Friday, April 29, 2011

review: memoirs of a widowed mistress by megan van eyck

Memoirs of a Widowed Mistress is compelling and stunningly honest, but the title is a bit misleading as Megan van Eyck’s story is more than just the story of losing her lover; she delves into how she became a woman who would accept a loveless marriage and agree to what was initially said to be “sex and only sex” with another man. As it turns out (and is exactly what I expected), van Eyck has abandonment issues from a childhood filled with neglect. Furthermore, she self-diagnoses bipolar disorder (it was unclear if a doctor confirmed this though there is mention of medication); at the very least, van Eyck was incredibly depressed after the birth of her second son. Her depression caused her to lose all interest in sex, so she definitely wasn’t looking to start anything when she met Carlos at the airport. But an affair did eventually begin despite them both being married and a significant age difference (Carlos has a daughter who is a year older than van Eyck). The graphically described affair lasted over five years and ended only because Carlos died of a rare blood disorder. Although van Eyck doesn’t get political with this memoir, her experience in being shut out of Carlos’s final moments does reveal how non-family members are often left out.
4/5
Review copy provided by the author.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

review: fatal february by barbara levenson

Fatal February finds Mary Katz representing wealthy Lillian Yarmouth who stands accused of murdering her philandering husband. Mary has a bit of a messy personal life too now that she’s cheated on her fiancĂ©. Because she works for his firm, not only is the wedding off, but Mary’s out of a job. Fortunately, Lillian still wants Mary to represent her, so Mary has her first client for her independent practice.

There are really two plots within Fatal February. One is good while the other borders on ridiculous. First, the good one, which involves the Yarmouth family and the murder trial. There’s a great twist here that I absolutely did not expect. Barbara Levenson’s background as an attorney certainly aided this interesting plot. Mary’s personal life, on the other hand, made me want to put the book down. While it’s completely believable her ex would be vindictive on a professional level (firing her, filing ethics charges, etc.), the violence seemed over the top. Perhaps it would seem in character if he’d been more developed, but he was just a one-dimensional bad guy. Then there’s Mary’s new love Carlos, who was just too good to be true. I kept waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop. The character development was weak all around.
3/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, MM Book Publicity.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

review: bumped by megan mccafferty

In a world where teens are expected to get pregnant before a potential virus renders them infertile, attractive twins named Melody and Harmony are very desirable breeders. Or at least Melody is. The twins were adopted by different families (almost all children are adopted in this dystopian universe) and have only just now found each other at sixteen. Harmony ended up with The Church meaning she’s expected to marry young and attempt to have biological children with her husband. Melody, on the other hand, goes to a regular high school, will likely go to college (the money she gets for her baby will more than cover tuition), and will decide when and if she eventually marries.

With Bumped, Megan McCafferty immediately plunges the reader into this new world. There’s no explanation of the rules and only a little background is given in the first few pages. I was confused at times (for example, why hadn’t Melody “bumped” yet?), but things became much clearer by the second section which is when I really started getting into Bumped. It is a world much like our own, but technology has advanced and everyone uses MiNet to contact each other and track people’s whereabouts (it's not overt, but this is an interesting commentary on people's current obsession with broadcasting minute details of their lives). McCafferty did an excellent job creating a plausible future where babies and the teens who birth them are hot commodities. It is an incredibly enjoyable story, though it is disturbing to think people could come to this. (And by this I mean the fact that the desirable teens are expected to sleep together for the sole purpose of creating a baby as genetically perfect as possible and that the baby is essentially sold to the highest bidder.)

Here’s the thing though: I really wish Bumped had ended one chapter before it did. I don’t need every loose end wrapped up by the end of a book (especially when there’s going to be a sequel as there will be with Bumped), but the last chapter reopened questions I thought had been answered. It left me expecting another chapter whereas the second to last chapter provided a satisfying conclusion.
4/5
ARC Review
Review copy provided by the publisher, Balzer + Bray.

giveaway winners: the sweetest thing

Congratulations winnie and drey! They're the winners of The Sweetest Thing.

