Wednesday, September 30, 2009

review: spotted by crissy calhoun

This post contains affiliate links.

Composing what is primarily an episode guide to the first two seasons of Gossip Girl, Crissy Calhoun takes an almost scholarly approach to the popular show based on Cecily von Ziegesar’s scandalous book series. Spotted includes actor biographies, but the main focus is the episodes. Each episode write-up receives a bit of analysis followed by some interesting tidbits in a section titled “JTLYK” (that would be “just to let you know”). The music and clothing featured in each episode are also detailed. Some of the sections, such as Oops and The Original Gossipverse, are only included for some episodes since they don’t apply to each one. The Original Gossipverse was particularly fun for someone like me who read the series long before the show debuted. While I remembered some book plots, this section reminded me that Georgina actually is a book character though her story has been dramatically changed.

Although I’m a fan of Gossip Girl, Spotted revealed two things I was completely unaware of. Each episode derives its title from a movie. That movie generally has some relation to the episode plot which Calhoun explains. Additionally, the show parallels in many ways another Josh Schwartz show, The O.C. I didn’t watch The O.C., so I didn’t notice. Calhoun points out where the plots of two shows overlap. Teens in New York and California experience the same things when they share an executive producer!

Calhoun gives an in-depth look at Gossip Girl that can be appreciated by those who were fans from the beginning as well as those who have just started watching. Spotted also educates the reader on the many references the show makes to pop culture, historical events, and works of literature.
ARC Review

Monday, September 28, 2009

review: air time by hank phillippi ryan

This post contains affiliate links.

Never question the importance of a good lead. Air Time immediately draws the reader in by opening with, “It’s never a good thing when the flight attendant is crying.” The third in the Charlie McNally series finds Charlie chasing another sweeps piece while dealing with some relationship drama. Josh has realized Charlie puts the job first; needless to say, he’s not exactly thrilled. The work/life balance is particularly hard this time because the counterfeit purse story has Charlie jumping on airplanes and going undercover.

It’s amazing how the details push a book from great to outstanding. Again the characterization of Botox is excellent (she jumps onto the table and knocks over the water which soaks the cop). Then there’s the description of the newsroom. Quite a few people think TV news is all excitement all the time, but chapter seven reveals the truth. Charlie tests out her hidden camera set-up in the newsroom and describes what she recorded: “I got great shots of a producer searching Facebook, the satellite guy doing a crossword puzzle, and the new morning reporter shopping online for red patent Louboutin pumps. If the camera were set to record audio, I could have also provided slam-dunk proof that our noon anchor was making comments to an intern that Nanette in Human Resources would certainly have frowned upon.” I’m guilty of that third one with embarrassing regularity. In fact, I went to Barneys and bought those red Louboutin heels! I’ll be looking over my shoulder for reporters testing hidden cameras from now on. Charlie has definitely made her way into my heart. I feel I know her. I’d love to work with her.
Review copy provided by the author.

Friday, September 25, 2009

review: the night gardener by george pelecanos

Twenty years after The Night Gardener killings, another teen dies in a manner that fits the profile. This time the victim is an acquaintance of the son of one of the cops charged with the investigation. Though the initial killings went unsolved, Gus Ramone is determined to solve this one even if it means bending the rules.

The first chapter takes place in 1985 and serves to introduce the three men who will take lead roles in the investigation twenty years later. Over the course of the book, Pelecanos reveals the source of the animosity Doc Holiday feels for Gus Ramone. It may not exactly be warranted, but it led them to the uneasy alliance they’ve formed in order to solve the murders. The revelation also allows the reader to know what it must do to Ramone when he elects to compromise the investigation in order to protect some of the people involved.

The dialogue and descriptions are graphic at times, but the grittiness of the language rings authentic for the situation. Asa’s death, which doesn’t happen until a few chapters in, is at the forefront of the book, but there are a number of side plots. These make sense because cops would definitely be investigating more than one case, especially in a major city like Washington, DC. Pelecanos shows his TV series experience by having many of those side plots weave into the main one.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

giveaway: morning sunshine!

After reading my review of Morning Sunshine! did you want to check it out for yourself? Well, here's your chance. Thanks to Hachette for providing five copies for this giveaway.

Here's the publisher description:
"Robin Meade is the poster child for confidence and self-assurance. But the anchor of Morning Express with Robin Meade wasn't always that way. In fact, there was a period in her career when she was plagued with anxiety and panic attacks. In Morning Sunshine!, she tells how she overcame her fear of public speaking to go on and achieve her dream of becoming a news anchor.

