Tuesday, November 21, 2017

review: a measure of murder by leslie karst

After inheriting a restaurant due to the passing of her aunt (in Dying for a Taste), Sally Solari is struggling to balance all her obligations. Even so, she allows her ex-boyfriend to talk her into trying out for a part in the chorus he's in. Unfortunately, this decision causes Sally to once again find herself investigating a murder mystery when one of the tenors dies after a fall from a window. While the police deem it an accident, Sally isn't so sure. Sally has a lot going on which made the plot of A Measure of Murder feel a little scattered as Sally became stretched thin running a restaurant, rehearsing with the chorus, investigating a murder, and going on bike rides with a potential suspect. The mystery is great though with a number of fantastic turns as Sally suspects almost everyone and with good reason.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, MM Book Publicity.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

review: infinite days rebecca maizel

Lenah Beaudonte is one of the most ruthless vampires in England in 1910. On Halloween night, the vampire who turned Lenah agrees to fulfill the 592 year old vampire's wish to be human again--but only after she hibernates for 100 years. When he awakens Lenah in 2010, Rhodes reveals that he will soon die as a result of turning her human, that he's enrolled her at boarding school, and that the vampires of her former coven will be coming after her. Lenah mourns the loss of Rhodes, but quickly forgets his warning about the coven as she dives into high school life. Rebecca Maizel makes some nods to Lenah's intellect gained from centuries of experience and her confusion over modern things like CDs, but mostly has Lenah fit right in with her classmates. Her great beauty (of course) quickly attracts the attention of two boys, but there's barely a triangle in Infinite Days as Lenah thinks of Tony only as a friend. It is Justin who has Lenah's eye. Most of their story plays out as a typical high school romance, but complications arise when Lenah confesses she used to be a vampire (Justin doesn't believe her) and then the coven finally finds her. The romance with Justin is bland, but Maizel does a great job of incorporating Lenah's backstory from her vampire days. There's also an excellent twist toward the end.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, St. Martin's Griffin.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

review: don't worry, it gets worse by alina nugent

The essays collected in Alida Nugent's Don't Worry, It Gets Worse are a mixed bag. Some are quite funny, but others are duds. Nugent primarily writes of a life centered around drinking and not have enough money. She generally puts a funny spin on it, but the tales are all pretty sad if one stops to think about it. On the plus side, the essays are easily digestible and short, so the reader need not dwell on each anecdote before moving on to the next.
3/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Plume.

Friday, November 17, 2017

review: shattered memories by v.c. andrews

Oh dear, ghostwriter, why didn't you just leave the Fitzgerald twins be? If The Mirror Sisters is a drawn out a backstory for Broken Glass, Shattered Memories is one ridiculously long epilogue. Two months after being rescued, Kaylee is in therapy while Haylee has been institutionalized (though prison would be a far better place for her). With senior year to finish, it's decided that Kaylee will start at a private boarding school where she pretends to be an only child. And then she lives a normal high school existence. Seriously. Page after page is Kaylee getting to know her new classmates though she reflects on what happened to her constantly. The ghostwriter still has not learned "show, don't tell." He also attempts to be hip by changing up clichés, like having Kaylee's new boyfriend say, "I don't want to sound like a broken CD, but there's something about you that's different." First off, CDs don't break in the same way records do. And second, what high school kid would say that? I'd be willing to bet that most are unfamiliar with CDs, but actually know what a record is due to the resurgence of vinyl. Anyway, eventually Shattered Memories does provide an interesting end to the story of the Fitzgerald twins, but it shouldn't have taken 400 pages to get there.
2/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket.

Friday, November 10, 2017

review: the crêpes of wrath by sarah fox

When her mother’s cousin Jimmy falls ill, Marley takes leave from her job in Seattle to oversee operations at the pancake house Jimmy owns on the Washington coast. She plans to return to her real life soon, but then Jimmy is murdered and Marley finds herself not only an heiress but also an investigator seeking who killed Jimmy and why.

Being the first in a series, The Crêpes of Wrath has a number of characters being introduced to Marley’s life. Some are memorable, but others are not; unfortunately the murderer is among those who are not. Although the murderer’s motive is explained, it felt weaker than that of some of the red herring suspects. And while Sarah Fox created an interesting plot, there’s a lot of Marley making bad decisions to keep the story moving forward. For example, Marley doesn’t leave a message for the sheriff because she doesn’t want to “play phone tag.” Why not? It only makes sense to leave a detailed voicemail so law enforcement gets the pertinent information far sooner than whenever Marley gets around to making the call again. Additionally, there were a number of filler-type scenes (it was entirely unnecessary to spend time interviewing potential employees for the restaurant) that might work once the series is further along and the reader cares about recurring secondary characters.

About the audiobook: The Crêpes of Wrath by Sarah Fox is read by Marguerite Gavin. Gavin set the right tone for the novel and changed the sound of her voice enough to distinguish between characters. One quibble: Gavin pronounced UW (as in the University of Washington) as U-Double U rather than U-Dub as an alum (which Marley is) would. The audio version was published July 2017 by Tantor Audio and runs 7.5 hours.
3/5
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

review: run by kody keplinger

Bo is a teenager with a bad rep simply because her father took off and her mother is a meth addict. It's a huge surprise when Bo gets placed in the advanced English class with Agnes and her best friend Christy. Agnes and Christy are the type to be in church on Sunday morning even if Christy spends the rest of the weekend at the same parties as Bo. Agnes is never there because she's legally blind and Christy says Agnes won't have any fun (really it's that Christy fears she won't get to have fun) being at a dark party (Agnes has some vision, but it's worse when it's dark). The introduction of Bo into Agnes's English class is the catalyst for Bo and Agnes to slowly begin the path to a friendship that changes them both for the better.

