Thursday, April 30, 2015

review: the tapestry by nancy bilyeau

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The Tapestry continues Joanna Stafford’s story of life as a former novice after Henry VIII leaves the Catholic church and closes the priories. After the slow build of The Chalice, The Tapestry is full of action with more attempts on Joanna’s life and Joanna being drawn deeper into the king’s world as he learns of her tapestries. Although Joanna is uneasy making tapestries for the king, she feels she must stay close as her friend Catherine is following a path that will lead to Catherine becoming Henry’s mistress. Nancy Bilyeau creates many tense situations for Joanna who is struggling with the numerous choices she faces. The drama stays high throughout The Tapestry with Joanna teaming with Geoffrey on a dangerous journey.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

review: the year my mother came back by alice eve cohen

After sharing her incredible pregnancy story in What I Thought I Knew, Alice Eve Cohen now follows up with The Year My Mother Came Back. The daughter Cohen was pregnant with in the previous memoir is now in middle school and ready to have leg lengthening surgery (for those unfamiliar with What I Thought I Knew, Cohen became pregnant after being told she couldn't conceive and many complications arose) when Cohen learns she must undergo treatment for breast cancer, which her mother also had. Although Cohen's mother has been dead for many years, Cohen starts to experience visions and conversations with her mother. Cohen is candid about the thoughts and feelings she had during a year in which she faced a lot of difficult times (in addition to her cancer and her younger daughter's surgery, her older daughter left for college and also met her birth mother) but keeps the mood light so that rather than be depressing, The Year My Mother Came Back is a touching look at family.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Algonquin.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

review: smoke by meili cady

Reminiscent of The Bling Ring, Meili Cady tells how she got caught up in a life a drug smuggling in her entertaining memoir, Smoke. After finishing school in Bremerton, WA, Cady headed to Los Angeles hoping for an acting career. As is many people’s story, it was difficult for Cady to break in, but also difficult to find other work due to the recession. Cady’s naïveté (if she’s to be believed that she didn’t initially know about the smuggling), neediness for a friend, and desire to support herself lead to her downfall when she joins Lisette Lee’s crew. Although Lee claimed to have a fabulous life as a pop singer and heiress to the Samsung electronics company, it turned out she was moving marijuana from California to Ohio. Cady relates this story and other elements of her life in Los Angeles in vivid detail, but sometimes the story just seems too fantastical to believe.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Dey Street Books.

Friday, April 17, 2015

review: exile by kevin emerson

Exile is the first book in a series from author and musician, Kevin Emerson. It’s clear that Emerson is well-versed in the inner workings of a band, but the relationship between Summer and Caleb along with Summer’s struggle to be the daughter her parents want makes Exile a bit unbalanced. Caleb’s discovery of his father is far more interesting, but is never at the forefront due to Summer being the narrator. Exile also ends abruptly and without closure to any of the arcs that were setup in order to force readers to check out the next book (Encore to an Empty Room) which is a big pet peeve of mine.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

review: the chalice by nancy bilyeau

Following the events of The Crown, Joanna Stafford and the others from the priories and monasteries find their lives becoming even more difficult. They are trying their best to make new lives and have formed relationships with each other. Some are set to marry, including Joanna and Edmund. The Chalice doesn’t really get started though until Part Four with all that comes before feeling a bit like filler as though The Chalice is simply needed to bridge the gap between the first book and the third, The Tapestry. The plot finally starts to come together in the latter portion of the book with Joanna finding out the rest of the prophecy and exactly the role she is to play. The pace picks up as Joanna once again finds herself in a perilous situation.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

author guest post: bruce desilva

This post contains affiliate links.

The plot of Bruce DeSilva's excellent A Scourge of Vipers involves the world of sports gambling. Here, DeSilva shares his thoughts on the subject.

Gambling on sports, the popular but mostly illegal pastime that forms the backdrop for my new novel, A Scourge of Vipers, is very much a part of the national conversation right now. 

For one thing, the NCAA’s Annual March Madness basketball tournament, which just drew to a close, generates more gambling, both in the number of bettors and the total dollars wagered, than any other sporting event including the Super Bowl. 

For another thing, a number of governors, with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie leading the way, are seeking to legalize sports betting so they can ease their states’ budget crises by taxing the revenue. 

When Christie, a Republican who wants to be the next president of the United States, first broached the idea a couple of years ago, it struck me right off that the subject had the makings of a rip-roaring crime novel. 

It also struck me that any governor who wants to legalize sports betting has a lot of obstacles to overcome. 

For one thing, most states have vice laws prohibiting gambling on sporting events—although they gleefully rake in millions of dollars selling chump scratch tickets and lottery numbers games to the suckers. For another thing, federal law makes sports gambling illegal in every state but Nevada and three others that were grandfathered in. So to legalize it, governors would have to repeal their own state laws and then get a paralyzed U.S. Congress to overturn the federal law. Either that or successfully challenge the federal prohibition in the courts. 

None of this is likely to be easy, because legalization has powerful enemies with very deep pockets. 

