Tuesday, March 31, 2015

review: read bottom up by neel shah & skye chatham

After a brief encounter with a woman at the restaurant where he works, Elliot tracks down her email (via the PR person for the restaurant event) and reaches out. And what does Madeline do? What anyone would do of course. Checks in with her best friend and tries to check him out on Facebook. And so the scene is set for Read Bottom Up.

Composed entirely of texts and emails, Read Bottom Up is hilarious and engaging. I read straight through without stopping as the insecurities and misunderstandings of Madeline and Elliot’s relationship played out in the messages between each other and their respective best friends, Emily and David. Given the format, there can be no action--the reader hears about dates afterwards which positions the reader as one of the best friends; the rapid pacing of the texts and emails makes the lack of action barely noticeable. The messages are realistic too with no rehashing of events between the couple for the sake of the reader.

This couple seemed to be either headed toward marriage or an explosive end, but this is not the typical romantic comedy. The authors make that clear in their opening note. Not to worry though because Read Bottom Up is definitely not a downer. In fact, with the reader in the best friend role, the ending is absolutely perfect.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Dey Street Books.

Monday, March 30, 2015

review: the devil you know by elisabeth de mariaffi

When Evie was a child, her best friend disappeared and then was found murdered. Evie believes this incident is at least partly why she now works as a newspaper reporter in her hometown of Toronto. Lianne’s death is something Evie thinks of often, but really comes to the forefront of her life when Evie is assigned a story that looks back at all the girls who have disappeared and/or been murdered in Toronto. Set in the 90s, Evie doesn’t have immediate access to all the background we would have today, which means she slowly uncovers nuggets about Lianne’s death that cause her to put the pieces together in ways that don’t quite add up but cause a great deal of strife for Evie with her mother and best male friend.

Evie is self-aware which makes her fun even though she’s in the middle of a very not-fun situation. She has a thought pattern that I think is common in news. We have to rationalize things to not become severely depressed. Evie thinks things like, “I haven’t run a stats analysis on this, but I can tell you just by eyeballing it, having a boyfriend who hits you makes you way more likely to get killed.” Things like that help her get sleep.

The Devil You Know builds slowly with much of the opening chapters establishing background, but then Elisabeth de Mariaffi brings in the significance of the title. From there, the pacing picks up as Evie begins to take action instead of just doing LexisNexis searches. The ending was a bit unexpected and not quite as satisfying as the ending I imagined de Mariaffi was setting up.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

review: faking normal by courtney c. stevens

This one is hard as Faking Normal deals with sensitive topics. But heavy-handed religious references for no apparent reason along with characters made up of stereotypes derailed the serious nature of the subject matter. Making matters worse, Courtney C. Stevens made it very easy to blame to the victim. The only thing saving Faking Normal from a zero star rating was the wonderfully organic development of Alexi and Bodee’s relationship.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

review: darius & twig by walter dean myers

Darius & Twig chronicles a short period of time in the lives of the boys for which the book is titled (though the focus is more on Darius). Nothing really happens and yet, everything happens. As these boys come of age in Harlem, they deal with all the “normal” high school pressures—both are seeking scholarships to college—and family issues. It’s a slice of life novel that provides insight on the friendship of two boys who have different interests (writing for Darius, running for Twig) and support each other through their struggles.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Amistad.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

review: cold betrayal by j.a. jance

Picking up a few months after the last book in the Ali Reynolds series, Cold Betrayal finds Ali involved in two different cases. Her daughter-in-law asks Ali to help out with her grandma’s security after the police in Minnesota dismiss a reported break-in as an old woman being forgetful. This case proved to be very interesting, but was secondary to that of a pregnant teenager who runs away from a polygamist cult. In discussing the polygamist cult, J.A. Jance explores some of the political issues and history surrounding them in Arizona; while this information is important for the uninformed, it also bogged down the action of the story. What happened at Short Creek was discussed numerous times, when it would’ve been more interesting to get to the raid. With so much time spent on polygamy, the elder abuse storyline kept being pushed to the side when it had the potential to be front-burner if Ali had traveled to Minnesota to check things out for herself.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Friday, March 20, 2015

review: what you left behind by samantha hayes

The second in Samantha Hayes’s detective series really focuses on Detective Inspector Lorraine Fisher and her family. Although Hayes doesn’t specify, What You Left Behind seems to take place about a year after Until You’re Mine. There is little mention of the family troubles Lorraine experienced in the first book which left me to wonder what had happened, especially since she is vacationing with only her younger daughter. Unfortunately for Lorraine, her much needed time off turns out to be not much of a vacation. There’s been a rash of teen suicides in her hometown and it seems her nephew might be vulnerable as well. Lorraine’s sister (who is quite at odds with Lorraine) and brother-in-law have split and Freddie is having a hard time with it. But there’s more to it than that. Someone is sending Freddie terrible messages urging him to kill himself. When an autistic man shows Lorraine pictures he drew of the “suicides,” Lorraine can’t help but start an investigation and in the process learn what’s really going on with her nephew.

