Friday, December 23, 2016

review: into the dark by alison gaylin

After gaining fame as the "Head-Case Hero" for solving the Iris Neff case using her Hyperthymestic memory, Brenna Spector heads her own successful private investigator business. Although she swore never to work with Errol Ludlow again, Brenna finds herself sucked back in as Errol is investigating the disappearance of an Internet video star who seems to know much about the life of Brenna's missing sister, Clea. As Brenna and her assistant investigate the woman calling herself Lula Belle, Brenna discovers far too many connections to her sister for it to all be coincidence, but is soon dealing with life-threatening situations.

Alison Gaylin handles the flashbacks of long ago memories in Into the Dark far better than in And She Was, but they're still a little distracting at times. It sometimes seems hard to believe that Brenna is still so obsessed with her sister's disappearance, especially since Brenna has a daughter who seems a little neglected. Brenna's personal life hasn't made any substantial advances from the last book either. Fortunately, this second book of the series finally provides some answers about what really happened to Clea. Also, the mystery surrounding Lula Belle is pretty gripping even as the twists make it semi-complicated.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Harper.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

review: simply yours day planner

A new year is about to start which means it's time for a new planner.
My preferred type of planner has month-at-a-glance pages along with pages that let me write detailed notes for each day. The Simply Yours Day Planner from Bailey Craft Planners fit my needs. One great thing about this planner is the option to have either a vertical or horizontal layout for the daily pages. (I selected horizontal.) There's also a nice selection of different cover designs.
The planner arrived in beautiful packaging and the quality is excellent--the cover, spiral, and pages are all flawless. Furthermore, I can write with a standard ink pen without worrying about bleed-through on the 70lb paper. This planner goes beyond some of the other planners I've used over the years in that there are planning and goals pages sprinkled throughout and the calendar pages included "things to do" spaces.
Another nice touch is the personalized front page. The planner also has two pockets at the back for saving receipts or other important pieces of loose paper.
Despite being packed with useful pages, Simply Yours Day Planner isn't heavy and at 7x9 fits easily in the large tote I carry for work. The Simply Yours Day Planner is available from Bailey Craft Planners. The planners are made to order and ship in about a week.

Review copy provided by Bailey Craft Planners.

Monday, December 12, 2016

review: someone i wanted to be by aurelia wills

In Someone I Wanted to Be, high school student Leah Lobermeir finds herself trapped in a lie of her own making. Being the overweight friend of two skinny, popular girls, Leah longs for the same kind of attention her friends get from boys. So when a man who looks to be in his twenties talks to Leah to get information about one of her friends, she creates a new persona and poses as the girl he’s interested in on the phone. Of course it won’t end well. Unfortunately, Aurelia Wills also doesn’t create a satisfying ending for Someone I Wanted to Be. There’s a big build up to what should be a lesson in friendship, trust, and the dangers of skeezy older men, but Wills rushes the ending so that there’s little payoff.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Candlewick.

Friday, December 9, 2016

review: samantha sutton and the labyrinth of lies by jordan jacobs

Samantha Sutton and the Labyrinth of Lies is the first is a series about a young girl who dreams of being an archaeologist like her uncle. Although it is the first book, it reads like a book from later in the series as it provides no backstory and simply plunges Samantha, her older brother, and her uncle into an adventure; there is no explanation as to why the older brother, who clearly doesn’t want to be there, is along for the trip. In a strange plot point (that’s really just to set up why Samantha has a crucial item later on), Samantha’s parents ask her to divert her attention from the dig in order to sell things for them—again with no backstory. Despite her age, Samantha is a very capable, quick-thinking protagonist and the family relationships ring true. Jordan Jacobs includes the fun element of pages from Samantha’s notebook at the start of each chapter, but the pacing is very slow for a middle grade novel.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

review: whitefern by v.c. andrews

Having survived significant trauma in My Sweet Audrina, Audrina Adare Lowe is now raising her sister in the family home while Audrina’s husband works for her father’s company. Despite all the progress Audrina had made, Whitefern sees her falling into the familiar trappings of the heroines created by the V.C. Andrews ghostwriter. Although Arden seemed to truly care for Audrina in My Sweet Audrina, he’s now furious with her at both her inability to conceive and her unwillingness to sign her inheritance of her father’s company over to him. Audrina does stand strong regarding the inheritance, but Whitefern finds her giving in to Arden’s increasingly controlling ways.

With My Sweet Audrina having been written by V.C. Andrews and Whitefern being one of the many novels written by the ghostwriter hired after her death, the stylistic differences are prevalent. The most notable being that whatever houses the novels took place in was always a character itself in the originals, but now Whitefern is simply a setting even though the novel shares its title with the mansion. Although it appears the ghostwriter didn’t spend much time reviewing My Sweet Audrina (Sylvia’s abilities in Whitefern are substantially more than they should have been and Arden has changed into a villain without explanation, Whitefern does evoke many of the feelings brought forth in the original work.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket.

Friday, November 25, 2016

review: the fatal gift of beauty of nina burleigh

In The Fatal Gift of Beauty, journalist Nina Burleigh dives deep into the circumstances surrounding the murder of British college student Meredith Kercher and the subsequent arrest of Kercher’s American roommate Amanda Knox along with Knox’s boyfriend, an Italian college student named Raffaele Sollecito. For those who followed the American media coverage (note: I worked for news outlets in Washington state during the relevant time frame), some parts will be familiar, but much of what Burleigh explores was never presented in the coverage from Knox’s home country. Burleigh presents how the timing of Kercher’s murder shortly after Halloween was much more significant for Italians than it would likely have been for Americans as well as how other cultural differences affected perceptions. Additionally, Burleigh details the life of Rudy Guede, who was also convicted of Kercher’s murder but separately from Knox and Sollecito. The one element lacking from The Fatal Gift of Beauty and other works about the case is Kercher’s part of the story. Burleigh acknowledges this at the end in Notes on Sources and Methods by stating she contacted Kercher’s family and friends but did not receive any response.
Review copy provided by Blogging for Books.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

review: the red thread by ann hood

In The Red Thread, a group of incredibly unlikable characters pursue having children in the belief that a child is the answer to all their problems. In parallel stories that Ann Hood creates, the reader also learns the backstories of the Chinese girls about to be adopted by the American couples--those stories were far more interesting and powerful than the stories of the potential parents, but made up only a small portion of The Red Thread. The plot did not feel realistic either as many of the couples trying to adopt have issues (ongoing adultery, inability to love a biological child with special needs) that might disqualify them and the owner of the adoption agency uses very outdated information to get her own "happy ending."
Review copy provided by the publisher, W.W. Norton.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

