Thursday, December 30, 2010

giveaway: brooklyn story

Thanks to Gallery Books I have one giveaway copy of Suzanne Corso's Brooklyn Story.

Here's my review. Publishers Weekly said:
"Tony Manero wouldn't be out of place in this competent coming-of-age debut set in 1978 Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where Samantha Bonti longs to make it in the big time across the East River. With her Smith-Corona, ambition, good looks, and little else--Sam's Jewish mom's a bitter, drunken mess on welfare, her Italian dad's long gone--the 15-year-old negotiates the shady world of the "Brooklyn Boys" and what it means to be the girlfriend of mob acolyte Tony Kroon. "All ya need is me," he ominously insists. Corso gets the Brooklyn dialect pitch-perfect and keeps the pace brisk, and though the narration too often reads like stage notes, the universal story of longing, loyalty, and growing up rings true."

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 (one extra each for the blog and Twitter) or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on January 15. Winners will be selected at random. Since this is from Gallery Books the winners must have mailing addresses in the US; PO Boxes are ok.

review: brooklyn story by suzanne corso

This post contains affiliate links.

With every page turn of Brooklyn Story, I thought, "This is depressing." Sam immediately positions herself as a victim. She doesn't fit in at school because she's half-Jewish and half-Italian. At home this causes conflict as well because her Jewish grandma is displeased that Sam's mom left her religion for a man who promptly left before Sam was even born. That Sam's father left is yet another issue; her mother withholds affection and is frequently critical, especially when Sam begins dating Tony. It turns out that Sam should've listened to her bitter mom a little more as it doesn't take long for Tony to reveal himself to be a controlling and abusive criminal. At the end Sam says Tony stole four years of her life; I disagree. At every turn, Sam had the opportunity to recognize Tony for what he was (if the demands to always know where she was weren't a sign, then the slap to the face should've woken her up) but chose to stay with him. I couldn't help but wonder if all the fancy things he showered upon her didn't motivate the girl raised on welfare to stay.

Redeeming Brooklyn Story is the writing. Even so, I frequently wanted to stop reading as I could garner no sympathy for a girl who ignored the advice of those around her to stay with an abusive man.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

review: the secrets sisters keep by abby drake

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Oh, the secrets sisters keep. Abby Drake has an apt title for a wonderful tale. Four mostly estranged sisters are forced to come together by the uncle they all adored. For many many years one sister (the only one who actually has her life together) has been an outcast; the rest don't really talk either. The others believe Carleen is responsible for a terrible tragedy. While she is the direct cause, only Carleen and Uncle Edward know the truth surrounding the devastating fire. And there's another important piece of information that Carleen has kept from the youngest sister--an aging actress no longer seen as a star. When Edward disappears before the party, the sisters finally talk.

A slightly different type of quest story (all but the oldest who lives with Uncle Edward must travel for the party), The Secrets Sisters Keep hooked me right away. The search for Uncle Edward brought much amusement, especially when the party-goers were tipped off to his location by Amanda's boys. This one will have you laughing, crying, and joyful right along with the sisters.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Avon.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

review: a lucky child by thomas buergenthal

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In A Lucky Child, Thomas Buergenthal shares his incredible memories of his experience during the Holocaust. As so many memoirs seem to have been discredited lately, Buergenthal states upfront that as he's writing this over 60 years later, it's "colored by the tricks that the passage of time and old age play on memory." Similar statements are made throughout A Lucky Child and I appreciated his honesty about not recalling specific dates and names.

A Lucky Child addresses many of the horrors survived by the author, but the story doesn't become depressing (though it is, at times, heartbreaking). From the introductory remarks, it's clear Buergenthal's mother also survives; knowing this reunion will come makes it all a little more hopeful and easier to stomach. Also, Buergenthal meets some truly wonderful people in the concentration camp. Odd Nansen, who wrote a book of his own, is one of those people. He not only looked after young Buergenthal while in the infirmary, but Nansen also helped after the war. The bright moments make this an even more touching story.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Back Bay Books.

giveaway: a christmas carol: a pop-up book

You could be the lucky winner of Chuck Fischer's pop-up version of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Many thanks to Hachette for sponsoring this giveaway:

As noted in my review, I think this is a version to be treasured. Publishers Weekly said this:
"This beautiful re-imagining of Charles Dickens's timeless fable, A Christmas Carol: A Pop-Up Book features artist Chuck Fischer's richly painted depictions of the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, brought to life in intricate pop-up scenes by paper engineer Bruce Foster. The entire text of A Christmas Carol is reproduced in five removable, illustrated, keepsake booklets. An introductory booklet provides a biography of Dickens and an illustrated feature on the enduring appeal of this beloved story. The perfect gift, A Christmas Carol, now in pop-up form, will brighten the holidays for young and old."

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 (one extra each for the blog and Twitter) or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on January 9. 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.

review: a christmas carol illustrated by chuck fischer

This post contains affiliate links.

Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol (a familiar story that I won't address in this review) beautifully comes to life with Chuck Fischer's pop-up illustrations. As it is Christmas-time, I want very much to display this book in my window (unfortunately, the sill isn't wide enough and the cat would probably complain about her space being usurped). I am blown away by the detail here: the chains of Marley actually dangle (another reason not to actually display it as the cat keeps trying to play with this book!). As the illustrations take up all the pages, the novel is broken up in small pull-outs, which makes it easy to break up the story for children. This stunning edition is definitely one to treasure.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Little, Brown and Company.

giveaway winner: a visitor's guide to mystic falls

Congratulations to holdenj, who has won a copy of A Visitor's Guide to Mystic Falls!

Friday, December 17, 2010

review: last snow by eric van lustbader

This post contains affiliate links.

The sequel to First Daughter, which hooked me right away, Last Snow finds Jack overseas with the president and his family. When a US senator winds up dead in a location he shouldn't have been, Jack starts a new mission--one the still recovering Alli insists on coming along on. Unfortunately the wonderful dynamic that existed between Jack and Alli in the first book just isn't here. I wish there'd been more of Alli working on moving past her kidnapping/brain-washing (from First Daughter) and less of the drawn-out Russian conspiracy shoot 'em up scenes (which also meant there were far too many characters to keep track of). Actually the most interesting part was a subplot in the conspiracy involving the head of Homeland Security and his estranged family; though again, this introduced another set of characters.
Review copy provided by The Book Report Network.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

review: goodnight tweetheart by teresa medeiros

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Goodnight Tweetheart is an adorable story that will eventually bring tears. It's the story of an author whose debut novel was selected by Oprah, but now Abby fears her next novel can never live up to the standard set by that incredible first. After a hilarious failure of a book reading, Abby's publicist sets up a Twitter account and instructs her to tweet with her readers. Abby is Twitter-clueless, but soon finds the very helpful Mark, who says he's a professor on sabbatical. And that's where the "love story in 140 characters or less" comes in. Abby and Mark bond over their shared love of television, but meeting seems impossible as Mark says he's out of the country.

