Monday, December 30, 2013

review: skinny bitch in love by kim barnouin

With only a brief rebellion into meat-eating, Clementine Cooper has always been a vegan. After leaving her family’s farm, Clem pursued her dream of becoming a vegan chef. Things are going well until a jealous coworker sabotages one of her dishes for an influential food critic. Clem is immediately fired which leaves her with no way to pay her portion of the rent on an apartment she shares with a struggling actress. To add insult, Zach Jeffries makes plans to open a steakhouse in the space across from Clem’s apartment—the space she wanted for the café she hopes to own one day. As Clem works on her plan for Skinny Bitch, which includes cooking classes and selling vegan baked goods to bakeries and coffee shops, Zach consults with her on vegan dishes for his new restaurant and the two are pulled together romantically despite their different diets.

With the word vegan constantly appearing in Skinny Bitch in Love, I almost stopped reading. Like, I get it, she’s a vegan, I don’t need to be reminded every other word. I kept going because Kim Barnouin is a talented writer. After a while, the constant vegan reminders stopped and Clem admitted that she’s a “preachy vegan” (well, at least she knows!), so I was able to fully enjoy the novel which contains an amusing plot and a diverse group of characters.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

review: running with monsters by bob forrest

I picked up Running with Monsters after reading Last Night in the Viper Room which mentions Bob Forrest. Although Forrest maintains a bravado throughout the memoir that his band(s) was better than others that "made it" like Alice in Chains, I wasn't familiar with his music or his appearances on Celebrity Rehab; despite that, the memoir did make for an interesting read, especially considering his connections to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the night River Phoenix died. Running with Monsters was a very focused memoir--if it didn't relate to the addiction narrative, it wasn't discussed. Even so, it was hard to see the trajectory from kid experimenting with drugs and alcohol to a heroin-addicted man. Forrest indicates he tried heroin simply because it seemed cool to do what some rock stars do. He glosses over events that likely played a role in his escalating drug use (a few years after his father's death, his mother moves away without him--a high school student). The memoir seemed honest though with Forrest admitting to his failings as a father, liaisons with underage girls, multiple failed rehab attempts, and violating the rules of his employer (a rehab facility) to date his now-wife.
4/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Friday, December 27, 2013

review: practice to deceive by ann rule

The Christmastime 2003 murder of Russel Douglas captured national attention, but was headline-making in the Puget Sound region (where I live) where Douglas’s body was found. What attracted so much attention, as documented by Ann Rule in Practice to Deceive, was how long it took for anyone to be convicted of murder despite immediate suspicion falling on Douglas’s estranged wife who has never been charged with any crime related to his death. With questions still remaining and the October 2013 publication of Practice to Deceive coming shortly after the February 2013 plea bargain of one of the defendants, much of this true crime novel delves into the backstory of that defendant, Peggy Sue (Stackhouse) Thomas, a thrice-married former beauty queen. Rule goes so far into the past with the 1963 murder of Mary Ellen Stackhouse, the first wife of Peggy Sue’s father, that I actually forgot for a while that the book was supposed to be about Russel Douglas. Although the victim, Douglas becomes almost an afterthought to the sensational story of the wealthy woman who helped orchestrate his murder.

About the audiobook: It was distracting that Anne Twomey sometimes referred to Russel Douglas’s vehicle as a Geo Tracker or a G-E-O Tracker (at one point it’s also said to be a Chevy Tracker, but that mistake would fall to Ann Rule). Overall though, Twomey was an excellent reader who correctly pronounced the names of Pacific Northwest cities (not all readers do). Simon & Schuster Audio published Ann Rule’s Practice to Deceive in October 2013. It runs nine hours.
4/5
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

review: cartwheel by jennifer dubois

Not long after Lily goes on her study abroad adventure in Buenos Aires, she meets the eccentric neighbor of her host family. Sebastien is the graduate of an American prep school who was set for the Ivy League when his parents were killed. Lily and Sebastien quickly form a relationship, but then the other study abroad student staying at the Carrizo home is murdered. With Lily being the one to find Katy, she is the prime suspect. As Cartwheel unfolds in a nonlinear fashion, Jennifer DuBois explains how the Buenos Aires police find it so easy to believe one American college student killed another.

Those familiar with the murder of Meredith Kercher in Italy will find they already know the plot of Cartwheel. Initially the similarity between Cartwheel and the Amanda Knox case (which the author acknowledges the book is based on) was an unwelcome distraction. Cartwheel opens with Lily’s father and sister going to Buenos Aires after she’s been arrested and all that DuBois makes known of Lily in those first pages is ripped directly from Knox’s life. Once Cartwheel goes back to explore the life Lily led in the days prior to Katy’s murder, she becomes less Amanda Knox and more Lily Hayes. While keeping a large number of parallels to the people involved in the Italian case, DuBois does develop the characters enough that they take on their own shape. What was truly most interesting was to see how Lily was viewed by others versus her own intentions. It was eye-opening to see how people form such different outlooks due to their own experiences and biases.
4/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

review: love in the time of cholera by gabriel garcía márquez

Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera follows the lives of Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, who once fell in love, but went separate ways. After nearly sixty years, they are able to be reunited when Fermina’s husband dies.

Love in the Time of Cholera was a long time to spend with characters I didn’t particularly like. There were some enjoyable moments such as when Florentino writes love letters for both the male and the female in the relationship. The bit with the bird delivering messages was also amusing. But overall, I just couldn’t take Florentino’s womanizing (622 affairs, seriously?) and apparent pedophilia (I cannot excuse his escapades with a girl in his guardianship as being “of the time”). His “love affairs” became quite monotonous was the novel wore on.

About the audiobook: Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera is narrated by Armando Durán, who unfortunately reads with little emotion. It always felt like Durán was telling a relatively mundane story rather than painting a dramatic picture of the scenes. Love in the Time of Cholera runs nearly 16 hours and was published by Blackstone Audio in 2013.
2/5
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Friday, December 13, 2013

review: the soldier's wife by margaret leroy

The Soldier’s Wife opens during the summer of 1940 on an isolated island. Vivienne’s husband is in England with the army, so she, her daughters, and mother-in-law are vulnerable to the pending occupation. When Vivienne makes a last minute decision to stay in Guernsey, she forever changes the outcome of all of their lives.

Although there were times when I wanted to throttle Vivienne for her actions, I appreciated that Margaret Leroy presented the German soldiers and the citizens of Guernsey with shades of gray. Rather than have the soldiers as absolute evil and others as absolute good, the characters were realistically human with mistakes made along with acts of kindness. The details of their lives and how the soldiers and citizens coexisted were all very vivid and interesting.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Hyperion Voice.

giveaway winner: candlewick debut authors

Congratulations Patricia! She's the winner of the Candlewick debut author giveaway.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

review: last night at the viper room by gavin edwards

Last Night at the Viper Room is the story of the short life of River Phoenix who died at Johnny Depp’s nightclub when he was just 23. Gavin Edwards relies heavily on previously published information and a few interviews with people who knew River. Although the information is not entirely new, the timeline of River’s life is laid out in such a way that his trajectory of fame and spiral into drugs becomes understandable. Distractingly though, Edwards also feels the need to place River’s life in the context of what else was going on with young Hollywood at the time. There are frequent references to Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, the Butthole Surfers, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers amongst others. While it makes sense to include the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who River was friends with (although Edwards annoyingly only refers to the person who gave River the drugs that caused his death as “the rock guitarist”), the others have little reason to be written about in a biography of River Phoenix’s life.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, It Books.