review: the mirror sisters by v.c. andrews

Wow, the backstory dump that is The Mirror Sisters is pretty remarkable—how many other authors can claim to have written a 355 page novel that doesn’t really begin until about 300 pages in? During those first 300 pages, the V.C. Andrews ghostwriter details the many ways in which Haylee torments her identical twin, Kaylee. Haylee is a master at covering her bad deeds and Kaylee never tells on her either because their mother insists that the twins are perfect and very, very special. The mother has what it takes to be a true V.C. Andrews villain, but her power is taken away by the author’s choice to have Kaylee tell so much of the story via reflections on the past. The Mirror Sisters serves only as a set up for Broken Glass, which will pick up the story on the same night that The Mirror Sisters ends with Haylee’s plot finally in full swing.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

review: death steals a holy book by rosemary & larry mild

In the third book of the series, bookstore owners Dan and Rivka Sherman discover two rare books that were hidden away by the previous owner of the store. The books include a letter giving the finders permission to do with the books as they will, so Dan and Rivka decide to have the books appraised and restored with the intention of selling. A big problem with this plan occurs when the man doing the restoration is murdered and the books are stolen. In a secondary plot, one of the bookstore’s employees inherits a house, but must fight to keep it.

The primary plot keeps the reader guessing with the whodunit, but the authors frequently shift focus from the mystery. The many threads of Death Steals a Holy Book are a bit disjointed (they might flow better if I’d read the first two in the series) and never tie together, so that all of the subplots feel like distractions from the murder mystery.
Review copy provided by the publicist, MM Book Publicity.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

review: the chameleon by merrick rosenberg

Before writing The Chameleon, Merrick Rosenberg taught organizational communication and leadership, including the DISC model, for decades. According to the preface of The Chameleon, Rosenberg received feedback that it was difficult for people to remember Dominant-Interactive-Supportive-Conscientious, so he decided to equate each style with a bird in hopes of making it easier for people to understand and remember. Throughout The Chameleon, Rosenberg discusses the personality styles via fables. The fables seem intended to make the traits relevant, relatable, and easy to understand, but the use of names like Xander, Xenia, Sarah, Samuel, and Sadie actually made things a little confusing (it would’ve been far easier to remember who was who if the same letter names had corresponded to the letter of the bird—why not have E names for the Eagles?). Each section ends with bullet points on the important takeaways—many of these are fantastic and the bullet points make for easy reference—but Rosenberg doesn’t elaborate on how to take action. For example, one suggestion here is “manage your emotions when dealing with button-pushers who are different from you,” which is great advice, but hard for someone to implement without an action plan.
Review copy provided by the publicist, The Cadence Group.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

review: evil librarian by michelle knudsen

When an attractive new librarian arrives at Cyn’s school, she immediately notices a change in her best friend, Annie. Cyn initially thinks Annie is simply experiencing her very first crush (albeit an inappropriate one), but soon realizes there is something dark about the new librarian. Cyn has a crush of her own on a classmate, who she teams up with to defeat Mr. Gabriel after the pair see him in his demon form complete with wings and horns. Mr. Gabriel is on to them, but willing to let them live given their involvement with the high school’s performance of Sweeney Todd, which happens to be a favorite among demons. Evil Librarian is a thrilling and hilarious paranormal novel that is grounded in many of the realities of high school. The characters all feel authentic (even the demons) and there’s never a dull moment.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Candlewick.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

review: so damn lucky by deborah coonts

As a UFO convention hits Las Vegas, Lucky O’Toole finds herself involved in yet another mystery—a magician appears to have died during his final performance—while her personal life becomes unexpectedly complicated. With the UFO convention as a backdrop, conspiracies abound as Lucky is pulled into a world of secret government experiments. The plot involving the magician and the way Deborah Coonts ties it in with the UFO convention keeps the pace of So Damn Lucky moving forward, but Lucky’s romantic interests become diversions in this third book of the series.
Review copy provided by the publicist, FSB Associates.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

review: the candidate by lis wiehl

After uncovering the shady goings-on at her new employer in The Newsmakers, Erica Sparks has settled into the job. There’s always a new story for a journalist to cover though and the (fictionalized) 2016 presidential election is giving Erica plenty to do, especially after a bomb kills one of the candidates. As Erica investigates the bombing and looks into the background of the man who became the nominee as a result, she realizes there’s something not quite right about the presidential candidate and someone is determined to stop Erica from finding out.

As in The Newsmakers, Lis Wiehl (with Sebastian Stuart) does an excellent job of portraying Erica and the TV news industry. The plot is stellar (and timely!) with the reveals about the candidate unfolding with perfect pacing. The only thing lacking in The Candidate is the ending where the motivation behind the conspiracy should be laid out, but isn’t.
Review copy provided by the publicist, FSB Associates.

Friday, September 30, 2016

review: the light fantastic by sarah combs

April has hyperthymesia, which gives her “flashbulb moments” of events. On the day of her 18th birthday, which coincides with Senior Skip Day, she reflects on her ability as well as all the major events that have happened in the month of April (among others: the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr., the Oklahoma City bombing, and the shootings at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech) while others around the country are plotting yet another devastating event for the month of April. Sarah Combs jumped around in these compelling narratives throughout The Light Fantastic, but failed to bring them together in a truly meaningful way. Despite that failure at the end, Combs expertly crafted incredible profiles of teens experiencing terrible pain because of various memories that haunted each of them. The development of characters who had only a few pages devoted to them was superb.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Candlewick.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

review: write to die by charles rosenberg

When entertainment lawyer Rory Calburton enters the office of a client only to find the man dead, he knows better than to touch anything. What he doesn’t know at the time is that his boss will soon be implicated in the murder and Rory will have to conduct an investigation to find the identity of the killer. With Rory as the main character, much of Write to Die focuses on the legal aspects and courtroom maneuverings of both the murder case and the original plagiarism lawsuit that caused Rory to discover the body, but these scenes are still lively because of how unconventional Rory and his colleague, Sarah, are. The murder mystery and how the potential plagiarism relates to it keep the reader guessing as Rory and Sarah pull out all the stops (and, in Sarah’s case, break a few laws) to learn the truth.
Review copy provided by the publicist, MM Book Publicity.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

review: the never-open desert diner by james anderson

Ben Jones is driving his usual delivery route when he needs to make a pit stop (too much coffee) and comes across a never-built housing development where a woman seems to have taken up residence in the model home. Ben soon becomes infatuated with the woman, Claire, who plays the cello and has many secrets. The Never-Open Desert Diner is a quirky novel that mixes in some mystery and romantic elements, but the pacing is quite slow. The first 50 or so pages are used to establish the characters and setting before some of the “why” starts to be revealed and the action begins. Once it gets going, the necessary intrigue is there, but the plot still moves a little too slowly.
Review copy provided by Blogging for Books.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

review: crossing the bridge by michael baron

In a touching novel, Michael Baron brings a man named Hugh home after his father suffers a heart attack. Since the drunk driving death of his younger brother (which Hugh feels he could've prevented), Hugh has been a wanderer--never staying at one job or in one city for long. Returning to his hometown though finds Hugh reconnecting with his deceased brother's girlfriend, who Hugh always had a crush on. The characters here come alive through their flaws and frequently evoke an emotional response through their actions. As this is partially a romance, the male perspective provides an interesting insight into the interactions between Iris and Hugh.
Review copy provided by the publisher, The Story Plant.

