Thursday, March 31, 2011

review: murder takes the cake by gayle trent

This post contains affiliate links.

Murder Takes the Cake finds Daphne Martin caught up in a whodunit regarding the murder of one of her clients for her new cake baking business. As Daphne investigates with the help of the newspaper editor (a once and current love interest), she uncovers more secrets than she expected—her own mother’s past may hold the key to figuring out who killed the town’s notorious gossip.

Being that Daphne is a baker, it makes sense that Murder Takes the Cake is full of baking scenes, but it’s a little too full. Now I’m someone who loves baking as well, but even I felt Gayle Trent went a little overboard with some the precise descriptions of cake decorating. Here’s an example: “I put a cake icing tip into a sixteen-inch featherweight decorator bag and added a generous amount of thin-consistency icing.” That is the opening sentence of the third paragraph of baking and decorating description. Nowhere in these three paragraphs does the plot move forward.

Now onto that plot. The murder mystery was good. I liked how Daphne slowly put the pieces together with a number of red herring stumbles, but the subplot with her mother didn’t do much for me. After Daphne discovers her mother had an affair, Daphne is all sorts of upset. She laments about the affair constantly and frequently calls her uncle (on her father’s side) to find out more. It seems to be a major factor in both the plot and Daphne’s life; then it’s just over. Daphne finds out that the affair has nothing to do with the murder, so the whole thing is just dropped. Just a little more fine-tuning and Murder Takes the Cake actually could take the cake.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

I made one the cakes from this book! Read about it here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

review: the ice princess by camilla läckberg

I fell in love with The Ice Princess right away. The story of a woman seeking the truth about the death of a childhood friend absolutely captivated. Erica’s characterization was one of the elements I particularly enjoyed. Instead of saying flat out that Erica’s concerned about her weight, Camilla Läckberg writes, “With a flourish, she plopped twelve Weight Watchers points onto a plate in the form of two cinnamon buns.” Little touches like that always heighten my interest in a novel.

While there are many positives to The Ice Princess such as an intricately woven plot that held my interest every step of the way, I did find a few faults. Some might be chalked up to the fact that this a translation, but others likely come down to the author. Many of the minor characters (the police superintendent who is fat, sexist, etc.) are overly clichéd. Fortunately this didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the mystery, the romance, and the scandal. And speaking of scandal, at one point while telling what happened to his daughter years ago, Karl-Erik thinks, “How could anyone have imagined something so awful?” Except the story he told was exactly what I thought as soon as the results from Alex’s autopsy were revealed. A further annoyance here was that the autopsy and Karl-Erik’s story were among the few times the reader was actually let in on a revelation. Too many times someone (usually Erica or her cop love interest Patrik) would discover a lead, but that clue was kept secret. The one benefit to not being clued in to any of this was that the killer was a shocker when finally revealed.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Free Press.

giveaway winners: the revenge of the radioactive lady and kathy cano-murillo books

Congrats to the winners!

The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady: nfmgirl and Carol M

Miss Scarlet's School of Patternless Sewing and Waking Up in the Land of Glitter: melydia and Cheryl F.

Friday, March 25, 2011

review: get energy! by denise austin

With Get Energy!, Denise Austin provides some great tips for how to move from a sluggish, couch potato lifestyle to one where you actually have enough energy and motivation to lead a fulfilling life. She starts off with an overview on energy, then has a checklist that guides the reader to the area he or she should focus on in order to optimize energy levels.

One area where I did dispute Austin was in sleep patterns. She believes everyone’s body clock tends toward early-riser. While this isn’t practical for all (which she does acknowledge in one of the vignettes from a 911 dispatcher), I believe people have different body clocks. I never had an energy problem when I worked the late night news. I didn’t even set an alarm clock. Now that I work mornings and middays, I have to set multiple alarms and never want to get out of bed even though I still get the same 8-10 hours of sleep. Because of that, I’m putting some of Austin’s tips to use. Many of the (illustrated) stretches were ones I was familiar with from Pilates, so I can attest that they really are helpful. I always feel great after Pilates. Time in the sun is another recommendation that most people can easily fit into their schedules. Austin also provides a list of foods that can boost energy levels. She suggests staying away from too much caffeine and sugar, which can lead to crashes. So while those are all the familiar tips for a healthier life, Austin does lay it all out in easy-to-follow pieces with short pull-outs such as “Revive in 5!” and “Peace Pockets.”
Review copy provided by the publisher, Center Street.

Friday, March 18, 2011

giveaway: welcome to last chance

To celebrate the release of Hope Ramsay's debut, Hachette is offering two giveaway copies of Welcome to Last Chance.