Monday, November 25, 2013

review: morning glory by sarah jio

Set in the Lake Union houseboat community, Sarah Jio's Morning Glory tells the story of two women who each lived on the same houseboat decades apart. After a tragic accident took the lives of Ada’s husband and young daughter, she leaves New York and rents the houseboat from which Penny mysteriously disappeared. While grieving, Ada gets to know her neighbors who seem to know more about Penny than they let on with some of them referencing "a pact." Although Ada's left her journalism job, she becomes wrapped up in solving the mystery of Penny whose trunk she finds in the houseboat. With the help of an attractive war photojournalist turned food photographer, Ada discovers the secrets of Boat Street in Jio’s gripping novel.

Although Jio is native to the Puget Sound region, hands-on research went into the writing of Morning Glory. Jio makes Boat Street come alive through the incorporation of her own experiences staying on a rented houseboat as she wrote Morning Glory. In an interview with Book Bliss during BookExpo America, Jio said the time on the houseboat "informed the writing of the book" and it shows in her vivid descriptions. She writes beautifully of a loft bedroom with a porthole (through which access to the home can be gained--an important detail for the plot) which mimics that of the houseboat she used as an office. And Gracie, the young daughter of Ada’s love interest, is made to wear a life jacket while on the houseboat just as Jio posted on her blog that she made her three sons do. As always, Jio expertly blends mystery and romance with a bit of history to create a compelling story.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Plume.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

review: lighthouse bay by kimberley freeman

After the death of her married lover, Libby quits her job and leaves Paris for the Australian hometown she hasn’t seen in 20 years. A tragedy had caused her to leave and created bad blood between Libby and her sister; so much so that Libby didn’t even return for their father’s funeral. Despite Libby’s hopes of reconciliation, a decision she faces could forever sever the relationship.

Although Libby is the stronger protagonist, her story is a little boring as the crux of the novel takes place in 1901 where the sole survivor of a shipwreck has come ashore in Australia with a valuable bejeweled mace. The mystery of what happened to the mace ties the two stories together. With the mace being so central to the plot, it initially seemed the story would be less than stellar as Isabella wants nothing to do with the mace because she knows the family of her deceased husband will stop at nothing to find it. Once Isabella reclaims the mace, Lighthouse Bay really picks up to become a fascinating tale.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Friday, November 22, 2013

giveaway: debut novels from candlewick

I've got a very awesome giveaway thanks to Candlewick, the publisher of many fabulous young adult and middle grade titles! One resident of the US or Canada will win galley copies of the following debut novels: Caminar by Skila Brown; The Chance You Won't Return by Annie Cardi; Breakfast Served Anytime by Sarah Combs; There Will Be Bears by Ryan Gebhart; and The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton.  Be sure to check out the Candlewick Pinterest page for more on these five titles.

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 December 7. Winner will be selected at random.  Open to residents of the US or Canada.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

review: sweet nothings by janis thomas

Ruby admits she wasn’t head over heels for her husband, but she thought they had a nice life with their two teenagers. After almost two decades together though, Walter wants something more with his coworker, Cheryl. Right after telling Ruby of his decision (and posting it on Facebook for all their friends to know), Walter quits his job and sets off on a yacht with Cheryl. Once he’s out of the country, Ruby learns that not only is her bakery having financial trouble, Walter wasn’t paying their home mortgage. Ruby’s doubly devastated, but her friends rally so that soon she’s taking charge.

From the main characters to the minor ones, everyone in Sweet Nothings was painted realistically. At one point there was a positive development in Ruby’s life that seemed a little unlikely, but then it was explained that she was a substitute and it all went pretty disastrously which created some believability. The incorporation of Ruby’s stressipes (recipes she comes up with while under stress) and her characterizations of people as food were nice touches to the fairly humorous novel.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, FSB Associates.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

review: where monsters dwell by jørgen brekke

Where Monsters Dwell began strongly with two murders in two countries occurring within a month of each other. The murders are obviously tied together, but with one being in Richmond, VA and the other in Trondheim, Norway, it took a good long while for the investigators to realize it. While that added to the suspense, Where Monsters Dwell was also unfortunately very convoluted with the two different narratives combined with a lot of backstory that added little to the plot. Although the prized, yet supposedly cursed sixteenth century book that seemed to be at the center of the murders was intriguing, the revelations at the end of the novel proved disappointing.
3/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

review: a charlie brown christmas: the making of a tradition by lee mendelson

A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition is a splendid look at the holiday special that still airs nearly 50 years later. The book details how the special came to be when Lee Mendelson, who had a production company, called Charles Schulz to discuss making a documentary about the life of the Peanuts creator. That collaboration combined with some publicity about Peanuts led to the McCann Erickson Agency and Coca-Cola wanting to make a Christmas special; however, they wanted it in a matter of days. The speed at which they put together A Charlie Brown Christmas makes for an amazing story. In addition to that story, the book includes interviews with key people involved in the special and gives many behind the scenes details such as the difficulty in animating flat characters. The book concludes with a gorgeous illustrated script originally created after the initial airing of the special which was before the days of VCRs.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, It Books.

Friday, November 1, 2013

review: the runaway wife by rowan coleman

After a particularly bad night, Rose flees her husband taking only their daughter and a small bundle. Although she can access the money she’s secreted away, Rose has no place to go. Years ago she’d met a man who was looking for the father who abandoned Rose when she was a child; that man inexplicably gave her hope for the future. In seeking him out, Rose and her daughter end up in a small town where they find an unexpected community—a community that includes Rose’s father.

The Runaway Wife (previously published as Dearest Rose) was an incredibly touching story with lively characters. Rose’s life has been a mess since her father left and she’s made plenty of mistakes on her own, but she’s determined to do better for her daughter. Even though Rose’s identity is far too much about who she is with men throughout much of the novel, she begins to find her true self which was refreshing. Rose’s daughter was particularly amazing; it was wonderful how Maddie (Rose’s daughter) brought out the best of John (Rose’s father) so they could become a family.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

review: take me, cowboy by jane porter

On her wedding day, Jenny gets dumped. Charles initially asks if she’s a gold digger, but when that doesn’t work, he insults her family which includes an alcoholic father. Jenny’s strong though. And furthermore, her one-time crush, Colton, arrives back in town moments after she walks away from Charles.

Jane Porter’s Take Me, Cowboy is a little crazy, but in a good drama-filled way. The romance develops with both speed and hesitation as Colton fears Jenny is on the rebound, but they’re also intensely attracted to each other. Take Me, Cowboy also incorporates a number of characters from the previous Copper Mountain novellas though they only play minor roles.
5/5
Review copy provided by BookSparksPR.

review: tiara trouble by lane buckman

The first book in the Destinee Faith Miller series finds the former beauty pageant contest at the center of a pageant murder mystery. No one was too suspicious about the death of the local emcee, who’d been Destinee’s mentor, but then others involved in the pageant died as well. However, Destinee and many of the competing girls’ mothers are determined the show will go on.

Although Lane Buckman’s novel provided an interesting look at the pageant world, Tiara Trouble had a number of issues. Tiara Trouble consists almost entirely of exposition and little dialogue. Page after page passed without anyone speaking as it was all Destinee narrating what happened. It got to the point that I wanted to scream, “Show, don’t tell!” And the sentences went on for days. Here are two examples to demonstrate:

“I didn’t stay the whole night because my mother would have me up a tree if she thought I was out catting around like that. I may be twenty-five years old, with a thriving business and a place of my own, but I’m still my mother’s daughter and she would skin me alive if she thought I was devaluing myself like that.”

“She reminded me that all work and no play make for glassy, dull eyes that not even her lashes can pop, and pretty soon we were hunkered down in a corner booth at the El Vaquero, with margaritas as big as your head.”

