Thursday, August 28, 2014

review: wild within by melissa hart

After splitting from her husband, Melissa Hart starts taking her dogs to a dog park in Eugene, OR. That’s where she meets a man who works at a raptor rehabilitation center. Although Hart is a bit apprehensive around the owls and birds of prey housed at the center, she volunteers. Soon her entire life is consumed by Jonathan and the rehab center. In Wild Within, Hart documents their time together and how they eventually came to adopt a daughter. Hart spent an inordinate amount of time lamenting the long adoption process and the obsession the couple had with adopting a girl who would be just like Jonathan’s adopted niece. Although the couple experienced growth over the course of Wild Within, the initial obsession made them seem naïve and selfish which was a turn off.
2/5
Review copy provided by BookSparks PR.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

review: tuesday's gone by nicci french

The second in Nicci French’s Frieda Klein series has Frieda looking for the identity of a decomposing corpse found in the apartment of a mentally ill woman. Although the woman is initially a suspect, it soon becomes clear she brought the dead man back to her apartment in a misguided attempt to help him. It’s a fascinating plot, but the writing is a little clunky. The constant change in perspective and multitude of characters disrupted the action too frequently. Intriguingly, Tuesday’s Gone also brings in an underlying plot involving the happenings of Blue Monday—perhaps that first case isn’t yet over.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Penguin.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

review: dead float by warren c. easley

Cal Claxton is a lawyer who works on the side as a fishing guide for his friend’s company. Although he left the Los Angeles district attorney office for a small Oregon town, Cal still finds himself in the middle of all the action. This time around he’s the guide when someone on the trip is murdered. When the cops suspect Cal is the killer (he, whoopsie, once had an affair with the dead man’s wife), Cal and his friends set about proving Cal’s innocence and finding the real killer in what turns out to be a high stakes operation.

With a few chapters of set-up, Warren C. Easley establishes the story for those who haven’t read the first book in the series then gets right to the discovery of the body. From there the drama dies down a bit, but ramps back up for a big ending. Although Dead Float is not action-packed, it’s still a gripping mystery with excellent descriptions (particularly of the Deschutes River and surrounding area). Cal’s attachment to his dog and daughter (who has quite the tale as well in a subplot that throws off the pacing) makes the intelligent lawyer quickly relatable while his dalliance with a married woman becomes forgivable.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, MM Book Publicity.

Monday, August 25, 2014

review: follow me by joanna scott

After becoming pregnant by her cousin, the parents of teenaged Sally Werner try to make her marry him. Sally instead leaves her son with her parents and takes off for parts unknown. On her journey she’s spotted by two brothers who bring her back to their family who start calling her Sally Angel. Sally adopts the name and tries to make a life with these new people, but it’s long before she takes off again. She has another child and makes another name change all the while acting quite selfishly so that her daughter eventually decides to live with her father. Years later that daughter has a daughter named after Sally. It is that Sally who sets the narrative of Follow Me in motion—she wants to know the truth about her father, who has just gotten in contact after many years, and her grandmother’s secret past which is tied into the story of the younger Sally’s father. It took Joanna Scott a long time to finally reach that pay-off so that much of Follow Me is the story of the elder Sally’s troubled life. While parts of Follow Me are interesting, too much of it is Sally making herself out to be a wholly unsympathetic woman.
3/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Back Bay Books.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

review: the curse of van gogh by paul hoppe

One of the blurbs for Paul Hoppe’s The Curse of Van Gogh says that the story features “a more credible character” than that of other stories featuring art theft. While this may be true, it also means the book is excruciatingly boring. Hoppe wastes more than 100 pages having Tyler simply meet with people. Sure, one of them vaguely implies a threat to Tyler’s family, but nothing happens in the first half of the book; it’s all setup.
1/5
Review copy provided by BookSparks PR.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

review: my last kiss by bethany neal

While celebrating her seventeenth birthday, Cassidy has a bit too much to drink. As a result, her ghost self can’t remember how she died. Her death has been ruled a suicide, but some don’t think Cassidy would’ve jumped from the bridge.

Although Cassidy seems to be in ghost form so she can solve the mystery of her own death, she doesn’t seem terribly concerned about actually doing that. Cassidy comes across as vapid as her main concerns are about boys and her friends rather than figuring out who she was on the bridge with and why. When she discovers that her boyfriend can hear her, they first discuss her being a ghost before she bothers to ask about the night she died. It’s a conversation that lasts six short sentences before the subject goes back to Cassidy haunting Ethan. Cassidy does so little to figure out how she died that My Last Kiss is less of a mystery than a trite story about underage drinking and bad freinds.
2/5
Review copy provided by BookSparks PR.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

review: all fall down by jennifer weiner

Allison looks to have it all together--a big house in the Philadelphia suburbs and a daughter in private school--but she's barely hanging on as her husband's job doesn't pay what it once did (he's a newspaper reporter), her daughter is "difficult," and her father's in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. She takes pills to cope. Allison constantly tries to justify her addiction, which she doesn't admit is an addiction, but her family eventually intervenes.

Allison is incredibly selfish and wholly unlikable. Throughout All Fall Down I found myself wanting to strangle her. She became even worse in rehab. It's possible no other fictional character has ever been so haughty and self-righteous. The plot also feels unrealistic as Jennifer Weiner herself seems to acknowledge when Allison shares her addiction timeline and story in rehab. She went from hardly ever even drinking to full-blown pill addict (albeit one who suffered no consequences other than having her daughter’s teacher stop her from driving until she drank some coffee) after being prescribed a painkiller for back pain. And then after spending so much time with Allison lamenting her life and refusing to believe she’s an addict, Weiner tacks on a pat ending where nothing has been dealt with.

About the audiobook: Since I started reviewing audiobooks, I've discovered that nothing makes me hate a book more than a whiny child character narrated in a grating whine throughout. Although I hated Allison, I sometimes felt sympathy for her when Ellie would screech. Jennifer Weiner’s All Fall Down is narrated by Tracee Chimo (who plays Neri Feldman on Orange is the New Black). It runs 12 hours 45 minutes and was published by Simon & Schuster Audio in 2014.
2/5
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Friday, August 15, 2014

review: elly in love by colleen oakes

Elly in Love finds florist Elly being tapped to do a celebrity wedding that will be part of a reality show. Of course the celebrity wants things like navy blue flowers and is always partying when Elly needs to discuss wedding plans. Further complicating matters, a young man Elly’s never met shows up resulting in much upheaval. Then to top things off, her boyfriend is keeping secrets.

While Elly in Love had its moments, the second book in the series mostly grated. Elly’s assistant always being referred to as “Snarky Teenager” was amusing at first, but quickly wore thin especially since she wasn’t really snarky. Elly’s underlying insecurity regarding her size made appearances occasionally, but seemed to have inserted simply to make her more relatable. The best moments were the few scenes when Elly worked on the celebrity client’s wedding and gave her some great advice about friends that aren’t really friends.
2/5
Review copy provided by BookSparks PR.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

review: the rules by stacey kade

Stacey Kade’s The Rules is a fantastic example of how to do the first book in a series—it has a compelling enough plot to make additional books viable, but also has an ending that satisfies for those who don’t wish to read another book. In The Rules, a high school student is hiding in plain sight from the company that created her. Her “father” took her from the laboratory when his six-year-old daughter was dying from cancer. From that point on, he has raised the half-human/half-alien as his daughter, but with five very important rules to keep them safe. But Ariane can’t help but break some of the rules. Kade beautifully blends science fiction into a teen romance that has excellent characters. There are some great twists too that were hinted at in some bits of dialogue, but still seemed like bombshells when they happened.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Hyperion.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

