Friday, December 9, 2016

review: samantha sutton and the labyrinth of lies by jordan jacobs

Samantha Sutton and the Labyrinth of Lies is the first is a series about a young girl who dreams of being an archaeologist like her uncle. Although it is the first book, it reads like a book from later in the series as it provides no backstory and simply plunges Samantha, her older brother, and her uncle into an adventure; there is no explanation as to why the older brother, who clearly doesn’t want to be there, is along for the trip. In a strange plot point (that’s really just to set up why Samantha has a crucial item later on), Samantha’s parents ask her to divert her attention from the dig in order to sell things for them—again with no backstory. Despite her age, Samantha is a very capable, quick-thinking protagonist and the family relationships ring true. Jordan Jacobs includes the fun element of pages from Samantha’s notebook at the start of each chapter, but the pacing is very slow for a middle grade novel.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

review: whitefern by v.c. andrews

Having survived significant trauma in My Sweet Audrina, Audrina Adare Lowe is now raising her sister in the family home while Audrina’s husband works for her father’s company. Despite all the progress Audrina had made, Whitefern sees her falling into the familiar trappings of the heroines created by the V.C. Andrews ghostwriter. Although Arden seemed to truly care for Audrina in My Sweet Audrina, he’s now furious with her at both her inability to conceive and her unwillingness to sign her inheritance of her father’s company over to him. Audrina does stand strong regarding the inheritance, but Whitefern finds her giving in to Arden’s increasingly controlling ways.

With My Sweet Audrina having been written by V.C. Andrews and Whitefern being one of the many novels written by the ghostwriter hired after her death, the stylistic differences are prevalent. The most notable being that whatever houses the novels took place in was always a character itself in the originals, but now Whitefern is simply a setting even though the novel shares its title with the mansion. Although it appears the ghostwriter didn’t spend much time reviewing My Sweet Audrina (Sylvia’s abilities in Whitefern are substantially more than they should have been and Arden has changed into a villain without explanation, Whitefern does evoke many of the feelings brought forth in the original work.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket.

Friday, November 25, 2016

review: the fatal gift of beauty of nina burleigh

In The Fatal Gift of Beauty, journalist Nina Burleigh dives deep into the circumstances surrounding the murder of British college student Meredith Kercher and the subsequent arrest of Kercher’s American roommate Amanda Knox along with Knox’s boyfriend, an Italian college student named Raffaele Sollecito. For those who followed the American media coverage (note: I worked for news outlets in Washington state during the relevant time frame), some parts will be familiar, but much of what Burleigh explores was never presented in the coverage from Knox’s home country. Burleigh presents how the timing of Kercher’s murder shortly after Halloween was much more significant for Italians than it would likely have been for Americans as well as how other cultural differences affected perceptions. Additionally, Burleigh details the life of Rudy Guede, who was also convicted of Kercher’s murder but separately from Knox and Sollecito. The one element lacking from The Fatal Gift of Beauty and other works about the case is Kercher’s part of the story. Burleigh acknowledges this at the end in Notes on Sources and Methods by stating she contacted Kercher’s family and friends but did not receive any response.
Review copy provided by Blogging for Books.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

review: the red thread by ann hood

In The Red Thread, a group of incredibly unlikable characters pursue having children in the belief that a child is the answer to all their problems. In parallel stories that Ann Hood creates, the reader also learns the backstories of the Chinese girls about to be adopted by the American couples--those stories were far more interesting and powerful than the stories of the potential parents, but made up only a small portion of The Red Thread. The plot did not feel realistic either as many of the couples trying to adopt have issues (ongoing adultery, inability to love a biological child with special needs) that might disqualify them and the owner of the adoption agency uses very outdated information to get her own "happy ending."
Review copy provided by the publisher, W.W. Norton.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

review: the mirror sisters by v.c. andrews

Wow, the backstory dump that is The Mirror Sisters is pretty remarkable—how many other authors can claim to have written a 355 page novel that doesn’t really begin until about 300 pages in? During those first 300 pages, the V.C. Andrews ghostwriter details the many ways in which Haylee torments her identical twin, Kaylee. Haylee is a master at covering her bad deeds and Kaylee never tells on her either because their mother insists that the twins are perfect and very, very special. The mother has what it takes to be a true V.C. Andrews villain, but her power is taken away by the author’s choice to have Kaylee tell so much of the story via reflections on the past. The Mirror Sisters serves only as a set up for Broken Glass, which will pick up the story on the same night that The Mirror Sisters ends with Haylee’s plot finally in full swing.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

review: death steals a holy book by rosemary & larry mild

In the third book of the series, bookstore owners Dan and Rivka Sherman discover two rare books that were hidden away by the previous owner of the store. The books include a letter giving the finders permission to do with the books as they will, so Dan and Rivka decide to have the books appraised and restored with the intention of selling. A big problem with this plan occurs when the man doing the restoration is murdered and the books are stolen. In a secondary plot, one of the bookstore’s employees inherits a house, but must fight to keep it.

The primary plot keeps the reader guessing with the whodunit, but the authors frequently shift focus from the mystery. The many threads of Death Steals a Holy Book are a bit disjointed (they might flow better if I’d read the first two in the series) and never tie together, so that all of the subplots feel like distractions from the murder mystery.
Review copy provided by the publicist, MM Book Publicity.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

review: the chameleon by merrick rosenberg

Before writing The Chameleon, Merrick Rosenberg taught organizational communication and leadership, including the DISC model, for decades. According to the preface of The Chameleon, Rosenberg received feedback that it was difficult for people to remember Dominant-Interactive-Supportive-Conscientious, so he decided to equate each style with a bird in hopes of making it easier for people to understand and remember. Throughout The Chameleon, Rosenberg discusses the personality styles via fables. The fables seem intended to make the traits relevant, relatable, and easy to understand, but the use of names like Xander, Xenia, Sarah, Samuel, and Sadie actually made things a little confusing (it would’ve been far easier to remember who was who if the same letter names had corresponded to the letter of the bird—why not have E names for the Eagles?). Each section ends with bullet points on the important takeaways—many of these are fantastic and the bullet points make for easy reference—but Rosenberg doesn’t elaborate on how to take action. For example, one suggestion here is “manage your emotions when dealing with button-pushers who are different from you,” which is great advice, but hard for someone to implement without an action plan.
Review copy provided by the publicist, The Cadence Group.