Not only are the sentences here quite long, but the scenes could’ve easily been written as interaction between Destinee and the other party rather than narration. Tiara Trouble was also very formulaic right down to the scene where the killer tells Destinee everything.
2/5
Review copy provided by Chick Lit Plus.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

review: homecoming ranch by julia london

After the death of the father she never knew, Madeline discovers that she and two sisters she didn’t know about have inherited a ranch. Madeline leaves Florida for what she believes will be a short trip to Colorado to handle issues with the estate. Nothing goes according to plan though. She and her sisters don’t exactly bond and there are complications regarding the ranch. One of those complications is the very attractive Luke who once lived at the ranch. Luke’s father sold the ranch to Madeline’s father when the medical bills for Luke’s brother became too much to handle. Now Luke wants the ranch back, but the two older men never put in writing that the Kendrick family could buy it for the sale price. As a result, Luke is constantly hanging around the ranch which puts Madeline in his line of sight.

While Homecoming Ranch is a highly predictable romance, it was dismaying how much Madeline had to give up for that romance. It can somewhat be justified though as Madeline’s life in Florida wasn’t that fantastic. Luke’s motives for being with Madeline also seemed suspect as he was initially so determined to get back the ranch. Also, the constant shifting of narrators and the fact that one was first-person was off-putting, particularly since the first-person chapters of Luke’s brother Leo contributed little to the story.
3/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Friday, October 25, 2013

review: but you like really dated?! by ryan casey

Man, Hollywood is an incestuous group! Ryan Casey’s illustrated But You Like Really Dated?! documents the many hookups of celebrities like Warren Beatty (“close to 12,775 women”), Drew Barrymore, and George Clooney. The number of men who have dated both Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan was pretty astounding and Casey poked fun at them all. Talk of the Town, which contains the hot gossip, was my favorite, but the blind items are making me a little crazy! I could only figure out the Leighton Meester one, but that’s what Google is for. You likely already know the contents of But You Like Really Dated?! if you follow the gossip columns, but it’s fun (and staggering) to see it all collected in Casey’s hilarious and beautifully illustrated book.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, It Books.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

review: true hollywood noir by dina dimambro

In True Hollywood Noir, Dina DiMambro explores a number of, as the subtitle says, filmland mysteries and murders. Most of the cases were ones I was already familiar with such as Natalie Wood’s death and Robert Blake’s murder trial, but some I knew nothing about. Even though I’m a fan of Dark Shadows, I had no idea of the scandal that essentially forced Joan Bennett into television; it’s a story that’s detailed here. Some cases rely solely on previously reported information while DiMambro conducts her own interviews for others such as the chapter about Lana Turner. All of the cases selected are intriguing as suspicions remain about what the “true story” really is. I found it particularly interesting that the studio system played a big role in covering up facts in some of the early cases. Although True Hollywood Noir is compelling, the writing is not always eloquent. For example here’s a sentence from the chapter on Bob Crane, “The case was re-investigated just as though the homicide had just occurred.” The use of “just” twice in one sentence is distracting (and is a word that adds little value); plus, there are more than few run-on sentences.
4/5
Review copy provided by The Cadence Group.

Monday, October 21, 2013

review: not without you by harriet evans

Sophie is the typecast star of a number of romantic comedies. Although she's made a name for herself along with large sums of money, Sophie wants to do more with her career. She'd really like to make a movie about the life of her favorite actress, Eve Noel, who disappeared from the spotlight decades ago. Little is known about Eve, but Sophie feels compelled to find out about her life. Sophie even lives in Eve's old house. But Sophie is sidetracked from her Eve project when someone (who scarily has accessed her house despite the guards) starts harassing her. As a result, Sophie takes on a movie shooting in England which just happens to lead her to both Eve Noel and the discovery of her stalker.

The parallels between Sophie and Eve and how the two eventually came together made for an incredible read. I enjoyed both stories equally and like Sophie wanted to know more about Eve's life. Despite both woman being starlets, they were highly relatable in their struggles with both career and love.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

review: the lake house by marci nault

When travel writer Heather Bregman buys a home in Nagog, she causes quite a stir. The long-time residents fear a young newcomer will disrupt their lives. But the disruption she causes is not nearly as must as the one Victoria Rose's return creates. Victoria grew up in Nagog and was headed toward marriage with a Nagog boy when Hollywood called her name. Many of the Nagog residents resent her and are as mean to their old friend as they are to Heather which causes the two women to bond despite their age difference.

With two narrators and a number of flashbacks, The Lake House was a bit uneven. The story likely would've held my attention more if it'd been from just one perspective. It was also difficult to understand the hatred and resentment held by many of the residents; they simply seemed like wretched people. The main characters of Heather and Victoria were compelling enough to hold my interest though.
4/5
Review copy provided by Kelley & Hall Book Publicity.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

review: promise me, cowboy by c.j. carmichael

Sage and Dawson had a hot romance until his seven months pregnant estranged wife burst in on them with a shotgun. Sage never saw him again. Now after five years have passed, Dawson wants to make things right. He tracks Sage down at the chocolate shop she owns and operates, but she's none too pleased to see him. It'll take a lot of explanation and the cuteness of Dawson's daughter to win Sage back in C.J. Carmichael's excellent family drama, Promise Me, Cowboy. Carmichael made good use here of the backstory she created for Sage to explain Sage's reluctance to accept Dawson's apology. And despite Promise Me, Cowboy being a short novella, the characters are fully realized.
5/5
Review copy provided by BookSparksPR.

Monday, October 14, 2013

review: mirror, mirror off the wall by kjerstin gruys

As a graduate student in UCLA's sociology department, Kjerstin Gruys was well-versed in body issues especially since she struggled with an eating disorder herself. When Gruys began shopping for a wedding dress, it triggered something that caused her to embark upon living for a year without mirrors. She began blogging about the experience and eventually turned it into a book. Gruys's experiences in her year without mirrors made for an interesting read. I was pleasantly surprised that she discovered few noticed the difference in her pared down makeup routine (which makes me rethink my own bathroom counter), but the book really doesn't go beyond her experiences. Although the note at the beginning states this is not self-help, I expected a Ph.D. candidate to have some concluding statements. Instead Mirror, Mirror Off the Wall ends with Gruys noting how lovely she looks as she sees herself in a mirror for the first time in a year.
4/5
Review copy from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

review: the wisdom of hair by kim boykin

Set in the 1980s, The Wisdom of Hair follows Zora Adams as she leaves her alcoholic mother to attend beauty school. Although she has no money, one of Zora's high school teachers arranges for her to live in a garage apartment in exchange for making meals for the handsome widower who owns the property. The story is a slice-of-life look at the friendships a young woman makes and the struggles she has as she severs ties with the family she once had and the one she now creates. Every second spent with Zora was a pleasure. Zora's story of triumph was amazing.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Berkley.

Friday, October 11, 2013

review: justice for sara by erica spindler

When Kat McCall found her sister/guardian brutally beaten to death, she was the primary suspect. Although everyone in their small town was confident of her guilt, Kat's trial was moved and the "liberals" there acquitted her. Kat fled to the northwest, but someone continued to torment her with letters demanding justice for Sara. After 10 years, one of those letters taunted her into returning to her hometown where Kat finds she's still hated. Kat's determination to finally find her sister's murderer puts her life in danger, but also leads her to an unexpected love.

Justice for Sara is powerfully written with strong characters who were so easy to visualize in all their situations. The many twists and red herrings kept me guessing as to who really killed Sara while the intensity of the plot was maintained throughout. I loved how Erica Spindler used flashbacks to allow the reader to discover the truth when so many in Liberty, LA had so much to hide.