review: serenade by emily kiebel

Emily Kiebel’s debut felt it was going in two directions. The first half of the book is about a college student who defies her mother by studying music on the east coast. Lorelei had her father’s support, but he dies in the first few pages. It initially seemed Serenade would focus on Lorelei’s struggle after the loss of her father and how to reconcile with her mother; instead, Kiebel introduced a new set of characters (Lorelei’s long-lost maternal relatives) who inform her she’s a siren. From there, Serenade is about Lorelei learning about being a siren and then rebelling when she decides to rescue an attractive sailor she was supposed to sing to his death. Because none of this develops until there are only a few chapters left, the pacing feels very off and the ending is rushed. A large number of loose ends are also left in what is clearly meant to set up a sequel (a big pet peeve of mine). Even so, there’s enough here to keep the story interesting, especially with someone as vivacious as Lorelei learning her heritage.
3/5
Review copy provided by BookSparks PR.

Friday, August 8, 2014

review: gravel on the side of the road by kris radish

Kris Radish’s collection of autobiographical essays could not hold my interest. Despite nonfiction being where the novelist got her start, the stories dragged and had little purpose. They also didn’t flow well. Radish jumped around in the timeline of her life and transitioned without any sense of a cohesive narrative. She went from being an intern (Spaghetti Dinner) to a job as a teenager (Salt and Pepper) to interviewing a soldier leaving for war (Soldier Boy). Overall, there’s little of substance.
1/5
Review copy provided by BookSparks PR.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

review: letters from skye by jessica brockmole

In 1912, an American college student sends a fan letter to a Scottish poet. She responds and over the course of many exchanged letters, the two fall in love despite being in other relationships. But the war splits them up. In 1940, as another war rocks Europe, Elspeth’s daughter seeks answers when her mother disappears. Told entirely through letters, Letters from Skye is a touching story that suffers somewhat from the constraints of its epistolary format. Jessica Brockmole keeps the letters realistic which means there cannot be much character or plot development as the action occurs off the page. Even so, the writing of each character sets him or her apart from the others and the incorporation of letters from minor characters works well to explain things the main characters wouldn’t be able to given the format.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Ballantine Books.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

review: molly's game by molly bloom

After attending college in Colorado and having to leave the US ski team due to injury, Molly Bloom headed to Los Angeles without a plan and only $2000. She crashed on the couch of a former teammate, but he made it clear it needed to be a temporary situation. So Molly headed to Beverly Hills to look for a waitressing job. Although her first waitressing job didn’t go well, the next led to the exhilarating world of high stakes poker games frequented by the very wealthy, including movie stars. In Molly’s Game, Bloom documents how she went from waitressing to running underground poker games that would eventually get her arrested. Her journey is an incredible one, but the story starts off a bit slow with a lot of background about her early life. Once Bloom gets into the poker scene, she reveals herself to be naïve, but good-hearted through her engaging, quick-paced writing.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, It Books.

Monday, August 4, 2014

review: rooms by lauren oliver

Lauren Oliver’s Rooms constantly shifts narrators—some are dead and some are alive—while taking place almost entirely in the home of the recently departed Richard Walker. As Richard’s ex-wife, two children, and granddaughter arrive, the ghosts of the house observe them and share their own stories in the narration. It makes for an incredibly disjointed and somewhat confusing story. The characters lacked depth and were wholly unlikable as a result.
2/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

review: the perfect stranger by wendy corsi staub

When the post goes up on Meredith’s cancer blog that she’s passed away, her blogger friends are shocked she hadn’t revealed the cancer was back; they are further stunned to learn she was actually murdered. Although they’ve never met in person, the other bloggers decide to attend Meredith’s funeral which leads to them being pulled into the investigation.

The Perfect Stranger poses a question that more people probably should ask—how much information exists about you online? Meredith posted plenty of identifying information on her blog and while Landry tries hard not to, it’s easy for anyone who knows her name to learn quite a bit. A few of Wendy Corsi Staub’s choices detract from the mystery to make it far less engaging. The use of present tense generally felt forced. The Perfect Stranger also had far too many “main” characters for any connection to be made. During the final tense scenes, I didn’t care which characters lived or who the killer was.
3/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.