Friday, January 31, 2014

review: invitation to die by helen smith

In the first full-length Emily Castles story, three book bloggers are invited to the Romance Writers of Great Britain conference after being declared winners in a short story contest. No one involved with the conference seems to remember voting for those three entries though. It becomes all the more suspicious when one of the bloggers, who had just posted a 1-star review of a book written by one of the attending authors, is found murdered.

Reviewing a book about a book blogger who gets murdered after posting a 1-star review feels a little meta (it also made me a little nervous!), but that aspect of the plot made Invitation to Die pretty great. There were plenty of funny moments related to book blogging and what the authors thought of their reviews. The humorous murder mystery kept me guessing at every turn and Emily made for an excellent protagonist. Where Invitation to Die suffered was in the beginning when the numerous characters were introduced. It seemed like they could’ve been brought in a little more organically (having Emily meet Nick, for example, rather than giving Nick an introductory scene of his own) than they were.

About the audiobook: When Invitation to Die started off with the American Winnie, I wasn’t too sure about the choice of Alison Larkin, who grew up in England, as a narrator. As it turned out, she was the perfect choice. Her varying accents made it easier to distinguish between the many characters.
4/5
Review copy provided by the author.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

review: flowers in the attic by v.c. andrews

Note: If somehow you don’t already know the plot of Flowers in the Attic, this review contains spoilers.

When Lifetime announced a new Flowers in the Attic movie, I knew I was going to have to read the book again. I first read the V.C. Andrews classic sometime around age 12, but never revisited the book as I read others she and the ghostwriter wrote. My recollection was that Flowers in the Attic and My Sweet Audrina were the best of the bunch. They’re also amongst the few that Andrews actually wrote. While the horribleness of the mother and grandmother was as I remembered it, I was quite surprised by the writing. It seems no one ever told Andrews “show, not tell.” Even the scene everyone talks about (Chris and Cathy have sex) doesn’t play out on the page; Cathy tells the reader about it later. And though Flowers in the Attic is supposed to be told from that of young Cathy’s sheltered perspective, it appears Andrews was a bit naïve to the ways of the world herself. At the beginning of the novel, it’s not beyond imagination that Cathy didn’t know her mother was pregnant, but according to Corrine her husband doesn’t know either despite her pregnancy being far enough along that Chris and Cathy can feel the twins kick. And golly-lolly (as Cathy so frequently exclaimed), the drama is over the top! The description of the elder Chris’s death by the police officer is so beyond ridiculous that I was actually laughing. Even with the somewhat ridiculous writing, the plot is compelling as evidenced by the novel’s popularity over the decades (it was first published in 1979). Just like people slow down at a car crash, you just have to read about the four children locked in small section of a mansion by their incredibly selfish mother.
3/5 (for the actual quality of the novel); 5/5 (because it’s fricking Flowers in the Attic!)
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

review: sold for endless rue by madeleine e. robins

In 1204, a girl who comes to be called Laura escapes a horrible man named Urbo to live and train with a healer. Crescia takes good care of Laura and even provides her with the means to become a doctor educated by monks. This first part of the story is told in great detail so that it takes a long time to get to what becomes a pivotal moment in Laura’s life—she becomes pregnant and is abandoned by the father. Sold for Endless Rue then skips a few years to when Laura lives next door to newlyweds desperate to have a baby. The woman befriends Laura and receives advice so that she’s soon pregnant. But Laura becomes bitter and takes the baby, who she names Bieta. It is only then that elements of the Rapunzel story become evident. The plot is very drawn out with much of the first half being completely unnecessary for the developments that come in the latter half.
3/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Forge.

Monday, January 20, 2014

review: the sweet revenge of celia door by karen finneyfrock

Karen Finneyfrock’s debut broke my heart a number of times, but The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door is an amazing book. Celia is an outcast high school freshman whose parents are doing a “trial separation.” Her dad has moved from Hershey, PA to Atlanta, GA for a job while her mom works crazy hours as a nurse. Celia is pretty much on her own though she does get occasional advice from a cousin away at college. Then a new boy named Drake comes to school. He is super-cool and actually wants to hang out with Celia. Celia immediately has a crush, but it’s not meant to be as he soon comes out to Celia. Both gain courage through their friendship, but Finneyfrock also inserts a lot of high school drama to give their relationship a good dose of conflict and heartache. The story can be brutal at times, but also very realistic and compelling.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Viking.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

review: if i were you by lisa renee jones

From the very first page, If I Were You is a steamy romp as schoolteacher Sara picks up the diary left behind by a friend. As it turns out, the diary is from a storage unit Sara’s friend bought at an auction. Sara becomes a little obsessed with the diary which documents Rebecca’s sexy adventures with an unnamed man. When Sara discovers that Rebecca hasn’t been heard from in months, she decides she must find her which leads Sara to have an erotic adventure of her own.