About the audiobook: Tavia Gilbert was an excellent narrator. Her use of different voices really made Justice for Sara come alive. It was like listening to a radio drama despite being read by only one person. I was tempted to sit in the parking lot so I could listen to more. Justice for Sara by Erica Spindler was published by Macmillan Audio in 2013. It runs 10 hours.
5/5
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

review: you know what you have to do by bonnie shimko

You Know What You Have to Do was a twisted surprise. High school student Mary-Madgalene (called Mary by adults other than her mother and Maggie by her peers) has grown up as a social outcast living in a funeral home owned by her stepfather. Although her biological dad was gone before she was born, everyone in their small town knows exactly who he is as he’s in prison for killing his mother. Maggie believes his genes are responsible for the horrible secret she’s keeping—a voice in her head tells her to kill and she acts on it. Although she’s been sent to a therapist for her nightmares, Maggie is determined not to reveal anything.

A 15 year old girl who loves her dog is not who you expect as a serial killer—especially as one who brilliantly gets away with it. The premise was incredible and strong, but other elements made the plot weak. There were inexplicable jumps in the timeline despite the story taking place in one academic year. Furthermore, issues like abusive parents and date rape were introduced without going anywhere.
3/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Amazon Children’s Publishing.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

review: playing dirty by jennifer echols

Playing Dirty takes place about two years after the first book in the Stargazer series from Jennifer Echols. The focus this time is on Sarah who has just gotten a makeover after splitting with her husband. After bad boy Nine Lives went to jail on Sarah’s watch, she’s got one chance to save her career by working with a country band led by the very sexy Quentin who is reportedly a coke addict about to break up the band because his on/off girlfriend and bandmate has taken up with another member of the band. But Sarah soon learns that not everything is as it seems with this band. To start, Erin only pretends to get drunk, Martin never removes his shirt during strip poker, and she catches the supposedly uneducated Quentin and Owen watching Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment on DVD. Sarah is determined to not only figure out what’s going on with this band, but get them to finish the album for the record label. The band, on the other hand, is determined to keep Sarah out; and Quentin isn’t above seducing Sarah to keep her distracted.

Every member of the band has a secret which is revealed by the end and those secrets kept me reading so that I finished Playing Dirty in just over a day. I loved the band (I kept picturing them as sexy characters on the show Nashville) and Sarah. Although Sarah’s been hurt and is definitely vulnerable, she was almost always in control. And the über-intelligent Quentin is pretty much the sexiest man ever. With excellent characters and a compelling plot, Playing Dirty is one of the best romances around.

As a side note, Stargazer is not a company I’d ever want to work for as apparently your job is always in danger. Sarah went through quite an ordeal with Nine Lives (which is slowly revealed through Playing Dirty so I won’t spoil it), but she receives the threat of being fired rather than praise. In the first novel, Wendy was also in danger of being fired. Sounds like a terrible company!
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket Books.

Monday, September 30, 2013

review: betrayal by gregg olsen

When a foreign exchange student is murdered at a high school Halloween party, both the killer and the motive are unclear. Many in the town find the behavior of the girl who hosted the party and her boyfriend to be suspect. Although Brianna claims to have been friends with Olivia, she's more concerned with not being able to get clothes from her bedroom which is the crime scene. During questioning at the police station, she tweets and later does some yoga poses. That's when I realized Gregg Olsen was using Amanda Knox as his inspiration which seemed in poor taste, especially since Brianna was a horribly spoiled brat with absentee parents. Furthermore, there are lingering questions regarding Meredith Kercher's death. Although Envy was based on a true crime as well, cyberbullying is unfortunately common enough not to spark an immediate connection. Betrayal used far too many of the specific details from Kercher's murder. At one point Olivia's father even made an incredibly distasteful comment that Olivia would've been safer in Perugia.

As with the first book in the Empty Coffin series, Betrayal smacks of trying too hard. Trying too hard to make a social commentary. Trying to hard to be "teenage." And oh, the adjectives. Why must there be so many adjectives? Everything was described, but the description bogged down the story rather than bring the scenes to life.
1/5
Review copy provided by Book It Northwest.

Friday, September 27, 2013

review: another little piece by kate karyus quinn

Almost one year ago Annaliese disappeared during a high school party, but then she’s found far from her New York home in Oklahoma. She has no memory of her life, but is quite certain she’s not the real Annaliese although DNA shows otherwise. As Annaliese’s parents (who she refers to as “the mom and the dad”) try to transition her back into their family, she begins having memories of a past that cannot possibly be hers.

With Annaliese’s “memories” coming in fragments, Another Little Piece is initially quite confusing. It takes more than half the book for the plot to come together as pertinent information is withheld for a long time. Although it’s slow to unfold, it does so for the reader at the same time it does for Annaliese. That combined with the poems written by Annaliese that start each section create sympathy for her which is necessary once the truth is revealed. The poems were particularly important as they provided glimpses into the real Annaliese. The end, which was a surprise, made the earlier confusion worth it. This is definitely one that deserves a re-read in order to put all the pieces together.
4/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

review: marry me, cowboy by lilian darcy

The second novella in the Copper Mountain series features the new characters of Chet, Tegan, and Jamie. Chet and Tegan are set for a green card wedding when Chet suddenly announces he can’t marry Tegan. As Tegan faces returning to Australia and her estranged family, Chet’s secret brings her and Chet’s best friend Jamie together. The romance between Tegan and Jamie develops easily through their shared love of the rodeo and distance from their respective families. The characters in this cute and touching story had depth that made them instantly relatable. Lilian Darcy's Marry Me, Cowboy also introduces the characters who will be at the center of the third novella, C.J. Carmichael's Promise Me, Cowboy.
5/5
Review copy provided by BookSparksPR.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

review: tempt me, cowboy by megan crane

The first of four novellas set in Montana that are written by four popular romance authors, Tempt Me, Cowboy by Megan Crane features prim teacher Chelsea and the motorcycle-riding Texan Jasper. Jasper arrives in town after purchasing the historic depot that Chelsea’s mother wanted to make a museum. They are set up to hate each other so of course, Jasper convinces Chelsea to start dressing sexier and then the pair hook up much to the chagrin of all who know Chelsea. There’s little character or relationship development in Tempt Me, Cowboy which means Chelsea and Jasper go from adversaries to lovers in the blink of an eye. The story is cute and the bedroom scenes are well-written, but there’s nothing much beyond the romance.
3/5
Review copy provided by BookSparksPR.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

review: fireworks over toccoa by jeffrey stepakoff

Fireworks Over Toccoa starts in 2007, but quickly flashes back to Toccoa, GA during World War II when a wealthy young woman married to a man working for Coca-Cola overseas falls for a man who makes fireworks. The time Lily and Jake have together is brief, but it’s intense; however, it’s also an extramarital affair which is never really addressed. Throughout the romance, Jeffrey Stepakoff inserts little reminders—neighbors drive past, the phone goes unanswered—that Lily is doing something she shouldn’t. While that rightfully disrupts the enchanting tale, the conclusion allows Lily to live out her life in Toccoa without gossip from the townspeople.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press.

Monday, September 16, 2013

review: forever, interrupted by taylor jenkins reid

A whirlwind romance results from Elsie and Ben’s chance meeting at a pizza place on New Year’s. The pair marry only a few months later, but then tragedy strikes. Ben is killed only nine days after the wedding. For reasons that are explained as Forever, Interrupted unfolds, Ben never told his mother about Elsie. The elder Mrs. Ross is absolutely shocked when she meets a woman claiming to also be Mrs. Ross. The two embark on a contentious relationship that evolves as they deal with their grief.

Forever, Interrupted is a rollercoaster with Taylor Jenkins Reid telling the present-day sad story then having Elsie flashback to a happier time just as the tears were streaming. I loved every second of it; it’s a beautiful, but heartbreaking story. I completely got Elsie and I hope people like her and Ben really exist.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Washington Square Press.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

review: better than chocolate by sheila roberts

Samantha had known for a while that her stepfather was doing a terrible job managing the family chocolate business, so his sudden death brings her relief mixed with guilt over that relief. While Samantha and her two sisters try to support their grieving mother, Samantha also makes a terrible discovery—Waldo wasn’t paying any of the bills and the bank has called in the loan. With the help of her sisters, Samantha rallies their tourist town to hold a chocolate festival in hopes of saving the business that’s been in the family since Great-Grandma Rose dreamed up the first recipe.

