Thursday, July 20, 2017

review: home safe by elizabeth berg

Helen Ames has lost her husband and, seemingly, her ability to write. For a once prolific author, that is a problem. It becomes even more of a problem when Helen learns her husband mysteriously withdrew over $800,000 from their investment account before his death. Since she isn't doing much writing, Helen spends her days meddling in the affairs of her 27 year old daughter . Helen also reluctantly accepts a job teaching a writing workshop. Elizabeth Berg marvelously portrays the mother-daughter dynamic (including a few scenes with Helen and her mother) and the character of Helen, while wholly unlikable for much of Home Safe, rings very true in all her varied relationships. The ending is a little pat, but it works for the story which seeks to be uplifting in the face of sadness.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Ballantine Books.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

review: the walls by hollie overton

Kristy Tucker’s job as a public information officer for a Texas prison is a tough one; she frequently deals with death row inmates because of media requests for information about them or to interview them. She’s also raising her teenage son (who resulted from a one-night stand with a musician) and caring for her ailing father. So it’s a bit of a relief when Lance, her son’s martial arts instructor, starts giving Kristy some help. It’s a friendship at first, but Lance’s charm wins over Kristy and soon the pair marries. But Lance’s charm covers a darkness and soon a death row inmate suggests that there are people who could help Kristy with that problem.

The Walls includes a time jump resulting in Hollie Overton not explaining how over the course of a year and a half, the relationship turned abusive which would’ve been interesting to read given that Overton set up Kristy as a strong, empowered woman. That is my only issue with The Walls; otherwise, it is a gripping story filled with suspense as Kristy internally explores the potential of killing her husband. Her experiences with the inmates shape her decision as well as giving her the knowledge needed to cover her tracks which allows the story to feel entirely plausible.
5/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

review: that touch of ink by diane vallere

After Pillow Stalk's bombshell ending, Madison Night's ex surprisingly pops back into her life by anonymously sending her a $5000 bill. The bill, which has James Madison on it, has significance to Madison and Brad, so Madison instantly knows it came from him. That's confirmed when he arrives in Dallas needing her help and wanting to reform their relationship. Madison is wary given his lies, but her past love for him causes her to put on a few blinders. It doesn't take long (in fact, it's the first night she and Brad have dinner) for Madison's life to be threatened. She doesn't know why, but Madison is pretty sure it has to do with Brad and the $5000 bills that seem to be becoming prevalent in Dallas despite having been taken out of circulation in 1969.

The Madison of Diane Vallere's That Touch of Ink is a bit different from the Madison of Pillow Stalk. This Madison ignores some of her instincts and frequently makes the odd choice not to call 911 in favor of calling Tex who is not always available. That Madison should try to see the good in Brad makes sense for her character, but it is odd that she turns to Tex so quickly with Vallere having established that Madison and Tex have not been in touch in the nine months that separate the two books and Tex is now dating the woman Madison refers to as "Officer Nasty." While Madison's character is a bit weaker this time around, the mystery is spot on as Vallere creates many twists and red herrings.

About the audiobook: Like Pillow Stalk, That Touch of Ink is read by Susie Berneis, who again provides the perfect voice for Madison. It was released December 2016 by Dreamscape Media and run 7.5 hours.
4/5
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

review: you don't look like anyone i know by heather sellers

College professor Heather Sellers sometimes affectionately greets men who aren’t her fiancĂ© (later husband) and is frequently accused of rudely blowing off people she should know. Sellers knows there is some sort of problem, but her focus is on a multitude of other issues including that her mother is likely suffering from undiagnosed schizophrenia and that the man she will marry in the course of this memoir is likely an alcoholic (and her father probably is as well). Unfortunately, the fact that Sellers is dealing with all these different things causes You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know to feel scattered as the narration jumps between past and present and back again. There is a diary-like feel with unnecessary anecdotes about her stepsons (whose privacy I wonder about, especially since Sellers says at the end that she left her brother out to protect his privacy) and repetitive stories about her childhood. By the time Sellers finally receives her diagnosis of prosopagnosia (face blindness), she is making a number of reaches to blame someone (she obsessively tries to find a connection between schizophrenia and prosopagnosia) or something for the various problems in her life. Her inability to anticipate problems (such as when she attempts to have her parents meet her fiancĂ© and his children) and convoluted storytelling eclipse the important details of how hard it was to be diagnosed (some doctors dismiss her concerns) and subsequent issues that arise from trying to explain the condition to colleagues.
3/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Riverhead Books.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

review: lucky the hard way by deborah coonts

Book 7 of the Lucky O'Toole Vegas Adventure series picks up where Lucky Break left off, but Deborah Coonts throws in a few surprises for Lucky once she arrives in Macau. Some of the people encountered aren't quite who they seem to be and it appears the Big Boss has been a little too hands-off with the overseas hotel. Lucky is once again in a dangerous situation with few people she can trust.

Taking Lucky out of her element livens things up and causes Lucky to push herself more than usual (though she still relies somewhat on help from back home). Lucky the Hard Way is also filled with twists to keep the suspense going. Lucky's sleuthing continues to be fun in this fast-paced series that allows the characters to evolve (Lucky has grown up immensely since the start of the series) while staying true to themselves.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, Kate Tilton.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

review: laura rider's masterpiece by jane hamilton

A woman tells her husband, an enthusiastic lover, she no longer wishes to have sex. It might come as no surprise that he should then have sex with another woman. Yet there is a surprise. Although Laura Rider may not have intended for her husband to have sex with the radio host she so admires, Laura does orchestrate their relationship. It's all part of Laura's plan to write a romance novel. It's an interesting twist, but it also makes the characters pretty awful. Laura and her husband are knowingly manipulating Jenna while Jenna is betraying her husband with someone she believes is also cheating and then Charlie begins betraying Laura by making elements of his relationship with Jenna private. The characters do not grow or learn from their actions, so the ending is as dissatisfying as the relationships the characters have with each other.
2/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Grand Central Publishing.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

review: river city dead by nancy g. west

During San Antonio's Fiesta Week, advice columnist Aggie and her detective boyfriend have plans to stay at a River Walk hotel. This is a big step forward in their relationship, but unfortunately, a woman Aggie knows is found murdered at the hotel. While the police investigate, Aggie embarks on her own attempt to solve the murder.

The premise is promising, but the writing suffers from big information dumps. Nancy G. West clearly researched Fiesta Week and San Antonio, but awkwardly incorporates that information in clunky chunks. Here's an example:

Taking Casa Prima's exit to the River Walk, I walked toward Arneson Theater. The open-air amphitheater built by the Works Progress Administration in 1939-1941 had tiers of concrete seats rising up one side of the river with the stage situated across the river. I'd absorb unique details of the venue later.

The characterization of Aggie feels off as well. Aggie is overly concerned with aging--even writing an advice column centered on staying youthful. It was shocking to learn she is not yet 40; she comes across as 60-something and her good friend (the ex-mother-in-law of the murdered woman) is 60. Interestingly, Aggie would be about 60 today (the book takes place in 1998).

After a while, I just couldn't with Aggie. Her advice to a college-aged woman contemplating having sex for the first time was straight out of an abstinence-only, slut-shaming "health" class. She writes, "He can never be sure you were his first lover or that he'll be your last. He'll never honor you in the same way." No thank you.
1/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, MM Book Publicity.