Sunday, October 30, 2011

review: family storms by v.c. andrews

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Way back in middle school (yes, middle school), I devoured all the books written by V.C. Andrews and then moved onto the ones written by the ghostwriter hired by her estate. For the most part, the ghostwriter (Andrew Neiderman) retread the same themes of various atrocities (although I’m pretty sure that one was always rape) befalling a teen girl.

The newer books are in shorter series—two or three books rather than five—and seem less debauched. Family Storms wasn’t too unrealistic in the horrors that transpired. I doubt I’ll ever meet a person who was forced to live in a small room, fed arsenic-laced doughnuts, and then was raped by her own brother while still trapped in that attic (Flowers in the Attic); but it’s reasonable to think something similar to what happens to Sasha in Family Storms could really occur. When Sasha’s father leaves the family, her mother tries to maintain their already struggling existence, but ends up spiraling into alcoholism. Out on the streets, Sasha and her mother are hit by a car; Sasha’s mother is killed instantly, but Sasha survives with a broken leg. The driver is the daughter of a wealthy family who take Sasha in, partly to punish their daughter, but also so Sasha can serve as a replacement for their favored daughter who died of cancer. The formerly destitute Sasha struggles to fit in at her new private school and falls into a trap that results (spoiler, but you knew this was coming) in her rape when she too eagerly embraces her new “friends.” Tragic, yes, but not the complete insanity of something like My Sweet Audrina that had a girl believing her imaginary older sister of the same name was the one who was raped.

The plot was interesting and, as I said, far more realistic than previous titles from V.C. Andrews, but character development was either weak or a little off. The woman who takes Sasha in received an excellent education, but she has this short conversation with Sasha:

“No, my mother wouldn’t beg. She sold her calligraphy, and I sold lanyard key chains [sic] on the beach. I made them myself.”
“It’s Chinese writing.”
“Oh, yes.” She smiled.
Calligraphy is commonly used for wedding invitations, so Jordan March should be familiar with the concept even if she wasn’t aware of the Chinese version. Later her husband reveals she once bought some calligraphy while they were on vacation which means Jordan sounds even stupider in that conversation. Throughout the book, Jordan seemed naïve or somehow uneducated despite her background. Sasha, on the other hand, was always waxing on philosophically which seemed quite unnatural given her character’s age and background.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket Star Books.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

review: dark eden by patrick carman

Teenager Will is paralyzed by fear. He can’t even attend school because of his phobias. His parents send him to a therapist who promises Will can be cured if he goes to Fort Eden along with six other teens. The teens don’t know each other, but Will knows everything about them because he’s copied all of their therapy sessions onto an electronic device he’s cobbled together. Immediately after arriving at Fort Eden, Will panics and runs. That’s when he discovers there’s something more than a little strange about what’s to happen at Fort Eden. Hidden inside a bomb shelter (where Will decides to set up camp) is a wall of monitors that allow Will to see the others. He’s horrified at “the cure” provided by Rainsford, who is a little creepy. Will is determined not to be cured, but he has no idea what tricks Rainsford will pull to meet his goal.

Dark Eden was such a thrill. The compelling plot kept me on edge as I raced through each chapter desperate to know Will’s fate. Making this book even creepier is that you can actually interact with it via an app available through iTunes and the Android Market as well as taking The Fear Test with a promotional DVD. (If you want to take The Fear Test on the DVD, just send me an email [mybookviews at] with your address and I’ll get one out to you.) The one part I didn’t enjoy so much was the long exposition explaining everything about Rainsford. There are some things that just don’t need full explanations.
ARC Review
Review copy provided by the publisher, Katherine Tegen Books.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

review: it's so easy by duff mckagan

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In a word, Duff McKagan’s memoir is amazing. With It’s So Easy (and other lies), he details not just the infamous Guns N’ Roses days of touring while heavily intoxicated, but also reveals some of his childhood and family life. The book opens with Duff and his wife hosting a birthday party for their 13 year old daughter. As Duff sees some of the young party-goers making out, he runs through a checklist of the things they could be doing…the things he was doing at their age and is summarily relieved. It sets the tone for what will come as Duff recounts his early start in the music industry.