The zings between the two are funny--they have an ongoing joke that Mark is actually a serial killer and/or a teen living at a home; they also begin each session by asking, "What are you wearing?" which sets off amusing exchanges. As I read their tweets, I kept thinking about how I wanted to see the pictures they were sharing (the pictures are described in subsequent tweets); turns out you can by going to the website! A fabulous little extra, in my opinion.

This was one of those books that I just love immediately. The tweet format (which is used for most of the book) makes it a quick read, so once I started Goodnight Tweetheart, I didn't stop until I reached the final, touching page.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

giveaway winner: the swan thieves

Congratulations to amandawk who has won a copy of The Swan Thieves. Enjoy!

Friday, December 10, 2010

review: vixen by jillian larkin

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In 1920s Chicago three socialite teens flirt with the flapper lifestyle in Jillian Larkin’s debut, Vixen, which is the first in the Flappers series. Gloria is about to be wedded to Sebastian, a young man more interested in her family name than in her. Gloria’s cousin Clara (my favorite character) has just arrived under the pretense of helping with the wedding; only her aunt knows that the move to Chicago is really to escape her scandalous recent past. Finally, there’s Gloria’s best female friend (who would better be referred to as a “frenemy”) Lorraine, who is scheming something big.

Although Vixen is set in the 1920s, it could almost take place in any era as it is quite a universal story of teens struggling to form their own identities. In that way, the story is quite relatable. Gloria is discovering that the life set for her by her parents isn’t exactly the one she wants while Clara has already rebelled and suffered the consequences. Clara was immediately likable and intriguing (the full story of her past isn’t revealed until more than halfway through) which drew me to her. Lorraine, on the other hand, was quite despicable and I never pinned down her motivation other than jealousy, which didn’t quite make sense. Yes, Gloria had a fiancĂ© and a best male friend, both of whom frequently usurped Lorraine, but Lorraine had a lot going for her too. Instead of being married off as Gloria’s parents had decided would be Gloria’s future, Lorraine had been accepted to Barnard.
Review copy provided by the Barnes & Noble First Look program.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

review: law of attraction by allison leotta

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I did not see this ending coming. Allison Leotta's debut is not only entertaining, it also keeps you guessing. The story centers around a young prosecutor of domestic violence--something Anna gained far too much personal experience with at a young age. Assigned to Laprea's case, Anna is disappointed when Laprea lies on the stand to protect her abuser (and the father of her twins). The tale turns even more tragic when Laprea turns up dead shortly after another fight with D'marco, who had convinced her he was going to change. Since Anna's familiar with the case's background, she ends up assisting in the prosecution of the homicide. What seems like an easy win turns out not to be when a shocking revelation about the deceased comes from the autopsy. Every one of these twists kept me intrigued. Law of Attraction is an excellent mystery mixed with romance as Anna finds herself attracted to two attorneys on opposite sides of the case.
Review copy provided by Planned Television Arts.

review: every bone tells a story by jill rubalcaba and peter robertshaw

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Every Bone Tells a Story looks at four discoveries of ancient remains. The four are Turkana Boy (found in East Africa), Lapedo Child (Portugal), Kennewick Man (northwestern United States), and Iceman (Italian Alps). I was most interested in what the authors had to say about Kennewick Man as that discovery was made in my hometown.

Written for young students, the book is broken into short sections that explain the science without getting bogged down by too many technical terms. It's an easy, yet informative read with plenty of pictures. My complaint would be regarding a few minor inaccuracies regarding the circumstances under which Kennewick Man was found. The authors continually refer to the annual boat races as "Sunfest;" this is something only they and an author they cite do. The boat races are not called Sunfest by locals or event organizers; in fact, the actual name is "Water Follies" and has been for some time. Although such things are insignificant, they do make me question what else may be incorrect.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Charlesbridge Publishing.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

giveaway: a visitor's guide to mystic falls

One lucky person is going to win the excellent A Visitor's Guide to Mystic Falls edited by Red and Vee. If you love The Vampire Diaries, you'll want to read this book. Many thanks to Smart Pop Books for sponsoring the giveaway.

Here's my review. Below is the publisher description:
"A Visitor's Guide to Mystic Falls brings together today’s best YA writers of the supernatural to talk about the first season of The Vampire Diaries: the characters, the storyline, the magic, the town. From a history of the Salem’s witches from whom Bonnie is descended to family therapy for brothers Stefan and Damon, the anthology is guaranteed to keep the show's viewers entertained—and make them see Mystic Falls, and the rest of The Vampire Diaries, in a whole new way."

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 (one extra each for the blog and Twitter) or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on December 18. Winners will be selected at random. Since this is from Smart Pop Books the winners must have mailing addresses in the US or Canada; no PO Boxes.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

review: a visitor's guide to mystic falls edited by red and vee

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Taking a somewhat academic (though mostly fun) approach, A Visitor’s Guide to Mystic Falls examines the first season of the popular CW show The Vampire Diaries. Each of the 11 essays is written by a novelist, who also happens to be a fan of the show. Included is a book-to-show guide written by the editors Red and Vee, who run As a fan of the show (and books), I appreciated the insight offered here. Bree Despain’s in-depth look at Bonnie, a character frequently ignored in favor of the show’s three leads, is both excellent and thoughtful. The following two essays (by Claudia Gray and Jon Skovron, respectively) are also extremely interesting. Gray argues that changing the brothers’ background improves the tale as it makes them part of the town’s “central event.” Skovron discusses other vampire tales and the role women have in them and in The Vampire Diaries. For fans who like to put a little thought into what plays out on their screens, the critical essays contained within are must-reads.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Smart Pop Books.

review: the secret life of ms. finkleman by ben winters

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The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman is a fantastic middle grade novel, but man, did it make me feel old! These kids have parents and teachers who came up during the 1990s punk scene. Good ol' rock'n'roll is at the center of this mystery, which made me love it all the more.

It all gets started when the social studies teacher assigns another of his famous Special Projects--the one thing the 7th graders actually look forward to in a notoriously tough class. Bethesda decides to investigate the music teacher, a seemingly ordinary woman who has revealed nothing of her personal life.