All through What You Left Behind, I wondered who was tormenting Freddie. The answer made little sense. With the pacing slow and little character development, What You Left Behind needed an amazing revelation at the end which Hayes failed to deliver.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

review: crazy love you by lisa unger

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When Ian was young, his mentally ill mother killed his baby sister and tried to kill him. If the stigma of an institutionalized mother wasn't enough for a kid growing up in The Hollows (the fictional town where Lisa Unger sets many books), Ian is also overweight and considered a nerd. Ian does have a friend though--a mysterious girl named Priss, who gets him into trouble partially because no one else believes she's real.

Crazy Love You begins with Ian having made quite the career for himself as a graphic novelist living in New York City. His work is a fictionalized version of his life with Priss. He's popular and things are going generally well (though he probably does too many drugs and drinks too much) when he meets Megan. Soon they are in love, Priss is jealous, and Ian's life is spiraling down.

Unger does an amazing job creating a world in which it's impossible to tell if something supernatural is occurring or if Ian is suffering a break with reality. Just as it seems apparent which one is true, there's a new nugget of information that raises the question again. It makes Crazy Love You a very suspenseful read. The novel flows well with the present day story intertwined with selections from Ian's childhood and his Fatboy and Priss series. Furthermore, with Ian as a graphic novel writer, Unger was able to explore various "the end" options (like, he woke up in a mental hospital) and discard them with criticism. In doing so, Unger makes the reader feel the need to keep working through the mystery aspect and be more invested in the outcome.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

review: played by liz fichera

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Riley has always been the good child and an excellent student, but she starts to rebel after becoming injured on a school-organized leadership trip. Instead of focusing on her school work, Riley is obsessed with setting up the boy who saved her with her brother's girlfriend (the boy who saved her has a crush). Riley starts spending a lot of time with Sam, but she also is on the lookout for a boyfriend of her own. As Riley pursues her agenda, Sam starts to realize he has feelings for Riley.

Played is the sequel to Liz Fichera's Hooked, which I didn't realize, but it turned out that it wasn't really important to read the first book as Played is about the sister of the male lead from Hooked. It probably would add to the story to know the background as the two main characters from Hooked do play a role in Played, but it doesn't seem necessary. There's lots of relatable high school drama with crushes, strained friendships, parties, and poor decisions, but Fichera adds in an interesting dynamic by setting the story in Phoenix (where I live now!) and having Sam and some of the other characters be from the Gila River Indian Reservation.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

review: until you're mine by samantha hayes

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Samantha Hayes starts a new series with a creepily tense novel about a serial killer targeting pregnant women. The motive is initially unclear, but unfolds at a wonderful pace as a husband and wife detective team (who the series will center around) investigate. To keep up the mystery while also allowing insights from the main characters, Hayes rotates the perspective with each chapter. First up is Claudia, a social worker, who finally seems to be having a successful pregnancy. Then there's the woman Claudia and her husband have hired as a nanny. Those two perspectives are in the first person, but the third, which comes from the female detective is in third person. That switch was a little jarring initially, but eventually worked out.

In terms of plot, Until You're Mine is a fantastic mystery with some interesting twists (though I did guess most of the outcome). Claudia becomes increasingly suspicious of the new nanny, who reveals herself to be up to something in her own chapters. But just what is her motive for taking the nanny job? Her thoughts and actions are vague enough that it's impossible to tell if she's the killer Detective Lorraine Fisher is tracking. The chapters concerning Lorraine's personal life seemed a little out of place, but made sense once I discovered Lorraine and her husband are the central characters of the new series.
Review copy from Blogging for Books.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

review: new uses for old boyfriends by beth kendrick

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Beth Kendrick visits Black Dog Bay again in her latest novel, New Uses for Old Boyfriends. This novel centers around a new main character, but of course touches on familiar favorites from previous Black Dog Bay books. This time around a Black Dog Bay resident is returning after being gone for many years. Recently divorced Lila is surprised by the changes in her hometown, but the amount of money her mother has wasted since the death of Lila's father is more shocking. As Lila attempts to get both their lives on track, she strikes up new relationships with two men she knew in high school even though she doesn't remember her date with one of them!

Although the title would have you believe this is all about the men in Lila's life, Kendrick makes it more about two newly single women taking charge of their lives. Unfortunately for Lila, she's a bit hapless at it though her missteps provide plenty of comic relief. It's also amusing how everyone wants to talk about Lila's TV career despite it being the last thing she wants to discuss (from experience I can tell you that most people react exactly as the characters in this book when they find out you work in TV). Lila isn't as strong as my favorite Kendrick character (that would be Summer), but she's a great addition to Black Dog Bay.
Review copy provided by BookSparksPR.