Run is filled with details that make it so high school. It's the drama of friendship and the struggles of becoming an adult. But there's another layer with Bo, who knows what awaits if her mother is arrested. When that inevitably happens, Bo is convinced she must run. And Agnes, who has slowly rebelled against her parents' restrictions, comes along for the ride. Nothing goes as the pair planned, but the emotion of the story is phenomenal. Kody Keplinger's choice to tell the story with Bo in the present and the Agnes chapters explaining how they got there is a wise one that serves the story well.
5/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

review: touch of red by laura griffin

Brooke is a CSI at the Delphi Center who recently broke up with her possessive boyfriend who works in the sheriff's department. Her friends and coworkers think she needs to start dating again, but Brooke would rather focus on the murder of a woman named Samantha and the child who may have witnessed the crime. Despite the warnings of the detective on the case (who is not only in pursuit of the killer, but of Brooke as well), Brooke quickly becomes deeply entrenched in the horrific conspiracy that led to Samantha's death.

The murder conspiracy of the twelfth Tracers novel is excellent, but Touch of Red could've been a tenser drama had Laura Griffin focused more on that aspect rather than the romance. As the Tracers series has gone on, the blend of romance and suspense has shifted from suspense-heavy to romance-heavy. In this case, the romance was a bit of a turn off as Sean seemed quite possessive of Brooke which is exactly what she cited as the reason for breaking things off with her last law enforcement boyfriend. At one point Sean told Brooke in explicit detail just how attracted to her he'd been when they met at a crime scene. Griffin likely meant it as a sexy come on (the pair were already in a sexual relationship when he told her), but it came across like Sean was some creep sexually harassing a coworker.
4/5
Review copy provided by the author.

Friday, October 27, 2017

review: lucky in love by deborah coonts

A TV dating game show has descended on the Babylon in a Lucky O'Toole novella from Deborah Coonts. Lucky isn't too thrilled about it all, but she's even less happy to have the cameras in the hotel when the contestants begin getting themselves into all sorts of trouble, which includes some Las Vegas-style debauchery since this is a Lucky story after all. This novella comes between Lucky Stiff and So Damn Lucky, so the love-themed reality show really gets under Lucky's skin as she struggles to navigate a romance with Teddie. Lucky in Love is a fun read that provides a bit more insight into Lucky's love life and how relationships will develop later in the series.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, Kate Tilton.

Friday, October 13, 2017

review: the hired girl by laura amy schlitz

After the passing of her mother, 14 year old Joan is left responsible for all the cooking and cleaning on her family's farm. Although Joan loves school and her mother hoped Joan would be educated enough to be a teacher, Joan's father insists she stay home to work; such is life in 1911. But Joan is a rebel. She hears of workers going on strike and learns that hired girls can make $6/week, so she declares herself on strike unless her father gives her the egg money like her mother got. Joan's father won't hear of it, which leads to the Catholic Joan leaving home and finding a job as a hired girl for a wealthy Jewish family.

The differences in religion frequently come into play in Laura Amy Schlitz's The Hired Girl, which was inspired by her grandmother's journal. At first there are misunderstandings (such as the need to use different sinks) on Joan's part, but it all becomes more complicated as Joan, who has lied about her age, develops feelings for one of the Rosenbach sons (who is quite the flirt). The Hired Girl unfolds slowly with Joan initially coming across as a whiny child, but she comes into her own as learns to navigate life as a household employee. Throughout the touching epistolary novel, Joan shares her longings and her amazement at her experiences all while staying true to her forthright nature (which gets her into trouble on a number of occasions).
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Candlewick.

Monday, October 9, 2017

review: operation enough! by anita dhake

After graduating from law school in 2009, Anita Dhake did not fall victim to the “golden handcuffs;” instead, she lived frugally in order to pay off her loans and accomplish her goal of retiring early. At just 33, Dhake did retire. She began sharing her life (including mom’s recipes!) on a blog called The Power of Thrift; portions of that entertaining and informative blog have now turned into Operation Enough, which fulfills another of Dhake’s goals—writing a book.

Dhake is not a financial advisor by trade, but that makes Operation Enough! all the more relatable. Dhake’s attitude about money was shaped early on when she read Your Money or Your Life as a teenager. Like many other Americans, Dhake took out loans for her degrees, but her early brush with that financial advice book affected how she moved forward after graduation. In Operation Enough, she explains how a bit of good fortune (her law firm offered to pay her minimum student loan payments for a year at the height of the Great Recession) and good planning (she rented an apartment within biking distance of the law firm) combined with frugality (no traveling) allowed her to pay off her student loans just two years after finishing law school. While offering anecdotes from her life, Dhake outlines how to do your own Operation Enough. She frames her tenets around five questions:
What exactly is enough?
How should I spend my money?
How do I save money?
How should I invest?
How should I not spend money?
Her advice is thoughtful, but it doesn’t feel like advice because her writing is engaging and light-hearted. My favorite bit is, “Don’t spend money on crap you personally and specifically don’t need for happiness.” Dhake recognizes that different people have different priorities—she loves to travel, but others might prefer another form of entertainment. She highlights a few things (book, music, movies, etc.) that one might spend wastefully on, then breaks down the opportunity cost. (Anecdotally, I think this can work. I'm reminded of a now-former coworker who wanted to quit smoking. Part of what kept him going while struggling to end his addiction was the knowledge that the cigarettes cost him the equivalent of a nice used car each year.) One of her hardest sections for me was on pets.

I adore my monster and think she’s worth every penny, but there’s a good chance I wouldn’t have adopted her had I known that after the Great Recession apartment complexes like mine would begin tacking on a $25 pet rent every month. That said, I'm pretty sure she is necessary for my happiness.

Reading Operation Enough!, you're likely to be inspired to do something about your finances while at the same time being amused by Dhake's clever use of various avatars.
5/5
Review copy provided by the author.

Friday, September 29, 2017

review: best day ever by kaira rouda

On a Friday at 9am, Paul and Mia are on the road to their vacation home. Mia hasn't been feeling well lately (upset stomach and losing weight), so Paul has told her he plans to make it the best day ever. From the opening sentences though, one gets the impression that Paul is not a good person to say the least. As Best Day Ever unfolds over the course of the day (each chapter marks a different time of day), it becomes clear that Paul and Mia have very different ideas about what will make this particular Friday the "best day ever."