These kids are perfectly characterized; even the few scenes with the various parents showed how the children's personalities were shaped. The pacing is also excellent. For example, as snotty Pamela tries to bluff her way through a blackmail attempt, it seemed just the right time to discover the next layer of Ms. Finkleman's secret. And then it comes, simply stated and concluding the chapter. Winters wrote this one for kids, but there's enough to keep adults interested too.
Review copy provided by the publisher, HarperCollins.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

review: lydia's charm by wanda brunstetter

In the opening pages of Wanda Brunstetter's latest novel about the Amish, Lydia is laid off only a year after the unexpected death of her husband. With no job prospects, she grudgingly agrees to move in with her mother and sick grandfather in another state. But more tragedies quickly befall Lydia and the other residents of Charm, OH. And yet, I felt little sympathy for the characters as I wasn't invested in them. Lydia is far too Pollyanna-ish while her mother is filled with a self-absorbed wretchedness. The one highlight of the novel came when Lydia realized her mom “liked to martyr herself so she’d have something to complain about;” it’s an apt observation. Unfortunately, such moments where someone seemed to want to stop simply accepting things were rare. There was little to distinguish many of the other characters; the boys were interchangeable.

I read for the love story promised by the back cover; it didn't even get underway until Lydia's Charm was more than half over. Although set up as a "who will Lydia choose," the choice was always obvious. Furthermore, the incredibly brief courting in no way made up for the constant heartache. Regardless of whether the scenes should have been filled with smiles or tears, I felt little emotional pull.
Review copy provided by Planned Television Arts.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

author interview: laura griffin

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If you've read my reviews of Laura Griffin's Tracers series, you already know I absolutely love it! So I was ecstatic with Laura agreed to answer a few questions.

Thanks so much for inviting me to drop in and visit!

The Tracers series follows a different female protagonist each time with the common thread being the sexy Troy Stockton. Why did you go this route rather than the more traditional series path of following the same lead?

Troy first comes onto the scene in the initial Tracers book, but he gets his happily ever after in UNSPEAKABLE, so I’m taking a break from him for a bit. The new book, UNFORGIVABLE, features homicide cop Ric Santos as the hero, and the mystery involves a case in which DNA expert Mia Voss (the book’s female lead) plays a major role. Ric and Mia have worked together before, but now they are in the spotlight.

You have “Mia’s Playlist” on your website. Which song(s) most inspired you while writing Unforgivable?

The U2 song “Acrobat” reminds me of a turning point in the story when Mia feels like her life is spinning out of control. Another very emotional song is “Useless Desires” by Patty Griffin. Mia goes on such a roller coaster of emotions through the story, and that song kept going through my head.

Music is a big source of inspiration for me, which is why I thought it would be fun to do the iPod giveaway with this release. If your readers are interested, they can enter the contest at

The quality of your novels shows that you do your research! Since Mia is a DNA expert, what have you discovered about forensics that surprised you?

So many things I’ve learned through research have surprised (and shocked) me. As for DNA, I was shocked to learn that most DNA samples collected at crime scenes are not tested until a case is going to trial. In other words, they have a suspect to compare the DNA with and see if there is a match. There is such a backlog of DNA evidence sitting in crime labs collecting dust (I’m talking about rape kids, bloody clothes, etc…). One of the reasons Mia is passionate about her job in the story is because she wants to help clear that backlog and use DNA to help get repeat, violent offenders behind bars.

What book (your own or someone else’s) has had the most impact on your life?

I would have to go with the Nancy Drew series, which my grandmother had at her house when I was a kid. Those little books got me hooked on reading (and they were my first mysteries!) The start of my addiction to books…

What comes next in the Tracers series?

I have been so excited with the success of the Tracers series! My publisher has asked me to do three more Tracers books. The next one is SNAPPED in 2011. People ask if they should read the Tracers books in order, and I always tell them it’s not necessary. The characters overlap, but each suspense plot stands alone, so feel free to plunge right in!

review: unforgivable by laura griffin

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The third novel in the Tracers series follows Mia Voss, a top DNA analyst at the Delphi Center. The hint at romance that saw a semi-hopeful start for Mia and Ric, a detective with the local police department, in Unspeakable continues here. But there’s more than romance to Laura Griffin’s superb suspense series; Mia is also the target of a killer—she’s kidnapped in the opening pages! After an escape that leaves one officer dead, threats are made against Mia’s young nephew. Mia will do anything to protect him, including putting her career and reputation at risk.

Here Griffin’s mix of romance and suspense is absolutely perfect. The tension between Mia and Ric as each tries to avoid getting too involved even as they are continually forced to work together heightens the emotion of every scene. I particularly enjoyed the brief moments shared by Ric and his daughter as they gave true insight into his character.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket Books.

giveaway: the swan thieves

Now that Elizabeth Kostova's The Swan Thieves is out in paperback, I have one copy to giveaway thanks to Hachette.

Here's the Reading Group Guide. Plus what Publishers Weekly had to say:
"Elizabeth Kostova made a dramatic debut in 2005 with her megabestselling The Historian. The first debut novel to hit the New York Times bestseller list at #1, The Historian has been published in 44 languages, has more than 1.5 million copies in print, and there's a Sony film in the works. A hefty, quirky, historical vampire thriller that took 10 years to write and for which a reported $2 million advance was paid, The Historian has managed through sheer bulk and majestic grandeur to confer upon itself the literary weight of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, even as it offers up some of the easy delights and generic writing skimps that put it on the Da Vinci Code shelf. The Swan Thieves revisits certain themes and strategies of The Historian, chief among them an academic hero who is drawn into a quest for knowledge about the central mystery, only to develop an obsession that becomes the driving force of the plot. Each chapter marks a point of view shift from the previous one, with the narrative shared among a variety of characters telling the story in a variety of ways. The events range from the present moment back to the 19th century of the painters Beatrice de Clerval and her uncle Olivier Vignot, whose intertwined lives, letters, and paintings are at the heart of the story.This time out, Kostova's central character, Andrew Marlow, has a license to ask prying questions as he unravels the secrets and pursues the truth, because he is a psychiatrist. (Before Freud, genre quest novels depended on sleuths like Sherlock Holmes to play this role.) Even though Marlow comes across as a sensible, trained therapist, after only the briefest of encounters with his newly hospitalized patient, the renowned painter Robert Oliver, Marlow develops an obsessive desire to solve the mystery of why Oliver attempted to slash a painting in the National Gallery. Marlow is himself a painter, and the Oliver case has been given to him because of his knowledge of art. But Oliver is uncooperative and mute, though he conveniently gives Marlow permission to talk to anyone in his life before falling silent. Oliver's inexplicable behavior, which includes poring over a stolen cache of old letters written in French, triggers what I can only call a rampant countertransference response in Marlow, whose overwhelming obsession becomes a strange and frequently far-fetched journey of discovery as he persists to the point of trespass and invasion. Is this the crossing of the ultimate border promised by the ARC's jacket copy, the enactment of the fantasy of one's therapist developing an obsessive fascination that blots out all other reality?Less urgent in its events than The Historian, The Swan Thieves makes clear that Kostova's abiding subject is obsession. Legions of fans of the first book have been waiting impatiently, or perhaps even obsessively, for this novel. The Swan Thieves succeeds both in its echoes of The Historian and as it maps new territory for this canny and successful writer."