Friday, April 22, 2011

review: my infamous life by albert "prodigy" johnson

Mobb Deep’s Prodigy (with Laura Checkoway) shares his story of coming up in the music industry and what led to his time in prison in My Infamous Life. The timeline jumps around a bit (for example, he writes of dropping out of high school, then references going to school a few pages later) which leads to a disjointed feel, but Prodigy’s incredible story still comes across.

Prodigy starts with his early life and gives background on his parents and grandparents. They, too, were involved in music and entertainment; his grandmother even had her own dance studio. So it only makes sense that he would also find that music is his passion. Despite his grandparents’ wealth, Prodigy didn’t grow up with much; furthermore, his father was a drug addict and that created family strife. I found this and later sections where he discussed his personal life with the woman he had two children with and eventually married to be the most interesting. This is where you see the man rather than the celebrity. Too often Prodigy recounts his successes with far-fetched brags about being the first, the best, etc. to accomplish something.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

review: the secret life of damian spinelli by carolyn hennesy

If you’re a fan of General Hospital, you’ll definitely want to read the new tie-in book by Carolyn Hennesy. With The Secret Life of Damian Spinelli, Hennesy completely nails Spinelli’s voice. It is filled with his hubris and outrageous imagination. I loved the parts when Diane Miller (Hennesy’s character on the show) calls him out. Here’s part of one scene:
“Stop it!” I said, flinging my pen down for the tenth time. “Stop it. You have never been on the Nevskiy Prospekt or in St. Petersburg, for that matter!”

“Your doubt of my veracity causes me no end of sadness, Brusque Barrister,” Spinelli said, doing a terrific basset hound impression. “But I can attest, most assuredly, that I was a prize student of the comical arts. Perhaps you’ll recall the Port Charles carnival of some months ago and how my ‘clune’ skills dazzled and delighted all who saw them?”
But those great scenes between Diane and Spinelli didn’t make up the bulk of the book, which is primarily Spinelli’s cockamamie stories, and thus, I got annoyed by his ridiculousness a few more times than I would’ve liked. Just like when I watch the show, I wanted to smack Spinelli. Now that is making a book come alive.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Hyperion.

Monday, April 18, 2011

review: emily and einstein by linda francis lee

A seemingly perfect life is almost destroyed when Emily’s husband Sandy is hit and killed by a car. Sandy, who was quite the jerk even if Emily didn’t know it, is then given the chance to make things right when he’s given new life as a stray dog named Einstein. Considering how much of a jerk Sandy is after he’s turned into a dog, I can only imagine how atrocious his behavior must have been as a man; it made me wonder how Emily could’ve loved and trusted him as much as she did.

Once Emily’s sister as well as a new love interest (the oh so sexy Max) arrived on scene, my interest in Emily and Einstein heightened. Not only does Emily really start living again, but the way two sisters, who couldn’t have been more different, interacted was really well done. Emily is the level-headed one while Jordan has always been flighty. Their dynamic was perfect and the part of the story that I enjoyed the most.
4/5
Review copy provided by BookDivas.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

giveaway: death of a chimney sweep

Want to give Death of a Chimney Sweep by M.C. Beaton a try of your own? Thanks to Hachette, two will win a copy.

Here's my review and the publisher description:
"In the south of Scotland, residents get their chimneys vacuum-cleaned. But in the isolated villages in the very north of Scotland, the villagers rely on the services of the itinerant sweep, Pete Ray, and his old-fashioned brushes. Pete is always able to find work in the Scottish highlands, until one day when Police Constable Hamish Macbeth notices blood dripping onto the floor of a villager's fireplace, and a dead body stuffed inside the chimney. The entire town of Lochdubh is certain Pete is the culprit, but Hamish doesn't believe that the affable chimney sweep is capable of committing murder."

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 May 14. 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: death of a chimney sweep by m.c. beaton

Death of a Chimney Sweep follows Hamish Macbeth’s investigation of a serial killer in a small Scottish town. It all gets started when a conman is found dead in his own chimney. While it initially appears the chimney sweep did it, he too is found dead a short time later. As Hamish attempts to unravel the conspiracy, the body count increases in this cozy from M.C. Beaton.