Friday, September 9, 2016

review: the yokota officers club by sarah bird

Bernie and her family have moved around quite a bit due to her father’s career in the Air Force—six moves in the last eight years, in fact. Now, in 1968, Bernie is visiting her family in Japan after completing her first year of college in New Mexico. It is a pivotal year as Bernie discovers a long-kept family secret and realizes the strong bond of her family.

In some ways Sarah Bird’s semi-autobiographical The Yokota Officers Club is simply a glimpse into the life of a military family, but there are amazing moments in that family life with fantastically drawn characters who feel very real. Bernie’s experiences provide a slice-of-life into sibling rivalry, the politics of life on a military base, and cultural differences while Bird’s vivid descriptions bring the scenes to life. The incorporation of music further establishes the setting and plays an important part as Bernie sets about Japan as a go-go dancer.

About the audiobook: The Yokota Officers Club is beautifully performed by Carine Montbertrand who skillfully gives voice to the characters. Each character is distinctive because of Montbertrand’s voice. It was a pleasure to spend almost 15 hours with her. Recorded Books released the audio version in 2016. It runs 14.75 hours.
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

review: the dread line by bruce desilva

Now that he’s involved in his mobster friend’s book-making business, recently fired newspaper reporter Liam Mulligan finally has the money for a house on the water and a new Mustang. He’s also occasionally writing for a local news website (one just can’t shake the news business) and working as a private investigator. All of these jobs come together for Mulligan in a number of fashions as he works on three cases—a bank heist, a background check on a potential NFL draft pick, and horrific acts of animal cruelty—during The Dread Line, the fifth book in Bruce DeSilva’s excellent Mulligan series. As the cases heat up, Mulligan and his associates find their lives being threatened. The stakes are high, especially when Mulligan finds himself committing an act that will forever change him. Mulligan then faces a moral dilemma that adds another layer to the character who has become so familiar. The Dread Line, which works as a standalone, is an intense journey with multiple threads that are worked out expertly.
Review copy provided by the author.

Friday, August 26, 2016

review: falling by jane green

Falling by Jane Green begins as the a fairly typical love story between a man and a woman of very different backgrounds, but winds up ending in an unexpected way. Much of Falling is about Emma's path to finding happiness after leaving her job at a Manhattan bank and moving to Westport, CT, which is fairly boring until she begins connecting with her handsome landlord and his young son. Once Emma sees that she could have something with Dominic, Falling picks up and begins rushing toward what seems like an inevitable happily ever after until obstacles in the form of people start popping up. As Falling reaches its heartbreaking conclusion, one realizes that there are different types of happily ever afters.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Monday, August 22, 2016

review: already home by susan mallery

When Jenna returns to her hometown after a divorce, she has no idea just how much her life will change. As Jenna struggles to get her new business off the ground, her birth parents suddenly pop into her life and cause even more upheaval. Although Susan Mallery makes use of some clichés (slimy ex-husband, abusive boyfriend, overbearing birth mother, women concerned about their weight), Already Home is a touching story about the family we're not only born into but the one we make. While a few characters bordered on too outrageous, the plot and pacing are excellent. Jenna also shows some real growth as she transitions to a new phase of her life.
Review copy provided by the publisher, MIRA.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

author guest post: bruce desilva

Bruce DeSilva's latest book in the Liam Mulligan series will be released by Forge on September 6. I'll be posting a review of it soon (check out my review of A Scourge of Vipers beforehand). In the meantime, I'm excited to share a guest post from the author about the new book, The Dread Line.

What’s a Mystery Writer to Do When His Hero Loses His Crime-Fighting Job?

A lot of mystery story heroes used to do something else for a living.

For example, Robert B. Parker’s series character, Jesse Stone, was a professional baseball player before he became a police chief. Ace Atkins’s Quinn Colson was a soldier before he became a small-town lawman. Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder was a cop before he became a private eye.

But what nearly all of the job-changing heroes of crime fiction have in common is that their old jobs are part of their backstories. They already had begun their new lives when their creators started telling their stories.

The lone exception I can think of (although with tens of thousands of mystery novels out there, there must be a few more) is Bill Loehfelm’s Maureen Coughlin, who was introduced as a Staten Island barmaid in The Devil She Knows and then morphed into a rookie New Orleans cop in The Devil in Her Way.

With a dearth of role models for inspiration, I wasn’t sure what to do when Liam Mulligan, the hero of my hard-boiled crime novels, got fired from his investigative reporter job at the fictional Providence (R.I.) Dispatch in A Scourge of Vipers, the fourth book in the Edgar Award-winning series. But I had to figure out something. I owed my publisher another Mulligan yarn.

I hadn’t planned on Mulligan getting fired. Fact is, when I write I don’t plan anything. I just set my characters in motion to see what will happen. But looking back on it, I can see that Mulligan’s firing was inevitable.

When I first made him an investigative reporter at a struggling metropolitan newspaper, I had my reasons. I’d been an investigative reporter in Providence, too, and they say you should write what you know. I liked the fact that reporters can’t bring people in for questioning, get court orders to search houses and businesses, or compel people to testify, because it sometimes makes their jobs more challenging than police work. I liked it that unlike private eyes, reporters are supposed to adhere to a strict code of ethical conduct.

But the main reason is that I wanted my novels to be not only suspenseful and entertaining but to also address a serious social issue.

American newspapers are circling the drain. In recent years, many have shut down, and economic changes brought on by the internet have forced virtually all of them to slash the size of their news staffs. Soon, many more will be gone. This is a slow-motion disaster for the American democracy, because there is nothing on the horizon to replace newspapers as honest and comprehensive brokers of news and information.

It has always bothered me that in the popular culture, journalists are usually portrayed as vultures. The truth is that the vast majority of them are hard-working, low-paid professionals dedicated to the difficult task of reporting the truth in a world full of powerful people who lie like you and I breathe.