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 (one extra each for the blog and Twitter) or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on December 11. 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.

giveaway winners: the love goddess' cooking school and edge of sight

Congratulations to the winners!

The Love Goddess’ Cooking School: rhapsodyinbooks and holdenj

Edge of Sight: Stacy, mrsshukra, and Virginia C

Friday, November 19, 2010

review: the fashion file by janie bryant

In a beautifully illustrated book, the costume designer for the television show Mad Men explains her take on fashion. Janie Bryant has exquisitely outfitted the cast of Mad Men in clothing appropriate to the era; as it turns out, Bryant prefers the clothing of the 1960s. Bryant gives advice on modernizing vintage attire while also creating a classic look centered on a signature piece (though she wisely cautions not to become too wedded to the signature piece so that you become known for it). The Fashion File is chock full of great advice (including some for men!) and there are quick checklists at the end of each chapter. The “Cocktail Chatter” pages are my favorite feature as each offers fun tidbits about fashion, including that stilettos (my favorite kind of shoe) were banned from certain museums and buildings in the 1950s because the first pairs had a metal tip that scratched the floors.
5/5 Review copy provided by the publisher, Grand Central Life & Style.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

review: a hint of wicked by jennifer haymore

What do you do when your presumed dead husband surprisingly returns from war? Likely you should not greet him while naked in his bed with another man; but alas, that is exactly the circumstance under which Garrett finds Sophie when he finally comes home. With nearly eight years having passed, Sophie has found new love with Garrett's best friend Tristan, who also lost his spouse. There’s a little more to this than the typical romance novel as there’s not only Sophie’s struggle with which husband to be with, but also a conspiracy against Garrett. It turns out that, unbeknownst to him, someone intentionally kept Garrett from his family and now wishes to tarnish his reputation. That conspiracy brings the triangle together, but Sophie still has to hurt one of the men.

I found the romance portion of A Hint of Wicked (and by the way, the title doesn’t really fit the plot) to be a bit lacking although I enjoyed the conspiracy plot. With the romance, I just didn’t get that Sophie really loved either man; she was pretty enthusiastic about the sex though! Another annoyance was that Miranda, the child Sophie was pregnant with when Garrett went to Waterloo, seemed a little old for her years. Although adorable when making demands of her newfound father, some of it was unrealistic. Not only was her language a bit advanced, Miranda also handled her father's incredible return with far more maturity than one would expect.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Forever.

where did the reviews go?

I have really fallen behind this month! It all started with the extra election coverage I was involved in at work; now it’s the preparation for the upcoming holidays. I didn’t have this problem last year though, so I’m not really sure what has derailed me. But I am going to take plenty of review books with me when I head home (what else is there to do at the airport but read?). Because the carry-on I’ve always taken is finally falling apart, I’m considering my options for toting these books around. I’m looking at some sling backpacks since I think I might be able to get away with calling that my “personal item” and still bring a separate carry-on (I hate checking luggage).

But back to the reviews! I’m putting the finishing touches on one (maybe tonight?) and have at least two more that I should be able to finish in the next day or two. I’m definitely going to get some reading done this weekend since I’ve now accomplished all of my other pertinent tasks like getting new tires before the snow hits.

I'll receive a free product for review from CSN Stores for making this post.

Friday, November 12, 2010

review: the insane train by sheldon russell

After a fire at the Baldwin Insane Asylum kills many and destroys part of the facility, railroad yard dog Hook Runyon is called upon to transfer the inmates to a new facility—one that hasn’t been used in many years and might not be in any shape to house the criminally insane. Because of the planned move, most of the staff is quitting meaning there will be few trained to deal with those needing to be transported; furthermore, Hook is suspicious about the fire’s origin. He grows more suspicious when all who ate at the asylum’s cafeteria fall ill. It’s up to Hook to investigate while trusting only the men he’s brought on board as well as a nurse named Andrea, who he develops a bit of a romance with.

I had the culprit nailed down fairly early, but appreciated the way Sheldon Russell cast suspicion on others while also setting up the reveal. Unfortunately, the motivation for the killings was a bit ho-hum. I hoped for something more, especially considering the three settings (insane asylum, train, and a rundown fort with prison cells). Everything up to the reveal of the motivation, however, was stellar; I particularly enjoyed the little scraps that Hook frequently got in.
Review copy provided by Nancy Berland Public Relations, Inc.

You can win of copy of The Insane Train! Go to the book tour page, then enter your name, e-mail address, and this PIN, 1499, for your chance to win. Entries from this blog site will be accepted until noon Pacific tomorrow. No purchase necessary; winner will be announced on his book tour page next week.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

giveaway winners: dewey

Marjorie, sunshine9, and Karen B are the winners of Dewey. Congrats!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

author guest post: alice eve cohen

Alice Eve Cohen had the following to say in response to my question about her consideration of the reactions of those she wrote about in What I Thought I Knew.


I’m often asked whether I worried about the reactions of the people featured in my memoir, What I Thought I Knew.

Short answer—YES!

This was such a personal story, and such a terrifying and confusing family experience, that I couldn’t even talk about for years. Writing it was my way of coming out of the closet of secrecy.

When I finally started writing the book, I had to consciously suppress my worries about how the people in my story would react; otherwise, I would have been too distracted to write. I became rather superstitious about it, deciding that the only way I could write the book was in absolute secrecy. I feared that if I told anyone what I was writing, my writing would grind to a halt. I worked on the book every day for a year without telling a soul about it, not even my husband: Michael knew I was writing a book, but he didn’t know the subject.

When Penguin bought the book, I finally had to address this issue, my approach determined by my relationship to each person in question. With friends and family members, I had one-on-one conversations, in which I read them the sections of the book in which they were represented, and asked whether they’d prefer to be identified by their real name or a fictional name. With one exception, they all asked me to use their real names.

