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.
1/5
Review copy provided by Planned Television Arts.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

author interview: laura griffin

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 http://www.lauragriffin.com/contest.php

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

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.
5/5
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.
3/5
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.
4/5
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.

THE OTHER PEOPLE IN MY BOOK

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

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.
5/5
Review copy provided by BookSparksPR.