Best Day Ever is filled with much of the mundane conversations a married couple would have, but that mundaneness set against Paul's beastly narration increases the tension as the plot builds to its crescendo. The unfolding of the day's events is an amazing journey that takes a brilliant turn right when it matters most. Best Day Ever is a chilling tale that is one of the best psychological thrillers out there.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Graydon House.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

review: the daughters of ireland by santa montefiore

Picking up shortly after The Girl in the Castle left off, The Daughters of Ireland also reveals the reason Maggie O’Leary cursed all of the Deverill men back in 1662; and that curse continues with a vengeance. Although Kitty is now married to her former tutor, she still rendezvouses with Jack whenever she has a chance. Their happiness, however, is not to be. Kitty’s former maid also suffers much heartache as she discovers Kitty is raising her son and the child believes his mother to be dead. Bridie is so devastated that she leaves Ireland to live again in America, where she remarries and soon finds a way to get back at the Deverills. Although Kitty’s cousin had only a small role in the first book of the trilogy, Celia becomes a main character when she and her husband restore Castle Deverill in all its glory (but now with indoor plumbing and electricity!). The curse hangs over them all though and more tragedy will strike before the conclusion of The Daughters of Ireland.

With The Daughters of Ireland starting in 1925, the build to the stock market crash is slow, but suspenseful with a number of characters mentioning how well their investments are doing. When the crash finally does happen, it packs a wallop. As with the first in this trilogy, Santa Montefiore does an excellent job of incorporating real events into the lives of her fictional characters. The evolution of Celia’s character is also excellent with her becoming a strong woman in the face of great tragedy. Montefiore also wisely ends The Daughters of Ireland as she did The Girl in the Castle—a big development regarding Bridie’s twins.
5/5
Review copies provided by the publisher, William Morrow.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

review: corliss [and] donna by v.c. andrews

Corliss and Donna are both the titles of two V.C. Andrews novellas and the names of the teenage girls each respectively focuses on. The novellas serve as companions to the full-length novel Bittersweet Dreams as well as two forthcoming novellas. These novellas explain how Corliss and Donna each came to be students at Spindrift, a school for the extremely intelligent.

Corliss is a brilliant student who has trouble fitting in at her public high school. Some of the girls at her school have made her the target of their bullying. When Corliss refuses their offer of drugs during a school dance, the girls spike her drink and try to frame her as being the dealer. It’s clearly a bad situation, so her counselor presents the option of attending Spindrift.

Donna is also brilliant, but tries hard to fit in with her classmates even going with a group of them to a party at the beach. Unfortunately, a fight breaks out during the beach outing which puts one boy in the hospital. That’s when Spindrift is presented as a good school for Donna.

The plots of the two novellas are interesting, but neither felt like a whole story—these truly are just prequels to set up additional works. The backstory for both girls likely could be incorporated into a full-length novel without the need for these prequels.
2/5
Review copies provided by the publisher, Simon & Schuster.

Monday, September 25, 2017

review: it looks like this by rafi mittlefehldt

Mike makes a few friends after his family moves to Virginia from Wisconsin, but he also acquires a bully. Tragically, that bully sets out to destroy when he uses his phone to shoot a video of Mike's intimate encounter with Sean. The bully also tips off Sean's dad, so that the pair is interrupted in a gut-wrenching, rage-inducing moment of a parent at his worst. What had been a relatively sweet high school story quickly turns into a heart-breaking tale involving a gay conversion camp and the loss of first love. Rafi Mittlefehldt's writing brings many tears as Mike struggles. It Looks Like This does not end in sorrow, but it's a rough journey there.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Candlewick.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

review: the girl in the castle by santa montefiore

The first book in a trilogy, the first few chapters of The Girl in the Castle are the slow establishment of the characters’ personalities and relationships with each other. As the younger characters (primarily the wealthy Kitty, her friend/maid, Bridie, and the son of the local veterinarian, Jack) grow up, the tumultuous times leading up to and during the Black and Tan War in Ireland greatly affect their lives, especially since Kitty is Anglo Irish. The Girl in the Castle, which is beautifully written, is filled with romance, betrayal, and strife as the characters’ lives entangle and the curse on the Deverill clan seems to come to fruition. The final pages reveal some surprises to compel the reader to pick up the second book, The Daughters of Ireland.
4/5
I purchased this book.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

top ten tuesday: loved during the first year

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Every Tuesday the site has a new top ten list with this week's being Ten Books I Loved During The First Year I Started My Blog. All the links below are to my reviews and interviews with the authors.

1. Belle in the Big Apple by Brooke Parkhurst
2. Misery Loves Cabernet by Kim Gruenenfelder
3. Guyaholic by Carolyn Mackler
4. How Perfect Is That by Sarah Bird
5. The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum
6. The Charlie McNally series (Prime Time, Face Time, Air Time) by Hank Phillippi Ryan
(This reminds me that I still need to read the fourth book, Drive Time.)
7. How it Ends by Laura Wiess
8. The Secret of Joy by Melissa Senate
9. The Sugarless Plum by Zippora Karz
10. Tall, Dark & Fangsome by Michelle Rowan

Monday, September 11, 2017

review: exposed by laura griffin

Shortly after finishing up shooting photos of an engaged couple, Maddie Callahan, an employee at The Delphi Center, is mugged. She's primarily concerned about the loss of her camera and memory card, but realizes something much bigger than her mugging has occurred when the FBI becomes involved. The agents think she may have captured the images of some men involved in the abductions and murders of young women. Those men could now be after Maddie and one of the agents takes particular interest in keeping her safe.