In addition to friends and family, there are a whole lot of doctors in my book, about whom my concerns were legal more than personal. I had sued one of my doctors for medical malpractice—the lawsuit is part of the story—and I sure didn’t want her, or any of the doctors in my book, to sue me. Needless to say, my publisher felt the same way, so they hired a lawyer to advise me on legal issues. On the lawyer’s advice, I fictionalized the names of all the doctors, and in other ways disguised their identities.

Finally, and most importantly, I talked to my young daughter, Elaina, about her role in the book, which is her story as much as mine. She was eight years old when the book was published. She knew the book was about her birth, and she said she wanted to read it before the publication date. With some trepidation, my husband and I said yes. It was a tremendous relief to find that Eliana understood and liked the book, and it was an unexpected pleasure to have her be part of the publication experience—an adventure that has become the next chapter in our family’s journey.

review: what i thought i knew by alice eve cohen

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Page after page, What I Thought I Knew shocked. Alice Eve Cohen's story is incredible. How could her original doctor have been inept enough to not notice she was five months pregnant when performing an internal exam? And that’s just what kicks off the incredible circumstances surrounding Cohen’s pregnancy at age 44 after being told she’d never get pregnant let alone have a full-term baby. This one pulls in every direction while raising weighty questions about controversial topics. Wonderfully, Cohen never gets political regarding any of these issues; this is simply her story.

Among other accolades, What I Thought I Knew won Elle’s Literary Grand Prix; it’s deserving of the award. No words can truly express how amazing this memoir is, but it is one I highly recommend.
Review copy provided by BookSparksPR.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

review: haunted echoes by julie ann howell

Haunted Echoes finds author Sarah Reddington suffering from writer’s block as she attempts to produce a second novel for her publisher. To get out of her rut, Sarah agrees to a trip to a small town on Maine’s coast. She quickly discovers a terrible history to the inn where she’s staying—a family was murdered many years ago. Soon “The Keeper” is after Sarah as well.

The book reads as children’s novel; therefore, I will review it as such (though I searched, I found nothing to indicate age level other than the fact that the author has previously written children’s books). The ending of Haunted Echoes is a bit rushed without any of the major action described. A children’s tale shouldn’t go into the gruesome details of course, but there still needed to be something more between Abby arriving to save Sarah and the actual emergence of Sarah from the inn. Until that point, the plot moved along well. Unfortunately, the dialogue is, for the most part, tremendously awkward. Here’s a scene between Abby and her daughter, Tessa (age 6):
“What is it, Mommy? Where are we?” Tessa said, rubbing her sleepy eyes.

“I do believe we are on State Road 22, or least we are supposed to be. With all this fog, I can’t be so sure, my love.”

“Are we almost to our hotel? How many more minutes, Mommy?”

“Well, I’m not sure, but according to this trusty map I just realized I was holding upside down, maybe five or ten minutes. Can you stand it, my love? Now help Mommy find the big hotel, okay?”
All the adults speak like Abby with the “I do believe” and “trusty map” weirdness. Need more? Here’s Sarah and a former journalist she hopes can tell her about the murders:
“I know you are staying at the inn. I have seen you puttering around on the grounds.” Pushing back his glasses with his feeble, crooked fingers, he studied Sarah’s eyes, as if he wanted to read her thoughts.

“Okay, I wouldn’t exactly call it puttering around, but if that is the way you would like to put it, I will go with that. And you have been watching me, really? I find that just a little disturbing,” Sarah said, annoyed with his rude and blunt delivery.
Uh, Sarah? If you want his help, you probably shouldn’t be so snotty. Haunted Echoes would be much improved with some reworking of the dialogue. Although the backstory is predictable, Haunted Echoes makes a nice children’s ghost story with an interesting twist in Sarah’s final scene.
(as a children’s book)
Review copy provided by MM Book Publicity.

Friday, October 29, 2010

review: perfection by julie metz

"A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal," Perfection made me impatient. The back cover copy states, "Henry had hidden another life from her." Shortly after Henry's death in the memoir's open, I knew exactly what his secret was. With the swift pace of Henry's death, I expected a quick reveal of the secret; yet Metz frustratingly remained in the dark. All through her rebound with Tomas and the trip to Paris (an unnecessary detour for the course of the novel), I screamed for Metz to just figure it out. She didn't. When the revelation finally came at the end of part one, it seemed the stuff of daytime drama.

Part two did get me snickering as Metz's opinion suddenly shifts. My favorite line comes here (in reference to the other half of the betrayal): "I had listened to her book recommendations while eating her serviceable meat loaf, mashed potatoes, and oversteamed broccoli." Oh how one's opinion changes when the lies are exposed! The lightness there quickly came to an end, however, as Metz embarks upon a rage-fueled journey of contacting her husband's mistresses. While writing such vitriol may be cathartic, it hardly seems appropriate considering the daughter Metz had with the man painted so hatefully.

Thankfully, Metz lightens the tone somewhat in part three (though the venomous hatred is still there) and finally seems to move on in part four, where she begins dating. Eventually there is happiness, but I came away with an intense heaviness. The descriptiveness is excellent, but everything is dragged down by the hostility directed at the man Metz shares a child with (one hopes she never reads Perfection) and the many women involved in the infidelities.
Review copy provided by BookSparksPR.

review: days of our lives 45 years: a celebration in photos by greg meng and eddie campbell

To celebrate the 45th anniversary, a Days of our Lives picture book has been put together. It features current photos of course, but there are some great ones from the early days. Although publicity shots are included, this book also showcases a lot of behind the scenes looks, which makes it something special. Of particular interest to me (I work in TV) were the shots that showed the cameras and control room. (I’m a little worried for the future since the control still has 4x3 CRTs!!) Other elements featured are the props, set design outlines, and sketches for some of those amazing wedding dresses that so frequently pop up.

It also contains fun glimpses of the actors in their off time: there are hilarious pictures of Mark Hapka (Nathan) and a great sequence of Shawn Christian (Daniel) crashing Arianne Zucker’s (Nicole) dressing room as she naps with Molly Burnett (Melanie). The pictures create the impression that the cast and crew truly are a family.

Days of our Lives 45 Years: A Celebration in Photos makes a nice addition to any fan’s collection.
ARC Review
Review copy provided by the publisher, Sourcebooks.

book invasion update

Last month I mentioned that the review books had basically taken over my home. Although I still have stacks on the nightstands (because you never know what you might want to read before bed), the scattered piles are no more now that I have a new bookshelf. The one that I received from CSN Stores to review is quite attractive and fits perfectly in this odd space that I have where the kitchen, dining room, and living room all come together. It was also incredibly easy to put together—no tools necessary. I’m quite pleased with both the shelf and the fact that a it’s now a lot easier to find the books I’m supposed to review next.

