Thursday, December 31, 2015

review: a suspension of mercy by patricia highsmith

Patricia Highsmith’s A Suspension of Mercy is quite the slow starter. The first three chapters simply introduce characters and give a bit of the setting. It takes an excruciating amount of time before the plot finally gets started with Alicia running off and Sydney, a television writer of crime fiction, being suspected of nefarious deeds related to Alicia’s disappearance. Sydney does little too dissuade anyone as his actions grow suspicious, especially while he uses his real life situation to think of ways in which a character of his actually would kill his wife. Highsmith spoils the tension and suspicion though by revealing the whereabouts of Alicia a little too quickly. From there A Suspension of Mercy is a bit farcical, but fortunately Highsmith heats up the plot again before the end. For all the slowness of the beginning, the final scenes are an excellently paced conclusion to the story.

About the audiobook: Originally published in 1965, A Suspension of Mercy by Patricia Highsmith was released on audio in October 2015 by Blackstone Audio and runs just over seven hours. Simon Vance is the reader. Although Vance’s accent would typically make him a good choice for a novel set in England, the main character in A Suspension of Mercy is American and Vance didn’t use any variance in accent or tone to set Sydney apart from the others. Sydney’s outsider status would have been better conveyed if Vance had used his voice to make Sydney different.
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

author guest post: richard cerasani

Many thanks to the author of Love Letters from Mount Rushmore, Richard Cerasani, for sharing the story of his discovery of the trunk filled with the letters that inspired his new book!

Not long ago, one single event changed me from an actor to an author. It all began with the discovery of a trunk in my parents’ attic, on a cold, autumn day in 2005. My mother, Mary Cerasani, had recently passed away, just a month shy of her 94th birthday.

Mother had been a school teacher her entire life. Her first love, after her family, was traveling all over the world to learn about other countries and cultures. She was always bringing home little artifacts from her travels with which to teach her family, friends and students. It was just part of her routine. So she designated the attic as her own private depot, where she could accumulate and preserve her treasures.

The attic was visited very infrequently because it was not easily accessible (entering the attic involved a hanging rope and pull-down ladder stairs). My intention that fall day was not to organize my mother’s belongings, but rather to retrieve a certain Daughters of the American Revolution flag that I knew had been in her possession. I thought it would look nice in a shadow box, hanging next to my other Revolutionary and Civil War memorabilia.

As soon as I entered the dark, dusty attic, I was greeted with a collection of boxes and bags that were in a state of complete disarray. It was just as it had always been. An old steamer trunk in the corner caught my eye. Its leather straps were broken and its big metal latch was rusty – and unlocked. I slowly opened the heavy metal cover and looked upon an intriguing collection of bundles and sealed shoeboxes.

For the next couple hours, I felt like a character from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Mother’s trunk was filled with magic and memories, unparalleled by anything I had ever come across. Among the items that caught my eye were plaster busts of four presidents – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. I immediately realized these castings were the ones my father, a sculptor, had made while working for Gutzon Borglum at Mount Rushmore. I felt as though I had struck gold!

In the midst of all this excitement, I was reminded of the biggest regret of my childhood. After my teacher found out that my dad was an artist who had worked as a sculptor on Mount Rushmore, she asked me to bring in some items for “Show and Tell.” My presentation to the class contained the original pictures of my dad climbing over George Washington’s face, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia. I became an instant celebrity in my class.

But all those original pictures and newspaper clippings mysteriously disappeared. The guilt and shame I felt over the loss was incalculable. Worst of all, what would my father say? It haunted me for years, particularly anytime Mount Rushmore was shown in a documentary or commercial. I had lost all record of my father’s work at a grade school “Show and Tell.”

You can imagine my pleasure upon finding a little brown envelope marked “negatives,” along with the other relics of the steamer trunk, filled with images of Dad climbing over the presidents’ faces and up onto their noses. After all these decades, my guilt had finally been absolved!

The trunk also revealed hundreds and hundreds of old letters, bundled together by twine. They were love letters between my father and my mother, written over the period of six months that Dad worked on the mountain in South Dakota, and mother stayed home in Avon, NY taking care of an infant and a toddler.

Both of my parents were gone by that time, but here in this trunk, I could piece together their story through diaries, newspaper articles, and letters. Suddenly, a time in their history to which I had never paid much thought materialized before my eyes. I saw my parents – young, in love, and willing to do anything to keep our family together.

As I delved further into my parents’ story, I realized how meaningful it truly is. Theirs is a story not just of love, but of the struggles in creating the “shining tribute to Democracy.” It is a story that perfectly embodies what it was like to struggle through The Great Depression, surviving on love, family and art.

review: love letters from mount rushmore by richard cerasani

Beautifully laid with family photographs and photocopies of the actual letters, Love Letters from Mount Rushmore tells the tale of actor (and now, author) Richard Cerasani's parents. Cerasani's father was a struggling sculptor who went to work in South Dakota to assist in the creation of Mount Rushmore. The young Cerasani stayed behind in New York with his mother and brother. In sharing his parents' story, Cerasani reveals a history not taught in schools. It is a wonderful glimpse into the people who made a national monument. Love Letters also shows the remarkable entrepreneurship of his mother. During her short visit she made money giving tours. His narration combined with excerpts from the letters provide insight not just into the relationship between husband and wife, but the working relations between the men and the circumstances they dealt with while constructing a national attraction. The personal story combined with short profiles on some of the others involved provides a fascinating look at an aspect of US history.
Review copy provided by the publicist, Media Connect.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

review: pretty girls by karin slaughter

Pretty Girls is a tightly woven narrative filled with “What??” moments. Karin Slaughter’s latest novel is a masterful work featuring three narrators whose stories quickly come together. To say much about the plot beyond that it centers on the lives of people who have been affected by a serial killer who has hunted pretty young women for many years would give away too many of the fantastic reveals Slaughter drops in throughout Pretty Girls. Although the conspiracy uncovered feels a bit far-fetched, every other element of this incredibly layered novel is right on point.
Review copy provided by the publicist, BookSparks PR.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

review: the city of devi by manil suri

With the warning of a bomb to be detonated and imminent nuclear annihilation, many are attempting to flee Mumbai in Manil Suri’s The City of Devi. Sarita and Jaz, however, are not fleeing, but looking for a man they both know intimately—Sarita’s husband, Karun. Although Jaz knows exactly who Sarita is, Sarita doesn’t discover who Jaz truly is until they are well on their journey. Suri tackles a number of issues in The City of Devi, foremost among them religion and sexuality, and handles them excellently. The shifting between Sarita’s narration and Jaz’s gives a nice perspective on who Karun is and why both of his lovers feel a need to find him. It is not until the fast-paced ending that things are thrown off-balance by an unexpected dark turn.
Review copy provided by the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

review: the things we keep by sally hepworth

Anna is all too familiar with early on-set Alzheimer’s as her mother suffered the same fate. Having experienced her mother’s decline, Anna immediately leaves her husband and moves in with her brother’s family. When they are no longer able to care for her, her brother locates a facility where a male patient her age lives. It happens to be the same place where Eve has just accepted a position as chef after her husband’s financial scheme and subsequent suicide have left Eve and her adorable daughter penniless. The Things We Keep is an immensely powerful story with Sally Hepworth creating characters who work their way into your heart. The unfolding of the details and unexpected reveals are especially moving as Hepworth shifts the timeline around so that the reader is at the same disadvantage as everyone but Anna.
Review copy provided by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press.

Monday, December 7, 2015

review: west 57 by b.n. freeman

B.N. Freeman’s West 57 is an uproariously good time. With the death of her father, Julie Chavan is tasked with determining what to do with the publishing house, West 57, he owned. Times haven’t been good for book publishers and Julie’s dad made some questionable decisions before he died. Complicating matters is Julie’s mother who lives across the country in California. She wants Julie to leave New York and join the movie business in LA with Julie’s ex-fiancé, but that likely means getting back together with a man who cheated on her.

The characters here are outrageous (Julie is the only grounded one, but even she sees her father’s ghost), but keep the novel entertaining. The antics of the drunken King Royal add to the fun while some very real dangers stemming from the publication of King Royal’s memoir keep the novel balanced. Freeman also takes a risk by inserting himself as an author Julie interacts with—the risk pays off and creates an excellently meta scene.

About the audiobook: West 57 is read by Meredith Mitchell whose voice work here nicely distinguishes between the narration and the dialogue. Her inflections are also spot on. The audio version of West 57 was published by Blackstone Audio in November 2015 and runs 10 hours.
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

review: the grownup by gillian flynn

This short story from Gillian Flynn features an outrageous and hilarious narrator whose con job lands her in the middle of a con job perpetrated by someone else. The question becomes though, who is conning the narrator? Is it Susan, the woman who hired her to cleanse the house? Or is it Susan’s stepson, who Susan claims is terrorizing the family? The Grownup is filled with unexpected twists that leave the reader with questions. Despite the loose threads, The Grownup is a satisfying read and extremely well-crafted.
Review copy provided by Blogging for Books.

Friday, November 27, 2015

review: the puffin of death by betty webb

When Teddy’s boss unexpectedly sends her on a trip to Iceland to pick up a polar bear for the zoo where she works, she’s far more concerned about the weather than getting involved in another murder investigation but that’s exactly what the California native does. Teddy did try to stay out of it this time, but she just couldn’t resist when two others asked her to help. Although The Puffin of Death is the fourth in a series centering on Teddy, it works well as a standalone (I haven’t read the first three). Betty Webb clearly did her research here and includes fine details about Teddy’s Icelandic adventure. The characters are colorful and Iceland comes alive on the page. The reveal of the killer was also well done and unexpected. Webb even came up with a reasonable way for the killer to inform Teddy of the motive and method.
Review copy provided by the publicist, MM Book Publicity.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

review: the witch of lime street by david jaher

The well-researched The Witch of Lime Street documents the Spiritualism movement of the 1920s and the related contest sponsored by Scientific American with a focus on the role Harry Houdini played in it all. Houdini and many others spent much time disproving claims of those who purported to be mediums, but David Jaher writes of how the most time was spent testing Mina “Margery” Crandon, the wife of a Boston doctor. Jaher also includes how Houdini’s obsession with proving Margery to be a fraud put him at odds with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Jaher’s telling is a highly readable and revealing history of 1920s Spiritualism in America though it does get bogged down at times in the repetitive testing of Margery.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Crown.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

review: supermarket healthy by melissa d'arabian

I spend a lot of time in the kitchen (that is, when I'm not at work or reading!), so I love trying out new recipes. I generally bring what I make to work (people working in newsrooms love baked goods) and the recipes I tried out from Melissa d'Arabian's Supermarket Healthy were tested on my coworkers. Although my coworkers said they enjoyed everything I brought in from Supermarket Healthy, I was disappointed at times. With the Cinnamon Popovers, for example, I felt there was too much butter.
If I try these again in the future, I won't use butter to grease the muffin tin. The recipes that were cooking rather than baking were much better. The Grilled Zucchini Pizza Bites were a huge hit (one person told me I should bring them in again) and I loved them too. This cookbook's angle though is "eating well without spending a lot." While the recipes do go for a healthier take by using low-sodium broth and the like, low-cost ingredients are not necessarily being used.
Review copy provided by Blogging for Books.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

review: the sundown speech by loren d. estleman

Amos Walker has a new case—this one involves the disappearance of a scam artist. When Amos finds a body in the home of the man who stole his clients’ money, the cops immediately suspect the clients; Amos, however, isn’t so sure. The quirky Amos (he refuses own a cell phone) continues to investigate and discovers a few twists that lead not only to the real murderer, but to a much bigger threat. The Sundown Speech starts slowly, but builds to an exciting finish that positions Amos as a hero.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Forge.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

review: never broken by jewel

Part memoir and part self-help manual, Never Broken by singer-songwriter Jewel reveals the struggles she went through as a child growing up in Alaska, as a homeless high school student, as an emerging artist, and as a mother going through a divorce. At times the self-help portion went on too long, but thankfully Jewel always shifts the narrative back to the events of her life. And those events are pretty outrageous at times. From singing in bars with her father as a young girl to losing her earnings in a terrible deceit, Jewel’s life has been far from what many would consider normal; yet, she comes across as level-headed and determined to make her son’s life better than her own. While her devoted followers may already be familiar with some of the tales here, Jewel’s remarkable history gives her songs more meaning. Like the subtitle says, the songs are only half the story.

About the audiobook: Never Broken is one title that really should be listened to rather than read on paper. Jewel’s folksy tone makes it feel like she’s sharing a story directly with the reader. She also incorporates many of her songs into Never Broken. In the print version, the lyrics are simply there whereas Jewel sings for the audio version. The audio version runs 10 and a half hours and was released September 2015 by Blackstone Audio.
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

review: broken dolls by tyrolin puxty

Note: This review contains spoilers for a different book—The Doll Maker by Sarban.

A few months ago, I read The Doll Maker by Sarban which finds a recent high school graduate falling for a man who carves dolls. The girl eventually discovers girls like her are being used to make the dolls. Broken Dolls changes things up by having one of the “dolls” be narrator as the professor turned doll maker controls her life, brings in another doll, and introduces her to his sick granddaughter. Just like The Doll Maker, Broken Dolls is a haunting tale, but Tyrolin Puxty wisely introduces a sympathetic motivation for the professor. Rather than remaining a dark story, Broken Dolls becomes an account about the lengths one will go to for a loved one. The pacing is excellent—I rapidly turned the pages needing to know what would happen as the dolls rebelled—and the various plot developments pay off nicely in the end.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Curiosity Quills.

review: the wrong man by kate white

After splitting with a nice man who just didn’t have that spark, interior designer Kit is looking for a little adventure while on a working vacation in Florida. So when she runs into a man (literally—the hazard of walking with an iPad) who invites her to dinner and his room, Kit goes for it. When she arrives back in New York, Kit is surprised to hear from the man who said his name was Matt, but agrees to meet with him again. From there, Kit is plunged into an insider trading investigation that has deadly consequences.

Kate White’s The Wrong Man is filled with intrigue and mystery. There are plenty of twists, but White sets them up well right from the start. Although the setup made it fairly easy to guess where the tale would head, Kit’s adventures are thrilling. The characters seemed real while also fun, especially Kit’s partner Baby.

About the audiobook: The Wrong Man is read by Erin Bennett. Her voice is pleasing and while she doesn’t go to great lengths to distinguish character voices, it was easy to tell who was speaking. The audio version runs 11 hours and was released June 2015 by DreamscapeMedia.
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

review: shriver by chris belden

Shriver just might be the most brilliant novel I’ve read all year. Chris Belden has created a world in which it’s difficult to tell what exactly is real. As a man with the same name as a renowned author travels to a writers’ conference after having been mistaken as the author, hilarity ensues and questions abound. Is Shriver indeed the reclusive author, but suffering from memory loss? Are some of the events taking place here actually part of Shriver’s hailed novel, Goat Time? Whatever the case, Belden’s novel is an entertaining send-up of academia and writers’ conferences.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

giveaway winner: quicksand by carolyn baugh

Anthony C is the winner of Carolyn Baugh's Quicksand. Congratulations!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

review: season of salt and honey by hannah tunnicliffe

After the death of her fiancé, Frankie flees her large Italian-American family for the solitude of her fiancé’s family cabin. While Frankie’s family wants to comfort her, the fiancé’s mother demands Frankie leave the cabin. Frankie defies the order and begins working through her grief as she meets a few of her new neighbors. Season of Salt and Honey is a tearjerker for sure with wonderful moments of community and family mixed with the devastation Frankie feels over the loss of Alex. There are some surprising developments as well which keep the story moving at a nice pace.
Hannah Tunnicliffe also includes recipes for some of the foods referenced in the book. I made the banana bread which was fantastic. One of my coworkers (I always bring baked goods to work) referred to it as “the best banana bread ever.”
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

review: nine lives by wendy corsi staub

A new cozy mystery series from Wendy Corsi Staub begins with Nine Lives which features a widow with a young son unexpectedly finding herself in a town filled with mediums. As Bella prepares to move in with her antagonistic mother-in-law (the medical bills stemming from her husband's death devastated the family finances, especially since Bella got laid off from her teaching job), a cat appears at the house. Bella's son is immediately taken with the cat, but the cat wears a collar and the family must travel on. The cat will appear again though and set Bella and Max on a detour to Lily Dale where Bella will come to realize the cat's owner was murdered.

Nine Lives builds very slowly (for a town of mediums, no one seemed to realize Leona had been murdered until Bella starts to put it all together), but it is hardly unnoticeable given the lively setting of Lily Dale during "the season." There's a lot going on and a great cast of characters, so it works for Nine Lives to be less mystery and more getting to know the town for all its quirks. It's an entertaining story that nicely sets up the series while also providing a satisfying conclusion so that Nine Lives can stand alone.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

review: winter bloom by tara heavey

Tara Heavey’s Winter Bloom is a tear-jerker with every character having suffered some kind of heartbreak. Although Eva, a widow with a young child, is the focus of Winter Bloom, her story is mixed in with the others who begin working on a community garden with her at the home of a persnickety old lady rumored to have murdered her husband. As the secrets of the past are revealed and the stories of each character elegantly weave together, Heavey shows how bonds between friends can provide the support needed to get through life’s difficulties.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Friday, October 2, 2015

giveaway: quicksand by carolyn baugh

Thanks to Forge Books you can win a copy of Carolyn Baugh's Quicksand! The giveaway is open to all US residents. Simply leave a comment with your email (so I can contact the winner) to enter. One US resident will win a copy of Quicksand. The deadline to enter is October 23, 2015 at 11:59pm Pacific.

review: quicksand by carolyn baugh

Officer Nora Khalil is part of a joint task force between the FBI and the Philadelphia Police Department which puts her in the middle of a purported gang war that has left a teenage girl brutally murdered. The first in a new series from Carolyn Baugh, Quicksand introduces a fantastic set of characters and many threads of future plots while also satisfactorily concluding the primary plot here. With characters like Nora’s father, an Egyptian Muslim, and the more recent immigrants Nora interviews in the course of the investigation, Baugh (who has a doctorate in Arabic and Islamic studies) expertly explores the cultural differences presented in Quicksand, particularly with how the police interviews are conducted. With an energetic plot and beautifully developed characters, Quicksand is a fantastic start to a new law enforcement thriller series.
Review copy provided the publisher, Forge.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

review: never look down by warren c. easley

The third in the Cal Claxton mystery series gets off to a thrilling start and never stops. When the fiancée of a friend is murdered, Cal ends up mixed up in yet another mystery set in the Pacific Northwest. This time though another perspective is brought in—that of the teenage witness to the murder; this addition keeps the series fresh and heightens the drama as the criminals seek to eliminate anyone who can identify them. As Cal tries to track down the witness, he pursues other leads which get him even more entangled in the conspiracy surrounding the murder. The excitement doesn’t stop even as Cal keeps a level-head and Kelly, the witness, deals with her daily drama of living with her deceased father’s ex-girlfriend and attending an alternative high school.
Review copy provided the publicist, MM Book Publicity.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

review: the flying circus by susan crandall

Set in the 1920s, Susan Crandall brings together three people of different backgrounds in The Flying Circus. There’s a young woman determined to make her own way after her family’s money is lost, a young man who is running from accusations of a terrible crime, and a World War I pilot who has left his wife since she’s really in love with his deceased best friend. The unlikely trio earns money by performing stunts as they travel around the Midwest.

As one might guess with a mixed gender trio all of similar age, there is sexual tension that finally comes to a head about the same time the law catches up to the group. The drama of it all plays out splendidly as Crandall uses facts of the time period (Prohibition, smuggling, and the rights of unmarried women) to make the plot more compelling.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

review: blood red by wendy corsi staub

Wendy Corsi Staub kicks off a new series with Blood Red which takes place in a small east coast town called Mundy’s Landing. The town has quite the history which will likely be developed more as the series continues. The first book centers on current events though that actually have little to do with Mundy’s Landing other than the fact that the target of serial killer lives there. As Rowan will soon learn, someone has been harboring a grudge for many years.

Although Blood Red begins with a murder, the plot develops slowly. Rowan is a frustrating character whose navel-gazing only makes the plot move even slower. The killer keeps things interesting though. Staub makes sure to hide the killer’s identity by using a gender neutral name and never using pronouns which allows for a number of possibilities for how the killer is connected to Rowan. Rowan’s secret though isn’t nearly as provocative as the killer’s motive for going after her and a number of other redheads (redheads abound begging the question, just how many people in the Mundy’s Landing area have red hair anyway?) which is unfortunate as Rowan’s secret could’ve made her a more multi-dimensional character. A more explosive secret could also have set up the future books in the series more the numerous subplots that further slowed the pacing did.
Review copy from Amazon vine.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

review: shadow fall by laura griffin

Tracers is back! Special Agent Tara Rushing is now on the scene to solve some serial murders in Texas. Much of the evidence points to a man whose security company had been employed by one of the victims, but Tara soon begins to think it’s one of Liam’s employees rather than Liam himself.

While the more recent Tracers novels don’t involve the Delphi Center as much as the early books, Shadow Fall mixes in the Delphi Center techs well. The strong, intelligent leads are easy to become invested in, especially once Tara’s life is threatened. Shadow Fall is filled with suspense and doesn’t try to force too much in the way of the romance. Another great element was the illustration of the tension between the local sheriff department and the federal agents.
Review copy provided by the author.

Friday, September 11, 2015

review: the westhampton leisure hour and supper club by samantha bruce-benjamin

Although set at the time of The Great Hurricane of 1938, the hurricane barely comes into play in The Westhampton Leisure Hour and Supper Club with only a few party guests mentioning the storm. The focus is instead on the lives of a wealthy set including the pair deemed The Host and The Hostess. The chapters rotate in perspective with The Host and The Hostess taking most of the intriguing tale, but others are included. As such, the story is somewhat hard to follow with the jumps in perspective also moving around in time. The writing is beautiful, but the minor characters are shallow and Serena makes for a weak lead even if her situation would have been typical for the era.
Review copy provided by the author.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

review: the good neighbor by a.j. banner

Author Sarah Phoenix and her doctor husband live in an idyllic neighborhood or so Sarah thinks. The image is shattered when the house next door catches fire killing two of the occupants and then spreads to Sarah’s house. Sarah makes it out and becomes a hero for saving the child next door, but the fire unravels many secrets.

A.J. Banner keeps The Good Neighbor moving at a quick pace which heightens the thrill, but that speed also seems to serve as cover for some holes. For example, Sarah finds a picture of her husband with a woman she doesn’t recognize, but it doesn’t make sense for Sarah not to recognize her. The characters are also lacking depth. While that may be intentional for the neighbors (after all, the heart of this novel is how well do you know your neighbors), Sarah needed more development than just being wounded by her father’s philandering.
Review copy provided by the publicist, BookSparks PR.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

review: star craving mad by elise a. miller

Borrowing from Jane Eyre, Star Craving Mad features an elementary school teacher, a celebrity couple, and the couple’s daughter amongst others. When Maddy Braverman discovers the daughter of Nic and Shelby Seabolt is in her first grade class, she immediately begins fantasizing about NIc. Although Nic and Shelby are said to have a solid marriage, Maddy soon discovers Nic is more than willing to play. Because Maddy consistently makes bad choices and is more than a little sex-crazed, she hooks up with NIc, who has led her to believe his marriage to Shelby is rocky due to her drug use. There is one development which saves Star Craving Mad from being entirely predictable, but it’s hard to get past the banality of the rest of the plot.
Review copy provided by the publicist, BookSparks PR.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

review: wife 22 by melanie gideon

Alice spends a lot of time online. She’s married with two kids and teaches drama to elementary school students, but much of her life is spent online. Because of that Melanie Gideon intersperses Google searches, emails, and social media posts with the regular prose of Wife 22. The format works well here as it brings the reader more thoroughly into Alice’s life. It’s not a life many would aspire to though. Alice is quite neurotic. She obsesses about the sexuality of her preteen son, worries her teenage daughter has an eating disorder, and wonders about the happiness of her marriage. Does she approach her family about any of these things though? Not a chance. She just goes online and finds she has an email inviting her to participate in a marriage study. She readily agrees and Gideon spins the tale from there. Had the characters been less clichéd and the plot twist not so easily guessed, Wife 22 might have been a stand-out in women’s fiction; instead it is a glimpse into an uninspiring life.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Ballantine Books.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

review: lizard radio by pat schmatz

Kivali has grown up believing she was an abandoned baby wearing a shirt with a lizard on it when Sheila, Kivali’s guardian, found her. Sheila also told Kivali she wouldn’t have to go to CropCamp until she was 17, but now Kivali is 15 and Sheila is sending her away. Kivali is understandably confused, but figures out the truth of her life over the course of Pat Schmatz’s dystopian novel that raises a number of questions about identity.

The story captivates, particularly as Kivali unravels the secrets of her past, but the world-building was lacking. Schmatz didn’t make clear how this society came to be or even how the CropCamp, where the majority of Lizard Radio takes place, is supposed to churn out proper adults. Despite the failed world-building, Lizard Radio is a worthwhile read as Schmatz brings the characters to life in what becomes a thought-provoking plot.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Candlewick.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

review: golden boy by abigail tarttelin

Just before turning 16, Max is raped by the son of close family friends. While some who experience that trauma choose not to make a police report, Max has very complicated reasons for making that decision. Max’s father is the crown prosecutor, who is about to campaign for Parliament. Furthermore, Max is intersex, which very few people know (his rapist is one of the few). From this startling beginning, Abigail Tarttelin forms a powerful family-oriented story full of emotion and hard decisions. While the subject matter is heart-wrenching at times, Tarttelin handles it with grace centered in realism.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Atria.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

review: the woman in the photograph by dana gynther

I went into The Woman in the Photograph knowing little about Lee Miller and Man Ray, whose lives Dana Gynther fictionalizes in her second novel, but feel I know them well thanks to Gynther’s elegant depiction that brings them to life. The Woman in the Photograph is full of romantic entanglements and professional jealousies, especially as Miller’s star rises and Ray takes credit for her work. Gynther draws upon the known history of the two artists and their associates to create animated scenes that explore the life of a woman with tremendous independence for her time.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

review: anchored by brigitte quinn

Drawing on her own background as a television news anchor, Brigitte Quinn crafts a noteworthy tale of a cable news anchor trying to balance family with work which includes dealing with a ladder-climbing producer. Too frequently novels about TV news (the industry I work in) are filled with inaccuracies and implausible situations, but Quinn tells it like it is. By setting Anchored in 2000-2001, she’s also able to incorporate actual events that affected America and the TV industry which makes the novel even more realistic. The affair plot, though, is where Quinn suffers some setbacks. Although Barbara and Jack are both attractive and charismatic, there is little else to explain their developing romance. Given that Quinn establishes both as long-time professionals who have never previously cheated on their spouses, more explanation was needed as to why Barbara and Jack would choose to pursue each other.
Review copy provided by the publicist, BookSparks PR.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

review: pretty baby by mary kubica

Through shifting perspectives the story of a homeless teen with a baby befriended by a woman who works for a non-profit helping those living in poverty. Despite the objections of her husband, Heidi brings Willow and infant Ruby home. Heidi ignores her husband, daughter, and job to focus on her foundlings. As Chris grows suspicious of Willow and begins to investigate her, he knows her presence could cause problems for his family, but has no idea the scale of the problems coming. As with her debut novel, Mary Kubica builds suspense in Pretty Baby by having events from the past intertwined with the present and aftermath. Kubica also drops a twist worthy of this layered thriller.
Review copy provided by the publicist, BookSparks PR.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

review: high country nocturne by jon talton

High Country Nocturne is the eighth book in a series centering on a cop/historian turned private investigator. Although Jon Talton makes numerous references to events taking place in previous books, it’s not entirely necessary to read the previous books before diving into High Country Nocturne which has an action-packed, intriguing plot. David Mapstone is attempting to clear the name of his partner in the private investigator business after he’s been accused of stealing diamonds. But there are others involved in the diamond heist and David’s life is now in danger. Although the plot occasionally gets sidetracked by Mapstone’s slips into historian, it was fun to learn a bit about Phoenix (where the novels are set) since the city and the divisions between the various law enforcement agencies in the metro area do have their places in the plot.
Review copy provided by the publicist, MM Book Publicity.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

review: the actor and the housewife by shannon hale

Inspired by the stories her family made up on road trips to pass the time, Becky Jack pens a screenplay that she somehow manages to sell. Having traveled from her Utah home to Los Angeles to seal the deal, Becky meets her movie star crush, Felix Callahan. It is best friendship at first sight. But Becky is a married Mormon housewife with four children while Felix is an atheist married to a fabulous French model. The difference is lifestyle is one complication, but so is the fact that no one believes they are just friends, including (initially at least) their respective spouses.

By hitting upon only the highs and lows of the friendship, Shannon Hale spans over a decade in The Actor and the Housewife, which also causes some of the book to be passively written. The emotion is there though when it needs to be. Although I take issue with some of the elements of the book (women giving up their careers, Becky asking permission from so many in order to continue her friendship with Felix), The Actor and the Housewife wouldn’t be realistic without those given Becky’s background. The plot wholly rests on those elements and Hale does the story justice by incorporating the trials of life and how people frequently jump to the wrong conclusions.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Bloomsbury.

Friday, July 31, 2015

review: one step too far by tina seskis

One day Emily walks out on her life. Conveniently she’s always gone by her middle name and has used her husband’s last name since marrying, but her passport is under her legal birth name. This makes it far easier for her to get on a train and start over. The family drama makes for an interesting read, but One Step Too Far presents that there is a big mystery surrounding the why of Emily’s departure. This is where the novel fails. Tina Seskis does well at rotating the perspective of the chapters to keep up the mystery, but the reveal was a huge disappointment that was fairly easily guessed (which made me dismiss it as the big mystery since it seemed there should be something more). The actual writing was engaging and compelling enough to keep the pages turning, but One Step Too Far didn’t pay off in the end.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

review: rise again by ben tripp

It should have been a typical Fourth of July. Sheriff Danielle Adelman had some holiday duties like judging the chili contest held by her small California hometown, but it all should have gone smoothly. Instead, Danny discovers her younger sister has stolen her beloved classic Mustang and an officer from out of town arrives to tell her some sort of mass hysteria is taking place around the world. Shortly thereafter, a body is found and the hysteria starts there too. Danny does her best to organize, but even her military training couldn’t have prepared her for what happens next—the dead begin to rise again.

The primary focus on the zombie uprising was spot on with Danny and her ragtag team battling the zombies and the interference of a private military contractor team, but the subplot involving Danny’s search for her sister was merely a distraction. It seemed to be there to humanize Danny, but was simply unnecessary.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

review: a small indiscretion by jan ellison

A Small Indiscretion is written as a letter to the narrator’s son, who has been in a terrible car accident. As one guesses, Annie is not quite sure who the father of her now adult son is. The father could be the man she married who raised the boy along with the two other children they had, he could be Annie’s married boss, or he could be the lodger her married boss had who also happened to have an affair with the boss’s wife. Yeah, it’s kind of complicated, but Annie has long since moved on from those days in London. A photograph in the mail brings it all back though and her son’s car accident prompts Annie to share the story. Although the letter-style narrative allowed Annie to share details that otherwise wouldn’t have been easily incorporated, it also lacked emotion and action.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

review: the key by sara b. elfgren & mats strandberg

The final installment in the Engelsfors trilogy finds the remaining members of The Circle trying to save the world from demonic forces while also dealing with their normal high school issues as they head toward graduation. Meanwhile the Chosen Ones who died over the last two novels are stuck in the Borderland desperate to help. The world-building by the authors has been fantastic over the course of the trilogy, but by the time The Key was reached, the story had been excruciatingly stretched out. With much of the first half of The Key spent rehashing plot points from the first two books, the action of The Key comes far too late.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Overlook.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

review: those girls by lauren saft

Alex and Mollie were an inseparable childhood duo who added a third friend when Veronica began attending their all-girls school. Now juniors in high school, the three have somewhat grown apart as they party and engage in various romantic endeavors. They’re actually quite awful to each other in stereotypical mean, private school girl ways. The only kind character in the entire novel is Alex’s younger brother who has a desperate crush on Mollie despite her continued involvement with a clichéd jerk/jock senior. While Those Girls is a lively read, Lauren Saft relies heavily on stereotypes and doesn’t include any thought-provoking elements or push the characters forward despite the opportunity to do so.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

review: getting over mr. right by chrissie manby

Getting Over Mr. Right pulls the reader in two directions. Ashleigh is at times incredibly sad in her desperation to get back with Michael, but the extremes she goes to can also be downright hilarious. Ashleigh is generally a likable character even as she alienates friends in her quest to be with a man wholly undeserving of her. It’s frustrating that Ashleigh can’t see reason and essentially hits bottom before making her way back, but Chrissie Manby creates an interesting journey for Ashleigh nonetheless. The end was a bit of an easy way out, but the story does entertain.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

feature: allison leotta

On May 20, Allison Leotta visited The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ for an afternoon tea promoting the latest in her series about prosecutor Anna Curtis. The event began with a more formal question and answer session from the bookstore before Leotta took questions from the audience and then signed copies of A Good Killing (and her previous novels, of course). For those wondering where the title of the new book came from, Leotta reported that it’s from a case where, in reference to the murdered man, people told the cops that he “need[ed] a good killing.”

Given that Leotta shares a profession with her protagonist, readers often wonder how much the author is like her character. Leotta now wishes she had given Anna Curtis red hair to distinguish her a bit more because although they have similar professional lives (she takes the most interesting bits from her own cases), they are different in their personal lives. And in that vein, it took Leotta a while to figure out how the romance world would work for Anna. She also said she’d grown tired of Anna’s love interest from the previous books, so now Anna has met someone new.

Leotta also shared the process of her first book (additional information can be found in my previous interview with her), Law of Attraction. She started writing to help her process the details of the cases she was handling because it was cheaper than therapy. She got the Writing Fiction For Dummies book and spent a year writing followed by another year rewriting after the agent who accepted her query suggested revisions. The agent sold the manuscript to Simon and Schuster, but the Department of Justice had to review it because of Leotta’s job as a federal prosecutor. Fortunately it all worked out and Law of Attraction came out a year later.

Combining a one book per year schedule with family life (she’s a mom of two) means Leotta no longer practices law, but she has maintained her license. With that schedule in mind, Leotta has already turned in book five which has to do with sexual assault on a college campus. She also has an idea for a standalone novel.

review: a good killing by allison leotta

Until the release of A Good Killing, Anna Curtis has been that friend you meet as an adult and know who she is now, but not really how she got there. With the fourth in the series finding Anna back in her hometown, more of her past is revealed. After ending her engagement in Speak of the Devil, Anna has no hesitation about dropping everything when she learns her sister is wanted for questioning in the death of the beloved high school football coach. Anna immediately signs on as her sister’s defense attorney. The reversal of Anna’s role, the focus on her family life, and the introduction of a new love interest provide a refreshing jolt for the series while staying true to everything that’s been established about Anna previously.

As usual, Allison Leotta tackles some tough subject matter here, but does so with the respect one would expect from someone who herself worked as a sex-crimes prosecutor. Most importantly, A Good Killing addresses the massive backlog of untested rape kits and how that allows predators to continue getting away with their crimes. To learn more, visit .
I purchased this book.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

review: maybe in another life by taylor jenkins reid

Reminiscent of Sarah Mlynowski’s Me Vs. Me and the Gwyneth Paltrow movie Sliding Doors, Maybe in Another Life explores the two paths Hannah Martin’s life could take. After returning to her hometown of Los Angeles, Hannah joins a group of friends at a bar. In one life, Hannah goes home with her boyfriend from high school while she goes home with her best friend in another. There are some things that stay the same regardless of that decision, but other aspects of Hannah’s life hinge on the decision she makes that night. Taylor Jenkins Reid tells the parallel stories in alternating chapters that end at just the right moment so that there’s never a point where the reader thinks, “I can stop here for the night.”
Review copy provided by the publicist, BookSparks PR.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

review: feral by holly schindler

After exposing a drug ring at her high school, Claire was brutally beaten. She’s haunted by nightmares of the attack, so she readily agrees when her professor father proposes spending a semester in another state. As soon as they arrive though, Claire learns a girl who would’ve been her classmate is missing. As it turns out Claire and the missing girl have a common interest in journalism, which causes Claire to be interested in Serena’s life. When Claire discovers Serena’s body in the woods, she is compelled even more to investigate what happened despite the inept sheriff saying it was an accident.

If that was all there was to Feral, it would likely be a fantastic mystery with a spunky teenage protagonist à la Veronica Mars. Holly Schindler instead chooses to make a supernatural turn that is a bit unclear. Is Serena really inhabiting the body of a feral cat or was discovering Serena’s body one trauma too many for Claire? And if Serena really is inside the cat, why would she target Claire? The supernatural elements confused the plot and created too many loose ends.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

review: love you to death by shannon k. butcher

When she doesn’t hear from her sister, Elise knows something’s wrong because they spoke regularly despite Elise’s job constantly taking her out of the country. Elise immediately catches a flight and finds Ashley’s house is deserted. While Elise checks out the house, Ashley’s handsome neighbor who just happens to be a former cop notices the unusual activity. With both Elise and Trent believing the other to be an intruder, their meeting is dramatic and kicks off their antagonist relationship. But the two have the same goal—saving Ashley from a serial killer—and that goal brings them together on multiple levels.

Love You to Death is drama-filled with an appropriate balance of romance (Elise and Trent may find each other attractive, but they’re not going to let their lust make them forget Ashley) to the suspense. There are some disturbing scenes involving the killer that seemed a bit unnecessary as the killer’s motivation was never completely explained other than to say it had to do with his deceased wife. Love You to Death could’ve been stronger had Shannon K. Butcher focused on Elise and Trent since she decided not to reveal much about the killer despite including scenes with him.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Forever.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

review: it's you by jane porter

After her fiancé killed himself last year, Ali’s mother passed as well causing Ali to start merely existing rather than truly living. She wishes her father would leave Napa to live near her, but he refuses, so when he hurts himself, Ali heads to Napa to help. In this touching and thought-provoking story, Ali meets an array of people, including some from Jane Porter’s previous novels. Most significantly she meets Craig Hallahan and his great-aunt Edie, who lives at Ali’s father’s retirement home. While a romance begins to spark between Ali and Craig, Ali finds Edie somewhat difficult until she learns more of Edie’s story. It’s You shifts perspective a few times so that Edie’s story comes out too. She’s an American who studied in Germany during World War II and married a man who was publicly a Nazi, but privately taking part in the German Resistance. The incorporation of this storyline gives It’s You a different feeling than Porter’s usual women’s fiction novels, but the heart of her writing still shines through.
Review copy provided by the publicist, BookSparks PR.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

review: summer secrets by jane green

After some semi-misses, Jane Green gets back on track with a British protagonist who has a drinking problem. Summer Secrets finds Cat, recently divorced and sober, working the steps in Alcoholics Anonymous and remembering the life that got her to this point. The scenes of the past unfold better than many of the present-day scenes which are a little too in Cat’s head. The action is in Cat’s drunken past and the first time she tried to get sober. That’s when Cat’s mother reveals that the man who raised Cat was not her father and that her biological father drank a lot as well. When Cat seeks him out, her fragile sobriety is compromised and Cat betrays her newfound family. When Cat regains her sobriety over a decade later, she knows she must make amends.

The family drama of Summer Secrets is excellent, but Green too frequently has Cat fall into a narcissistically whiny narrative, especially when she’s at AA meetings. Those scenes dragged and didn’t add to the overall plot. Fortunately much of Summer Secrets is about what occurred the first summer Cat visited Nantucket and the fallout from that first visit once she returns.
Review copy provided by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

review: how to be a good wife by emma chapman

It’s hard to write about How to Be a Good Wife without revealing too much. Emma Chapman’s debut is about a married woman who just might be crazy. She remembers nothing of her life before meeting her husband who says he rescued her from drowning when she was distraught over the loss of her parents. For years, Marta has taken medication, but she’s stopped now that her grown son has moved away. As a result, Marta thinks she is remembering things from her past, but those memories could also be hallucinations. How to Be a Good Wife has all the makings of a fantastic novel, but Chapman fails to deliver. To delve into how Chapman fails would spoil the ending, but trust that there are a multitude of plot holes and unanswered questions.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Picador.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

review: tiny pretty things by sona charaipotra & dhonielle clayton

Tiny Pretty Things focuses on three ballerinas competing first for roles in The Nutcracker and then for roles in Giselle. There’s Bette, the ice blonde who dates one of the male students; June who is part Korean and feels she doesn’t fit in; and Gigi, an African-American who has moved to New York from California and rooms with June. When Gigi is cast in the top roles over Bette, someone begins torturing Gigi in a fashion all too similar to what happened to another dancer the previous year. In a story that combines a cutthroat world of high school dancers (although it’s a bit light on actual dancing scenes) with cliffhanger mystery, no one in Tiny Pretty Things is safe from a fall (both literal and figurative). With the chapters alternating among the three girls, some of their secrets are made known to the reader, but it remains difficult to guess who is after Gigi. There’s no real resolution at the end; only a hint at what might have happened and the setup for the next book.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

review: thank you, goodnight by andy abramowitz

Teddy Tremble and his band had one hit, but then their second album bombed and they were dropped by the label. They have all since moved on from the band of their early 20s, but then a picture of Teddy titled Faded Glory ends up displayed at the Tate Modern. This leads Teddy to also discover a small European town where the band is still popular. It all triggers something so that soon Teddy is writing songs again and giving up his law career to get the band back together.

