Monday, February 28, 2011

review: the lying game by sara shepard

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Sara Shepard’s new series starts off brilliantly with The Lying Game. From the very beginning I was hooked by the story of a murdered teen whose previously unknown identical twin infiltrates her life, discovers the murder, and works to figure out who killed Sutton. It doesn’t take Emma long to figure out that while Sutton had every advantage (especially compared to Emma who just fled foster care), her life was far from ideal. In fact, Sutton’s killer is likely one of the people she was closest to…one of her best friends or even her adoptive sister.

Told from both Emma’s and a slightly amnesiac Sutton’s perspective, The Lying Game creates an intense mystery mixed with plenty of “mean girl” high school moments that horrify and amuse. The best scenes are between Emma as Sutton and Ethan, the boy Emma would probably date if she wasn’t having to pretend she’s with Sutton’s boyfriend Garrett. When the two shared a Sylvia Plath moment, I was deliriously happy.

The next book, Never Have I Ever, is an absolute must-read as The Lying Game ended with quite the cliff-hanger!
ARC Review
Review copy provided by the publisher, HarperTeen.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

review: rogue oracle by alayna williams

The premise of Rogue Oracle intrigued me: a forensic psychologist uses Tarot cards to help her figure out who the killer is. At the center of the case is the tragedy at Chernobyl, which also sparked my interest. And Rogue Oracle did have my attention for much of the book, but I started to lose interest around the time the Marshals arrived to protect Tara and Cassie. The long-winded descriptions started becoming too much; it’s well-written description, but did all these details really need to be included?
Cassie sat down on the bed and released Oscar from the backpack. The cat shook his fur out in indignation and paced across the bedspread to hop down on the floor. He began to bat at the beaded curtain. Tara began setting up Oscar’s makeshift litter box in the tiny bathroom. The broiler pan fit nicely under the sink, and the cat immediately began scratching in his oatmeal cat litter.
This really has nothing to do with the plot, so I felt that this paragraph along with a number of others could easily be cut resulting in a tightened storyline with an increased sense of urgency. They’re after a killer! The situation should be urgent, but it never seemed like time was of the essence even when Henry was threatening airport officials to try to prevent the suspect from escaping.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket Books.

review: a light at winter's end by julia london

While I didn’t care for Wyatt Clark when he was first introduced in Summer of Two Wishes, Julia London redeems him in A Light at Winter’s End. Wyatt is minding his own business with a fairly solitary life on his ranch when his attention is grabbed by the incredibly smoky fire started by Holly, who has returned to her childhood home after a great life upheaval. Though Holly and Wyatt aren’t interested in each other at first, Wyatt (who shares a daughter with Macy from the first book) soon becomes a friend as Holly struggles to raise her sister’s young son, who was unceremoniously abandoned when Hannah’s prescription drug abuse spiraled out of control.

A Light at Winter’s End inspires both tremendous joy and absolute heartbreak. Just as Holly becomes comfortable with her life with Mason while also forging a new relationship with Wyatt, her happiness is threatened by the reappearance of Mason’s parents. This excellently crafted novel contains well-developed characters (the scenes from their youth made it easy to understand how Holly and Hannah became who they are) and a highly emotional plot.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket Books.

Monday, February 21, 2011

giveaway winners: how sweet it is

The winners of How Sweet It Is are Debs Desk, apple blossom, and Ellie. Congrats!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

review: the secret lives of dresses by erin mckean

Imagine purchasing a vintage dress and learning that it has a very intriguing story that goes with it. That’s part of the premise of The Secret Lives of Dresses, the touching debut novel from blogger Erin McKean.

Orphaned as a baby and raised by her beloved grandma, Dora is a little lost. She will soon graduate from college without any real plan except to go to grad school so she can hang around her boss at the coffee shop a little longer. Dora likes Gary, but he won’t date undergrads; she isn’t even entirely sure how he feels about her because he flirts with just about everyone. Grandma Mimi has always encouraged Dora, but Dora just flounders. This story in itself is interesting enough, but The Secret Lives of Dresses really takes off when Erin McKean brings in the stories of the dresses (which started on her blog). Dora had no idea her grandma had written any stories until a woman bought a dress and queried. Through the stories and a comical cast of characters, Dora discovers her true calling and finds she just might be able to live up to all of Mimi’s dreams for her after all.
ARC Review
Review copy provided by the publisher, 5 Spot.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

CSN giveaway

As you know, I love CSN Stores. You can purchase nearly anything from them including swingsets and the awesome cookware I got for my birthday last year. And of course, there's the bookshelf that I reviewed last year. The options are pretty endless. So I'm very excited to announce that one of you (so long as you reside in either the US or Canada) will soon have the opportunity to win a gift certificate to CSN Stores!

Stay tuned to this post to find out when the giveaway will go live.

UPDATE: The giveaway is now open!! One lucky resident of the US or Canada will receive a $35 gift certificate good for anything available on the CSN Stores site!

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 March 12. Winner will be selected at random. The CSN Stores gift certificate is good only for addresses in the US and Canada; please check the CSN website for information on ordering.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

giveaway winners: how to marry a duke

The winners are June M., CharliDenae, and dothetwist. Enjoy!

Friday, February 11, 2011

review: skipping a beat by sarah pekkanen

With Skipping a Beat Sarah Pekkanen succeeded in turning me into a crying mess. This is the story of a couple who escaped their somewhat messy lives in West Virginia and made it big in DC. Although they were both somewhat content with what they'd made in DC, something was missing. Neither was going to change; that is until Michael had a heart attack and was technically dead for a few minutes. Upon his revival, Michael gives up the company he created and all his wealth, then asks Julia to please give him three weeks before she leaves him.

