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.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

review: still mine by amy stuart

Having fled her husband, Clare is on the run using a different last name as she investigates the disappearance of a woman from a small mining town. The townspeople are instantly suspicious of a stranger asking questions (Clare’s lie of being in town because she’s a photographer simply isn’t believable), but her resemblance to the missing woman causes Shayna’s mother, who seems to have Alzheimer’s, to reveal some important details. Even though Clare gained information about Shayna throughout Still Mine, the truth behind Shayna’s disappearance was quite the shock especially given all the other parallels Amy Stuart had created between Clare and Shayna. The reveal and an extra twist at the end were well-written. Stuart also provided a satisfactory conclusion to Still Mine while nicely setting up the forthcoming sequel.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Friday, August 12, 2016

review: lucky stiff by deborah coonts

In the second Lucky O'Toole adventure, an oddsmaker is found dead in the shark tank of a hotel near the one where Lucky works as head of Customer Relations. Very soon Lucky is connected to the case as the dead woman had some very significant interactions in Lucky's hotel right before she was murdered. Lucky is determined to get to the bottom of the case even as she's distracted by her ever-complicated personal life.

As she did in Wanna Get Lucky?, Lucky proves to be a competent investigator and public relations guru. Deborah Coonts expertly mixes the mystery with comedy as Lucky has the same wit she had in the first book in the series. Many of the characters in the subplots wind up being involved in the novel's conclusion as the mystery is wrapped up with an outcome that's not easily guessed.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, FSB Associates.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

review: why can't i be you by allie larkin

Fresh off being dumped and in an unfamiliar city for a work conference, Jenny Shaw is reeling when she hears someone call her name. Only the woman wasn't calling "Jenny" but "Jessie." Jenny it turns out is almost a dead ringer for a woman named Jessie Morgan who has been out of touch with her high school classmates since taking off from graduation 13 years ago. Jessie's high school reunion (don't worry, the 13-year reunion gets explained) is being held at the same hotel as Jenny's conference. As Jenny wants nothing more than to escape her life for a few days, she falls easily into the role of wild child Jessie who had a very different high school experience than the reserved Jenny. But Jenny can't be Jessie forever, especially once one of the high school pals reveals the reason Jessie disappeared.

Allie Larkin's second novel is a touching, yet funny look at the relationships that shape a person. The characters are all engaging and (with the exception of Karen) the kind of people one wants to be friends with making it easy to see why Jenny would pose as Jessie. The plot may seem far-fetched, but Larkin makes it believable (it's completely understandable that people desperate to reconnect would overlook a few discrepancies).
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Plume.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

review: the choices we make by karma brown

Hannah is obsessed with having a baby. She and her husband have spent thousands on fertility treatments that never result in a viable pregnancy. As Hannah begins to consider surrogacy (despite her husband's objections), her best friend Kate decides she wants to be the surrogate (despite her husband's objections). Eventually the two couples come to an agreement, but a medical tragedy transforms all of their plans.

The Choices We Make is a poignant novel, but it rubbed me the wrong way. From the characters who made parenthood into the most important aspect of a person's life to the unwillingness to consider adoption, things just didn't sit right. It continually felt like Karma Brown was trying to make Hannah a sympathetic character, but kept presenting her as incredibly selfish (which really came out during the conflict with Kate's husband). There were also bedroom scenes that felt really out of place and inappropriate for the tone of the novel. The journey to the pivotal moment was wholly uninteresting, but Brown really stepped up the pacing and action once Kate suffered a medical issue.
3/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, BookSparks PR.