My review can be found here; Publishers Weekly's is below:
"Starred Review. Ramsay's delicious contemporary debut introduces the town of Last Chance, S.C., and its warmhearted inhabitants. Down to her last five bucks, beautiful runaway Wanda Jane Coblentz heads to the town watering hole and picks up local fiddler Clay Rhodes, figuring that a night at the local no-tell motel beats sleeping on a park bench. When Clay catches her going through his wallet, he dumps her purse out and discovers ID for somebody named Mary Smith. Talk about getting off on the wrong foot! Jane, aka Mary, reveals that she's on the run from a shady, possibly dangerous past. Despite her sketchy behavior, Clay falls in love with her, and soon he and his mother are scheming in fine style to give Jane a last chance of her own. Ramsay strikes an excellent balance between tension and humor as she spins a fine yarn."

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 April 2. 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: welcome to last chance by hope ramsay

This post contains affiliate links.

When Last Chance’s local matchmaker predicts that Clay’s “soulmate [will] arrive on the nine-thirty bus from Atlanta,” he didn’t expect that three women would do so. There’s two of his exes (one pregnant with another man’s child) and Jane, who has a secret past. Although the two exes provide some complications, it’s clear from the moment Clay and Jane immediately get into bed that these will be the “soulmates.” But there are further complications involving what Jane’s hiding.

There are some cute moments as well as bits of danger when one of the bad men from Jane’s past comes after her. Overall, it was a sweet love story that kept me entertained. The one distraction was the business of the angels. First there’s Clay’s young niece seeing angels while her grandma hears the gossip about Clay hooking up with Jane, then it’s revealed that seeing angels runs in the family as Clay’s father (a very minor character) sees them too. This could’ve been something, but it just wasn’t really developed thus making it a very odd plot point.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Forever Romance.

There’s a giveaway with this tour! Plus, check out the other participating sites:

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

review: the bridge of peace by cindy woodsmall

The story of Ephraim, Cara, Lori, and the others in the Amish community continues with the second book in the Ada House series though the focus is shifted to another set of characters. While I thoroughly enjoyed The Hope of Refuge, The Bridge of Peace wasn’t quite as entertaining. I looked forward to the scenes with the familiar characters, but felt the story dragged whenever the focus was on Lena, the protagonist of this novel. Lena is a headstrong teacher who feels she’ll never find love because of her birthmark. Complicating matters is that the one man she thinks she could love is already married. (Now I was interested in how the Amish would deal with this issue, but Cindy Woodsmall took the easy way out here.) And if that wasn’t enough to distress Lena, there’s also the fact that a newcomer to the community despises her (for truly ridiculous reasons) and wants her dead.

I could have done without the Lena story, but the book was still enjoyable because it showed how Cara continues to struggle to adapt to the Amish way of life. There was also a bombshell cliffhanger with Cara’s story that will make me read the third and final book of the series, The Harvest of Grace.
Review copy provided by the publisher, WaterBrook Press.

giveaway winner: CSN

Congratulations to Danielle! She's won the $35 gift certificate to CSN.

Friday, March 11, 2011

giveaway: miss scarlet's school of patternless sewing

As part of the tour for Kathy Cano-Murillo's Miss Scarlet's School of Patternless Sewing, Hachette has allowed me two giveaway copies. As a bonus, both of the winners will also receive Cano-Murillo's debut novel Waking Up in the Land of Glitter.

You can read my review of Miss Scarlet's School of Patternless Sewing here. The publisher description is below:
"Sometimes to find your life's true path, you have to stray outside the lines . . .

Scarlet Santana is never happier than when creating fabulous fashions for women of all shapes and sizes. Now, after years of hard work, she finally has the chance to live her dream and study under the hottest designer in New York. To raise money for her move, Scarlet opens an after-hours sewing school in a local record shop, teaching a type-A working mom whose rigid parenting style is causing her family to unravel and an enigmatic seamstress with a mysterious past.

But as stitches give way to secrets and classmates become friends, the women realize an important truth: There is no single pattern for a good life. Happiness is always a custom fit."

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 26. 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: miss scarlet's school of patternless sewing by kathy cano-murillo

To make money to attend a design program, Scarlet decides to hold a sewing class. Her gimmick is that they won’t use patterns. Among her students are a neurotic, work-obsessed woman with a failing marriage and an elderly woman with an air of mystery about her. It didn’t take long for me to figure out exactly who Rosa was; what was surprising was the fact that Scarlet never figured it out, but then Scarlet never came across as very bright. There were times when I was absolutely screaming at Scarlet for being so stupid. For example, when she went all out making dresses based on her boss’ email of potential sale even though Scarlet had previously been screwed over by her boss.