Although the first three books of the Tracers series felt like a trilogy, the rest of the series read more like standalone novels (which is good since I somehow skipped over this one while moving halfway across the country) with an interconnecting thread of The Delphi Center, an independent crime lab. The suspense part of Exposed was great with the various components of the mystery unfolding with nice pacing and not being easily guessed. The romantic elements didn't work as well though. Brian came across as overly possessive (especially considering he'd only just met Maddie) and Maddie seemed to be forcing herself into the relationship due to feelings of needing to move on after the death of her daughter, subsequent divorce, and her ex-husband's announcement of expecting a son with his new wife.
4/5
Review copy provided by the author.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

review: the decorator who knew too much by diane vallere

With the fourth book in the Madison Night series, Diane Vallere changes things up by shifting the setting from Dallas to Palm Springs and providing some of Tex's perspective. Madison and Hudson (who are now a couple) travel with their pets to Palm Springs to help Hudson's brother-in-law with a construction job. But right away things get off to an iffy start as Madison and Hudson are run off the road by an erratic driver. Then Madison spots a body in the river! Unfortunately, the Palm Springs police aren't as willing to believe her story as Tex would be. Tensions rise and Madison learns that even though she's no longer in Dallas, she can't seem to escape being tangentially involved in crimes.

As with the previous books in the series, The Decorator Who Knew Too Much incorporates comedy into the mystery, but this one has more romantic overtones now that Madison and Hudson are together. And even though Madison is dating Hudson now, don't count Tex out! The chapters from his perspective allow for the possibility of something developing on that front too. As for the mystery, it's fantastic with plenty of twists and red herrings to keep the reader guessing while Madison tries to piece things together (since the police are initially quite uninterested in her information). One thing felt a bit off though--Madison's mention of her married former lover. My impression from the second book of the series was that he had lied about being married.

About the audiobook: The Decorator Who Knew Too Much is read by Susie Berneis, who continues to be the perfect voice for Madison. She does well with the other characters too, including Heather (Hudson's young niece); some narrators have a tendency to make children sound shrill, but Berneis doesn't fall into that trap. The audio version was published by Dreamscape Media April 2017 and runs 7 hours.
4/5
Review copy from Audiobook Jukebox.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

review: wonder light: unicorns of the mist by r.r. russell

After an incident with her stepsister, 12-year-old Twig is sent to the fictional Island Ranch in Washington state. Island Ranch is described as a pony farm and ranch for troubled girls run by the Murleys who are certified counselors and foster parents. There's little focus on the troubled girls aspect though (references to the girls committing petty crimes are dropped throughout, but R.R. Russell doesn't delve into any of it) because Twig quickly discovers that the horses who live outside the confines of the ranch are actually unicorns. There's also a boy living alone on the island. Wonder Light: Unicorns of the Mist is a sweet story for middle grade readers, but it takes an odd turn about midway through the book. The boy discloses to Twig that there's a entrance to a mystical land on the island; Twig then goes with him to engage in a battle between evil unicorns and good ones. By switching to such a fantasy plot with only half of the book left, the first half of Wonder Light ended up feeling like a lot of unnecessary background. It is also disappointing that a book aimed at young readers would put such an emphasis on a boy giving a girl self-confidence.
2/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

review: the lost letter by jillian cantor

The Lost Letter is an incredibly powerful World War II story split between 1938 Austria and 1989 Los Angeles. As the story unfolds in alternating chapters, the upside-down stamp on the unsent letter found by Katie in her father’s stamp collection becomes clearly tied to the apprentice of a Jewish stamp engraver from the 1938 chapters. Partially in an effort to distract herself from her divorce and her father’s decline, Katie (along with a stamp appraiser) sets out to learn more about the unusual stamp, the author of the letter, and the intended recipient.

Although The Lost Letter is a work of fiction, it is based in reality—stamp engravers did play a role in the Resistance. By bringing in historical facts (the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 which seems to be the reason Jillian Cantor chose that year), the stories of these characters become all the more poignant. Cantor also expertly weaves together the two timeframes so that every piece is important.
5/5
Review copy provided by Amazon Vine.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

review: accidental sire by molly harper

Accidental Sire continues the vampires living openly in Kentucky story from Molly Harper's Half-Moon Hollow series. This time around a student at the University of Kentucky agrees to be turned after suffering a life-threatening injury from an Ultimate Frisbee toss gone awry. She then accidentally sires the student she was supposed to have a date with. There's an immediate question of how Meaghan was able to do so though as the circumstances are atypical. Jane (from Harper's Nice Girls Don't... series) takes both Meaghan and Ben into her home so the two new vampires can be studied. While Meaghan and Ben pursue their feelings for each other, they are pursued by a mad scientist intent on learning all he can about their unusual vampire traits. The developments in Accidental Sire allow Harper to freshen up the vampire story and advance the plot forward for later books in the series. Accidental Sire didn't have quite the same snark and wit of the first book in the series (Ben's moodiness dampens the fun), but it's still highly entertaining and incorporates many of the characters from the previous books.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket Star.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

review: lucky ride by deborah coonts

Lucky has only just returned from her adventure in Macau when a teenager walks into her office claiming to be the daughter of a woman she’s never met, but does have a photograph of. That woman very much resembles Lucky’s mother, Mona. But Lucky isn’t willing to just take the girl claiming to be named Tawny Rose at her word, so she launches a bit of an investigation. And since this wouldn’t be a Lucky O’Toole novel without a murder, Lucky’s investigation of “Tawny Rose” leads her right to a murder at the touring rodeo where “Tawny Rose” works.

As Lucky hesitantly embarks on creating a family of her own with Jean-Charles, it seems only fitting that the eighth book of the series would delve into the history of Lucky’s mother. It will be interesting to see how this new information will shape Lucky’s relationship with Mona as the series continues as well as how this new family member will fit. Lucky Ride is a fun read with a great murder mystery, but the killer’s motivation needed to be fleshed out a little more. At the end, the question of “why start killing now?” still lingered.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, Kate Tilton.