Robin Meade offers her own tried-and-true four-step approach to building confidence. Her trademark warm, personal style translates from the screen to the page in this book, which will give readers even more insight into the young woman who came out of nowhere to become one of the most popular news anchors on television today."

The rules: Enter by leaving a comment to this post with your email (if I can't contact you, you can't win). You can gain additional entries by leaving separate comments letting me know that you're a follower or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on October 10. Winners will be selected at random. Since this is from Hachette the winners must have mailing addresses in the US or Canada; no PO Boxes.

Monday, September 21, 2009

review: the brutal telling by louise penny

The small town of Three Pines is shocked when a man all of the residents claim not to know is found dead in the bistro. Inspector Gamache and his team start the investigation, which uncovers some interesting facts like his expensive dental work that make them realize The Hermit is not a tramp as they first suspected. Unfortunately, they still have no leads on who the man is or who killed him and why. Gamache and the others interview the citizens, but get nowhere until a newcomer to Three Pines stumbles upon a cabin revealing many of the dead man’s secrets.

Having not read the first four books of the series, I feel I shouldn’t be too critical. Perhaps the things I didn’t like are things I’d enjoy if I had prior knowledge of the characters. I struggled through the parts about characters not directly involved with the plot. I kept thinking that by the end there would be some way to tie it all into the central storyline; instead those characters and stories just seemed to be excess. However, I can see that people familiar with the stories might enjoy these bits if those characters were central to previous plots. Although I put down The Brutal Telling a few times, by chapter 25 I was very interested in finding out who killed The Hermit.
ARC Review

Sunday, September 20, 2009

review: morning sunshine! by robin meade

Writing about her experiences as a newscaster, Robin Meade comes across as the diva anchor type. Fortunately most of my coworkers, past and present (and hopefully future!) have been lovely, but I have encountered a few I’d rather not work with again. I have a feeling Meade’s experience in Chicago of being handed the breaking news script at 30 to air was punishment for her bad behavior. She fumes over not being tracked down to be told about the breaking news as she slides into the anchor chair as the 30 second cue is called. She’s lucky her mic even worked! That sort of thing is completely unacceptable. Meade experiences her first of many panic attacks that night. The panic attacks cause her husband to force her to meet with a doctor. Although Meade resists at first, she eventually recognizes she needs to change (though she makes no apology for her Chicago behavior). Even so, Meade still comes across as braggy throughout the book. My favorite part was when Meade’s doctor told her she was phony; that’s exactly what I thought too.

Morning Sunshine! is written in a conversational style (as one is taught for TV news), but lacks a cohesiveness. In this way it reads less memoir and more “let me give you this great example from my amazing life to illustrate this excellent advice.” Some of the advice is good and there are humorous parts, but the advice is mostly of the “no duh” sort; of course people need to take time out to relax and of course people should strive to be authentic to oneself. This book will likely inspire fans of HLN’s Morning Express, which Meade currently anchors.
ARC Review

giveaway winners: friends like these and stray affections

Congratulations to Wanda, Lisanne624, Jaime, etriv, and Linna who each win a copy of Friends Like These. Sheila is the winner of Stray Affections. If you haven't already, please email me your address.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

giveaway: cult insanity

Five copies of Cult Insanity by Irene Spencer are available thanks to Hachette. This one's on my "must read" list.

Here's the publisher description:
"Life for Irene Spencer was a series of devastating disappointments and hardships. Irene's first book, Shattered Dreams, is the staggering chronicle of her struggle to provide for her children in abject poverty and feelings of abandonment each time her husband left to be with one of his other wives. Irene was raised to believe polygamy was the way of life necessary for her ticket to heaven.

The hard knocks of her environment were just the beginning of Irene's shocking tale. Insanity ran rampant in her husband's family and was the source of inconceivable events that unfolded throughout Irene's adult life. Cult Insanity takes readers deeper into her story to uncover the outrageous behavior of her brother-in-law Ervil -- a self-proclaimed prophet who determined he was called to set the house of God in order -- and how he terrorized their colony. Claiming to be God's avenger and to have a license to kill in the name of God, Ervil ordered the murders of friends and family members, eliminating all those who challenged his authority.

For those who were gripped by Shattered Dreams, the rest of the story will blow them away. Cult Insanity is a riveting, terrifying memoir of polygamist life under the tyranny of a madman."

The rules: Enter by leaving a comment to this post with your email (if I can't contact you, you can't win). You can gain additional entries by leaving separate comments letting me know that you're a follower or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on October 3. Winners will be selected at random. Since this is from Hachette the winners must have mailing addresses in the US or Canada; no PO Boxes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

review: hush, hush by becca fitzpatrick

This post contains affiliate links.