I could not get into this one. Not only was much of the dialogue written in an annoying dialect that continually took me out of the story, there was a ton of extraneous information that distracted from the plot. I had no interest in anything to do with Angela and her book. Since Angela was involved in the con run by the first murder victim, a little background on her was appropriate; instead, it was drawn out to an excruciating degree. Furthermore, most of the action is blandly described instead of being written in active voice.
1/5
ARC Review
Review copy provided by the publisher, Grand Central Publishing.

Friday, April 15, 2011

giveaway: roxanne st. claire books

The entire Guardian Angelinos series from Roxanne St. Claire is excellent and now you have the chance to win the second and third books in the series thanks to Hachette. Three will copies of both books.

My reviews can be found here and here. The publisher description follows:
Shiver of Fear: "The legacy that haunts her...
The mystery she must solve...
A man who threatens to reveal her secrets...
and break her heart.

Burned by a failed marriage, former FBI agent Marc Rossi wants back in the investigation game with no emotional strings attached. Taking an assignment for his enterprising Angelino cousins, he heads to Northern Ireland to pry a key piece of evidence from a missing socialite-any way he can. But when the ice queen turns out to be warm, beautiful, and on a secret mission of her own, the job becomes a passionate reminder of what happens when duty and desire mix. The daughter of an infamous fugitive, Devyn Sterling has survived betrayal only to find that her mother has mysteriously disappeared. When her search uncovers secrets, lies, and threats, Devyn and Marc must trust each other when every instinct says they can't . . . and a terrorist wants to make sure they won't live to try."

Face of Danger: "Private investigator Vivi Angelino loves living life on the edge, but stepping into the shoes of a movie starlet to bait a serial killer isn't just a thrill . . . it's a ticket to the big time for her fledgling security firm. That is, as long as a certain risk-averse FBI agent stays out of her way-and out of her fantasies.

Assistant Special Agent in Charge Colton Lang isn't above using his well-worn rulebook to stop Vivi's latest walk on the wild side. But when they learn her client is involved in something far more insidious than bad acting, Vivi and Colt must work together despite the electrifying attraction arcing between them. For each new clue is bringing them closer to a high-profile crime with a dark and deadly truth at its core . . . and a cold, calculating murderer with nothing left to lose."

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 May 7. 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: face of danger by roxanne st. claire

When Hollywood actresses begin to fear someone dubbed “The Red Carpet Killer,” the Guardian Angelinos are hired to protect the latest Oscar winner. They land the job because Vivi is the spitting image of Cara, the actress believed to be the next target. Although Vivi is the one who started Guardian Angelinos, she doesn’t get her own story until the third installment of the series. This familiar face finally reveals the 16 year old trauma that closed her off to romantic relationships as she begins to fall for the FBI agent assigned to guard the actress she’s pretending to be. Even as Vivi and Lang grow closer, the investigation remains at the forefront. And what an investigation it is. They soon discover “The Red Carpet Killer” isn’t the only after Cara whose whereabouts are now unknown. There were so many twists here, I was kept completely on guard and needing to read the next page.
5/5
ARC Review
Review copy provided by the publisher, Forever.

review and tour: shiver of fear by roxanne st. claire

Shiver of Fear picks up the story from the first book in Roxanne St. Claire’s Guardian Angelinos series though the perspective shifts from Zach and Samantha to Marc and Devyn. Even though the plots are connected, Shiver of Fear can be read as a standalone because the pertinent background information such as the murder of Devyn’s husband shortly after her discovery that a well-known mobster is her biological father. It is this discovery that sets in motion the action of this suspenseful second installment. After Devyn feels compelled to go to Ireland in search of her scientist biological mother, the Guardian Angelinos are hired to get Devyn out of Belfast. While it seems a little odd the FBI would need their help, Marc is former FBI; furthermore, Marc soon uncovers a terrorist plot that has Devyn’s mother at the center. As Marc tries to keep Devyn safe, the pair also starts to fall for each other bringing a slow romance to an increasingly tense hunt for the truth within layers of deep undercover work and conspiracy.
5/5
ARC Review
Review copy provided by the publisher, Forever.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