So it was my hope that as my readers followed the skill and dedication with which Mulligan worked, they would gain a greater appreciation what is being lost as newspapers fade into history. I strove to make the first four novels in this series both compelling yarns and a lyrical epitaph for the business that Mulligan and I both love.

With each novel in the series, The Dispatch’s finances became increasingly desperate, more and more of Mulligan’s colleagues got laid off, and his own job security grew perilous. As I was completing A Scourge of Vipers, it became evident that his newspaper career was coming to an end.

The Dispatch had been sold off to a predatory conglomerate that had no interest in investigative stories and saw news as something to fill the spaces between the ads. And Mulligan’s squabbles with his editors were making life untenable for both of them. By the time that novel ended, Mulligan had been fired in spectacular fashion, accused of a journalism ethics violation that he had not committed.

So as I sat down to write The Dread Line, I needed to invent a new life for him.

Mulligan had always said that he was a newspaper man because he could never be good at anything else. As he saw it, being a journalist was his calling, like the priesthood but without the sex. He figured that if he couldn’t be a reporter, he’d end up selling pencils out of a tin cup.

But as I looked back over Mulligan’s life, I realized he did have a few possibilities. Edward Mason, his young colleague at the paper, was leaving to start a local news website and wanted Mulligan to come with him. But the new business wasn’t making any money yet, so the job didn’t pay much. Mulligan’s pal Bruce McCracken ran a private detective agency, so perhaps Mulligan could do some work for him. And Mulligan’s mobbed-up friend Dominic Zerilli was retiring to Florida and needed somebody to run his bookmaking business.

What should Mulligan do? How about all three?

The opening of The Dread Line finds him no longer living in his squalid apartment in a run-down Providence triple-decker. Instead, he’s keeping house in a five-room, water-front cottage on Conanicut Island at the entrance to Narragansett Bay. He’s getting some part-time work from McCracken, although it rarely pays enough to cover his bills. He’s picking up beer and cigar money freelancing for the news website. And he’s running the bookmaking business with help from his thuggish pal, Joseph DeLucca.

For the first time in his life, he’s got a little money in his pocket at the end of the month. After twenty years as a reporter, he feels odd living above the poverty line—and even odder to be a lawbreaker. But as Mulligan puts it, he’s not breaking any important ones.

And of course, he still manages to find trouble when it isn’t finding him.

He’s feuding with a feral tomcat that keeps leaving its kills on his porch. He’s obsessed with a baffling jewelry heist. And he’s enraged that someone on the island is torturing animals. All of this keeps distracting him from a big case that needs his attention.

The New England Patriots, still shaken by a series of murder charges against one of their star players (true story) have hired Mulligan and McCracken (not a true story) to investigate the background of a college star they are thinking of drafting. At first, the job seems routine, but as soon as they begin asking questions, they get push-back. The player has something to hide, and someone is willing to kill to make sure it remains secret.

Mulligan may not be an investigative reporter anymore, but he’s still in the crime-busting business.

Bruce DeSilva’s crime fiction has won the Edgar and Macavity Awards; 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, and his book reviews for The Associated Press appear in hundreds of publications. Previously, he was a journalist for forty years, most recently as writing coach world-wide for the AP, editing stories that won nearly every major journalism prize including the Pulitzer. His new novel, The Dread Line, is the fifth in his series featuring Liam Mulligan. You can visit his website here:

Friday, August 19, 2016

review: something in between by melissa de la cruz

With Something in Between, Melissa de la Cruz examines the plight of an accomplished high school student whose parents reveal the family is in the United States illegally after she earns an academic scholarship. The novel is both about the difficulties Jasmine and her family face because of their status as undocumented immigrants as well as the ups and downs of any typical high school student. While this story is an important one, it feels unrealistic at times. Jasmine being called someone of "exceptional ability" seems a bit of a stretch (though hilariously the deportation hearing judge even says that being head cheerleader does not make her so) and the resolution to the story is a bit too easy. Jasmine's dad is also way over the top in his reactions to everything that happens. He actually seems to not understand that his actions created the situation. Unfortunately, these factors and the immediate love connection Jasmine has with a politician's son cause Something in Between to not be as powerful as it should be given the importance of the subject matter.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

review: still mine by amy stuart

Having fled her husband, Clare is on the run using a different last name as she investigates the disappearance of a woman from a small mining town. The townspeople are instantly suspicious of a stranger asking questions (Clare’s lie of being in town because she’s a photographer simply isn’t believable), but her resemblance to the missing woman causes Shayna’s mother, who seems to have Alzheimer’s, to reveal some important details. Even though Clare gained information about Shayna throughout Still Mine, the truth behind Shayna’s disappearance was quite the shock especially given all the other parallels Amy Stuart had created between Clare and Shayna. The reveal and an extra twist at the end were well-written. Stuart also provided a satisfactory conclusion to Still Mine while nicely setting up the forthcoming sequel.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Friday, August 12, 2016

review: lucky stiff by deborah coonts

In the second Lucky O'Toole adventure, an oddsmaker is found dead in the shark tank of a hotel near the one where Lucky works as head of Customer Relations. Very soon Lucky is connected to the case as the dead woman had some very significant interactions in Lucky's hotel right before she was murdered. Lucky is determined to get to the bottom of the case even as she's distracted by her ever-complicated personal life.

As she did in Wanna Get Lucky?, Lucky proves to be a competent investigator and public relations guru. Deborah Coonts expertly mixes the mystery with comedy as Lucky has the same wit she had in the first book in the series. Many of the characters in the subplots wind up being involved in the novel's conclusion as the mystery is wrapped up with an outcome that's not easily guessed.
Review copy provided by the publicist, FSB Associates.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

review: why can't i be you by allie larkin

Fresh off being dumped and in an unfamiliar city for a work conference, Jenny Shaw is reeling when she hears someone call her name. Only the woman wasn't calling "Jenny" but "Jessie." Jenny it turns out is almost a dead ringer for a woman named Jessie Morgan who has been out of touch with her high school classmates since taking off from graduation 13 years ago. Jessie's high school reunion (don't worry, the 13-year reunion gets explained) is being held at the same hotel as Jenny's conference. As Jenny wants nothing more than to escape her life for a few days, she falls easily into the role of wild child Jessie who had a very different high school experience than the reserved Jenny. But Jenny can't be Jessie forever, especially once one of the high school pals reveals the reason Jessie disappeared.