For the first ten chapters of Hush, Hush, I loved the story. The mysterious new boy gets forced into Nora’s life when their biology teacher forces everyone to change partners during the section on reproduction. Nora and Vee are quite upset that they aren’t partners anymore, but Vee is interested in getting to know the new boy and sees Nora’s partnership with Patch as a great opportunity. Vee proves to be fickle and boy crazy when another transfer student shows up. She decides Nora should be with Elliot so they can double when she dates his friend Jules. The set-up here is pretty good: who are the bad guys and how does the prologue come into play? Unfortunately, things don’t really come together as the story progresses. There are some plot holes as well as parts that just don’t make sense. For example, Nora has a few run-ins with the cops. Since she’s a minor, the cops should at least inform her mother of their interaction, but they don’t. Then there’s the fact that her mother is a peripheral character who doesn’t seem too concerned about her daughter even though Nora’s father was murdered not too long ago. By the time Hush, Hush was over I wanted to strangle most of the characters. Nora and Vee were too stupid for their own good a number of times, but especially during the trip to Portland. Who gets off a bus late at night in an unfamiliar city without a clue as to where she’s going? Apparently Nora does.

Final note: I received an advanced copy of this book with a different ending than the one that will be hitting the shelves in October. I enjoyed this ending which I thought had a really great pun. The ending that will be in the book drops this pun which is unfortunate as it was truly the best line in Hush, Hush. The published ending comes across as slapped together and a little cheeseball.
ARC Review
Review copy provided by Barnes and Noble First Look.

Monday, September 14, 2009

review: bundle of trouble by diana orgain

Diana Orgain’s Maternal Instincts series starts off with Kate receiving a phone call about her husband’s no-good brother moments before her water breaks. With her new baby in tow, Kate attempts to figure out just what her brother-in-law’s bags were doing on the pier where the body of a high school friend’s husband was pulled out of the San Francisco Bay. After meeting with the private investigator hired by the deceased’s mother, Kate starts thinking that private investigator would be the perfect job for her. After all, she’s not looking forward to going back to the office once her maternity leave is up. Now she just has to solve the mystery before too many more bodies are found!

With mysteries, I appreciate two things: not being able to figure out who the killer is right away (unless the author reveals it by giving the killer’s perspective) and having all the bits and pieces make sense at the end. Bundle of Trouble is successful in these two aspects and makes a great start to the series, but I’m not entirely sure the premise can be sustained. It seems a little odd that a new mom would be so willing to get involved in a murder mystery, but the involvement of a relative and an old friend combined with Kate’s hope to not have to return to her job makes it somewhat plausible. As the series continues, I question whether it will still make sense for Kate to put her life in danger.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

giveaway winners: dark hunger

Congratulations to xfallinstar7, Wanda, Luvdaylilies, Eleni, and Linna who each win a copy of Dark Hunger. If you haven't already, please email me your address.

Monday, September 7, 2009

review: face time by hank phillippi ryan

This post contains affiliate links.

Face Time finds Charlie back to work after the excitement of Prime Time. Her relationship with Josh is progressing, though she does have to deal with his petulant eight year old daughter who isn't thrilled her dad has a new woman in his life. As for work, a new consultant (an evil that invades all newsrooms) has been brought in to increase the ratings. She's declared that July is the new November. The consultant is insane, but then again they usually are. So although Charlie planned to spend time with Josh and his daughter at his cabin, she instead must work on a sweeps piece branded "Charlie's Crusade" even though the story seemingly falls apart before it begins when the supposedly wrongly convicted woman it all hinges on refuses to be interviewed. Dorinda’s refusal raises some questions. If she killed her husband as she insists she did, why did someone produce a surveillance tape giving Dorinda an alibi? If the tape is legit, why doesn’t Dorinda leap at the chance to get out of prison? Pursuing this story leads Charlie down a dangerous road as people connected to the case start turning up dead.

While Face Time continues to illustrate that Charlie, like so many others, makes sacrifices for her career, it also expands upon the relationships first shown in Prime Time. This time Charlie’s mom is in town, which is good for some additional drama. It also gives the author the opportunity to let readers know that even those related to people working in TV news don’t really understand how it works. It’s exemplary characterization. In fact, even Charlie’s cat’s personality is nailed. I love the fact that Charlie has a pet. Far too many fictional characters don’t; real people have pets, so integrating one into the plot makes fictional characters more real, especially when the pet is fitting for the character’s personality which Botox definitely is for Charlie.
Review copy provided by the author.

giveaway: stray affections

Waterbrook Press has provided me with an additional copy of Stray Affections so that one of you can win it!