I can’t say I liked any of the characters (at least the ones who received any sort of development), but they did start to grow on me a bit by the end. Scarlet still grated with her exclamations about her brilliant EmergiSew creation, but she did get a little smarter.
ARC Review
Review copy provided by the publisher, Grand Central Publishing.

With this tour comes a giveaway!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

review: the good sister by drusilla campbell

It didn’t take long for me to be completely sucked in by The Good Sister. The opening scene is Simone on trial for the attempted murder of her children; yet, it’s clear she has the support of her family. So I just had to know, but Drusilla Campbell makes the reader wait. The next chapter goes back to a time before Simone was even born setting up how Roxanne became “the good sister.” It is explained that Roxanne was abandoned to her grandmother after her father supposedly died. Although Roxanne didn’t initially want to live with her grandmother, she’s become quite happy there by the time her mother returns for her with a new baby (Simone) in tow. Roxanne quickly becomes Simon’s protector, so it makes sense she‘d keep her suspicions to herself after Simone’s oldest calls 911 to report Simone trying to drown her youngest—an incident that’s quickly covered up. By the mid-point of the novel, I was so enthralled with the story of this incredibly dysfunctional family that there was no way I was going to stop reading.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Grand Central Publishing.

giveaway: the revenge of the radioactive lady

Thanks to Doubleday, I have two copies of The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady by Elizabeth Stuckey-French to giveaway!

Here's what Publishers Weekly said:
"Starred Review. Glowing with dark humor, Stuckey-French's fabulously quirky second novel (after Mermaids on the Moon) spotlights a wild would-be killer: Marylou Ahearn, a 77-year-old retired teacher in Memphis, Tenn. She's obsessed with killing Dr. Wilson Spriggs, who gave pregnant Marylou a radioactive cocktail in 1953 during a secret government study. Helen, the daughter Marylou gave birth to, died in 1963 from cancer. Accompanied by her Welsh corgi, Buster, and as "Nancy Archer" (the heroine of the 1958 movie Attack of the 50 Foot Woman), Marylou moves in 2006 to Tallahassee, Fla., where Wilson lives with his daughter, menopausal Caroline; her husband, Vic Witherspoon, who's contemplating an affair, and their children: 18-year-old Elvis-obsessed beauty Ava; 16-year-old science geek Otis, who's secretly building a nuclear breeder reactor; and overachieving, attention-deprived 13-year-old Suzi. As "Radioactive Lady," Nance creates mucho mischief for Wilson, but her revenge plans mutate after discovering the old doc has Alzheimer's, and dang it, she really likes his kinfolk."

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 26. Winners will be selected at random. Since this is from Doubleday the winners must have mailing addresses in the US; no PO Boxes.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

giveaway winners: deadly heat and deadly lies

Congratulations to the winners of the Cynthia Eden book pack of Deadly Heat and Deadly Lies. They are Joni, Mona, and ellie.

Friday, March 4, 2011

review: in office hours by lucy kellaway

In Office Hours finds two women with remarkably similar names (Stella and Bella) each falling in love with a coworker at the British oil company that employs them both. The sound-alike names could be confusing, but instead illustrate how similar the women are even though they are actually quite different. On paper, the women are definitely opposites —Stella is a business leader, well-off financially, and married with two kids; the much younger Bella dropped out of college after becoming pregnant with a drug addict’s child and has struggled ever since. And yet, both throw away their careers by romancing a colleague. For Stella, the affair is with her young subordinate who annoys her with his lackadaisical approach to life; for Bella, it is her very married new boss who she knows had an affair with her old boss. The parallels of their situations (told in alternating narration) are downright humorous at times, particularly the frantic text messages the lovers send. At times the carelessness to which they approach the affairs (Stella forgetting her earrings at the hotel is an example) seemed extraordinarily foolish, but then mistakes had to be made in order for the underlying message to come to the forefront: in workplace affairs, women are the ones to pay the price regardless of position within the company.
ARC Review
Review copy provided by the publisher, Grand Central Publishing.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

review: blast from the past by meg cabot

With Blast from the Past, Meg Cabot amusingly teaches lessons about history and interpersonal skills. The sixth book in the Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls series finds Allie facing her old classmates on a field trip to Honeypot Prairie, a historical reenactment site. Allie wants to be excited about her first field trip ever, but her cat refuses to come out of the wall (their new house had a leak) and she has to see those old enemies from her old school. But there is a bright spot to this disappointing field trip—Allie learns that George Washington kept a book of rules too! Blast from the Past is a cute story with an underlying educational theme.
ARC Review
Review copy provided by the author.