I probably do need to get another shelf though since this one is already full and more books keep arriving. It won't take long for the books to takeover again.

I received a free product for review from CSN Stores.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

giveaway: edge of sight

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Didn't win a copy of Edge of Sight during yesterday's Twitter party? Thanks to Hachette I have an additional three giveaway copies of Roxanne St. Claire's latest.

Read my review, then see what Publishers Weekly said:
"Bestseller St. Claire (The Bullet Catchers) touches off a bold new series with this taut, complex and intelligent page-turner, skillfully blending deep romance with labyrinthine mystery and hard-boiled action. Law student Samantha Fairchild witnesses the brutal murder of a popular newspaper columnist, but the Boston police refuse to protect her. She turns to her old friend, investigative reporter Vivi Angelino, and inadvertently walks right into the path of Vivi's brother Zach, a Special Forces officer who broke her heart when he went off to overseas combat and never wrote or called. As a killer stalks Sam and Zach and a vast conspiracy unfolds around them, the former lovers must confront their mutual attraction and their troubled pasts. Readers will thrill to this dynamic tale and its nonstop action, sweet and sexy romance, lively characters, and celebration of family and forgiveness."

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 (one extra each for the blog and Twitter) or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on November 20. 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.

review and tour: edge of sight by roxanne st. claire

The first in a new series, Edge of Sight is action-packed. It all starts when Sam witnesses a murder at the restaurant where she’s a waitress. This isn’t the first time Sam’s witnessed a crime; she once identified the wrong man, who was then convicted (and now released thanks to Sam’s help), which means she has little credibility with the Boston PD. In fact, it could be that someone on the force is behind the harassment that starts soon after the murder…or it could be the killer! As the story unfolds, conspiracies abound and it becomes clear that Sam can trust no one but the family of her friend, Vivi, which just happens to include Vivi’s brother who Sam had a brief fling with before Zach left for war. Sparks fly when Sam and Zach reconnect and are then forced into constant companionship as Zach’s enlisted as Sam’s bodyguard. There are plenty of twists that I never saw coming along with a hot romance and a story of family.
ARC Review
Review copy provided by the publisher, Forever.

There's a giveaway with this tour! Plus, check out the following sites for more reviews and opportunities to win:

giveaway: the love goddess' cooking school

Thanks to Gallery Books, I have two giveaway copies of the excellent The Love Goddess' Cooking School by Melissa Senate!

As you can read it my review, I loved the book. Below is the publisher description:
"Holly Maguire’s grandmother Camilla was the Love Goddess of Blue Crab Island, Maine—a Milanese fortune-teller who could predict the right man for you, and whose Italian cooking was rumored to save marriages. Holly has been waiting years for her unlikely fortune: her true love will like sa cordula, an unappetizing old-world delicacy. But Holly can’t make a decent marinara sauce, let alone sa cordula. Maybe that’s why the man she hopes to marry breaks her heart. So when Holly inherits Camilla’s Cucinotta, she’s determined to forget about fortunes and love and become an Italian cooking teacher worthy of her grandmother’s legacy.

But Holly’s four students are seeking much more than how to make Camilla’s chicken alla Milanese. Simon, a single father, hopes to cook his way back into his daughter’s heart. Juliet, Holly’s childhood friend, hides a painful secret. Tamara, a serial dater, can’t find the love she longs for. And twelve-year-old Mia thinks learning to cook will stop her dad, Liam, from marrying his phony lasagna-queen girlfriend. As the class gathers each week, adding Camilla’s essential ingredients of wishes and memories in every pot and pan, unexpected friendships and romances are formed—and tested. Especially when Holly falls hard for Liam...and learns a thing or two about finding her own recipe for happiness."

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 (one extra each for the blog and Twitter) or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on November 20. Winners will be selected at random. Since this is from Gallery Books the winners must have mailing addresses in the US; PO Boxes are ok.

author guest post: melissa senate

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Author of The Love Goddess' Cooking School (and many other fantastic titles), Melissa Senate shares her favorite recipe from the novel!

My favorite recipe from The Love Goddess’ Cooking School by Melissa Senate

When my now eight-year-old son was two, I read my first article/book/website on the infamous “picky-eater.” The toddler who’ll eat Cheerios and bites of grilled cheese and that’s about it. I followed all the advice, and still my dear little Max would not eat anything green, would not eat fish or meat, no matter how delicious, no matter if his steak and green beans and mashed potatoes were made into the shape of a smiley face. Still, he’s always loved to cook with me—his basic favorites, from bacon and Swiss cheese omelets to his beloved chicken fingers. So when I was researching recipes that I wanted to include in The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, I appointed Max my apprentice, handed him an apron, and we set to work on the first recipe I needed to master along with Holly, my main character: chicken alla Milanese. “I don’t have to actually eat it, right, Mommy?” he said at least three times during the dipping of the chicken cutlets into egg, the laying of the chicken into flour and polenta, the placing in the hot pan.

Chicken alla Milanese is the signature dish of The Love Goddess Cooking School. It’s taught in the very first class of Camilla’s Cucinotta’s Italian cooking class in the apricot-colored cottage at the edge of Blue Crab Island, Maine. Chicken alla Milanese is representative to me of everything so deliciously basic, deliciously perfect about classic Italian food. “I’d like you take one tiny bite,” I told Max who was eyeing the sizzling chicken with suspicion, despite his pride at helping. “One bite and that’s it,” he said, adding, “It does smell good, Mommy.”

One bite and he’d be hooked. I knew it. And I knew that one bite of chicken alla Milanese would open up a whole new world of unplain food, simple food with flavor, rich with place.

My first attempt at chicken alla Milanese wasn’t perfect (as my fourth attempt was, which had to do with how long it cooked and heat, individual stove dependent). But as we sat down in my Tuscan-inspired kitchen in our country kitchen in Maine, Max eyed his one bite of chicken alla Milanese and very slowly put it into his mouth. “Mmm! Mmmmm!” was what he said. “This is so good! Can I have more?”

Since that day, Max has tried my spaghetti Bolognese, which is the main character’s master dish. He’s tried risotto and lasagna (which he’d never try before, crazy kid). And suddenly, he’s opened up that stubborn mind and stomach about eating more than just grilled cheese and chicken fingers. It’s thanks to the fun of cooking together and one very simple, delicious recipe. If you try Camilla’s Cucinotta’s chicken alla Milanese, I hope you love it too.