With a number of the celebrity memoirs I’ve read, there tends to be an underlying theme of either “how awesome am I?” or “look at my tragic life;” It’s So Easy has neither. Although Duff talks of early financial difficulties, he seeks no sympathy; and when it comes to bragging about successes, Duff actually says things like, “I suppose competition makes a better ‘product,’ and Steven Adler and I would go watch Jane’s Addiction play gigs whenever possible once we got to know them. It made us better—and I think we made them better, too.” I thoroughly appreciated his manipulation-free candor on every topic addressed.

This memoir isn’t just for Guns N’ Roses fans; it’s for anyone who was into the Seattle or Los Angeles music scene of the era. Duff writing of Seattle’s now defunct weekly The Rocket and shows at VFW halls brought back so many memories. It’s So Easy will definitely strike a note with fans.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

giveaway winners: help! for writers

Winnie, holdenj, and mrsshukra are the winners of Help! for Writers. Congrats!

Friday, October 21, 2011

review: the harvest of grace by cindy woodsmall

The Harvest of Grace introduces a new character to Dry Lake, but also continues the stories of the others from the Ada’s House series. Sylvia comes to Dry Lake three years after the man who asked her to marry him married her sister instead when Sylvia said she wasn’t ready. She finds work on the Blank farm; they need help after the death of their daughter (which happened in The Bridge of Peace) and son’s subsequent entering rehab. That son soon returns home and meets Sylvia in an amusing scene that provided a bit of relief in a novel that’s otherwise about heavy subject matter regarding the scandals surrounding both Sylvia and her new friend, Aaron Blank.

The original story from The Hope of Refuge gets its conclusion here as Cara continues her studies of the Amish ways and their language while also working on forgiving her father. Her successes bring happiness, but she also struggles, especially when part of her past resurfaces. The main character from The Bridge of Peace also gets her story wrapped up as Lena and Grey are finally completely honest about their feelings. All of the conclusions are satisfactory, but with Sylvia being a completely new character from a different community it was a stretch to tie her into the previous plots. For much of the novel Sylvia was isolated to the Blank family without any interaction with the other Ada’s House characters. It took far too long for Sylvia to make some friends.
Review copy provided by the publisher, WaterBrook Press.

review: the local news by miriam gershow

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Miriam Gershow’s debut novel, The Local News, is a peek into the life of a teen who would be unremarkable if it weren’t for the fact that her older brother disappeared while walking home from the park. While some think Danny intentionally left home, the family believes he was kidnapped. They appear on the news, work with the police, and eventually hire a private investigator to pursue the numerous crazy leads that pour in. Lydia becomes very involved with the private investigator’s hunt for answers while her parents completely fall apart.

Despite it being a finalist for the Oregon Book Award, I couldn’t get into The Local News. Lydia is a nerdy teenager who would be utterly boring if it weren’t for the fact that her brother is missing. Even with the missing brother, Lydia does not rise to the level of a protagonist one would root for. She remains a shallow girl with little social skills and evokes no sympathy. The pace is tedious, but then the ending is rushed and unnecessarily tries to wrap up Lydia’s life for the next ten years. The Local News was not an enjoyable read and provided little entertainment.
Review copy provided by BookDivas.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

giveaway: the christmas wedding

Thanks to Hachette, one person will win a copy of James Patterson's latest (with Richard DiLallo)!

Check out my review of The Christmas Wedding; the publisher description is below:
"The tree is decorated, the cookies are baked, and the packages are wrapped, but the biggest celebration this Christmas is Gaby Summerhill's wedding. Since her husband died three years ago, Gaby's four children have drifted apart, each consumed by the turbulence of their own lives. They haven't celebrated Christmas together since their father's death, but when Gaby announces that she's getting married--and that the groom will remain a secret until the wedding day--she may finally be able to bring them home for the holidays.