This is my review. Here's the one from Publishers Weekly:
"Inspirational novelist Baumbich (Dearest Dorothy series) presents readers with a lovely story of forgiveness, restoration and a dash of hopeful whimsy thrown in for pure pleasure. Baumbich, whose nonfiction is frequently self-deprecating and thoroughly comedic, offers her fiction fans a tale that is flurrious with the unexpected and unimagined as Cassandra Higgins, mom to four young boys and day-care provider, sets upon a course of self-discovery after purchasing a snow globe. Cassandra, whose father committed suicide and whose mother barely, and bitterly so, continues to face life one day at a time, revisits her childhood pain as she gazes into this glass globe containing three dogs and a girl resembling herself. This young mother realizes that even with a loving husband, children and a life absent of any major catastrophe, the past continues to wield a mighty force that shapes present-day attitudes and lingering emotional afflictions. Baumbich reaches deep into the heart's recesses, but does so with the precision of the most skilled emotional physician. For that, her readers will feel nothing but gratitude."

The rules: Enter by leaving a comment to this post with your email (if I can't contact you, you can't win). You can gain additional entries by leaving separate comments letting me know that you're a follower or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on September 19. Winner will be selected at random. Open to US residents only.

review and tour: stray affections by charlene baumbich

Stray Affections is a bit bittersweet and a bit predictable. The initial setup is interesting enough with a mysterious snow globe setting the plot in motion. But while the snow globe is the catalyst, it never gets explained. At various times Cassandra and Ken separately attempt to research the globe's insignia, but they drop it when the information isn't easily found. Instead they go about some predictable scenes with some not so great dialogue. It was easy to see only a few chapters in that the Kamrowski-Higgins family would get a happy ending all the do-gooders in town would aid those in need.
There's a giveaway as part of this tour. Check it out. There's also a video from Charlene Baumbich to introduce the book.

Friday, September 4, 2009

review: the crying tree by naseem rakha

The beautifully written characters of The Crying Tree are stunningly real. It’s a story of devastating loss that also tells of unbelievable forgiveness on the part of the mother.

One of the interesting things about The Crying Tree is the way Rakha reveals how the family came to be as they are in the days before the execution of the man who fired the shot that killed 15 year old Shep. In the first two parts, time jumps around: there’s the time surrounding Shep’s death, the present when the execution has finally been scheduled after 19 long years, and some important periods in between. Small pieces are revealed along the way until the final bombshell comes two weeks before the execution. Though there are some hints, the last secret comes as a major shock. It is an excellent twist that again rips apart the family.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

review: the other side of blue by valerie o. patterson

Cyan’s father died a year ago; now she has questions about his death. An accident? Suicide? Homicide? Whatever the circumstances, Cyan's mother has moved on and the new boyfriend's daughter is visiting them at the vacation spot where Cyan's father died. Cyan, who was never very close to her artist mother in the first place, is clearly unhappy about all of this, but also determined to find out what really happened the night her father died. The truth shocks her, but also leads her to think differently of her mother.

The story is well-written with good dialogue but leaves a number of loose ends. Now that Cyan knows the truth, her relationship with her mother will surely change but too much damage may have been done for them to ever be close. Then there's the question of how Cyan and Kammi will get along. They are closer by the end, but being "sisters" may be impossible. Then again, they may not ever see each other again since the boyfriend (Kammi's father) really didn't have a role here.
ARC Review

giveaway: friends like these

Let's start September off with the chance to win Friends Like These by Danny Wallace from Hachette. There will be five winners.

Here's the publisher description:
"Danny Wallace has friends. He has a wife and goes to brunch, and his new house has a couch with throw pillows. But as he nears 30, he can't help wondering about his best childhood friends, whose names he finds in a long-forgotten address book. Where
are they now-and where, really, is he?

Acting on an impulse we've all had at least once, he travels from London to Berlin, Tokyo, Australia, and California, risking rejection and ridicule to show up on his old pals' doorsteps. Memories of his 1980s childhood-from Michael Jackson to Ghostbusters-overwhelm him as he meets former buddies who have blossomed into rappers and ninjas, time-traveling pioneers, mediocre restaurant managers, and even Fijian royalty.

Danny's attempt to re-befriend them all gives remarkable new resonance to the age-old mantra, 'friends forever!'"

The rules: Enter by leaving a comment to this post with your email (if I can't contact you, you can't win). You can gain additional entries by leaving separate comments letting me know that you're a follower or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on September 19. Winners will be selected at random. Since this is from Hachette the winners must have mailing addresses in the US or Canada; no PO Boxes.