Although the first sentence revealed the tragedy that would come, I somehow put it out of my mind as I continued to read. I convinced myself that the second death would be symbolic. But then came chapter 36, which broke my heart. Pekkanen’s skilled writing created such a connection to the characters that I truly felt for Julia. Her grief became mine.

I loved every page of Skipping a Beat: the romance of teens who went by Mike and Julie back then, the evolution to Michael and Julia, the innocence of Noah and Bear, and the subplot with Isabelle (who could probably have her own book).
Review copy provided by the publisher, Washington Square Press.
ARC Review

Sunday, February 6, 2011

review: clinton st. baking company cookbook by dede lahman and neil kleinberg

I love baking, but rarely make any breakfast-type foods, which means I bring my coworkers things like cupcakes before the sun rises (yes, unfortunately I work the early morning show on weekends); so they were probably just as thrilled as me that the subtitle to the Clinton St. Baking Company’s cookbook is “Breakfast, Brunch, and Beyond.” There are plenty of delicious and morning-appropriate recipes here, though I admit I won’t be making anything from the eggs section (I only eat eggs when they’re found in things like cake). Among the easy-to-follow recipes are some standards for hash browns, waffles, and the like; my interest was in the ones that seem a little more special such as Cherry Crumb Muffins (and its variations). I did find the recipe yielded two fewer muffins than listed; however, that tends to be the case with me as I like my muffins a little bigger and the 10 may have been a typo because within the recipe it calls for only 8 cherries being reserved to top the muffins. Regardless, the muffins were delicious and required little work.
Crumb Mix Prep: Batter: Before the Oven: Cherry Crumb Muffin:
The section on muffins and scones is particularly useful because of the tips (throughout the recipes are helpful tips and suggested variations) that start it off. For example, the authors say that it’s better to use frozen fruit because of how it will suspend in the batter. I used frozen cherries for my muffins, and though I haven’t made them with fresh cherries to compare, I found that the cherries did stay in place quite well.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Little, Brown and Company.

(Why yes, I got a new camera. What makes you ask?)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

giveaway: deadly heat and deadly lies

To celebrate the release of Cynthia Eden's Deadly Heat and Deadly Lies, Hachette is providing three sets of the books!

Although I didn't enjoy Deadly Heat, I found Deadly Lies to be superb. The publisher descriptions of each:
"She wants revenge...
Six months after her lover died in an arsonist's blaze, firefighter Lora Spade calls in the FBI's elite Serial Services Division to track the elusive killer. When Special Agent Kenton Lake is lured into a violent inferno, Lora pulls him to safety and is stunned - not by the fire, but by her own searing attraction to Kent. For the first time in months, she longs for something other than vengeance.

He wants her...
Kenton's interest in Lora should be purely professional. But one fleeting kiss and he can't get her out of his mind. Her combination of strength and vulnerability makes him want to protect her, and that means solving this case - and fast. For even the passion igniting between them can't hide a terrifying truth: Lora is the next target in a murderer's sadistic, fiery game.

A vicious killer wants only...

"She wants to hide the past
FBI Special Agent Samantha Kennedy is haunted by memories of the serial killer who abducted her. To keep the darkness at bay, she pretends to be a different, more confident woman. This Samantha doesn't fear every unknown face. So she throws caution to the wind and shares a night of unbridled passion with a handsome stranger.

He needs to uncover the truth
One night isn't enough for successful entrepreneur Max Ridgeway. He wants more of the sexy, smart, mysterious woman who slipped away before dawn. When they meet again, their attraction is undeniable-until his stepbrother goes missing, and Max realizes that Samantha isn't who she seems. But they must trust each other to trap a ring of bloodthirsty kidnappers before the nightmares that terrorize Sam become irrevocably real.

As a merciless criminal spins a web of...

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 March 5. 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: deadly lies by cynthia eden

Now this, this is romantic suspense. The team from Deadly Fear returns in Deadly Lies with Agent Sam Kennedy now at the forefront. The race to find the serial kidnapper turned killer is intense, gripping, and full of twists. Every time I thought I knew exactly who was behind the kidnappings of the college-aged sons of wealthy men, another twist was thrown in.

And here, the romance works. Sam is quite clear at the beginning that casual sex is not something she does, but there was something about Max that drew her to him. The strain put on the no-strings relationship by the kidnapping of Max’s stepbrother and Sam’s revelation that she’s an agent is evident and well-done. The third book in Cynthia Eden’s Deadly series finally hits every mark perfectly.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Forever.
ARC Review
Enter the giveaway to win a copy of this book as well as the second in the series, Deadly Heat. Also, see these other participating sites:

review and tour: deadly heat by cynthia eden

Eventually Cynthia Eden’s Deadly Fear sucked me in; it was a slow start, but the murder mystery was intriguing. The second book in the series also suffers from the slow start, but Deadly Heat never hooked me. The main reason is that I never cared about the characters. Although Agent Monica Davenport from the first book makes an appearance, the focus is on a firefighter named Lora Spade and FBI agent Kenton Lake, who hook up frequently throughout the novel. While I expect a romantic coupling in a romantic suspense, this one didn’t work. Lora is repeatedly said to not be over the loss of her lover, another firefighter, who died in one of the serial arson fires Kenton has been brought in to investigate. Given her grief, I felt Lora fell too quickly into bed with Kenton; an explanation would’ve greatly helped me understand how she moved on so fast. Furthermore, there were far too many indistinguishable characters; when all are involved in law enforcement or firefighting, something needs to make a few stand out. By the time the arsonist was revealed, I couldn’t remember who he was or the interactions he’d previously had with Lora and Kenton. Nothing is more frustrating than having to go back to the beginning of the book to read about an unremarkable character all over again.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Forever.
ARC Review
Enter the giveaway to win a copy of this book as well as the third in the series, Deadly Lies. Also, see these other participating sites: