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.