Although the ending leaves something to be desired, Teddy’s journey to becoming a rock star again is a great time. Teddy has some amusing comments about the music industry and which bands are actually worthy of liking that reveal much more about him than a basic description ever could. In Thank You, Goodnight, Andy Abramowitz creates a believable life trajectory for all of his characters while hitting all the right notes (until the end) in a story that has all the highs and lows of relationships both romantic and platonic.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

giveaway winner: blood ties by nicholas guild

Congratulations to Gabby who has won a copy of Nicholas Guild's Blood Ties.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

review: elders by ryan mcilvain

Written by a former member of the Mormon church, Elders provides an interesting glimpse into the life of a Mormon missionary living in a foreign country. In this case, Elder McLeod (all Mormon missionaries are called Elder) is in Brazil with a native Brazilian who was recently converted by another pair of missionaries. While Elder Passos is fully devoted to the church, McLeod has a number of doubts after growing up in the religion. The pair clash over this and other subjects such as the politics of the US. The story is very much slice-of-life and comes across like it may be a fictionalized account of the author’s own experiences which makes it a fascinating read although there is no resolution at the end.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Hogarth.

Friday, May 29, 2015

review: read between the lines by jo knowles

Each chapter in Read Between the Lines tells of someone else’s day in this work of interconnected stories from Jo Knowles. All of the characters are in some way connected to the local high school which serves as the primary setting. With much of the same story being repeated from different perspectives, Read Between the Lines definitely makes the reader think about how people can experience the same things but come away with completely different outlooks. Knowles does make use of a lot of high school stereotypes, but each character also comes alive in his or her respective angst.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

review: jinxed by kathryn leigh scott

Following up on the fantastic Down and Out in Beverly Heels, Kathryn Leigh Scott puts her heroine’s life in danger in Jinxed. Meg is still trying to get back on her feet after being scammed by her second husband, so she’s thrilled to hear the series that made her a star is being revived. Unfortunately the show is being recast, but they do want to employ Meg to teach the new Jinx the trademark hat toss. Meg accepts as it’s a paycheck (her last project was an indie film directed by a high school kid) and could lead to more, but she never expected gunfire.

Jinxed works well as a standalone with Scott giving just enough of Meg’s backstory to fill in new readers while not boring those who read the first book. As with the first in the Meg Barnes series, the pacing here is terrific with plenty of twists and new developments abounding. There’s never a tedious moment, but there are great comedic bits as Meg continuously runs into people from her past as well as fans. Scott also naturally incorporates new insights in Meg’s life both past and present that allow Meg to be even more sympathetic than before.
Review copy provided by the publicist, Darlene Chan PR.

Monday, May 25, 2015

review: blackbird by anna carey

Anna Carey’s Blackbird makes use of the second person for the narration. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure, the second person does work as the narrator is making decisions about what to do next. The narrator does not know who she herself is which also makes the second person work here. Unfortunately, the plot is severely lacking and nothing is resolved. There’s a lot of ho-hum daily life stuff going on as the narrator tries to figure out who she is and who is apparently trying to kill her. Despite not knowing anything about herself, she immediately trusts a random boy and goes along with him. Her actions throughout were as frustrating as the book’s ending which was no ending at all, but a lackluster cliffhanger to set up the next book.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

author guest post: pete hautman

Pete Hautman, the author of Eden West, explains his creation of the story in the following article for My Book Views.  My thanks to him!

First, a Fence
Pete Hautman

Twelve years ago I was thinking about fences.

I’m fascinated by fences. From the Great Wall of China to the wire rabbit fence protecting my Swiss chard. I like their geometry, their simplicity, the opportunities for self-indulgent metaphor.

I imagine a young man, maybe seventeen or eighteen, with a wispy beard, walking along an eight foot chain-link fence. Is the fence keeping him in, or keeping something out? I don’t yet know. I see grasslands on both sides, rolling hills stretching to the horizon. Looks like Montana.

I give the young man a rifle because I’m worried about him. I don’t know if danger will come from the other side of the fence, or from within, but I want him to be prepared.

I look more closely. He is young,

A cool breeze moves the blades of amber grass to his left. Trees are visible ahead. Their leaves have turned to shades of yellow, brown, and red. It must be autumn. I hear the call of a bird. I make a note to research Montana trees and wildlife.

He is following a worn footpath. Others have walked this fence line. On the other side the grass is shorter, heavily grazed, probably by cattle. A faint smile shows through the young man’s scant beard. Something is about to happen, but he doesn’t know it. Will he need his rifle? Perhaps.

Some stories begin with a plot. Some begin with a character, a conceit, or a message. Eden West began with the image of a fence, and many unanswered questions. The world, the character, and the story grew from there.

This is an inefficient way to write a novel. It leads to wrong turns, blind alleys, and dead ends. Eden West stalled out several times. It took twelve years to finish.

The fence, I discovered, surrounds Nodd, a twelve-square-mile compound in western Montana. Within Nodd live the followers of Father Grace. They are awaiting the End of Days. The young man, seventeen-year-old Jacob, was raised in Nodd.

I was pretty sure I would find a story in Jacob’s world. There would be love, lust, faith, betrayal, revelation, and redemption, because all stories should have those things. Eventually I came to know my characters, their hopes and dreams, their sins and failures. I learned about the fence.

I write for the same reasons I read: to learn, to understand, to find out what happens next. Eden West turned out to be particularly long journey. Sometimes I got lost, but I always found my way by returning to the fence, where the story began.