Monday, August 7, 2017

review: little girl gone by margaret fenton

Social worker Claire Conover finds herself involved in a murder mystery when the murder victim's teen daughter runs away from foster care. In a compelling narrative, Margaret Fenton quickly creates a number of plausible scenarios for who killed Jean Chambless while also developing the characters into realistically fleshed out individuals. But for all the thought that went into the circumstances under which Samantha Chambless came into Claire's life, the ending (which took all of five pages to reveal the murderer and motive) felt rushed. Additionally, it felt like Little Girl Gone was originally written about ten years ago with all the references to things like CD-ROMs and the old way that voicemail worked, but was updated to include things like an iPhone 5 (which was supposedly giving the delete voicemails by pressing seven prompts).
4/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, MM Book Publicity.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

review: sprinkle with murder by jenn mckinlay

Best friends since their youth, Melanie, Angie, and Tate own a cupcake shop in Scottsdale. The trio is tight meeting up regularly for movie night although there is a little bit of strain lately because Tate is marrying a woman Melanie and Angie do not like. Even so, Melanie hesitantly agrees to the bride’s outrageous demand that her wedding cupcake flavors be exclusive to the wedding. But there will be no wedding. When Melanie goes to meet with Christie about the cupcakes, she discovers Christie’s body and becomes the prime suspect. Melanie could leave the matter to the police (her uncle is on the force after all), but she’s determined to find the killer and clear her name.

Jenn McKinlay brings Scottsdale and the rest of the metro area to life with her descriptions and characterizations (particularly the older women who support Melanie because she is “from South Scottsdale”)—I kept thinking I could drive right over to Fairy Tale Cupcakes. Some of the story seems a little far-fetched—surprisingly, not Melanie solving the murder; instead it’s the extent of the rivalry between Melanie and another bakery owner. The frequent movie quotes between Melanie, Angie, and Tate also feels a little off after the murder of Tate’s fiancée. Despite those flaws, Sprinkle with Murder is an entertaining cozy with a mystery that comes together with just the right pacing.

About the audiobook: Sprinkle with Murder is read by Susan Boyce, whose reading unfortunately sometimes took me out of the story. While her narration was generally great, Boyce’s tone during pieces of dialogue didn’t always match what the dialogue tag indicated. For example, “Hi Joe,” Angie said with a glare that could have melted ice. “Did Tony and Sal send you?” has Angie sounding fairly nonchalant for the “hi Joe” portion. Later the owner of the jewelry store by the bakery calls to complain about flyers calling Melanie a murder being posted on his windows and Boyce focuses so much on trying get the owner’s described faint Indian accent that the tone is not even close to the annoyed condescension McKinlay indicates.

Also, Boyce has characters native to Arizona using the British pronunciation of “aunt,” which is unusual in the United States. The audio version of Sprinkle with Murder was published November 2016 by Dreamscape Media. It runs 6.5 hours. Missing from the audiobook are the recipes apparently included in the print version.
4/5
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

review: color me mindful seasons by anastasia catris

This coloring book targeted at adults has intricate designs for each of the seasons, as well as some of the holidays. The paper weight of Color Me Mindful Seasons is a bit thin though as even colored pencils showed through the page. Many of the designs run into the binding making it difficult to color in those parts. The book provides stress relief/entertainment, but the pages are unlikely to be kept after filled in due to the thinness of the paper.
3/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

review: royally romanov by teri wilson

In Royally Romanov, Teri Wilson capitalizes nicely on the mystique surrounding Anastasia Romanov and the rest of her family.  Rather than trying to create an Anastasia character, the questionable Romanov here is the grandson as Wilson imagines the possibility of Anastasia surviving and then living a quiet life raising a family in France.  But even Maxim is unclear about his background after suffering a brutal attack that's left him with amnesia.  His story (and looks!) hooks the assistant curator of the Louvre, an American named Finley, who just happens to be in charge of a Romanov exhibit in honor of the 100th anniversary of the family's execution. Wilson ties all the elements (the attack, the 100th anniversary, and the budding romance) into a sweet love story that's also filled with intrigue.

4/5

Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket Star.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

author guest post: amy s. foster

Many thanks to Amy S. Foster, the author of The Rift Rising trilogy, for sharing the young adult books that were influential in her childhood.

Like many latch key kids of the 80’s (with very limited cable-only 20 channels!) books were a constant companion for me. From the very beginning, I was a Judy Blume junkie. The marvelous thing about Judy’s writing is that I quite literally grew up with it. From Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing to Superfudge when I was seven to Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret and Deenie when I was thirteen and then finally, the racy stuff- Forever when I was sixteen. At the time, I just felt like it was a given that Judy was there, ushering me through all the passages of my life. It seemed natural.

Now that I’m a published author, I can look at the breadth and scope of her work and realize how truly astonishing this feat is. She writes just as poignantly for an elementary age student as she does for adults. Needless to say, I’m a big fan.

When I wasn’t reading Judy, I was reading books that took me away from what felt like a very dreary (and certainly fairly solitary) life in Toronto. Without any shame in my game, I freely admit to having almost every volume of the Choose Your Own Adventure series. Last week, Ava Duverney’s trailer for A Wrinkle In Time dropped and I actually wept. I was right back to being eleven years old again and just like when I read the books, Madeline L’Engle’s world building took my breath away.

People often ask me why I write YA novels. I don’t think it’s something you can really understand unless, like me, reading was a vital component of your childhood. Books helped me understand a lot of what my immature brain couldn’t get on its own. Reading helped me process the big ticket items (death, sex, divorce) which I compartmentalized. A good writer’s take on one or more of these issues would break them out of the vault I had sequestered them in and give me a chance to deal with them via somebody else.

So, when people ask me ‘what books did you read when you were a kid?’, I kind of think the better question is, ‘what books didn’t I read”.









review: the rift uprising by amy s. foster

The first book in a trilogy by Amy S. Foster finds a teen girl finding love while also uncovering the vast government conspiracy she’s been made a soldier in since childhood. Ryn is one of many teenaged Citadels who secretly (no one outside the program knows it exists) guard “rifts” that often open up allowing people and creatures from other universes to enter Ryn’s world. When an intelligent and attractive male teenager comes through the rift while Ryn is guarding it, she feels drawn to him and realizes she doesn’t know what happens to those she captures—the need to find out about Ezra sends her on a journey she never would have predicted.

While The Rift Uprising makes use of many of the common tropes of dystopian fiction, Foster’s excellent writing and compelling narrative prevent the book from feeling like it’s the same old plot. Furthermore, unlike others in the genre, Foster establishes a plausible reason for a teen girl to be the hero—a select group of children have been programmed by the government into excellency both mentally and physically and Ryn then happens to stumble upon some additional information that allows her to begin piecing together the finer details. The Rift Uprising is a great start to a trilogy.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Harper Voyager.

review: with vics you get eggroll by diane vallere

Madison Night has been the target of a murderer before, but now all the women of Dallas seem to be targets as multiple women have been abducted and the body of one has been recovered. Madison’s feeling particularly vulnerable as her apartment building has emptied out stemming from events in That Touch of Ink. Making matters worse, someone is framing Lt. Tex Allen, so he doesn’t have his usual investigative tools at his disposable. Even so, Madison and Tex are determined to figure out who the murderer really is.

The third Mad for Mod spends some time recapping what happened in the first two books. The recaps fortunately do not come all at once, but unfortunately do feel a bit clunky. Despite the recaps, the plot of With Vics You Get Eggroll moves along nicely with Madison frequently putting her foot in it as she seems to have come to believe she’s now skilled in investigations (don’t worry, she’s still very lovable). It’s a great way to throw in plenty of red herrings while also keeping the series grounded in reality (some series can suffer from the ridiculous frequency that a character becomes involved in murders, but Mad for Mad keeps up the plausibility).

About the audiobook: Diane Vallere’s With Vics You Get Eggroll is read by Susie Berneis (as are the other books in the series), who is the perfect choice for voicing Madison. Her intonations are spot on and help bring Madison and all the other characters to life. The audio version was released January 2017 by Dreamscape Media and runs 8 hours.
4/5
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

review: home safe by elizabeth berg

Helen Ames has lost her husband and, seemingly, her ability to write. For a once prolific author, that is a problem. It becomes even more of a problem when Helen learns her husband mysteriously withdrew over $800,000 from their investment account before his death. Since she isn't doing much writing, Helen spends her days meddling in the affairs of her 27 year old daughter . Helen also reluctantly accepts a job teaching a writing workshop. Elizabeth Berg marvelously portrays the mother-daughter dynamic (including a few scenes with Helen and her mother) and the character of Helen, while wholly unlikable for much of Home Safe, rings very true in all her varied relationships. The ending is a little pat, but it works for the story which seeks to be uplifting in the face of sadness.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Ballantine Books.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

review: the walls by hollie overton

Kristy Tucker’s job as a public information officer for a Texas prison is a tough one; she frequently deals with death row inmates because of media requests for information about them or to interview them. She’s also raising her teenage son (who resulted from a one-night stand with a musician) and caring for her ailing father. So it’s a bit of a relief when Lance, her son’s martial arts instructor, starts giving Kristy some help. It’s a friendship at first, but Lance’s charm wins over Kristy and soon the pair marries. But Lance’s charm covers a darkness and soon a death row inmate suggests that there are people who could help Kristy with that problem.

The Walls includes a time jump resulting in Hollie Overton not explaining how over the course of a year and a half, the relationship turned abusive which would’ve been interesting to read given that Overton set up Kristy as a strong, empowered woman. That is my only issue with The Walls; otherwise, it is a gripping story filled with suspense as Kristy internally explores the potential of killing her husband. Her experiences with the inmates shape her decision as well as giving her the knowledge needed to cover her tracks which allows the story to feel entirely plausible.
5/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

review: that touch of ink by diane vallere

After Pillow Stalk's bombshell ending, Madison Night's ex surprisingly pops back into her life by anonymously sending her a $5000 bill. The bill, which has James Madison on it, has significance to Madison and Brad, so Madison instantly knows it came from him. That's confirmed when he arrives in Dallas needing her help and wanting to reform their relationship. Madison is wary given his lies, but her past love for him causes her to put on a few blinders. It doesn't take long (in fact, it's the first night she and Brad have dinner) for Madison's life to be threatened. She doesn't know why, but Madison is pretty sure it has to do with Brad and the $5000 bills that seem to be becoming prevalent in Dallas despite having been taken out of circulation in 1969.

The Madison of Diane Vallere's That Touch of Ink is a bit different from the Madison of Pillow Stalk. This Madison ignores some of her instincts and frequently makes the odd choice not to call 911 in favor of calling Tex who is not always available. That Madison should try to see the good in Brad makes sense for her character, but it is odd that she turns to Tex so quickly with Vallere having established that Madison and Tex have not been in touch in the nine months that separate the two books and Tex is now dating the woman Madison refers to as "Officer Nasty." While Madison's character is a bit weaker this time around, the mystery is spot on as Vallere creates many twists and red herrings.

About the audiobook: Like Pillow Stalk, That Touch of Ink is read by Susie Berneis, who again provides the perfect voice for Madison. It was released December 2016 by Dreamscape Media and runs 7.5 hours.
4/5
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

review: you don't look like anyone i know by heather sellers

College professor Heather Sellers sometimes affectionately greets men who aren’t her fiancé (later husband) and is frequently accused of rudely blowing off people she should know. Sellers knows there is some sort of problem, but her focus is on a multitude of other issues including that her mother is likely suffering from undiagnosed schizophrenia and that the man she will marry in the course of this memoir is likely an alcoholic (and her father probably is as well). Unfortunately, the fact that Sellers is dealing with all these different things causes You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know to feel scattered as the narration jumps between past and present and back again. There is a diary-like feel with unnecessary anecdotes about her stepsons (whose privacy I wonder about, especially since Sellers says at the end that she left her brother out to protect his privacy) and repetitive stories about her childhood. By the time Sellers finally receives her diagnosis of prosopagnosia (face blindness), she is making a number of reaches to blame someone (she obsessively tries to find a connection between schizophrenia and prosopagnosia) or something for the various problems in her life. Her inability to anticipate problems (such as when she attempts to have her parents meet her fiancé and his children) and convoluted storytelling eclipse the important details of how hard it was to be diagnosed (some doctors dismiss her concerns) and subsequent issues that arise from trying to explain the condition to colleagues.
3/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Riverhead Books.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

review: lucky the hard way by deborah coonts

Book 7 of the Lucky O'Toole Vegas Adventure series picks up where Lucky Break left off, but Deborah Coonts throws in a few surprises for Lucky once she arrives in Macau. Some of the people encountered aren't quite who they seem to be and it appears the Big Boss has been a little too hands-off with the overseas hotel. Lucky is once again in a dangerous situation with few people she can trust.