Allie Larkin's second novel is a touching, yet funny look at the relationships that shape a person. The characters are all engaging and (with the exception of Karen) the kind of people one wants to be friends with making it easy to see why Jenny would pose as Jessie. The plot may seem far-fetched, but Larkin makes it believable (it's completely understandable that people desperate to reconnect would overlook a few discrepancies).
Review copy provided by the publisher, Plume.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

review: the choices we make by karma brown

Hannah is obsessed with having a baby. She and her husband have spent thousands on fertility treatments that never result in a viable pregnancy. As Hannah begins to consider surrogacy (despite her husband's objections), her best friend Kate decides she wants to be the surrogate (despite her husband's objections). Eventually the two couples come to an agreement, but a medical tragedy transforms all of their plans.

The Choices We Make is a poignant novel, but it rubbed me the wrong way. From the characters who made parenthood into the most important aspect of a person's life to the unwillingness to consider adoption, things just didn't sit right. It continually felt like Karma Brown was trying to make Hannah a sympathetic character, but kept presenting her as incredibly selfish (which really came out during the conflict with Kate's husband). There were also bedroom scenes that felt really out of place and inappropriate for the tone of the novel. The journey to the pivotal moment was wholly uninteresting, but Brown really stepped up the pacing and action once Kate suffered a medical issue.
Review copy provided by the publicist, BookSparks PR.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

review: river road by carol goodman

Ever since her daughter was killed on River Road, creative writing professor Nan Lewis has been in a grief- and alcohol-induced fog. On the night Nan learns she was denied tenure, she drunkenly hits a deer in the same spot her daughter was killed. She makes it home, but the cops are at her door in the morning asking about one of her students who was found dead after a hit-and-run in that same spot. Nan is positive she wasn’t so drunk that she would mistake a woman for a deer, but many in the community doubt her story. As she seeks to clear her name, Nan discovers the deceased student was involved in some things that just might have led to her death. The mystery life of Leia and other students at the university adds to the suspense as new suspects pop up. It’s difficult to say much without spoiling some of the reveals, but Carol Goodman inserts a number of plausible red herrings that keep the reader guessing.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

review: the last good girl by allison leotta

Having gone home to Michigan to help her sister in A Good Killing, prosecutor Anna Curtis is still on leave from her job in Washington, D.C. when the daughter of the local university’s president disappears. The boy she was last seen with is the son of Michigan’s lieutenant governor, so it is a highly political situation that really needs to be investigated by outsiders which is how Anna gets involved.

In a new novel that clearly draws on the reality of the college campus rape epidemic, Allison Leotta again shows her expertise at handling sensitive subject matter in an authentic manner. From the random fraternity brothers at the house when Anna and her team show up to investigate to the missing girl’s heartbreaking video diaries, the characters come to life via Leotta’s excellent writing. Leotta also successfully keeps up the mystery of what exactly happened the night Emily disappeared so that the ending is truly shocking.
I purchased this book.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

review: living large in our little house by kerri fivecoat-campbell

After blogging about her experiences living with her husband and pets in a tiny house, Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell has released a book about her early years, how she and husband came to build a tiny house, and the life they’ve been living in 480 square feet. It definitely makes for interesting read as Fivecoat-Campbell dives into the practicalities of such a small space and how that drastic downsizing has allowed her and her husband to live fuller lives. It also makes you think—I live in an 800 square foot apartment with my cat and sometimes think the space isn’t big enough for the two of us. I immediately started looking at some of the space-savers mentioned like a loft bed, but I don’t know how practical that would be.
Review copy provided by the publicist, FSB Associates.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

review: remember me this way by sabine durrant

Really all one needs to know about Sabine Durrant’s Remember Me this Way is this: A milquetoast woman marries an abusive, pathological liar. Although Durrant sets up a mystery in the opening chapters—who left the flowers at the site of Zach’s fatal car accident and did he fake his own death—the novel drags on for so long that the answers (and the identity of the person who left the flowers is easily guessed) no longer seem to matter. The only parts of real interest were the excerpts from Zach’s diary as they reveal just how little Lizzie knew about her husband and how twisted (one reveal is particularly disgusting) he actually was. The diary chapters also allowed Durrant to create the impression that Zach could still be alive and watching Lizzie as she suspected and feared.

About the audiobook: Having Daniel Weyman and Penelope Rawlins read Remember Me this Way made it far less excruciating to get through. Rawlins especially nails the voices; her interpretations of a privileged teenager and her disconnected mother were spot on. The audiobook version runs just under 12 and a half hours and was released February 2016 by Dreamscape Audio.
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

review: so close by emma mclaughlin and nicola kraus

Just in time for the 2016 election season, Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus (of The Nanny Diaries fame) have written a novel set against just such a background. Amanda was raised by a teenage single mom in a small town she was determined to escape. She was just scrapping by until an encounter with a pair of wealthy young men and a chance meeting with an up and coming politician’s wife leads to her getting fired. That day turns out to be more of a pivotal moment in Amanda’s life than she ever could’ve imagined. Amanda is soon climbing the ranks of the Tom Davis for Senate campaign while trying to help out her siblings back home and maybe have a bit of romance in her life. Although the romance is a little weak (Amanda and Pax just never really click despite how many times the authors throw them together), the behind the scenes of the campaign (which seems based on the John Edwards campaign) is excellent and the family drama is beautifully complex. The relationship that develops between Amanda who never had the mom she wanted and Lindsay who lost a daughter is absolutely wonderful and makes for a heart-breaking subplot.
Review copy provided by the publicist, BookSparks PR.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

review: crushed by deborah coonts

In the middle of baking, Sophia receives a certified letter which she promptly puts aside to get back to the chocolate cake in the oven. As Sophia herself notes though, “good news never comes in a certified letter.” Her landlord is selling the property to the wealthy businessmen who are taking over the wine making in Sophia’s town. For a multitude of reasons, Sophia doesn’t want to move which seems to be the only possibility until Sophia’s daughter shares some of Sophia’s wine with a man named Nico who becomes involved.

The romance comes very naturally in Crushed with Sophia’s relationship with Nico moving at appropriate speed from slightly contentious to cautiously romantic. Both characters are fleshed out well with back stories that make their lives complex while the backdrop of wine making adds an interesting element for the plot. Deborah Coonts also expertly creates misunderstandings and tensions so that there’s never a dull moment in Crushed.
Review copy provided by the publicist, Kate Tilton.

Friday, July 8, 2016

review: you will know me by megan abbott

Devon is a dedicated teenage gymnast whose parents are highly involved in making her a star. They fundraise and put all of their energy into getting her ready to try out for the next level in hopes of eventually making it to the Olympics. But then a crushing blow is dealt when the boyfriend of one of the coaches (who is also the niece of the gym’s owner) is killed in a hit and run.