review: the kitchen daughter by jael mchenry

In The Kitchen Daughter, Ginny discovers, entirely by accident, she can contact the dead by making one of their handwritten recipes. Her ghostly visit is from one of her grandmothers shortly after the funeral of Ginny’s parents who died of carbon monoxide poisoning while on vacation. Nonna tells her (in “rough English”), “Do no let her.” The question is who isn’t Ginny supposed to let do what? The obvious answer seems to be that Ginny shouldn’t let her sister Amanda sell the house. But Ginny has “a personality,” which seems to be undiagnosed Asperger’s (despite their father being a doctor) and Amanda has no intention of allowing Ginny to live in such a big house all on her own. Ginny fights Amanda every step of the way, all the while seeking solace in the kitchen. Most chapters have a recipe at the beginning which has significance for the chapter. It wasn’t until I began reading that I realized why the recipes appeared in different formats; this is an excellent little piece of the book. The Kitchen Daughter is a touching look at family, grief, and a still misunderstood syndrome.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Friday, April 8, 2011

review: the baby planner by josie brown

Upon losing her government job due to budget cuts, Katie sets out on her own as a baby planner. What is a baby planner? In Katie’s words, in addition to providing assistance with shopping and baby-proofing the house, she’s “your best friend during your pregnancy.” Katie’s motives for starting this business are less than altruistic; she’s attempting to fill a void as her husband refuses to have a child with her (he already has a son he never sees).

With The Baby Planner, Josie Brown has crafted an amusing novel about a woman so desperate for a child of her own that she resorts to a highly predictable deception. With the exception of one out of nowhere plot twist that comes toward the end, I knew every move Katie would make. I’d also figured out what Alex was up to long before Katie suspected a thing. Even so, The Baby Planner is quite entertaining with Katie finding herself in many hilarious (and some heartbreaking) moments with her varied clients.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

review: love you more by lisa gardner

Love You More from Lisa Gardner is hands-down one of the best books I’ve read this year. It was a bit confusing at first with two female law enforcement protagonists, but I quickly got caught up in the story of D.D. investigating the death of Tessa’s husband and the disappearance of her young daughter. Love You More alternates between the two women’s perspectives which allows the reader to slowly piece together how Tessa’s husband wound up dead on the kitchen floor. Right away it’s clear that Tessa is keeping something from the investigators, but why? Her daughter is missing and it appears she shot her husband in a clear case of self-defense considering the injuries she’s sustained. D.D. knows something isn’t right and sets about proving Tessa guilty of murder. But nothing is as it seems. When all the pieces finally fell into place, I was absolutely stunned by the truth.
5/5
ARC Review
Review copy provided by Amazon Vine.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

review: sweet valley confidential by francine pascal

My formative years included the Wakefield twins. I read almost every book (I did read every SVH, SVU, and Elizabeth book) and owned the board game, so I was beyond excited when Sweet Valley Confidential was announced. The “Ten Years Later” subtitle refers to the end of SVH rather than SVU, so Jessica and Elizabeth are now 27. The book opens with a very pissed off Elizabeth trying to make it in New York after discovering that Jessica and Todd are having an affair. Meanwhile Jessica and Todd are in Sweet Valley somewhat ostracized, but still in touch with the old gang. Because of my long history with Sweet Valley, this review is a bit different (and much longer). I’ve kept the spoilers to a minimum (nothing from the latter half of the book). So let’s get started!

Oh Francine, did you ever like (as you seem to think Jessica would say) look back at what all those ghostwriters wrote under your name? It wouldn't have taken much more than a little Google search to find two fabulous recappers (Forever Young Adult and Shannon's Sweet Valley Blog) who could've helped. Continuity is a major issue with Sweet Valley Confidential (even within the book’s plot itself—Bruce and Elizabeth are said to have bonded during their last year of college, but by the end of the book it’s become “ten years ago”). So let's look back at some plot points from SVH and SVU (both series have plots that make it into Confidential, so I don't believe it's unfair to point out these flubs).

First let's do some ages. Bruce is a year older than the twins; their brother’s already in college during SVH. In Confidential, Steven is a year older while Bruce graduated with the twins. Also, the name of Lila’s father is changed as is the name of the son of their Robert Redford lookalike high school teacher. Minor details, but obvious to fans who are the audience.