Taking Lucky out of her element livens things up and causes Lucky to push herself more than usual (though she still relies somewhat on help from back home). Lucky the Hard Way is also filled with twists to keep the suspense going. Lucky's sleuthing continues to be fun in this fast-paced series that allows the characters to evolve (Lucky has grown up immensely since the start of the series) while staying true to themselves.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, Kate Tilton.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

review: laura rider's masterpiece by jane hamilton

A woman tells her husband, an enthusiastic lover, she no longer wishes to have sex. It might come as no surprise that he should then have sex with another woman. Yet there is a surprise. Although Laura Rider may not have intended for her husband to have sex with the radio host she so admires, Laura does orchestrate their relationship. It's all part of Laura's plan to write a romance novel. It's an interesting twist, but it also makes the characters pretty awful. Laura and her husband are knowingly manipulating Jenna while Jenna is betraying her husband with someone she believes is also cheating and then Charlie begins betraying Laura by making elements of his relationship with Jenna private. The characters do not grow or learn from their actions, so the ending is as dissatisfying as the relationships the characters have with each other.
2/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Grand Central Publishing.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

review: river city dead by nancy g. west

During San Antonio's Fiesta Week, advice columnist Aggie and her detective boyfriend have plans to stay at a River Walk hotel. This is a big step forward in their relationship, but unfortunately, a woman Aggie knows is found murdered at the hotel. While the police investigate, Aggie embarks on her own attempt to solve the murder.

The premise is promising, but the writing suffers from big information dumps. Nancy G. West clearly researched Fiesta Week and San Antonio, but awkwardly incorporates that information in clunky chunks. Here's an example:

Taking Casa Prima's exit to the River Walk, I walked toward Arneson Theater. The open-air amphitheater built by the Works Progress Administration in 1939-1941 had tiers of concrete seats rising up one side of the river with the stage situated across the river. I'd absorb unique details of the venue later.

The characterization of Aggie feels off as well. Aggie is overly concerned with aging--even writing an advice column centered on staying youthful. It was shocking to learn she is not yet 40; she comes across as 60-something and her good friend (the ex-mother-in-law of the murdered woman) is 60. Interestingly, Aggie would be about 60 today (the book takes place in 1998).

After a while, I just couldn't with Aggie. Her advice to a college-aged woman contemplating having sex for the first time was straight out of an abstinence-only, slut-shaming "health" class. She writes, "He can never be sure you were his first lover or that he'll be your last. He'll never honor you in the same way." No thank you.
1/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, MM Book Publicity.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

review: pillow stalk by diane vallere

Madison Night is relatively new to Texas, but her interior design business focused on mid-20th century décor is doing well in part due to her enterprising though slightly morbid way of obtaining authentic merchandise on the cheap—she reads the obituaries. But her business gets put on hold when Madison gets caught up (from multiple angles!) in a murder investigation.

Pillow Stalk is a beautifully written cozy mystery with Diane Vallere having fun playing with the theme of Doris Day and the movie Pillow Talk. (Among other things, Madison, who loves Doris Day, has a dog named Rocky and one of the suspects is named Hudson.) Refreshingly, Madison is a strong protagonist far more concerned with the murders and potential damage to her career than with making a love connection (although Vallere does include some potential romantic interests). There is a bit of a hole in the story (why would the cops allow Madison to remove potential evidence only to reprimand her about it later?), but that detail is easily forgiven.

About the audiobook: Susie Berneis has the perfect voice for Madison intoning just the right amount of sass for the character. Pillow Stalk was released by Dreamscape Media in January 2017. It runs a little over 8 hours.
5/5
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

review: the separatists by lis wiehl

In another timely story featuring TV anchor/reporter Erica Sparks, a group plots to have North Dakota secede from the United States. When Erica learns of the Take Back Our Homeland movement, she decides it's the perfect first story for the show she's launching at GNN. The long hours and flights to North Dakota put even more strain on her relationship with her 13 year old daughter as well as on her marriage. While the secessionist storyline is gripping, recovering alcoholic Erica's self-destructive thoughts and behavior grate. She completely loses it when her daughter's friend makes a video in Erica's house (Erica cites the exclusivity clause in her GNN contract as the reason, but it was an epic overreaction). Over the course of the Newsmakers series, Erica has made an unfortunate shift from sympathetic go-getter to control freak.
3/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

review: the wild woman's guide to traveling the world by kristin rockaway

After being ditched by her best friend, Sophie finds a pub, orders a San Miguel, and promptly meets a fellow American also traveling around Hong Kong. Sophie, who travels frequently for work, isn't much for commitments and has no qualms about making the good-looking artist another one her conquests, but there's something different about this one. Soon Sophie is ignoring her work responsibilities (it may be a vacation, but Sophie's boss only agreed to it if Sophie met with one of the senior partners in Hong Kong) for a hot romance with Carson. That is until the trip comes to an end and she has to return to a reality where she's significantly damaged her job status.

