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.

Monday, June 17, 2013

review: time flies by claire cook

Not long after her husband leaves her for another woman, Melanie’s best friend from high school reminds her of their upcoming high school reunion. B.J. is on the reunion committee and has big plans, including a makeover for Melanie. Melanie is very much against going to the reunion until an old flame (who she inexplicably doesn’t remember until she gets out the yearbook) says he wants to see her there. In the meantime, Melanie continues her life in Atlanta as a metal sculptor which is how she meets another possible love interest.

With repeated references to Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (a movie I loved) and Thelma & Louise, it was very clear what direction Claire Cook intended for Time Flies; however, Melanie and B.J. completely lacked the necessary camaraderie. The subplots involving Melanie’s family drama (both with her soon to be ex-husband and her semi-estranged sister) and that of other high school friends Jan and Veronica made the novel feel scattered. Furthermore, the incessant references to Tab and the music of their youth became annoying after a few chapters.

I think Melanie was supposed to invoke sympathy, but instead I kept thinking, “This is why your husband left you,” as she refused to adjust to life in Atlanta (given that she moved there when her now 20-something sons were six and seven, I would think she could stop whining about Southern food) and became completely neurotic anytime a vehicle with her in it (her fear of driving extended to being a passenger) approached a highway. As Melanie’s friend B.J. points out, nothing is keeping her in Atlanta. But Melanie seems to enjoy having something to complain about. If she moved back to the Massachusetts she’s idealized, she would have to admit she’s a miserable person.
1/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Friday, June 14, 2013

review: astor place vintage by stephanie lehmann

As her birthday approaches, Amanda once again faces the fact that she has wasted her child-bearing years waiting for her married lover to leave his wife. When he disappoints her on her birthday, Amanda decides to make a break from Jeff once and for all. Her decision is ill-timed though as she soon learns the landlord of her vintage clothing store isn’t renewing her lease (she relies on Jeff for money). But Amanda has the diary of a young woman who lived in New York in 1907 to distract her. Olive had far more struggles than Amanda as she lived in a time of great restrictions on women. Amanda becomes obsessed with Olive’s story (which comes in alternating chapters) to the point of having visions of Olive and her friends on the rare occasion that her body finally gives in to sleep.

The contrast between the lives of these two women in the same place but a century apart is remarkable. With its fabulous descriptions of New York (especially the department stores that no longer exist) and clothing, Astor Place Vintage had me completely captivated. The two storylines were fantastic as well with both women being strong leads.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Monday, June 10, 2013

review: crime of privilege by walter walker

After intervening in Kendrick Powell’s rape by the Gregory cousins, George Becket finds himself torn between the power of the influential political family of the boys and the very wealthy father of the girl. George tries to stay neutral, but he constantly finds himself in the middle as he goes to law school and eventually takes a job in the district attorney’s office on Cape Cod where the Gregory’s are suspected of covering up the murder of a young woman who attended a party at the Gregory home.

The intrigue is nonstop in Crime of Privilege. With so much misdirection at the hands of the others involved in the potential cover-up of Heidi Telford’s murder, the reader is put into the same position as George who never knows who to trust. It’s a brilliantly written mystery that had me guessing at the truth even as the story concluded. That’s not to say it’s not a satisfying ending; Walter Walker intends to leave you wondering if the truth can ever be known when people of so much privilege are involved.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Ballantine Books.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

review: pivot point by kasie west

Pivot Point is the story of Addie, who lives in an isolated compound where everyone has some sort of paranormal power: Addie has the ability to search out her future, her mom can influence people’s decisions, her dad can tell when someone’s lying, and her best friend can erase memories. When Addie’s parents announce they’ll be divorcing and her dad is leaving the compound, Addie uses her ability to decide which parent to live with. The alternating chapters that come after explore Addie’s life with her dad outside the compound and the one she’d have if she chooses to stay with everyone she knows. Because the chapters where Addie was with her dad gave her a multitude of new experiences, they were far more interesting than the compound ones where she tried out minor rebellions (a blue streak in her hair) and went out with the star quarterback. But the compound chapters were still important because the same things were still happening and the characters still existed; it’s just that sometimes Addie was there to experience it firsthand and interact with them.

As Pivot Point progressed, Kasie West created two realities that seemed very difficult to choose between until Addie learns someone close to her will die in only one of the choices. West attempts to present it as a difficult decision, but it’s clearly not and comes so close to the end that there’s little time to explore it. While still a compelling read with plenty of funny scenes and great dialogue, Pivot Point could have pushed a little harder if Addie had less of a clear-cut choice to make.
4/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.