You Will Know Me had its moments, but there were also odd notes. Devon’s younger brother popped in to make strange, sometimes prophetic statements while his parents mostly ignored him. Also, Devon’s father never felt fleshed out which was weird given his important role. The plot jumped around between the importance of gymnastics and the crime making it feel uneven at times. Megan Abbott created some red herrings by Devon’s parents failure to communicate with each other, but the outcome was fairly easy to predict.
Review copy provided by the publicist, BookSparks PR.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

review: first comes love by emily giffin

As the 15th anniversary of their older brother’s death approaches, Josie and Meredith are both at crossroads. Josie longs for a family of her own (which becomes a full-on obsession when her ex-boyfriend’s daughter becomes one of her 1st grade students) while Meredith hates her job and knows she was never really in love with her husband (who just happens to be her deceased brother’s best friend). First Comes Love is fraught with emotion as Josie pursues having a baby on her own and Meredith’s unhappiness causes her to lash out at those who love her. Emily Giffin tells the story of these two very different sisters by alternating the perspective of each chapter. This choice creates an interesting view of family dynamics. In the Josie chapters, Josie’s actions seem reasonable while Meredith comes across as a judgmental shrew; in the Meredith chapters, Meredith seems less of a malcontent while Josie appears to be a selfish brat. By the end, no one has shown any growth which was a disappointment, but Giffin’s latest novel does illustrate how one traumatic event can affect the lives of everyone involved forever.
Review copy provided by the publicist, BookSparks PR.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

review: don't you cry by mary kubica

After kicking out the man (who is, ugh, much older than he appeared in the bar) she brought home last night, Quinn realizes her good girl roommate hasn’t completed her usual Sunday morning routine. Is Esther missing or just out? Esther’s room is in quite the state and her phone is still in the apartment, but the Chicago police tell Quinn that Esther can’t be reported missing yet since there’s no sign she’s in danger. Meanwhile, a recent high school graduate named Alex in a town not far from Chicago spots an attractive young woman he’s immediately drawn to.

The alternating storylines allow Mary Kubica to build the suspense, but also make the plot move a little slowly as much time is spent on Alex’s life. Of course, one expects these two storylines to come together, but the way they do is not quite what I expected. In retrospect, Kubica left a few hints, but too much elaboration would spoil the ending.
Review copy provided by the publicist, BookSparksPR.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

review: party of one by dave holmes

If you were watching MTV during its transition from playing music videos to making TV shows, Dave Holmes’s memoir is a great trip down memory lane. But it’s much more than just his time at MTV (which sounds like a lot of fun), it’s a thoughtful telling of his formative years, struggle through college, and the multiple times and ways he had to come out, especially as someone who doesn’t fit the gay stereotype. His take on music (which was such a dominant factor in his life that a career as a VJ had to be his destiny) is hilarious even though I didn’t always agree with his opinions (hey Dave, the guys from Orgy aren’t that much older than you!).
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

review: read me like a book by liz kessler

As Ashleigh approaches the end of sixth form college, her life takes a number of turns. In emotionally shattering scenes, she falls out with her best friend, she worries she may be pregnant after having unprotected sex, and her parents announce they are splitting. Although Ashleigh’s never been much of a student, she’s started feeling a connection with her English teacher and confides her troubles in Miss Murray. In fact, Ashleigh is quite infatuated by Miss Murray—she even joins debate club because of her—and it is a conversation with Miss Murray that leads Ashleigh to the sudden realization that she likes girls not boys. This is the one element of Read Me Like a Book that feels a little off. The way Ashleigh’s coming out comes about makes it seem like she wants to be gay because her favorite teacher is. Liz Kessler tries to remedy this by having some of the people close to Ashleigh announce that they always knew she was gay, but all of the reactions feel like stereotypical responses. But Kessler also writes great scenes between Ashleigh and an age-appropriate female love interest that indicate Ashleigh’s sexuality has nothing to do with her obsession with her English teacher.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Candlewick.

Official Blog Tour Stops: 6/14 YA Book Central
6/15 My Mercurial Musings
6/16 Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
6/17 Mayor of Bookopolis
6/18 I Read Banned Books
6/19 Forever Literary
6/20 Word Spelunking
6/21 My Books Views
6/22 Kelly Vision
6/23 Swoony Boys Podcast
6/24 Reviews Comin At YA
6/25 Comfort Books
6/26 Satisfaction for Insatiable Reader
6/27 Just a Cat and a Book by her Side
6/28 The Reading Date
6/29 Forever YA
6/30 Musing Librarian reviews
7/1 Randomly Reading

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

review: good as gone by amy gentry

Having been disappointed by ABC’s cancelation of The Family, I was looking for something similar to read—Amy Gentry’s Good as Gone is that book. The family in Good as Gone is devastated when 13 year old Julie is kidnapped from her bedroom as her younger sister watches. Incredibly, a woman shows up almost a decade later claiming to be Julie. She says she was human trafficked to Mexico. Her story is suspicious, but the family wants to believe it’s her. But when a private investigator gets in touch with Julie’s mom, more doubts are raised. As the story unfolds, Gentry skillfully shifts time and perspective to build the suspense. Is this woman Julie or not? When the answer finally comes, Good as Gone becomes the most gratifying suspense novel I’ve read in a long time.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

review: ink and bone by lisa unger

Lisa Unger heads back to The Hollows in Ink and Bone with a focus on Eloise’s granddaughter, Finley. Although Unger previously established that Eloise received her psychic powers after an accident, it seems that it is also an inherited trait as Finley has the ability too. Finley moved to The Hollows from Seattle to attend college and get away from a clingy boyfriend, who proved to be very clingy by moving across the country to The Hollows as well. Since moving, Finley has heard a repeated squeak-clink that only quiets when she gets involved in a case that private investigator Jones Cooper has brought to her grandmother.

Ink and Bone felt a little slower paced than some of Unger’s other novels, though that may be out of necessity since the crime is the kidnapping and abuse of a young girl. Unger also frequently shifted the perspective in Ink and Bone which made it difficult to connect to Finley who seems to be positioned to become the lead of Unger’s The Hollows books. Fortunately though, Ink and Bone has vivid descriptions and tight plotting that create a layered thriller.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

review: giving up the ghost by eric nuzum

As an adolescent, Eric Nuzum thought a young girl was haunting him. His memoir explores his reckless teenage years which resulted in him being admitted to the psychiatric ward and his friendship with the one person who gave continuous support during that time. Although Nuzum provides an incomplete look at his life by writing of only a brief period in his life, it is a vividly described (see the scene that costs him his DJ gig at the college radio station), cohesive narrative that is both enthralling and illuminating.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

review: the assistants by camille perri

Tina had no intention of stealing from her boss, but cross communication lead to her being reimbursed for plane tickets the airline had already waived charges for and then the temptation to finally pay off her student loans was just too great. Of course, Tina was caught. But she was caught by someone who also had student loans and who agreed to not turn her in if Tina continued the scam and paid off Emily’s loans. In a bit of a twist, Tina and Emily actually become friends of a kind and the student loan scam starts spiraling out of Tina’s control.

