difficulties Jasmine and her family face because of their status as undocumented immigrants as well as the ups and downs of any typical high school student. While this story is an important one, it feels unrealistic at times. Jasmine being called someone of "exceptional ability" seems a bit of a stretch (though hilariously the deportation hearing judge even says that being head cheerleader does not make her so) and the resolution to the story is a bit too easy. Jasmine's dad is also way over the top in his reactions to everything that happens. He actually seems to not understand that his actions created the situation. Unfortunately, these factors and the immediate love connection Jasmine has with a politician's son cause Something in Between to not be as powerful as it should be given the importance of the subject matter.
3/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.