Camilla’ Cucinotta Chicken alla Milanese

4 pieces boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 cup instant polenta
¾ cup grated parmigiano-regianno cheese
2 cups flour
1 large egg
1 tablespoon olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
One wish

Pound chicken breast between two sheets of plastic wrap. On a plate, combine polenta with half the cheese. Fill another plate with flour. In bowl, beat egg with splash of water. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Coat each breast in flour, then egg, then cheese/polenta. Add one wish. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, turning once, six minutes on each side or until golden. Enjoy!

review: the love goddess' cooking school by melissa senate

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When she was sixteen, Holly’s grandma (who had a reputation for doing such things) told her fortune: Holly’s true love would like sa cordula, an Italian dish made from lamb intestines. Holly has subsequently served the dish to all her potential matches, but only when she feels it’s not really working. So she should’ve realized that John and his lovely little girl wouldn’t be in her life for long when she decided to serve him the dish. In fact, on the night she served up the sa cordula, he gave her the devastating news that he’d fallen in love with his administrative assistant. With no reason to stay in California (her roommate is moving her boyfriend into the apartment anyway), Holly returns to Maine to spend time with her sick grandma. The visit turns permanent when Holly inherits the restaurant/cooking school from her grandma, the original Love Goddess.

As Holly tries to make her way, she learns much about her grandma (through her diary), her mother (who fled the small town as soon as she could), and herself; this generational element is what made the novel for me. It gets extended when Mia, a teen wanting to learn to cook to get rid of her dad’s girlfriend (that sounds odd, but Mia’s dad thinks Mia needs home-cooked meals from the girlfriend, so Mia determines that if she can cook, the girlfriend won’t need to be around), comes onto the scene. I loved how Holly (and the others in the cooking class) helped Mia through some tough teenaged times. And it turns out Mia isn’t the only one who needs support; each member ends up helping another as they all struggle through life and love. Additionally, there were some nice parallels between Holly’s first group of cooking students and the first group her grandma had (their story is told through the diary entries).
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

review: 5 ingredient fix by claire robinson

I've always enjoyed baking, but have never been much for cooking. I recently decided that I ought to give cooking another try. That started me looking for a cookbook with easy recipes to get me started; that led me to Claire Robinson's 5 Ingredient Fix. As the title says, the recipes typically have only five basic ingredients. I appreciated that as it meant I didn't have to spend money on a bunch of things I would only use for that particular recipe. So far I've made two of the meals: Maple Candied Bacon and Cheesy Penne. Both were easy to follow and absolutely delicious; the bacon was a little messy though.

In addition to the recipes, Robinson lists the essential equipment for all kitchens. To my surprise I actually own most of these! This again shows how simple the recipes here are. I hate when a yummy sounding recipe would cause me to have buy all sorts of special equipment that I not only don't know how to use but have no place to store in my relatively small kitchen.

Unlike so many of the other cookbooks that have caught my eye, 5 Ingredient Fix is one I'm certain I'll reference frequently as I continue my cooking attempts. I highly recommend Claire Robinson's cookbook for anyone seeking easy to follow, yet delicious recipes.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Grand Central Life & Style.

Monday, October 25, 2010

giveaway winner: simply irresistible

Congratulations to the winners of Simply Irresistible: Wanda, Lu, and edmontojb.

Friday, October 22, 2010

review: promises to keep by jane green

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Such a sad, sad story in Jane Green’s Promises to Keep. Callie Perry’s life is pretty perfect (in fact, she’s a little too perfect, but that’s understandable as her story’s inspired by the author’s deceased friend), but as she approaches the five year mark so important to cancer survivors, Callie starts feeling ill. At first she chalks it up to perimenopause, but the truth can no longer be ignored when she crashes the car while driving with her mother and sister.

The story isn’t all tragedy though; in fact, the first chapters are quite light-hearted as Callie’s sister Steffi flounders through life. Steffi with all her imperfection and whimsy made Promises to Keep enjoyable; Callie, on the other hand, just didn’t seem believable (and then I felt bad for not liking someone diagnosed with such a rare cancer).

Promises to Keep also follows the trend of including recipes after the chapters. This somewhat works as Steffi is a chef; however, at times it felt like a bit of a stretch. There were chapters that didn’t really have anything to do with food or even a mention of food. The recipes worked best when they fit into the story, such as the chili recipe following the chapter where Steffi complains that her boyfriend and his stoner friends had ate the chili she made for Callie’s party.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Viking.

review: love you to death by crissy calhoun

As she previously did with another CW show, Gossip Girl, Crissy Calhoun goes in depth into the first season of The Vampire Diaries. Taking things beyond the standard episode synopsis, Calhoun points out “Foggy Moments” (inconsistencies or continuity errors) and “Compelling Moments” (things Calhoun believes stand out). Reading Love You to Death while watching the currently airing second season provides a lot of insight one might not otherwise have. For example, I’d completely forgotten about Damon’s crow and what happened to it! (Turns out shooting with a crow was proving too complicated.) Also providing tremendous insight are the write-ups on author L.J. Smith and the show’s creators Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec as well as an interview with the actress who played Anna.

Since I last read The Vampire Diaries books when they originally came out in the 1990s, I truly enjoyed the “Meanwhile in Fell’s Church” section. Although the show has made changes (Elena’s not blond!), Calhoun points out just how much of the show’s storylines are inspired by what Smith originally plotted.

One small nitpick: Calhoun makes a mistake on the Dark Shadows page (throughout the book are comparisons to other vampire series—another bit I enjoyed). She states, “…its first six months featured no supernatural elements at all.” Not quite true. The six month mark is when Laura Collins arrives on scene; she is The Phoenix. This is when Dark Shadows made a decided turn, though it is not the first instance of the supernatural. Very early on the ghost of Josette Collins appears; around the three month mark the ghost of Bill Malloy appears to Vicki Winters.

With Love You to Death, Calhoun once again proves how well she knows the show she writes about (see her blog for more on both The Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl).
Review copy provided by the publisher, ECW Press.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

giveaway: dewey

Thanks to Hachette, three people have the chance to win Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter.

The review from Publishers Weekly:
"One frigid Midwestern winter night in 1988, a ginger kitten was shoved into the after-hours book-return slot at the public library in Spencer, Iowa. And in this tender story, Myron, the library director, tells of the impact the cat, named DeweyReadmore Books, had on the library and its patrons, and on Myron herself. Through her developing relationship with the feline, Myron recounts the economic and social history of Spencer as well as her own success story—despite an alcoholic husband, living on welfare, and health problems ranging from the difficult birth of her daughter, Jodi, to breast cancer. After her divorce, Myron graduated college (the first in her family) and stumbled into a library job. She quickly rose to become director, realizing early on that this was a job I could love for the rest of my life. Dewey, meanwhile, brings disabled children out of their shells, invites businessmen to pet him with one hand while holding the Wall Street Journal with the other, eats rubber bands and becomes a media darling. The book is not only a tribute to a cat—anthropomorphized to a degree that can strain credulity (Dewey plays hide and seek with Myron, can read her thoughts, is mortified by his hair balls)—it's a love letter to libraries."