The Assistants is an amusing romp even if it is a bit unrealistic that the theft can go on for so long. Camille Perri inserts plenty of fun pop culture references, but those references combined with Tina’s entry-level job made her seem younger than her stated 30 years. This light-hearted Robin Hood story indulges one’s fantasy of finally being free from student loans (a debt I know all too well!) in an entertaining narrative that explores workplace relationships.
Review copy provided by the publicist, BookSparks PR.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

review: my best friend's exorcism by grady hendrix

Abby was a poor, friendless kid attending a private school on scholarship when Gretchen arrived at the school. Not knowing Abby’s outcast status, Gretchen is the only one to show up for Abby’s birthday party. The two are inseparable after that; that is, until one night when Abby, Gretchen, and two of their classmates take LSD and Gretchen is never the same.

Set against the backdrop of the late 1980s when stories of satanic cults were dominating the headlines, My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a fairly comedic horror story. Grady Hendrix incorporates plenty of snark into the scenes as well as numerous 80s pop culture references (each chapter title is a song title) which keep the tone light even as Gretchen torments her friends and family. The writing is superb, but it’s the strength of Abby’s character that really makes the plot work. Many teenage girls would let the friendship end, but Abby is determined to fight for and then save her friend. The retrospective nature of the story and the ages of the characters create an authenticity for a story that leaves one wondering if Gretchen was really possessed or if this was all part of the satanic ritual abuse scare.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Quirk.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

review: the house of bradbury by nicole meier

After a less than successful debut novel and splitting with her cheating fiancé, Mia Gladwell discovers Ray Bradbury’s house is for sale. Although her perfectionist older sister is less than impressed with the outdated home, Mia knows it’s the place for her and buys the house with the financial assistance of her ex-fiancé. The money ends up coming with a string though—Carson wants Mia to house the fresh out of rehab star of a movie he’s making. It’s initially rough-going, but Mia and Zoe soon bond over the mysterious sketches being left outside Mia’s home.

The incorporation of Ray Bradbury’s life, novels, and home created an excellent backdrop for a novel about a writer, but Mia didn’t do much writing as she focused on Zoe and Zoe’s troubles. The female relationships in The House of Bradbury were fantastic, but the inclusion of some attempts at romance for Mia distracted from the meaningful female-oriented scenes. Fortunately, the hints at romance were not prevalent even if they were a bit forced.
Review copy provided by the publicist, BookSparks PR.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

review: perfect timing by laura spinella

Perfect Timing has one of the most perfect opening scenes a book could have with Isabel and Rico waking up to a DJ at the radio station where Isabel works reporting the latest hijinks of a rock star Isabel would rather not think about. As the plot unfolds, it becomes clear why Isabel would rather not think about Aidan Royce, but he may also be the only man who can help Isabel out of a career crisis when the radio station’s new owner demands a quick and substantial ratings increase.

Perfect Timing shifts between the past and the present so that the history of Isabel and Aidan comes in small chunks and allows the reader to slowly realize the importance of Aidan to Isabel and why they are no longer in contact. The time shifting also made it possible for Laura Spinella to leave some questions about the past unanswered until just the right moment to drop the bombshells that marvelously twisted the plot. The ending didn’t quite do the rest of the book justice, but everything leading up to the end was fantastic.

About the audiobook: Laura Spinella’s Perfect Timing is read by Rachel Fulginiti who is an incredible narrator. Her inflections made it easy to differentiate between characters as well as dialogue versus narration. It runs almost 13 hours and was released January 2016 by Ideal on Dreamscape Audio.
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

review: me before you by jojo moyes

After the café where Louisa Clark worked closed, her job prospects were not good. She tried working at a chicken processing plant and being a home energy adviser, but did not experience success in those roles. Being a care assistant for a quadriplegic is pretty much her last choice (having declared she won’t work anywhere that would give her dad a heart attack), but Lou interviews for the job after being assured she won’t have to wipe anyone’s bottom. Lou soon finds herself working for a curmudgeonly, but attractive man who pushes her beyond her comfort zone.

As Lou says toward the end of Me Before You, this is not a conventional love story; it might not even be a love story at all. As the title states, this is a novel about putting me before you, which is to say the characters are supremely selfish. And yet, it works. The selfishness and self-absorption just makes the characters seem realistic when it would have been easy for Jojo Moyes to turn them into wonderfully self-sacrificing people given that one of the central characters is disabled. What Me Before You really does is show how the choices a person makes also affect the lives of the people around him or her. It is a powerful novel.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Penguin.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

review: deep dark by laura griffin

Laura Griffin’s Deep Dark is another excellent addition to the Tracers series, especially with its return to the Delphi Center as a focus. This time around the Delphi Center helps the Austin Police Department via the computer skills of Laney Knox who has a very personal connection to the current case. Although she’d rather stay far away from Reed Novak and the others, she does want her friend’s killer to be caught. Laney is able to provide key information about the security holes in a dating website all the victims have in common.

As usual, Griffin strikes the right balance between suspense and romance in Deep Dark. The evolution of the romance is wonderfully organic as both Laney and Reed resist getting involved with each before finally uniting. The plot here is complex without being overly complicated and the killer is not predictable.
Review copy provided by the author.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

review: the tender mercy of roses by anna michaels

When a disgraced former police detective finds the body a rodeo circuit star, she ends up uncovering long held family secrets. The Tender Mercy of Roses had many of the right elements for a great novel, but the predictability of the murder mystery combined with the overly flowery descriptions made it a less than compelling read. Another distracting factor was how the deceased Pony Jones came across as much younger than the 26 years of age she was stated to be.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

review: between a vamp and a hard place by jessica sims

Between a Vamp and a Hard Place plunges Lindsey and her best friend/foster sister/business partner, Gemma, into a sexy, but dangerous world when they discover a vampire while searching for antiques in Venice. The vampire, Rand, is immediately drawn to Lindsey because of her very rare blood type—she is delicious and he wants to feed. Initially, Lindsey is having none of that, but is eventually drawn in by Rand’s charisma which ends up putting her in danger when other vampires start coming after Rand. The snarky fun never stops in this intelligent paranormal romance that includes elements of suspense. The only thing lacking is the world-building as there’s nothing to indicate Lindsey and Gemma live in a world with vampires, but readily accept the presence of Rand.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket Books.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