But the wedding isn't Gaby's only surprise--she has one more gift for her children, and it could change all their lives forever. With deeply affecting characters and the emotional twists of a James Patterson thriller, The Christmas Wedding is a fresh look at family and the magic of the season."

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 5. Winner will be selected at random. Since this is from Hachette the winner must have mailing addresses in the US or Canada; no PO Boxes.

review: the christmas wedding by james patterson and richard dilallo

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The Christmas Wedding has an odd premise. It centers around Gaby’s second marriage which comes as quite the surprise to her adult children. When Gaby’s husband passed away three years ago, the family grew apart. So Gaby plans a Christmas wedding with a mystery groom to bring all her kids back to the homestead. None of that is too unusual, but then it’s revealed that not even the groom knows he’s the groom. Three men (including the brother of Gaby’s deceased husband) have proposed to her, but she’s told no one who she will marry. Now I can suspend disbelief, but this plot point is a little too ridiculous. I could maybe buy the characters’ motivations (though would still have a hard time getting past the issue of the marriage license) if a backstory had been developed, but there was very little to go on. In fact, there was very little character development in this story that’s filled with characters. Not only is there Gaby and her three suitors, but Gaby’s four adult children and their significant others plus some children. This was far too many characters for a fairly short novel, especially considering how much drama each one has in his or her life. Even so, The Christmas Wedding was an enjoyable read. It was nice to see how the family came together again and helped each other.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Little, Brown and Company.

giveaway winners: texas romances

mbreakfield, PoCoKat, and heatherc8 are the winners of the Texas romances, Heartstrings and Diamond Rings and Don’t Mess with Texas. Congrats!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

review: love you to death (season 2) by crissy calhoun

As she did with season 1 of The Vampire Diaries, Crissy Calhoun breaks down the second season of the popular CW show based on books by L.J. Smith. Love You to Death follows the same format (and uses the same title) as the guide to the first season with Calhoun providing a write-up of each episode followed by extra tidbits on the show in categories like Compelling Moment (something that stands out in the episode), The Rules (rules about the supernatural as put forth by the series), and my favorite Foggy Moments (inconsistencies and continuity errors). Interspersed throughout are actor biographies and essays on things like the use of mirrors on the show; after the episode analysis, there are interviews with “Mystic Falls” natives and some of the actors. Where Calhoun shines is in the essays, particularly a longer one at the end regarding doppelgängers (which Elena is and Katherine was until she became a vampire). With plenty of information on the show along with full-color cast photos, Calhoun has again created a must-read for fans.

One “foggy moment” of Calhoun’s own, however, comes in her essay titled Werewolf Lore. Here she states that Lycaon tested the god Jupiter and received punishment that turned him into a werewolf. According to the myth, Lycaon tested Zeus (Jupiter is a Roman god; this is a Greek myth).
Review copy provided by the publisher, ECW Press.

Monday, October 10, 2011

review: mrs. somebody somebody by tracy winn

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Tracy Winn’s debut short story collection is uneven at best. All the stories apparently take place in the mill town of Lowell, MA (the setting is only spelled out on occasion, but seems to be what Winn intended as the thread that brings all the stories together) at different points in the twentieth century. The title story which takes place during the mill’s heyday was thought-provoking as it illustrated the struggle between the workers who wanted to unionize and those who were “company men.” After that story which comes first in Mrs. Somebody Somebody, I had high hopes for the rest of the collection. Unfortunately, few of the stories that followed lived up to the expectations set in that first one. Stories like Gumbo Limbo seemed to be working at something, but never quite got there. Many of the others were nothing more than a slice of life excerpt that could have been interesting if the characters weren’t so boring.
Review copy provided by BookDivas.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

