Thursday, September 27, 2012

review: the secret life of marilyn monroe by j. randy taraborrelli

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As author J. Randy Taraborrelli points out, it is difficult to separate the facts about Marilyn Monroe’s life and death from the fiction, but he presents it all in a way that allows readers to form their own opinions.  Taraborrelli covers Monroe’s early life, including how she came to live with a foster mother who “didn’t really take to children,” her rise to fame, the relationships she had (family, friends, and romantic partners), and the events leading up to her untimely death.  He relies on a number of sources to provide as much accuracy as seems possible when discussing a woman who often invented her own background.  Although the biography spans over 500 pages when the appendices and notes are included, the writing is always engrossing.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Grand Central Publishing.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

review: envy by gregg olsen

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Best-selling true crime author Gregg Olsen’s first foray into young adult novels falls a little flat.  Envy is about twin girls (and their acquaintances) who are dealing with the death of a classmate.  The twins, Hayley and Taylor, have a feeling Katelyn didn’t kill herself as everyone believes.  They use their special powers and a bit of sleuthing to find the truth. 

My first criticism of Envy is the constant creation of false suspense by withholding information.  The characters continually find out an important piece of information, but the reader is left in the dark.  Olsen also feels the need to describe every little thing in great detail.  Although I live near Envy’s setting of Port Gamble, WA, I didn’t care to know that the characters go to the mall in Silverdale and buy groceries at Central Market in Poulsbo.  With sentences like “As a blast of icy air blew in from her open bedroom window, the silver razor blade next to the half-empty bottle of Tea Tree shampoo glinted, beckoning her,” and “There wasn’t enough Smashbox on earth to cover the splotches that came with her tears,” appearing on the first page, I wondered if I was reading a book with a lot of forced product placement.  And one last thing:  Do kids really text with crazy spellings the way they do in Envy?  It was almost like reading another language I only slightly understood.
Review copy provided by Book It Northwest.

Friday, September 14, 2012

review: miss me when i'm gone by emily arsenault

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Jamie and Gretchen were best friends in college, but the two grew apart as they each married and embarked upon writing careers.  Jamie became a journalist while Gretchen wrote a book called Tammyland, which got called “a honky-tonk Eat, Pray, Love.”  After the success of her first book, Gretchen began writing another which was initially pitched as being about male country singers since the first was about women.  When Gretchen dies in what may not have been an accident, Jamie is named her “literary executor” and finds there was much about her friend that she didn’t know.  Gretchen’s new manuscript may have started with a focus on male country singers, but wound up on a different path as she uncovered secrets about the death of her biological mother and her own paternity.  

The problem with a deceased main character is that he or she can be hard to get to know; Emily Arsenault solves that problem by splitting the narrative in three ways: Jamie’s perspective, excerpts from Tammyland, and Gretchen’s research and writing for the second book.  I particularly loved the Tammyland excerpts (I want to buy the book and I don’t even like country!).  If you’re not a country music fan, don’t let the premise of Miss Me When I’m Gone stop you from reading an incredible book about friendship and the secrets families keep. 
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

author interview: allison leotta

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Allison Leotta, the author of two excellent books about Assistant US Attorney Anna Curtis, stopped by to answer some questions about her writing!

You spent 12 years as a federal prosecutor.  How did your experiences shape your two novels, Law of Attraction and Discretion?

I specialized in prosecuting sex crimes and domestic violence. Every day was fascinating. I was immersed in the extremes of human behavior: incredible evil and heartbreaking tragedies, but also great courage, love and heroism, and moments of pure absurdity. My colleagues and I would often say, “Someone needs to put this in a book.”

When I got pregnant, a weird sort of biological clock went off. I realized that if I was ever going to write that novel, I had to do it now. So I started writing every morning for a couple of hours before work. I wove those fascinating real-life details into the plot of my first book, “Law of Attraction.”

My latest book, “Discretion,” is about a sex scandal and murder investigation following the death of a high-priced escort in a congressman’s Capitol hideaway.  I was fascinated by several real-life escort cases, including the “DC Madam” and New York’s “Millionaire Madam.”  I tried to include the most interesting details from those cases in “Discretion.”

Because of your job, the Department of Justice had to review your first book for security breaches.  What was that experience like?

DOJ ethics attorneys did have to vet “Law of Attraction” to make sure I wasn’t divulging state secrets or violating rules of professional responsibility. I was worried about the process. What if they wouldn’t let me publish it? But the reviewers were very nice. Their main concern was to make sure that nothing in the book violated DOJ ethics rules or compromised national security. Thankfully, sex crimes and domestic violence generally don’t affect national security.  The clearance process took about four months.

The worst part was knowing my bosses had read my sex scenes.  It made for some awkward elevator rides at the U.S. Attorney’s Office!

You have a blog called The Prime-Time Crime Review where you point out the things TV shows get right and wrong about crime.  What’s the most common mistake that drives you crazy?

I’ve been delighted by the response to my blog. Folks love hearing what’s real and what’s not – it’s been far more rewarding for me than throwing slippers at the TV!

A few of my pet peeves: Rapists rarely lurk in bushes. You’re far more likely to be killed or raped by someone you know than by a stranger. Cops hardly ever get usable fingerprints from guns. Human DNA does not coat the earth’s surface. And most crime victims are not beautiful young heiresses who secretly work as strippers.

What book (your own or someone else’s) has had the most impact on your life?

I’ve always been a voracious reader, but writing my own book has definitely had the most impact on my life.  I have a completely different life now – the life of a novelist.  I now sit at my kitchen table all day making up imaginary bad guys instead of going into an office and putting the real ones in jail.

Writing novels has also made me a better reader.  I have a new appreciation for the skill it takes for an author to create her world, now that I’ve grappled with the same challenges myself.

Some of my favorite recent reads include: “Defending Jacob,” by William Landay; “The Post-Birthday World,” by Lionel Shriver; and “The Cloud Atlas,” by David Mitchell.

What’s up next for you?  Will there be another Anna Curtis book?

Funny you should ask, I just turned in the manuscript for my next book last Friday!  It’s another Anna Curtis book, and this time she’s dealing with a brutal gang called MS-13 and the mystery surrounding a colleague’s death.  I’m really excited about the story.

review: discretion by allison leotta

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After a stunning debut, Allison Leotta again amazes with Discretion, which was partly inspired by real life cases of high-end escort services.  In Discretion, Assistant US Attorney Anna Curtis ends up working alongside her boyfriend and fellow prosecutor on a case involving an escort who fell to her death from the balcony of a congressman.  The fact that a member of Congress was involved not only raises the profile of the murder, but also causes all sorts of investigative problems.  A former prosecutor herself, Leotta uses her knowledge of the law to craft how Congressman Lionel hinders the investigation by invoking a law intended to protect Congress from the executive branch.  In addition to the tightly woven murder mystery, there's also a bit of romantic conflict involving Anna and her boyfriend, who worries about Anna's safety while working on the case.  Although I liked Anna before, I really loved her when she followed her own mind rather than go along with what Jack wanted.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.