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.
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.
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.
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.
Review copy provided by BookSparksPR.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

review: fireworks over toccoa by jeffrey stepakoff

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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.
Review copy provided by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press.

Monday, September 16, 2013

review: forever, interrupted by taylor jenkins reid

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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket Books.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

review: scorched by laura griffin

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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-fiancĂ© 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.
Review copy provided by the author.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

review: parallel by lauren miller

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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 clichĂ©d in that what really mattered to Abby in the end was which boy from her two worlds she would be with.
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.
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.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.