Sunday, January 29, 2012

review: hard target by howard gordon

Brothers Gideon and Tillman Davis from Gideon's War are together again in Hard Target by Howard Gordon. This time the brothers are trying to stop a group with bases in Idaho and West Virginia from attacking Washington, DC during the State of the Union address.

Hard Target suffers from too many details. Not only did most of it add nothing to the plot, but some of the extras turned out to be just plain wrong. Consider Nancy flying into the Spokane, WA airport to get to the Wilmot residence in Priest River, ID. She describes the Spokane airport as barely being large enough for four gates. Having flown out of that airport a number of times, I can attest to the fact that it has well over four; a simple Internet search indicates there are 24. Then there's the issue of Priest River versus Pocatello, ID. Sometimes the Wilmot estate scenes are said to be in Priest River while other times Pocatello is used as a reference. It is possible that events happen in both locations, but the timeline wouldn't make sense given the drive between the two is over nine hours. Had Howard Gordon simply looked at a map this would've been evident.

Besides getting bogged down with the details, the constant change in perspective also detracted from my enjoyment of Hard Target. It was difficult to relate to any one character when every short chapter brought different characters in different locales.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Friday, January 27, 2012

review: abandon by meg cabot

When Pierce was a child she met a young man who brought a dead bird back to life. Years later Pierce encountered John again after she drowned in her swimming pool. Now two years after her near death experience, Pierce has moved with her mom to her mom’s childhood home of Isla Huesos which translates to Island of Bones. As Pierce tries to adjust to her new surroundings, she learns the significance of the island’s name and what ties John to it.

Abandon dragged at certain points, especially the beginning when Meg Cabot tried to keep things all mysterious by not revealing much background information. It was only after Pierce finally talked with the cemetery sexton, who had a lot of details about the island and John, that I really got into Abandon. Despite the lackluster beginning, Abandon picked up by the end and excellently set up the next book in the series, Underworld.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Point.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

review: the season of second chances by diane meier

In The Season of Second Chances, a nearing 50 college professor gets the chance to revamp her life when she accepts a teaching position at Amherst after spending a number of years at Columbia. Even as I read, I debated whether or not I like the book. Joy and the other others at Amherst are so completely pompous that they are entirely unappealing; yet Joy is aware that she has not previously put in the effort needed to create and maintain relationships. This awareness seems to cause Joy to go too far in the opposite direction though as she quickly accepts one marriage proposal then launches a campaign to fix-up the man who is renovating her house. At times I thought the author, Diane Meier, might be making a commentary on academia, but then there were subplots that did nothing to forward that commentary. Those subplots were a distraction that simply filled pages. There really was little point to the department secretary being on maternity leave other than it providing Joy with a rotating cast of secretaries to criticize. The storyline involving a battered woman primarily served to show Joy's inexperience with children (she and the others at Amherst took care of the woman's children while she was hospitalized). In the end there was nothing to push me over the edge one way or the other; The Season of Second Chances was interesting enough, but it couldn't have been far better.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Henry Holt and Co.

Friday, January 13, 2012

author interview: lauren clark

This post contains affiliate links.

Lauren Clark, the author of Stay Tuned, is currently on a blog tour in promotion of her debut novel. She took the time to answer a few questions about her life and the book. As part of the tour, you have the opportunity to win a $10 Amazon gift card! Just leave a comment on her tour page to enter. (And if you comment here, I'm entered to win too in a separate giveaway!)

Like Melissa, you worked in TV news. How did your experiences in the industry shape Stay Tuned?

Stay Tuned is based—in part—on a true story. Before I began work at an Upstate New York television station as a reporter, the two main anchors (who were in a romantic relationship) got into a fistfight in the parking lot of the television station. They were fired, the incident made the newspaper, and a lot of ugly editorials and threats were exchanged. The story—and the irony of these two successful people losing their jobs—has always stayed with me. When I began to write Stay Tuned, I thought about something similar happening—this time, while the anchors were on live TV—and then let the readers watch what unfolded behind the scenes.

I also wanted the characters in Stay Tuned to be memorable, since the TV news industry is so full of amazing, unique people. My favorite weatherman used to bring his Dachshund in to the station, dress him in a tiny superhero cape, and carry him around in the studio. He actually went on the air with his dog during one show, but our news director quickly put a stop to that! One reporter—when stressed—used to bang on his keyboard with his fists and shout cuss words at the top of his lungs. We were all so used to it that everyone smiled and kept working when it happened! Also—one of the most talented anchors I worked with used to break into Who Let The Dogs Out?” whenever he got into the mood—you can’t do that in many office jobs!

Who or what was the inspiration for Candace? She seemed like a great friend despite all her Dr. Phil quotes!

What hairdresser doesn’t like to give advice—even if it is from Dr. Phil? In all seriousness, Candace Daughtry is based on my best friend, Lisa. I took all of her wonderful qualities, turned her into a hair stylist, and made her (a little bit) obsessed with Dr. Phil! Like Lisa, Candace is the best friend a girl could ever have—someone you can call at midnight, the person you laugh the hardest with, the person who knows your worst faults and loves you anyway. My friend Lisa has overcome some of the toughest obstacles in life a person could face, and I wanted to draw on that same tenacity and inner fire in Candace. She’s a true friend—I hope everyone is blessed to have a Candace (or Lisa) in her life!

The Dr. Phil obsession was added to make her character stand out. Candace is close to perfect in every other way, so being addicted to Dr. Phil’s advice seemed like a way to add a quirky edge and round out her personality.

