Thursday, October 31, 2013

review: take me, cowboy by jane porter

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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Amazon Children’s Publishing.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

review: playing dirty by jennifer echols

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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 ├╝ber-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!
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket Books.