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.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

review: pillow stalk by diane vallere

Madison Night is relatively new to Texas, but her interior design business focused on mid-20th century d├ęcor is doing well in part due to her enterprising though slightly morbid way of obtaining authentic merchandise on the cheap—she reads the obituaries. But her business gets put on hold when Madison gets caught up (from multiple angles!) in a murder investigation.

Pillow Stalk is a beautifully written cozy mystery with Diane Vallere having fun playing with the theme of Doris Day and the movie Pillow Talk. (Among other things, Madison, who loves Doris Day, has a dog named Rocky and one of the suspects is named Hudson.) Refreshingly, Madison is a strong protagonist far more concerned with the murders and potential damage to her career than with making a love connection (although Vallere does include some potential romantic interests). There is a bit of a hole in the story (why would the cops allow Madison to remove potential evidence only to reprimand her about it later?), but that detail is easily forgiven.

About the audiobook: Susie Berneis has the perfect voice for Madison intoning just the right amount of sass for the character. Pillow Stalk was released by Dreamscape Media in January 2017. It runs a little over 8 hours.
5/5
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

review: the separatists by lis wiehl

In another timely story featuring TV anchor/reporter Erica Sparks, a group plots to have North Dakota secede from the United States. When Erica learns of the Take Back Our Homeland movement, she decides it's the perfect first story for the show she's launching at GNN. The long hours and flights to North Dakota put even more strain on her relationship with her 13 year old daughter as well as on her marriage. While the secessionist storyline is gripping, recovering alcoholic Erica's self-destructive thoughts and behavior grate. She completely loses it when her daughter's friend makes a video in Erica's house (Erica cites the exclusivity clause in her GNN contract as the reason, but it was an epic overreaction). Over the course of the Newsmakers series, Erica has made an unfortunate shift from sympathetic go-getter to control freak.
3/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

review: the wild woman's guide to traveling the world by kristin rockaway

After being ditched by her best friend, Sophie finds a pub, orders a San Miguel, and promptly meets a fellow American also traveling around Hong Kong. Sophie, who travels frequently for work, isn't much for commitments and has no qualms about making the good-looking artist another one her conquests, but there's something different about this one. Soon Sophie is ignoring her work responsibilities (it may be a vacation, but Sophie's boss only agreed to it if Sophie met with one of the senior partners in Hong Kong) for a hot romance with Carson. That is until the trip comes to an end and she has to return to a reality where she's significantly damaged her job status.

The Wild Woman's Guide to Traveling the World starts as a fun romance, but becomes a tale of empowerment when the consequences of shirking responsibility kick in. Sophie had been content with the status quo, but her time with Carson combined with some comments from her friend who deemed her "closed off and miserable" are the spark she needs to finally pursue her dream job. It's a highly entertaining story that encourages one to live life to the fullest.
5/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

review: a shattered circle by kevin egan

A Shattered Circle kicks off with the murder of a man once tangentially involved with a judge in New York City. In the primary part of the story, the wife/secretary of that judge is desperately trying to keep people from finding out that a head injury has left the judge unfit for the bench. Her struggle to try to maintain her husband's reputation is very compelling. And in yet another element of the story, one of the court officers begins looking into a decades-old murder that occurred in the building. While it seems that these three plots will not intertwine, it becomes clear A Shattered Circle is appropriately named as the mysteries unfold. Kevin Egan brings them all together in what turns out to be one interconnected and expertly woven plot.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Forge.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

review: the devil crept in by ania ahlborn

In the small (fictional) town of Deer Valley, OR, Stevie Clark has a not so great life with an abusive stepfather and only one friend--his older cousin. Deer Valley is a place where animals frequently disappear, but no one really discusses the strange occurrences. Then Jude disappears. Stevie is devastated, but just about everyone dismisses his stuttering pleas to help find his cousin. When Jude returns just as mysteriously as he disappeared, The Devil Crept In takes a dark (but fantastic) turn. It turns out there was a very good reason to stay out of the woods. With The Devil Crept In, Ania Ahlborn serves up an excellent horror novel with an ending that absolutely chills. The incorporation of the backstory is also remarkably well done.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

review: small admissions by amy poeppel

With two professors for parents, it only seemed natural that Kate Pearson would go on to grad school; instead, she makes plans to go to France with a boyfriend only to be dumped which leads to Kate spending her days on the couch. Her sister and a college friend (who also happens to be the cousin of the boyfriend) are not going to let Kate waste her life away though. Her friend creates a dating profile for Kate and poses as Kate to screen the guys while her sister separately sets Kate up with a job interview. Much to everyone’s surprise (including Kate), she actually lands the assistant director of admissions job at Hudson Day School. Soon Kate’s life is all about wading through the crazy world of school admissions in New York City.

In Small Admissions, Amy Poeppel makes the odd choice to have Kate’s friend be the first person narrator rather than Kate; Poeppel also includes chapters from the perspectives of many minor characters, which distracts from the narrative. While some of those chapters did serve to inform the story, some were entirely unnecessary (such as the acquaintance of Kate’s sister). Despite the distracting minor characters, Small Admissions is a fun (though it does take a very serious turn) look at the school admissions process.

About the audiobook: Small Admissions is read by Carly Robins who does well at keeping the appropriate tone for each character while also making them distinguishable. It was published December 2016 by HighBridge Audio and runs 9.5 hours.
4/5
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.