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 (one extra each for the blog and Twitter) or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on November 6. 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.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

giveaway winners: september forever romance classics

Congratulations to Laura H., Cheryl F., and drey! They each win the three titles from the September Forever Romance Classics giveaway.

Friday, October 15, 2010

review: crescendo by becca fitzpatrick

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Although it’s been a year since Hush, Hush came out, Crescendo takes place only a short time later. Nora and her nemesis are in the same summer chemistry class and Nora’s relationship with Patch is on the rocks. It all went downhill when Nora asked if Patch loved her; you see, fallen angels can’t feel and Patch will be forever damned if the archangels find out he loves her. They break up and Nora makes all sorts of terrible choices that once again put her life in danger.

Crescendo suffers from many of the same problems Hush, Hush did: inconsistencies and annoyances. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I wanted to smack Nora and her mother. Somehow they became even more annoying this time around while Vee improved. Certain elements, like Nora’s car situation, just didn’t make sense. Hey Nora, if your mom had to sell your incredibly old car to make ends meet, maybe you should think about getting a job rather than doing summer school. Oh, that’s right, you do decide to get a job, but only after you spot a much newer car you desperately want even though it’s totally going to be sold by the time you save up the money. And Mom, don’t tell your kid you’ll work something out and discourage her from taking some responsibility when you clearly are barely hanging on.

Even so, Fitzpatrick once again creates a satisfactory conclusion that also leaves enough questions to allow for another novel. Furthermore, even as I groaned about the stupidity of the characters, I wanted to find out more about Nora’s lineage. Somehow even with the issues I have, Fitzpatrick writes something I want to continue reading.
ARC Review
Review copy provided by the publisher, Simon & Schuster.

author interview: rosemary harris

Rosemary Harris, the author of the A Dirty Business Mystery series, stopped by to answer some questions about the series!

The star of your mystery series seems to have quite a bit in common with you (used to work in television, enjoys gardening). How much of you went into Paula?

More than a little in the first book. I guess that's typical with new writers, but Paula's come into her own in the last two books. In addition to a story arc, there's a series or character arc. Conventional wisdom says that your character should change - at least somewhat - by the end of the book and Paula's doing that.

Did you intend to create a series when you started writing Pushing Up Daisies?

Nope. I didn't even really think about getting published, I just wanted to see if I could put down on paper the story that was in my head. When my agent asked if it was a series I said, Absolutely!

Elsewhere you’ve stated that you write each book in pencil first. What’s your reason for doing so?

It's not easy to tell friends that you're writing a book. The reactions can be anything from a polite smile (they think you're delusional) to "cool, are they going to make a movie out of it" (you think they're delusional.) One friend walked me to an art supply store and presented me with a bag of pencils - Faber-Castell 5Bs. And now every time I start a book, I go to the same store and buy the pencils. I like the fact that it forces me to slow down. I also buy erasers.

What book (your own or someone else’s) has had the most impact on your life?

There are a lot of books that have been important to me at various stages of my life from Harold and the Purple Crayon to Small Changes by Marge Piercy to Easter Parade by Richard Yates to The Golden Bowl by Henry James to Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen. (And lots I've forgotten!) One that always stand out is The Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham. It's about an extraordinary young man who...I don't want to tell you if you haven't read it. He just changes his life and the lives of those around him.

Any more adventures for Paula planned?

Next spring Paula heads to a New York and gets drawn into a murder investigation involving blackmail, sabotage, and horticultural homicide at a legendary flower show. The book is called SLUGFEST and it will be out next April.

review: the big dirt nap by rosemary harris

Strangely enough, for a book about a gardener, there’s no gardening that takes place here. Instead, Paula is on a press trip not far from her home to write about the corpse flower at the Titans Hotel. Of course, the article never gets written because Paula once again becomes involved in a murder mystery. This one has a lot more intrigue than the first book since the murder takes place in the present day rather than decades ago. For that reason I found The Big Dirt Nap a bit more compelling than Pushing Up Daisies. Furthermore, Paula has better motivation for continuing to put her life in danger—her best friend is missing.

As with the first book, there were quite a few characters but it was less taxing to keep track of them this time. Some were repeats from Pushing Up Daisies (Babe from the restaurant!), which made it easier, while others were either so minor that they didn’t need to be kept track of or were developed enough to give them distinct personalities.
Review copy provided by the author.

Friday, October 8, 2010

review: the secrets of newberry by victor mcglothin

It’s the 1950s in Newberry, LA and racial tensions are high. Although slavery was abolished long ago, African-Americans (particularly the women) are in many ways treated the same by the plantation owners who employ them. The women have come up with a way of keeping the peace (by sacrificing themselves), but things blow up when one man can’t keep his hands off the underage girls of the community.

In another storyline that intertwines with the rape of the girls, Hampton becomes involved with a robber named Bones. The robberies are a way to feed his family since the plantation work can be spotty as it’s reliant on the crops produced. But it turns out Bones has more in mind than robbery—he wants revenge and is willing to brutally kill high-powered men.

Newberry is filled with secrets—tragically involving the molestation of both girls and boys—that follow Hampton and his family as they flee the town. The story is intense (I had to take breaks) and full of surprises.
ARC Review
Review copy provided by the publisher, Grand Central Publishing.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

review: pushing up daisies by rosemary harris

After her divorce, Paula leaves the city to garden in a small town. She lands a position with the Historical Society to fix up the gardens at the mansion where two eccentric women lived before their deaths. As Paula explores the gardens and formulates her plan, she discovers the remains of an infant. Although it’s clear that any crime that may have occurred was long ago, Paula can’t leave the case alone and soon finds herself the target of the person who committed a terrible crime decades ago.

While it has an interesting plot, Pushing Up Daisies does suffer from having too many characters; I found myself losing track of who was who and how they were connected (it’s a small town and almost everyone is connected in multiple ways). I was also a little uneasy with how the landscape workers from Mexico were discussed; it seemed like Paula was sympathetic, but it sometimes came across as condescending. But then Paula seemed to (briefly) recognize that she had behaved inappropriately when Felix snarkily called her boss in Spanish. So perhaps the author was trying to show such tensions. I was disappointed that Felix all but disappeared after that incident. As he’s one of the potential love interests, perhaps he will show up in the next book of the series.
Review copy provided by the author.