Sheila Roberts nicely juxtaposes strong-willed Samantha with her mother, who has “no head for business” and always relies on a man (her daughters were not surprised when she married soon after their father’s death). As Better Than Chocolate progresses, both women change. Samantha finally gets out of her own head long enough to recognize the antagonistic and attractive bank manager is actually trying to work with her while Muriel walks away from the lecherous mayor who could solve their problems. Although the women are under a lot of stress, Better Than Chocolate is fairly light-hearted with lots of humorous moments. The first full-length Icicle Falls story (there’s an earlier novella that introduces some of the characters) shows how a family pulls together in times of struggle.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Harlequin.

Friday, September 13, 2013

review: loudmouth by craig carton

In Loudmouth, Craig Carton shares his story from childhood to how he got into radio and made an incredibly successful career in sports talk. A true sports fan with a love for the radio industry, Carton’s passion shines through in his selective memoir that also includes his thoughts on sports stars like Alex Rodriguez and Tiger Woods. He shares great tales from his formative years and early radio days. Of the shared anecdotes, my favorite was when Carton and his father went to visit colleges. On the way back, Carton bet his father that they couldn’t make it back in time for the NFL game on TV. Though he’d planned to stop, they drove all the way home in near silence and got to see the end of the game. His descriptions of his parents made them come alive, but he shies away from revealing much about his wife and children. Even if you aren’t a sports fan (I only like hockey), Loudmouth is hilarious.

About the audiobook: Craig Carton reading his own book adds to the awesomeness. With a great voice from his years in radio, he’s a pleasure to listen to. Furthermore, Carton knows exactly where to place the emphasis and dramatic pauses as he’s the one who experienced everything he wrote. Loudmouth was published by Simon & Schuster Audio in 2013. It runs 6 hours and 17 minutes.
5/5
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

review: nemesis by bill pronzini

When a recently wealthy woman hires investigator Jake Runyon, he has no idea what he’s in for. Verity Daniels not only starts calling Jake with some frequency, her story of a blackmailer is suspect. After telling Verity he doubts her story, she accuses him of rape and Jake and his partners must now work to clear his name.

Nemesis is the 42nd(!) in Bill Pronzini’s Nameless Detective series, but there were only a few references to events from previous books so that first-time readers won’t be lost while fans of the series can enjoy the continuity. The characters here are lively though Nameless himself has taken a backseat as he spends time with his wife (due to events in Hellbox). The Verity Daniels case was intriguing, but the resolution was lacking, especially since Verity’s motive was never made clear.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Forge.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

review: must love fangs by jessica sims

Fearing she has the same disease that killed her mother, Marie is determined to be turned by a supernatural creature. Normally this would be difficult for a human to accomplish, but Marie happens to work for Midnight Liaisons—a matchmaking company for the supernatural. There are a few problems with Marie’s plan though. She’s not supposed to use the database for herself and were-tigers are in an uproar over a human being turned without permission. With were-anything eliminated, Marie decides to go after vampires. But another hitch comes in when a mutual attraction develops between Marie and the were-cougar advising her on vampires.

The third book in Jessica Sims’s Midnight Liaisons series works well as a standalone as the primary focus is on Marie and Josh with characters from the previous two books playing minor roles. Although Marie is incredibly frustrating at times (she won’t tell anyone about her disease), it was great to have a headstrong heroine going after what she wants. Josh was pretty fantastic too as he protected Marie, but also allowed her some distance until she decided she wanted him.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket Books.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

review: scorched by laura griffin

The sixth novel in Laura Griffin’s Tracers series follows Delphi Center employee Kelsey Quinn and her former love Gage Brewer, a Navy SEAL. Almost immediately Kelsey’s life is in danger. After sharing her discovery of a dead American terrorist with her ex-fiancé who’s also an FBI agent, he’s murdered by another agent in front of her. Kelsey goes on the run and Gage is suspected in her disappearance and the murder. To clear his name and protect Kelsey, Gage tracks her down and the pair put together the pieces of the homegrown terrorist plot.

Although Kelsey and Gage’s relationship developed in previous books, Scorched works entirely as a standalone and is less connected to the Delphi Center than the others in the series, which may be why I didn’t enjoy it as much. I also didn’t like the sole female FBI agent in the book was portrayed as a bumbling airhead; thankfully she was a minor character. The story is a bit slow to unfold, but Scorched is still the nice blend of suspense and romance that the Tracers series is excellent at.
3/5
Review copy provided by the author.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

review: parallel by lauren miller

On the first day of senior year, Abby is faced with a choice: Drama Methods or Principles of Astronomy. She chooses Drama and winds up starring in a Hollywood film instead of going to Northwestern for Journalism as she planned. Or at least that’s what happens in one universe. In another universe, Abby takes Astronomy when all the Drama spots are filled up before she even gets to school. Abby was late because of an earthquake which turns out to be what causes the two worlds to collide. But here’s the thing: unlike everyone else, Abby remembers her parallel life—she’s the anomaly her Astronomy teacher’s been looking for. In the Astronomy world, Abby attends Yale where her high school best friend (a science whiz) is as well. The decision to go to Yale (which Abby doesn’t even remember making) turns out to be what causes the two lives of Abby to collide spectacularly during Thanksgiving break.

I expected the two parallel worlds, but Parallel became confusing because Lauren Miller created a third that had never really happened because one world was a year and a day behind the other, so things were constantly changing in the later world because of choices Abby made. It became difficult to keep track of what actually happened. For example, high school friends Tyler and Caitlin are dating when Abby first wakes up at Yale, but as the days go on and different choices are made in the high school world, the two never end up together which erases what had previously happened in the college world.

Despite confusion that didn’t clear up for me until I was about halfway through (about the same time Abby figured it out too), I enjoyed Parallel for its demonstration of how small choices affect your life later. The characters evoked emotional responses and were relatable though Abby and Caitlin displayed a little more cattiness than one would like to remember from their high school days. But Parallel was a little clichéd in that what really mattered to Abby in the end was which boy from her two worlds she would be with.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Harper Teen.

Friday, September 6, 2013

review: the hanging by lotte and soren hammer

After an early-arrival student finds the bodies of five men hanging in the school gym, the police are called in to investigate. The lead on the case is Konrad Simonsen, who is the center of a new series from brother and sister Lotte and Soren Hammer. As Simonsen and his team work to identify not only the killer but the mutilated victims, they realize they have two major clues—pizza was ordered in advance for a “party” and the victims are all pedophiles.

That sounds like a great premise, right? Unfortunately, The Hanging comes across as a very passive episode of Law & Order with atrocious dialogue. There was no action as everything took place off the page—even the discovery of the bodies is the boy telling his sister what he saw rather than him actually seeing it. The primary killers are revealed early on and without fanfare. In a graveside confession to his dead father, one of the men, who says he’s felt a “darkness” since childhood, reveals he felt the need to take action after being upset by a campaign at work though he admits it’s no worse than others. The true motivation for the killers is to rid Denmark of child abusers as the killers were victims themselves. (If they really wanted to protect children, the bodies shouldn’t have been left where children would be sure to discover them.) The Hanging is a lackluster, disjointed crime novel.

About the audiobook: Narrator Michael Page has read a number of audiobooks, but his narration is better than the character voices. Page uses different inflections to try to distinguish the characters, but his female and children voices were lacking as he just made his voice higher pitched and in the case of children, slightly whiny. The Hanging by Lotte and Soren Hammer was published by AudioGO in 2013. It runs 12 hours.
1/5 Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

review: lie still by julia heaberlin

Emily has never told anyone in her post-college life that she was raped, but there’s someone out there who doesn’t want her to forget. Her secrets have caused tension with her husband, but maybe things will change with their first child on the way and a move to a wealthy Texas town. Instead, the harassment escalates as Emily finds herself in the middle of her police chief husband’s investigation into the disappearance of a woman who wanted Emily in her secret-filled women’s club.