Much of what happened later on in SVH is completely ignored with most references coming from the first book, Double Love (which Francine apparently wrote most of, so I guess she feels it’s the best). There's no devastating earthquake (the way the SVH series ended) since Jessica makes the statement, “Downtown Sweet Valley hasn’t changed that much since my high school days. The big changes happened before, in the late eighties.” There’s also no "Hey, remember evil Margo?" which I immediately thought of when Elizabeth sees that Will (her New York love interest) is a dead ringer for Todd. The SVU acknowledgment is more scattered than SVH with Jessica's disastrous first marriage (Jessica already has a second failed marriage by Confidential), Elizabeth's time in NYC, and Todd's early college struggles all included. But Enid is Enid even though she changed to Alexandra for college; her alcoholism is, however, brought up. Not warranting mentions are Lila's first marriage, Steven's almost marriage to Billie, and the time Elizabeth ran off to London (after a Jessica boyfriend betrayal...so at least that's consistent!). However, both of Elizabeth’s serious college boyfriends (yes, including the one from the Jessica betrayal that ended the SVU series) are referenced.

With all of those SVU references, you would think some of them would be invited to the wedding. They’re not. Only high school friends (including those long forgotten by the end of SVH) make it into Confidential. But that's ok because the true focus is the Elizabeth/Jessica/Todd triangle. That triangle, however, is problematic. Going back to the SVU betrayal, Jessica’s motivation is keeping in character; she believed Sam wasn’t good enough for Elizabeth. But here? I find it hard to believe Jessica would fall in love with Todd. She realized back in high school that he was a bore; plus, this isn’t a best of intentions just going about it all wrong sort of treachery. This is a completely selfish move. Being that Jessica was always my favorite, I was disappointed with Confidential. Elizabeth, on the other hand, seemed right on. What she does here is exactly what she did in college and she still has that same self-righteous attitude. So I have mixed feelings about Confidential. It’s really a book about Elizabeth, so most (excepting the continuity problems) is spot on…but I have a hard time getting past the decimation of Jessica. In all though, it was great to take another trip with the Wakefield twins.
3/5
Review copy provided Get Red PR.

giveaway winners: welcome to last chance

Congratulations to Rebecca and PoCoKat! They each have won a copy of Welcome to Last Chance.

Friday, April 1, 2011

giveaway: the sweetest thing

Thanks to Hachette you could win one of two copies of The Sweetest Thing by Jill Shalvis!

Check out my review here. Read the publisher description below.
"Two Men Are One Too Many . . .

Tara has a thousand good reasons not to return to the little coastal town of Lucky Harbor, Washington. Yet with her life doing a major crash-and-burn, anywhere away from her unfulfilled dreams and sexy ex-husband will do. As Tara helps her two sisters get their newly renovated inn up and running, she finally has a chance to get things under control and come up with a new plan for her life.

But a certain tanned, green-eyed sailor has his own ideas, such as keeping Tara hot, bothered . . . and in his bed. And when her ex wants Tara back, three is a crowd she can't control-especially when her deepest secret reappears out of the blue. Now Tara must confront her past and discover what she really wants. If she's lucky, she might just find that everything her heart desires is right here in Lucky Harbor."

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 23. 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: the sweetest thing by jill shalvis

Six months after their mother’s death brought three estranged sisters to Lucky Harbor, they are actually making a go of running the inn they inherited. While Simply Irresistible focused on Maddie’s life, The Sweetest Thing shifts to Tara, who had previously been revealed to have given up a baby at seventeen. Given how much time Tara was spending with the man who fathered that child, it wasn’t surprising when that child (now seventeen herself) appeared on the scene. This is where I wish the story had focused. I found the dynamics between a man and woman starting to come together after seventeen years (and a baby!) and the teenager looking to connect with her birth parents to be quite compelling. The fact that Mia is exactly the age Tara was when she gave up Mia adds another layer as Mia stays for the summer and falls for a boy working at the inn. But much of the plot centers around Tara and her two potentials—the aforementioned baby daddy and the man she just divorced (yeah, he wants her back now that she’s gone)—which led to a lot of machismo between the men.
3/5
ARC Review
Review copy provided by the publisher, Forever.

You can win a copy of The Sweetest Thing here!