review: the last blind date by linda yellin

The Last Blind Date accounts how Randy Arthur brought Linda Yellin out of a long depression with a single phone call. Soon she’s planning a trip to New York to see him and he’s flying out to Chicago to meet her. Yellin doesn’t particularly want to move to New York, but her new love has children, so she must make that sacrifice. That’s when Yellin’s insecurities come shining through. She takes a job at a television network despite having no experience, so when it doesn’t work out she calls her coworkers backstabbers and makes fun of the programming. She went to public school, so she makes fun of her neighbors (and husband) who are concerned with what private school their children will attend. Her husband and his friends went to Ivy League universities for undergrad and grad school while Yellin went to the University of Illinois for a bachelor’s and never even thought about grad school, so she deems them pompous. My first turn-off was the whole needing a man thing, but I expected The Last Blind Date to be funny because of the blurbs from numerous great authors so I read on. I suppose Yellin’s criticisms were supposed to be funny, but I must admit to be biased to not be impressed by her complaints. You see I attended private school as a child, went on to prestigious private universities (albeit on the west coast) for undergrad and grad, and now work in television. The only part I found the slightest bit entertaining was the very brief chapter on home renovation. It was the one time that Yellin didn’t seem completely insecure in her role as second wife/stepmother in an unfamiliar city.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Friday, October 7, 2011

review: ingenue by jillian larkin

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The story of three young flappers caught up in a mob murder continues in Ingenue at almost the same point that Vixen left off. Everyone has left Chicago for New York City with Lorraine running a nightclub at Carlito's behest, Clara trying to make a different sort of name for herself as a journalist, and Gloria struggling to make it as a singer. The question at the center is, How far will each go to achieve their dreams? Gloria is excited when she finally lands a job, but it's a setup--Lorraine is the one who hired her so that Carlito can have his revenge on Gloria and Jerome. Ingenue is another fun romp in the flapper world that's filled with romance and intrigue. The downside is that the girls are isolated from each other for almost the entire book; the best part of the first book was the interaction between them.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

review: the traitor's wife by kathleen kent

Kathleen Kent’s The Traitor’s Wife (previously published as The Wolves of Andover) serves as a prequel to The Heretic's Daughter as it explains how Martha and Thomas met. Martha went to work for her pregnant cousin with the hopes of finally finding a husband, which she did when she started connecting with another member of the household staff. Knowing that Martha and Thomas had a number of children in The Heretic’s Daughter, there was no question these two would find love as The Traitor’s Wife progressed which meant all of Martha’s pining was a little boring. Furthermore, the characters were not written in a way that created a connection between them and the reader; my only interest in their story came from what I knew about them previously. I enjoyed The Heretic’s Daughter, so this was quite the disappointment. The Traitor’s Wife added nothing to the story other than confirmation that Thomas had indeed participated in the execution of England’s king.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Back Bay Books.

Monday, October 3, 2011

giveaway winners: pinch me

Carol M, holdenj, and ellie each have won a copy of Pinch Me. Congrats!

review: red wolf by liza marklund

While working on her latest piece, newspaper reporter Annika Bengtzon finds herself in the middle of a murder conspiracy that reaches into the Swedish government. Despite her boss taking her off the story and her husband being displeased with her return to work (she'd previously taken time off after a different story put her life in jeopardy), Annika continues to dig for details.

As I read the first few pages of Red Wolf, I wondered if something was lost in the translation of Swedish to English. My main issue with the beginning of the book was a lack of connection to not only Annika, but all the characters who just seemed to be thrown in without explanation. As I continued to read, I began having a nagging feeling that this was not the first book featuring Annika. That would explain the additional characters and why there were seemingly random references to things in Annika's recent past. So to the internet I went and discovered that Red Wolf is book five in the series; however, not all of the preceding books are readily available in America (earlier works were published, but are out of print). Once I discovered this, I decided to fault the publisher rather than the author; thus, proceeding to read as if the things I felt were extraneous (like the nonsense with Anne's custody issues) would make perfect sense had I read the first four books prior to Red Wolf. I began enjoying this book about a journalist investigating a long ago terrorist act much more after that. The pacing was still a little slow, but the primary plot held my interest. If all the parts with Anne as well as Thomas when he wasn't interacting with Annika were eliminated, I'd boost the rating to 5/5. I read each of those boring scenes in the belief that the subplots would tie into the main one, but was sorely disappointed.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Atria Books.