With nearly everyone having a secret that Caroline has discovered, there was an endless list of people who may have caused her disappearance; Lie Still kept me guessing at every turn. It’s a dark story with essentially two plots (Emily’s harassment and Caroline’s disappearance), but it’s cohesive and there are lighter moments when New Yorker Emily assesses her new Texas town and the residents.
5/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

review: close my eyes by sophie mckenzie

Gen Loxley’s world is rocked when a woman named Lucy O’Donnell comes forward to say Gen’s baby was not stillborn, but was stolen—and Gen’s husband was in on it. Gen doesn’t know what to believe and becomes suspicious that everyone important to her life—her husband, her best friend—has been lying to her for the last eight years. They insist she’s crazy, but Lucy’s “accidental” death prompts Gen to continue investigating. With the help of her husband’s former business associate, the charismatic Lorcan, Gen embarks on a dangerous quest to find her child.

Close My Eyes is heart-poundingly good. Actually good is too mild a descriptor for Sophie McKenzie’s incredible suspense novel that is hauntingly dark. McKenzie set up the layers very well. There were times when I wondered if Gen maybe wasn’t crazy. Maybe she was imagining everything and Lorcan was going along with it to get her into bed like so many insisted. With parallels to the story of King Arthur, McKenzie keeps the reader on edge with a fast pace and plenty of drama.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press.

Friday, August 30, 2013

review: brother, brother by clay carmichael

Billy “Brother” Grace knows little about his family. At age three, Brother’s mother left him with her mother saying she’d be back the next day, but she died in a car accident hours later. His mother never indicated who his father was and his maternal grandfather was said to have died in Vietnam. So it’s quite the shock when, after his grandmother dies, Brother finds a newspaper article with a picture of a teen who looks exactly like him. The revelation that he has a twin who is the son of a wealthy senator starts Brother on a journey to discover his past and future.

Brother’s personality really shines through in this book as he’s shown in a number of different situations. Clay Carmichael’s Brother, Brother is a touching story about the relationships we form and how the family you make can be more important than the biological one.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Roaring Brook.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

review: the wrong girl by hank phillippi ryan

Given the conflict of interest between their jobs, newspaper reporter Jane and detective Jake are still trying to figure out their relationship in the second book in Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Jane Ryland series. The pair is thrown together again when Jane’s boss sends her to cover a homicide that Jake’s investigating. Tragically, at the homicide scene two toddlers and an empty cradle are found. It turns out the children were in foster care which ties that plot into The Wrong Girl’s other one involving Jane’s former colleague trying to find her birth mother. Tuck asks for Jane’s help investigating the adoption agency because some of the information the woman they say is Tuck’s birth mother doesn’t jibe with what her adoptive mother told her.

The Wrong Girl involves a number of minor characters along with the familiar ones from the first book of the series, but it was never difficult to keep track of them as they were all well-written and different. Although the various plots initially seem separate, hints at what ties everything together are there from beginning. The plots come along nicely as the story blends tense situations with some comedic scenes (the bumbling cleanup crew, Afterwords) and touching moments (Jane with Phillip, one of the foster children). The Wrong Girl is excellent from start to finish.

My favorite minor development: Jane gets a cat!
5/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

review: the fairest of them all by carolyn turgeon

Carolyn Turgeon’s The Fairest of Them All brings together the fairy tales of Rapunzel and Snow White. Additionally, Turgeon seamlessly incorporates Greek mythology into this well-imagined story of perilous love. It all blends marvelously with Rapunzel becoming Snow White’s stepmother when King Josef finally has the opportunity to marry the one he loves after the untimely death of his wife. The marriage causes unrest in the kingdom as Snow White’s mother was beloved and Rapunzel is rumored to be a witch. As this is told from Rapunzel’s perspective, the “evil queen” is sympathetic which makes for a nice twist. It’s easy to imagine why Rapunzel would wish her stepdaughter dead despite the two having bonded initially. The retelling is masterfully done with the characters fully fleshed out. And although the primary works are familiar, The Fairest of Them All concludes in a way I never expected.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Friday, August 16, 2013

review: revenge wears prada by lauren weisberger

Picking up a decade after The Devil Wears Prada, Revenge Wears Prada explains what’s happened with Andy and Emily after Andy so stunningly quit Runway. Despite Andy’s dreams of working for The New Yorker, she discovered that the shrinking market for journalists means making compromises if you want to eat. So when Andy and Emily have a surprising reunion during a cooking class they both randomly signed up for, Andy is writing for an online wedding site. Emily, who Miranda ended up firing, initially has some snide remarks, but then admits she’s read Andy’s work and liked it. And that’s how the two end up launching a wedding magazine called The Plunge. The Plunge needs investors, of course, which brings in Max, who Andy marries at the beginning of the book. Lauren Weisberger details the ups and downs of Andy’s marriage and the struggle to run a magazine while caring for infant. Running the magazine becomes all the more stressful when Miranda Priestly reappears with an offer to buy The Plunge, but only if Andy and Emily agree to stay on for at least a year.

Weisberger created an incredibly realistic picture of how Andy’s life would turn out. Although one wants to imagine the heroine of the The Devil Wears Prada would be crazy successful, that’s just not today’s world for anyone with media aspirations. Andy maintained her go-getter attitude while revealing her many conflicting emotions. With Weisberger’s mostly spot-on details (I found it hard to believe when Emily slammed her phone shut in Chapter 18—Emily would totally have an iPhone), it was easy to imagine how the characters evolved over the years. And the setup of Miranda’s revenge was perfect.

About the audiobook: Megan Hilty!!! I want Hilty to narrate every audiobook from now on. Her reading was absolutely incredible—she read every thought and dialogue in such a way that I could visualize the characters who were thinking or saying them. I also never had any question as to who was speaking as Hilty gave each a distinctive voice. Revenge Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger was released in 2013 by Simon & Schuster Audio. It runs 13 hours.
5/5
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

review: a certain summer by patricia beard

A Certain Summer suffers a bit from Sagging Middle Syndrome—the beginning and the end are intriguing, but the middle is just kind of eh. Set in the summer community of Wauregan off the shore of Long Island, A Certain Summer focuses on self-righteous Helen (how she infuriated me with her “don’t gossip” stance even as she gossiped), whose husband is presumed dead after an OSS mission in France during World War II, and her son. While everyone else believes Arthur is dead, Helen and Jack hold out hope he will return as there seems to be a slim possibility he’s involved with the CIA as his friend Frank is. Even so, Helen uneasily ventures into a relationship with the grandson of her next door neighbor. Peter has returned from fighting in Japan and is recovering along with war dog Max, who many in the community fear is violent. Their summer together is detailed with all sorts of minor plot points that don’t go anywhere—a man spies on a woman and her daughter, two men who are married to women may be gay, and someone else dies with her lover. It’s all inconsequential filler until A Certain Summer nears the end when Helen and Jack travel to France to, as Jack says, “pay homage” to Arthur and end up discovering that what they were told about his death was a lie.
3/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery.

Friday, August 9, 2013

review: speak of the devil by allison leotta

The story of Assistant US Attorney Anna Curtis continues with the third novel in the series, Speak of the Devil. As the story begins, Anna gets back together with Jack, but their marriage plans are almost immediately put on hold when a brothel raid results in the arrest of gang members who may have been involved in cases Jack’s deceased wife investigated.