review: spinster by kate bolick

Why does “spinster” have a negative connotation when there is no real equivalent for an unmarried man (“bachelor” is certainly not negative)? Kate Bolick examines the word “spinster” and the five marvelous women she thinks of when she thinks of the word. In this memoir/biography (for Bolick examines her own spinster life alongside the women she admires), Bolick delves into the legal restrictions that were imposed on single woman in the United States while also exploring how some women forged their own way in the framework of her own life experiences. There are times when Bolick lives with a romantic partner as well as times she is single. She writes of her fears of ending up “a bag lady” as she discovers one of her idols very nearly did. Bolick’s story is yet to be completed, but Spinster concludes by coming back around to the word she started with and a desire “to offer [spinster] up as shorthand for holding on to that in you which is independent and self-sufficient, whether you’re single or coupled.”
Review copy provided by Blogging for Books.

Monday, May 2, 2016

review: red flags by tammy kaehler

Racecar driver Kate Reilly has a knack for getting involved in murder investigations, but this time she’d really rather not be involved as the victim is a cousin who hated her. Although Kate is trying to build a relationship with her father, the rest of his family want nothing to do with her and go so far as to accuse her of Billy’s murder. Despite Kate’s desire to stay away from the murder investigation, she keeps being pulled in because of the ties Billy and his death have to racing. Throughout the lively plot that includes plenty of racing action, Kate keeps her head even while hobnobbing with celebrities or being assaulted in a warning to stay away. This unconventional cozy mystery perfectly combines the mystery elements with family relations and romance as well as Kate’s dedication to her career.
Review copy provided by the publicist, MM Book Publicity.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

review: the never never sisters by l. alison heller

Paige is a marriage counselor, but her family life is far from perfect. As The Never Never Sisters begins, Paige’s husband comes home from work saying he’s been suspended pending an investigation (he claims not to know the details, but Paige thinks it’s related to insider trading). This news is quickly followed by her parents’ announcement that their long estranged older daughter has finally been in contact. Paige’s life quickly becomes full of drama, especially once she starts reading her mother’s old journal and learns some secrets from the past.

The family dynamics L. Alison Heller creates in her second novel are skillfully constructed with a simmering build to the confrontations Paige finally makes. Heller adds in a few unexpected plot developments that allow her to further grow the characters realistically. The one downside is that Heller chose to only include the perspectives of Paige and Vanessa (Paige’s mother) and not Sloane (the estranged sister).

About the audiobook: The Never Never Sisters by L. Alison Heller is read by Julia Whelan who does an excellent job differentiating between the characters through tone of voice. Whelan even makes Paige’s husband Dave sound depressed which was quite appropriate for the character. The audio version was released by Ideal on Dreamscape Audio in January 2016. It runs nine hours.
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

review: inconceivable! by tegan wren

Inconceivable! began with such promise. Hatty is an enterprising college student in a foreign country. She has great friends, a good support system back home, and a drive to succeed in journalism. The first few chapters are brilliantly crafted. But this a tale of two diametrically opposed Hattys and the Hatty of the novel’s beginning quickly disappears. After Hatty meets a handsome member of the country’s royal family, she loses herself until she becomes wholly unrecognizable. For all of Hatty’s determination to grow as a woman and have a career, she fully immerses herself into the prince’s world. While character’s frequently change in some way from the beginning of a novel to the end, they also must do so plausibly and Tegan Wren failed to develop Hatty or the plot in such a way for the change to make sense. Furthermore, Hatty’s mother makes an about-face without explanation as well. The plot of Inconceivable! gets worse after Hatty’s royal wedding as she becomes wholly obsessed with providing an heir to the throne. This devolves into slut-shaming (despite Hatty only having had one partner before her husband) and demanding medical procedures (which are presented as being Hatty’s choice, but are clearly required given the threat of an annulment). Wren tries to redeem it all at the end, but it is another out-of-nowhere turn and too little, too late.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Curiosity Quills.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

review: in other words by jhumpa lahiri

After writing a few excellent novels and a short story collection (my favorite of her work), Jhumpa Lahiri decided to tackle the memoir and to do it in Italian—a language she’s still learning. As I cannot read Italian, I read the translation into English by Ann Goldstein. As English is Lahiri’s “dominant language” one might ask why she didn’t do the translation herself. She addresses that in an author’s note stating that she would’ve been tempted to improve the work by using stronger words from her stronger language. Lahiri returns to this thought later on when she’s asked to contribute a piece for a literary festival which she writes in Italian and then translates herself. Overall, In Other Words is a fabulous glimpse into the life of an author. It is also an interesting look at the process of learning a language as Lahiri documents her attempts to learn Italian while still living in the United States before going into immersion by moving to Italy.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Alfred A. Knopf.

Monday, April 18, 2016

review: love that boy by ron fournier

In Love That Boy (a title that comes from an instruction given by former president George W. Bush), journalist Ron Fournier writes about his family with a focus on his youngest child, a boy who has Asperger’s. At the behest of his wife, Fournier tries to bond with his son while learning about past presidents since his son has no interest in or aptitude for sports as Fournier had dreamed when his son was born. Fournier shares the difficulties he had accepting Tyler as well as the struggles of other parents he’s met. The hook of this reflection on parenting is the meetings father and son have with the three most recent (as of April 2016) presidents of the United States. The most in-depth comments come from George W. Bush and Bill Clinton since both agreed to personal meetings with Tyler. The way these two different men related to a child with Asperger’s was touching and revealing of their character regardless of political leanings or scandals.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Harmony Books.

Friday, April 15, 2016

review: the madwoman upstairs by catherine lowell

The Madwoman Upstairs is Catherine Lowell’s excellent modernization of Jane Eyre with a few other novels from the Brontë sisters added for good measure. Although the Jane Eyre inspiration is clear, Lowell creates a heroine wholly her own in Samantha Whipple, the only living heir to the Brontë estate. Upon arriving at Oxford to study English literature, Samantha learns her room is in a tower that’s included on a tour of the university. That others have semi-frequent access to her room is quite convenient as it means Samantha has few clues once someone starts anonymously leaving her deceased father’s Brontë books in her room. Therein lies the mystery, but The Madwoman Upstairs wouldn’t be complete without the slightly inappropriate romance Samantha indulges in with her tutor (professor in American terms). All the elements come together marvelously as Samantha discovers her father’s past and forges a life of her own even as a fellow student exposes her Brontë connection.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.