Saturday, August 31, 2013

review: close my eyes by sophie mckenzie

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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.
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.
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!
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.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Friday, August 16, 2013

review: revenge wears prada by lauren weisberger

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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.
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

review: a certain summer by patricia beard

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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.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery.

Friday, August 9, 2013

review: speak of the devil by allison leotta

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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.
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.
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.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.