One of the things that makes me love the Anna Curtis series is Anna herself. She’s amazing. Anna is a strong woman who goes after what she wants (hence proposing to Jack in the opening of the book), but she also has flaws, such as the insecurities that go along with dating a widower. A marker of good writing is that the protagonist isn’t perfect nor is the antagonist pure evil. Here Allison Leotta not only has the well-balanced Anna, but also MS-13 member Gato who reveals his own vulnerabilities. In addition to great characters, Speak of the Devil has a fantastic plot with plenty of bombshells that will make your heart stop.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Friday, August 2, 2013

review: playing tyler by tl costa

Although the back cover copy hints that there is something larger at work in Playing Tyler, the first half of the book is an introduction to Tyler, a struggling high school student with a drug-addicted brother, and Ani, a brilliant 16 year old Yale student with family issues of her own. The two share a love of video games and meet in real life when Ani’s employer has her install what’s said to be a flight simulator for Tyler to test. The two aren’t supposed to contact each other during the test, but Tyler is so drawn to Ani that he inundates her with messages until she finally responds. As a result, the first half of Playing Tyler is a great story about the bonding of two teens and the romantic feelings they develop for each other. But then the book changes when Tyler makes a connection between his actions in the simulator and a news report. This discovery causes conflict between Tyler and Ani, but also brings them closer when they realize their lives are now in danger. Because this element isn’t introduced until the book is halfway through, there wasn’t enough time to fully explore it. Tyler notes that Rick (Ani’s boss/Tyler’s mentor) is suddenly drinking all the time which should indicate he’s struggling with what he’s doing, but Rick also has no qualms about killing teenagers. His motivations were unclear. Playing Tyler then quickly wraps up with a summarizing chapter that leaves more than a few questions unanswered.
4/5
Review copy provided by BookSparksPR.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

review: something about sophie by mary kay mccomas

Sophie’s never been interested in learning about her birth parents, so the kindergarten teacher initially ignores the letters from a man with information. By the time she finally decides to meet with him, it’s too late but Sophie learns she’s been included in his will. The shock causes her to remain in town where she meets a good-looking doctor, but also winds up at the center of a murder investigation. It seems someone in town knows exactly why Sophie was in Arthur’s will and that person will do whatever it takes to keep the secret from coming out.

I loved how Mary Kay McComas wrote Something about Sophie so that the reader figured things out along with Sophie. Mysteries can be frustrating when either the reader or the protagonist knows more than the other. McComas also created absolutely fantastic characters who I could completely picture living in the small town that Sophie’s visiting.
5/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

review: big girl panties by stephanie evanovich

Holly was never thin, but her weight increased significantly after her husband died. Logan is a health-conscious personal trainer to top-notch athletes. So neither was thrilled to find they’d not only been bumped from first class, but were sitting next to each other on the plane. But of course, this is their meet cute—Logan offers training to Holly and she actually takes him up on it.

For a book billed as a romantic comedy, Big Girl Panties had some incredibly sad moments as Holly opened up to Logan about her personal life. While Holly had some faults, Logan was entirely lacking as both hero and romantic interest. He was very attractive, but definitely not a nice guy—he only became interested in Holly when she started talking to other men and lost enough weight for him to deem her acceptable.

The book was also a bit uneven because of the insertion of Logan’s best friend Chase (an MLB player) and Chase’s wife Amanda, who befriends Holly and tries to make a love match for her to spark Logan’s jealousy. If that had been the sole purpose of Chase and Amanda, it would’ve worked; however, Stephanie Evanovich includes a number of scenes centered around the love life of Chase and Amanda. This semi-plotline seems an afterthought meant to appeal to the Fifty Shades crowd (Chase is into spanking his partners).
3/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, William Morrow.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

review: changing lanes by kathleen long

Bad news is said to come in threes and that proves true for Abby Halladay. As she arrives in her hometown, she finds out her editor is canceling her newspaper column, her newly purchased house has termites, and her fiancé has left the country because he’s “bored.” As Abby spends the next month living with her parents and younger siblings while trying to straighten out her life, she comes to realize through viewing old photographs that it’s “the heart of the shot” that matters most.

Changing Lanes is a cute story that relies on a few romance novel tropes (the troubled boy next door/high school crush plays heavily here) which causes it to be a bit predictable although still enjoyable. The town residents weren’t well-developed (I never could figure out what Mona’s deal was supposed to be), but the family dynamic, which was more important, was. And while there are sad moments, Changing Lanes is ultimately uplifting.
4/5
Review copy provided by the author’s publicist.

Monday, July 22, 2013

review: the time of my life by cecelia ahren

The Time of My Life is another brilliant work of magical realism by Cecelia Ahren. In this novel, Lucy’s been struggling for three years—her live-in boyfriend broke up with her (though she claimed it was the other way around) so she had to move to a tiny apartment where her cat isn’t allowed and she was fired for being drunk on the job (she again lied to family and friends about the circumstances). Lucy is a liar, but I love her for it. Lucy actually follows through with my plan of telling coworkers I’m a smoker in order to get more work breaks! Although Lucy is fairly content with her life, her family wants more for her so they sign her up for an appointment with her Life. And soon he’s forcing her to reveal all the lies she’s told. The Time of My Life is both funny and heart-breaking as Lucy bears all.
5/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Friday, July 19, 2013

review: always watching by chevy stevens

Psychiatrist Nadine Lavoie from Chevy Stevens’s previous novels gets to tell her own story in the poignant Always Watching. (It’s not necessary to read the other books, but you should just because they’re amazing!) As it turns out, Nadine has quite the history of her own which she’s forced to explore when a suicidal patient who’s a former cult member is admitted to the hospital. Nadine’s impulse is to transfer Heather to a different doctor when she finds out Heather’s cult is the same one Nadine’s mom joined with Nadine and her brother, but she sticks with Heather. That decision leads to Nadine uncovering terrifying memories from her own childhood cult experience.

Nadine is a well-developed character. Although estranged from her family, they are present in the book and help the reader understand who Nadine is. And when a romantic relationship develops for Nadine, it is done in keeping with her character.

Emotions are strong in Always Watching and the unfolding of events is highly suspenseful. Stevens drops hints that allow the reader to guess at what will happen next while also holding back just enough to keep the reveals coming.
5/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

review: all my restless life to live by dee detarsio

Elle is a writer/producer for a low-budget soap opera, so she needs a computer for her job. When hers dies, she asks to borrow her deceased dad’s laptop, but her mom bizarrely refuses saying that it’s part of a shrine to him. Elle takes it anyway and then starts believing her dad is trying to communicate through it. This leads to Elle fainting and going to the hospital where she meets an attractive doctor.

Although the setup was good, the characters, including Elle, weren’t fully developed which made it difficult to become invested. Elle’s relationship with Quez (the doctor) was so instantaneous that it didn’t quite make sense when they felt compelled to really work through their issues. And while I could see that Dee DeTarsio was trying to create parallels between Elle’s life and the soap opera scenes she wrote, the connections weren’t clear enough to actually work. And those soap opera scenes went on for way too long, especially considering how little they ended up having to do with All My Restless Life to Live.
3/5
Review copy provided by BookSparks PR.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

review: prisoner 88 by leah pileggi

After hearing the story of a 10 year old boy who was incarcerated in Idaho in 1885, Leah Pileggi was inspired to write Prisoner 88. The novel is not a true story, but Pileggi based her story on the research she did regarding what the Old Idaho Penitentiary was like then. In Prisoner 88, Jake is sentenced to five years for the crime of manslaughter. As horrible as it sounds to be a child in prison, Jake’s in a better situation than when he lived with his father—he is fed regularly and another inmate begins teaching him to read. The book is filled with joy and sadness as Jake navigates his new life.