The NCAA is dead-set against it, threatening to pull March Madness regionals from states that make sports gambling legal. The major professional sports leagues have been vehemently opposed for years (although the NBA commissioner softened his stance recently.) Las Vegas casinos are eager to maintain their near-monopoly on legal sports betting. And organized crime organizations are aghast at the prospect of having their bookmaking revenues dry up. 

On the other side of the issue are a number of public-employee unions who view taxing sports gambling as a way to save their threatened pension systems. And some casino operators outside of Las Vegas are salivating at the chance to jump into the legal sports gambling business. 

The amount of money at stake is enormous. About eighty-five percent of us bet on sports at least occasionally. And the total wagered, most of it illegally, is estimated at three hundred and eighty billion dollars a year. 

To put it in perspective, that’s six times greater than the annual budget of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 

No wonder, then, that all hell breaks loose in A Scourge of Vipers when Rhode Island’s fictional governor, a former religious sister known as Attila the Nun because of her take-no-prisoners style of politics, proposes legalizing sports gambling to ease her state’s budget problems. 

Forces with a lot to lose—or gain—if she gets her way immediately flood the state with millions of dollars to buy the votes of the state’s politicians. Some of them do it with big campaign donations. Others aren’t above slipping envelopes into politicians’ pockets. All this in a little state where the average campaign for the state legislature costs just ten thousand dollars. 

When a powerful state senator turns up dead, a mobbed-up bagman gets shot down, and his cash-stuffed briefcase goes missing, my protagonist Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter for a dying Providence, R.I., newspaper, wants to dig into the story. But the bottom-feeding conglomerate that recently bought the once proud daily has no interest in serious public-interest reporting. So Mulligan, who’s never been inclined to follow orders, goes rogue, investigating on his own. Soon, he finds himself the target of shadowy forces that seek to derail him by threatening his reputation, his career, and even his life. 

This topic gave me the opportunity not only to write a suspenseful mystery but also to explore two subjects that have long interested me—the corrupting influence of big money on politics and the hypocrisy surrounding sports gambling. 

The former—made immeasurably worse since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision—is well understood; but the latter is a less-familiar subject to most of us. 

Opponents of legalization have been spewing the same talking points for years:
 Legalizing sports betting would irreparably harm the integrity of college and professional games, creating a climate of suspicion about controversial plays, officiating calls, and players’ performances.
 It would expand the amount of money wagered on sports, increasing the temptation to fix results.
 It would infringe on the leagues’ intellectual property, encouraging gambling operations to use proprietary information including statistics, injury reports, and team logos. 

Much of that sounds reasonable unless you acknowledge the fact that billions are already wagered on sports. Gamblers don’t need any more incentive than they already have to fix games. 

In fact, legalization would be more likely to deter game-fixing than to encourage it because the amount wagered would be public knowledge. The Arizona State point-shaving scandal some years back was exposed because somebody bet an obscene amount of money legally in Las Vegas, and alarm bells went off. 

Gambling is one of the main reasons a lot of people follow sports. The NCAA and the professional sports leagues know this, and they profit handsomely from the filled arenas and the TV contracts all that interest generates. That’s why they don’t object when sports writers cite point spreads. 

Gambling, like any vice, is harmful to individuals who engage in it to excess, but is sports gambling any more immoral than state lotteries and Indian casinos? And illegal or not, most Americans bet on sports anyway. 

Keeping it illegal does little more than help mobbed-up bookies stay in business.

Bruce DeSilva’s crime fiction has won the Edgar and Macavity Awards; has been listed as a finalist for the Shamus, Anthony, and Barry Awards; and has been published in ten foreign languages. His short stories have appeared in Akashic Press's award-winning noir anthologies. He has reviewed books for The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Publishers Weekly, and The Associated Press. Previously, he was a journalist for forty years, most recently as writing coach world-wide for the AP, editing stories that won every major journalism award including the Pulitzer. His fourth novel, A Scourge of Vipers, has just been published by Forge in hardcover and e-book editions.

review: a scourge of vipers by bruce desilva

This post contains affiliate links.

Liam Mulligan is a long-time newspaper reporter whose job has been negatively affected by corporate consolidation and budget cuts, but he's hanging on despite a micro-managing boss who never lets him do any actual reporting anywhere. But Mulligan's personal life leads him to plenty of stories to investigate anyway. This time around he's looking into the possible legalization of sports gambling in Rhode Island. It just so happens that Mulligan is friends with the governor who has proposed this plan to help the state's budget shortfalls. Many people have an interest in sports gambling and at least a few wind up dead in A Scourge of Vipers.

With Mulligan as the lead, A Scourge of Vipers is smart and entertaining. Bruce DeSilva nails the current state of many news outlets which lends the novel a real authenticity. The engaging plot is filled with plenty of scandal and intrigue, but also provides comic relief (Mulligan is fantastically snarky) and bits of romance making it a delightful read. Although A Scourge of Vipers is the fourth book in the Mulligan series, it works well as a standalone.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Forge Books.