Refreshingly, there is an actual plot to If I Were You despite all the focus on sex. The mystery of Rebecca plus Sara’s own escapades keep the story moving so that every page begs to be turned. The biggest downside to this first book in the Inside Out trilogy by Lisa Renee Jones is that it ends in a cliffhanger. It’s great to end the Friday episode of a daytime soap the way Jones ends If I Were You, but it’s annoying to force a reader to pick up the second book just to have a satisfying conclusion to the first.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Friday, January 17, 2014

review: confessions of a casting director by jen rudin

Before Jen Rudin became a casting director, she started off as a child actor which makes Confessions of a Casting Director all the more valuable--she knows the business from both sides. Rudin's book promises to help actors get more roles by explaining what it is the casting director really wants to see. For example, always staple your résumé to your headshot (which sounds basic, but Rudin says many don't bother) and bring the script to show "you're malleable and open to direction" even though you should have the scene memorized. Rudin provides such Dos and Don'ts throughout while also revealing anecdotes from her own career and those of a few others who shared their stories. Resources for finding acting jobs and getting headshots are also covered. It's all laid out in an easy to follow format with lots of funny stories to keep Confessions of a Casting Director from reading like a how-to manual.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, It Books.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

feature: excited about...

This month I'm super-excited that Flowers in the Attic premieres Saturday, January 18 at 8pm on Lifetime. Only a few more days! I'm hoping that Lifetime did this version right since the original was a bit of a disappointment. The sequel is already planned, so I'm getting ready to re-read the entire series by V.C. Andrews.

I also just found about about a new service called Grammarly. You can submit your text whether for an academic paper, business writing, or a creative work and it checks for grammar and plagiarism. I use Grammarly to check for plagiarism because even famous people like Shia LaBeouf can't get away with it. It doesn't take long for Grammarly to run its check and I found it to be pretty accurate. Grammarly has different pricing plans, but you can get a free trial for seven days.

Disclosure: I received compensation from Grammarly for this post.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

review: me since you by laura wiess

One small decision to cut school on Senior Skip Day, even though Rowan’s a sophomore, forever changes her family. Although it leads to Rowan meeting Eli, the new boy in school, it also puts her police officer father in position to respond to a despondent man who leaps to his death while holding his infant son. From there, the tragedy compounds until all of the central characters are devastated.

I love Laura Wiess books even though they always require boxes of Kleenex to be handy. Her writing is incredibly poignant. My heart broke so many times as the characters worked through their grief in ways that weren’t pretty. Me Since You took some turns I wasn’t expecting, but always seemed grounded in reality. Although I hated how the adults around Rowan acted, it was believable that they’d all be just a little too self-absorbed to really give Rowan what she needed. The teens were also depicted well as they, including her best friend, backed away from Rowan. And while it seems Rowan may never recover, Wiess wisely ends this young adult novel with a small turn for the better.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, MTV Books.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

review: teardrop by lauren kate

Eureka’s mother once told her to never cry, so Eureka didn’t. She didn’t even cry after a crash injured her and killed her mother. As she leaves a therapy session for a cross-country meet, an attractive boy named Ander literally crashes into her world. Although the Jeep isn’t damaged beyond repair, tears spring to Eureka’s eyes and Ander tells her not to cry. That combined with her mother’s will reading causes her to question her history. That she didn’t know as much as she thought about her family becomes abundantly clear when Eureka’s inheritance turns out to be a locket, a stone, and a book written in an unknown language along with a letter giving some vague instructions. In uncovering the truth about the book and the stone, the lives of everyone Eureka loves are placed in peril.

Teardrop is a take on the story of Atlantis though it takes a while for that to become apparent as Eureka’s mother kept this part of her life secret. It’s a great concept especially since Eureka was previously a fairly typical teen. And while Eureka does have some unlikable tendencies they are understandable given her situation and are balanced with her compassion for her younger siblings. Unfortunately, Lauren Kate tries to force a love triangle here. Note to authors: Not every young adult title needs a love triangle.
4/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.