Pileggi relies upon one of my pet peeves—writing entirely in the poor English of the characters. It’s distracting and comes across as an easy way out when trying to set the book in a time and place. And while it’s fascinating to have the story come solely from Jake’s perspective, it creates some nagging questions about the situation that either don’t get answered or are answered very late in the novel. However, the subject itself is captivating.
3/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Charlesbridge.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

review: daddy's gone a hunting by mary higgins clark

Lottie Schmidt has a bad feeling about her husband’s early morning meeting with the daughter of his former boss and she’s right—an explosion kills her husband and gravely injures Kate. With the pair unable to tell their story, they are quickly suspected as having caused the explosion themselves. As Hannah worries about her comatose sister, she also tries to figure out who really caused the explosion while the police investigation leads to revelations about additional murders related to the family antique-reproduction business.

As is typical of Mary Higgins Clark’s books, there are few extraneous characters in Daddy’s Gone a Hunting—everyone eventually comes together although some of the subplots seem unrelated early on. Clark expertly sets it up so that pertinent facts are revealed in such a way that they don’t necessarily seem important—the reader must pay attention in order to put the pieces together, but it is not impossible to figure it out. The suspenseful pacing is excellent with enough twists to keep the reader guessing.

About the audiobook: Jan Maxwell was an excellent narrator. Her inflections were spot-on and the characters were distinguishable. Daddy’s Gone a Hunting runs 9 hours and was released in 2013 by Simon & Schuster Audio.
4/5
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

review: fox forever by mary e. pearson

If you haven’t read The Adoration of Jenna Fox (the first book in Mary E. Pearson’s The Jenna Fox Chronicles trilogy), you really should; however, you can probably pass on the following two books which hardly feature Jenna at all. Note that this review of Fox Forever contains some spoilers for the previous books.

After the car crash that took his life 260 years ago, Jenna’s friend Locke has a new body thanks to BioPerfect. Due to events in The Fox Inheritance, Locke is working with a group called the Network to take down the government. Because Locke still looks like a teenager, he’s supposed to gain the trust of the teenage daughter of a government official. It’s no surprise when Locke and Raine fall for each other, but then Locke learns Raine’s true identity.

Although I found Jenna’s story gripping in the first book, I wasn’t interested in that of her friends in the second or third—Locke just isn’t that interesting. The end of Fox Forever did pick up after a very slow start, but it was too late for me.
2/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Henry Holt and Company.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

review: the viagra diaries by barbara rose brooker

Anny Applebaum writes a senior lifestyle column for the San Francisco Times, but the paper isn’t making as much money as it once did which means Anny’s column is in jeopardy. Additionally, Anny’s daughter has been after her to start dating again after Anny’s husband left her for the housekeeper. After her first date, inspiration for a new column strikes—she’ll write about dating after 60. The column is a smashing success, but Anny’s dating life isn’t as she discovers the men (one in particular) she meets are just like her ex-husband.

The Viagra Diaries started off amusingly, but quickly took a turn toward bitter. When one of Anny’s dates says, “You seem angry with men,” I couldn’t help but agree. Anny drove me crazy by constantly lamenting that Marv hadn’t called her when she never called him. Never. She didn’t pick up the phone even once. And her friends just egged her on by reinforcing the idea that men only see women as sex objects. After numerous chapters of such sentiment, I grew frustrated with all of the characters.
2/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

review: family pictures by jane green

Although she lost her husband when their daughter was small, Slyvie thought she’d had an amazing life with her second husband Mark for the last 11 years. Slyvie never questioned that he was gone for two weeks every month or that he was extremely paranoid about social networking and family trips to the east coast. Jane Green set this up so obviously that it was no surprise when Mark’s other family—a wife of 25 years plus three kids—was revealed, but it took a long time to get to it.

When I read Bookends back in the early 2000s, I knew I'd found a new favorite author. The books that were published in the late 90s and early 00s were much in the same vein as Bookends, but then there was a shift in Green's writing around the time she moved from England to the US. She aged up her characters and began writing about family dramas. I feel like she started trying to be too serious, but instead her books have become more over the top while also being fairly predictable. One of the most annoying things is that her characters are now supposed to be American, but they constantly use British phrases (though this book is better about that than previous ones). Though neither of Mark’s wives came across as likable, Family Pictures was enjoyable as their respective teen daughters were painted much warmer; however, it is not the same quality of work Green did previously.
3/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

review: the stranger by camilla läckberg

A serial killer has come to town in the fourth book in Camilla Läckberg’s Patrik Hedström series. The initial assumption is that Marit died after crashing her car, but Patrik notices some injuries not consistent with the crash. Soon after realizing she’s been murdered, the Tanumshede squad discovers other “accidents” were actually murders. At the same time as this investigation, a reality show is taping in town and one of the contestants is found murdered. The detectives don’t see a connection at first, but after a while they link the cases.

About halfway through The Stranger I realized who the killer was, but Läckberg kept it vague so I doubted myself until Patrik made the reveal. The pacing of the scenes with the mystery is excellent, but the extra information regarding the reality show and the wedding slow The Stranger considerably. Some of the subplots (Anna, Mellberg) were enjoyable, but added nothing to the individual novel although some tied up stories from previous books while the others are likely to be developed later in the series.

Although certain elements (such as what’s going on with Erica’s sister) will make more sense if the series is read in order, the books can be read as standalones. However, the ending was clearly a setup for the next novel, The Hidden Child. The Stranger would’ve been stronger if it had ended with the wedding.

About the audiobook: Although the accent Simon Vance used was appropriate for a novel set in Sweden, it did take some getting used to (I listened to the first disc twice). Another issue I had was the rhyming names of Anna and Hanna. On the page these names would cause no difficulty, but when spoken it was difficult at times to figure out which character was involved. Thankfully Anna and Hanna never interacted. The Stranger runs 11.5 hours and is published by HighBridge Audio.
4/5
Review copy from Audiobook Jukebox.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

review: sisterland by curtis sittenfeld

Shortly after they were born it was apparent that identical twins Violet (Vi) and Daisy (Kate) had psychic powers. Initially Kate is willing to use her powers because a classmate befriends her for their use. When that classmate turns on her, Kate begins to distance herself from both her sister and their shared abilities—she even changes her name from Daisy to Kate when she leaves for college. As adults, the twins’ relationship is fairly contentious, but Kate still feels compelled to aid her sister when Vi makes a very public announcement that an big earthquake is coming.

I enjoyed how Curtis Sittenfeld wove in stories from the past to show how the twins came to their present relationship. Without those select pieces of information it would’ve been difficult to understand how a pair that had a sign reading “Sisterland” tacked to their shared bedroom door would wind up so far apart even while living in the same town. Sisterland is about more than the relationships between sisters though; it’s about families in general as Kate’s relationship with Vi causes difficulties in her marriage which leads to an “earthquake” all of its own.
4/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

review: dirty little secret by jennifer echols

Bailey is spending the summer between high school and college living with her grandfather because her parents are off working on the singing career of Bailey’s younger sister—the younger sister who used to be a duet with Bailey. The label only wanted Julie, so Bailey’s parents have forbidden her to perform for fear the media will discover Bailey got left behind. Bailey’s 18 so she could do what she wants, but they’ve hung her college tuition over her head. However, Bailey’s grandfather gets her a gig performing at the mall with people who impersonate artists like Elvis and Dolly Parton. While working with one of those groups, Bailey meets Sam, who convinces her to play with his band. Bailey’s issues are pretty apparent, but Sam’s are not so obvious. Throughout Dirty Little Secret the two constantly come together and unravel.

I loved Bailey for being a headstrong protagonist who doesn’t lose her mind just because a boy likes her. I appreciated Bailey’s moxie at every turn. It’s clear that Bailey’s going to be fine even though she would do better with support from her family. Perhaps that was why the romance was a bit lacking. Bailey just never seemed as into Sam as some of the plotting seemed to indicate she should be.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, MTV Books.