What book has had the most impact on your life?

It’s a tie between two novels: For a book that explores the bonds between women, I’d have to say The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. I loved the setting, the characters, and the beautiful symbolism. It’s a coming of age story, a ‘triumph over tragedy’ novel written in a way that is both fresh and unforgettable.

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult, to me, is hands-down a masterpiece (the ending made my cry). Picoult explores the relationships between sisters and how grave illness impacts a family. The author tells the story from more than half a dozen points of view, manages to give each a distinct personality, all the while weaving a story that breaks your heart and leaves you shell-shocked at the end. I hope to (someday) write a novel that leaves readers with that level of lasting, emotional impact.

What’s your writing routine?

I write best in the morning and need absolute quiet. I often go to the library at the local university near our house—if I stay home, the doorbell rings, the phone rings, and the Internet is too much of a distraction! The other essentials are lots of flavored coffee (yes, I am on a first-name basis with everyone at two coffee shops in town) and I have to have my MacBook!

Just sitting down and typing does not work well for me. I have to have a plan and a rough outline. Once I have the story fixed in my mind, index cards come in handy for switching up scenes and seeing a timeline develop. The novel I’m working on now took about 60 index cards. I lined them up on the floor of my tiny office—there was no room to walk in there for about a week! I also keep a notebook by the bed, in my car, and in my bag to jot down ideas.

What’s up next for you?

Dancing Naked in Dixie is the working title of my next novel. It’s a story about a writer for a travel magazine based in New York City. She’s talented, but really scattered, and is on the verge of being fired. She gets one last chance to pull her career back together and gets sent to the ‘Heart of Dixie’—Eufaula, Alabama—for the city’s annual Pilgrimage. The Pilgrimage is an actual event, a tour of historic homes held every spring. (Part of the movie Sweet Home Alabama with Reese Witherspoon was filmed in Eufaula, Alabama).

In Dancing Naked in Dixie, the main character can’t help but fall in love with the area and its people. She soon discovers, though, that a real estate developer has his eye on making Eufaula into a tourist spot. This challenge divides the city, but helps the writer grow and realize that her job is much more than telling stories about pretty places—her article could help prevent Eufaula from being bulldozed into another strip of vacation condos. As she works on her story, she dreams up an idea that could help save the historic district and the people who love it.

I hope you enjoy Stay Tuned as much as I loved writing it! I’d love to hear what you think about the story and characters. Feel free to drop me at line at laurenclarkbooks @

review: stay tuned by lauren clark

When one anchor punches her co-anchor during a newscast, producer Melissa Moore is forced to intervene. She ends up delivering the on-air good-bye despite not being camera ready, but it her quick-thinking impresses her boss. As a result, Melissa ends up filling in as anchor until replacements can be found for the two fired anchors. Melissa struggles to balance an already strained home life with her additional job responsibilities, but finds that sitting behind the news desk is something she really wants.

I’m far more critical of books revolving around the TV news industry because of my own line of work (which is in TV news). Although Lauren Clark once worked in TV news herself, some elements of Stay Tuned just didn’t work. Some of this may be because the industry has changed significantly in the past few years due to technological advances and budget cuts. But some things never really change such as the relationships between departments. Melissa feels alienated when she switches from producer to anchor, but there really shouldn’t have been much of a difference as Melissa would’ve already had strong relationships with the rest of the talent given that she was in a position that works closely with the talent. Furthermore, Melissa simply has too much time on her hands. Some days are fairly laid back, but Melissa and her co-anchor take it the extreme by leaving work in the middle of the day for a picnic. Other things were accurate such as the strain on personal relationships; however, in the case of Stay Tuned, it seemed the problems were really because Melissa’s husband preferred to communicate via post-it note.
Review copy provided by Chick Lit Plus Blog Tours.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

review: ghost files by jason hawes and grant wilson

This post contains affiliate links.

Cases of suspected paranormal activity that Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson of the TV show Ghost Hunters have worked on are recounted in each of the two halves of Ghost Files which combines the previously released books Ghost Hunting and Seeking Spirits. I love ghost stories, so I was prepared to be delightfully scared by Ghost Files. Unfortunately only a few of the short accounts bordered on creepy. There really should have been more details (especially considering the size of the book) to allow the reader to envision the scary situations the team from TAPS encountered.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Friday, January 6, 2012

review: matched by ally condie

From the very first page of Matched, Ally Condie had me hooked. Matched is set in a world where the freedom to choose one’s mate no longer exists; instead the Society selects who will marry (some are to remain single) and makes an announcement at the Match Banquet, which is where Cassia finds out she’ll marry her longtime friend Xander. This is highly unusual as people are typically matched with strangers, but then Cassia finds out there’s nothing the slightest bit typical about her match. She soon starts questioning everything she’s ever been taught about the Society.

Although much about how the Society works and how it came to be is left unexplained, that actually works in the book’s favor as it aligns the reader with the characters who also don’t know the whys. When the mystery of the red pill is revealed, it makes sense that so many would blindly accept the rules established for this dystopia. Furthermore, given how real life cults gain total control of members, it is not hard to imagine how people could go along with something like what Condie writes of in Matched. The world of Matched is one I wouldn’t want to live in, but am intrigued by especially since Cassia and Ky (Cassia’s crush who is an Aberration and cannot marry) are compelling characters. I cannot wait to pick up Crossed to continue the story.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Dutton.

giveaway winner: head over heels

Monique has won Head Over Heels!