The Wild Woman's Guide to Traveling the World starts as a fun romance, but becomes a tale of empowerment when the consequences of shirking responsibility kick in. Sophie had been content with the status quo, but her time with Carson combined with some comments from her friend who deemed her "closed off and miserable" are the spark she needs to finally pursue her dream job. It's a highly entertaining story that encourages one to live life to the fullest.
5/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

review: a shattered circle by kevin egan

A Shattered Circle kicks off with the murder of a man once tangentially involved with a judge in New York City. In the primary part of the story, the wife/secretary of that judge is desperately trying to keep people from finding out that a head injury has left the judge unfit for the bench. Her struggle to try to maintain her husband's reputation is very compelling. And in yet another element of the story, one of the court officers begins looking into a decades-old murder that occurred in the building. While it seems that these three plots will not intertwine, it becomes clear A Shattered Circle is appropriately named as the mysteries unfold. Kevin Egan brings them all together in what turns out to be one interconnected and expertly woven plot.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Forge.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

review: the devil crept in by ania ahlborn

In the small (fictional) town of Deer Valley, OR, Stevie Clark has a not so great life with an abusive stepfather and only one friend--his older cousin. Deer Valley is a place where animals frequently disappear, but no one really discusses the strange occurrences. Then Jude disappears. Stevie is devastated, but just about everyone dismisses his stuttering pleas to help find his cousin. When Jude returns just as mysteriously as he disappeared, The Devil Crept In takes a dark (but fantastic) turn. It turns out there was a very good reason to stay out of the woods. With The Devil Crept In, Ania Ahlborn serves up an excellent horror novel with an ending that absolutely chills. The incorporation of the backstory is also remarkably well done.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

review: small admissions by amy poeppel

With two professors for parents, it only seemed natural that Kate Pearson would go on to grad school; instead, she makes plans to go to France with a boyfriend only to be dumped which leads to Kate spending her days on the couch. Her sister and a college friend (who also happens to be the cousin of the boyfriend) are not going to let Kate waste her life away though. Her friend creates a dating profile for Kate and poses as Kate to screen the guys while her sister separately sets Kate up with a job interview. Much to everyone’s surprise (including Kate), she actually lands the assistant director of admissions job at Hudson Day School. Soon Kate’s life is all about wading through the crazy world of school admissions in New York City.

In Small Admissions, Amy Poeppel makes the odd choice to have Kate’s friend be the first person narrator rather than Kate; Poeppel also includes chapters from the perspectives of many minor characters, which distracts from the narrative. While some of those chapters did serve to inform the story, some were entirely unnecessary (such as the acquaintance of Kate’s sister). Despite the distracting minor characters, Small Admissions is a fun (though it does take a very serious turn) look at the school admissions process.

About the audiobook: Small Admissions is read by Carly Robins who does well at keeping the appropriate tone for each character while also making them distinguishable. It was published December 2016 by HighBridge Audio and runs 9.5 hours.
4/5
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

review: the shadow land by elizabeth kostova

Elizabeth Kostova sets up two primary mysteries (one in the past and one that is tied to the past) in The Shadow Land. Years after the disappearance of her brother, Alexandra leaves America for Bulgaria where she plans to teach English. But before she even gets settled in, she inadvertently takes an urn from a family she meets while waiting for taxi. This unexpected turn leads Alexandra and her taxi driver on an adventure through Bulgaria as they attempt to track down the family and learn about the man whose cremains they now possess.

Alexandra's Bulgarian adventure is a bit far-fetched, but it is an interesting one with vivid descriptions. Kostova divides the action by having chapters alternate between the past (initially Alexandra's past, then shifting to the life of the deceased man) and present. The past serves to inform the present day, but there were times when it felt the story of Stoyan Lazarov's life should be more at the forefront. By the time it was all through though, the ending felt quite implausible.
4/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

review: lucky break by deborah coonts

Lucky’s personal life was going along well (she’s engaged!) until someone who was once very close to her becomes the prime suspect in a murder. Lucky feels compelled to investigate, of course, but that puts her life in danger as she realizes that a man from the past is out of prison and out for blood. The sixth book in the Lucky O’Toole series revisits an old nemesis (from Wanna Get Lucky?), but is missing Lucky’s amazing snark. It seems Lucky has both matured (she’s basically the stepmom to Jean Charles’s son which seems to have changed her) and been worn down by the stresses of her life. And stresses Lucky does have! Lucky Break sees her losing most of her worldly possessions as she tries to clear Teddie's name and capture the real killer. While the previous books in the series concluded each mystery, Lucky Break ends on a cliffhanger that leaves the reader wondering if Lucky can still come out on top.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, Kate Tilton.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

review: we are never meeting in real life. by samantha irby

With an opening dedication to the drug Klonopin, Samantha Irby kicks off We are Never Meeting in Real Life. in hilarious style with her answers to the application to be on The Bachelorette, a show she describes as her “guilty pleasure jam.” Whether musing on reality TV (which she watches a lot of) or reflecting on some of the hardships she’s faced (her father was an alcoholic and her mother had to go into a nursing when Irby was a teenager), Irby shares it all in a markedly funny, self-deprecating fashion. Although graphically detailed at times, this collection is thought-provoking as Irby discusses her various relationships. Irby’s voice shines through on every page.
5/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

review: the enchantment of emma fletcher by l.d. crichton

Emma grew up splitting time between her father's house and that of her alcoholic mother. Now that she's an adult, Emma hasn't been to visit the town where her mom lives for a few years even though her best friend still lives there. After being horrifically attacked, Emma returns and immediately reconnects with her old friends. The Enchantment of Emma Fletcher is a tale of friendship, love, and empowerment. Although the plot unfolds exactly as one might expect, L.D. Crichton does an excellent job with the relationships--romantic, platonic, and familial.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket Star Books.

Monday, April 10, 2017

review: the girl from yesterday by kathryn miller haines

Helen is three years sober, but her life is suddenly falling apart again. It all starts when a detective contacts her about the murder of her best friend from high school—someone Helen hasn’t heard from since Carrie and her family mysteriously took off when Helen was 16. Given her history, Helen becomes something of a suspect. This is compounded by Helen’s attempt to keep Carrie’s death and the investigation a secret from everyone in her life. Helen makes plenty of mistakes, but her determination to get to the bottom of her friend’s disappearance and eventual murder is admirable. The mystery unfolds slowly with Helen uncovering lies from the past while someone in her present continues to frame her. There are plenty of suspects and the twists are fantastic.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket Star Books.

Friday, April 7, 2017

review: royally roma by teri wilson

Royally Roma is billed as an update to the Audrey Hepburn film Roman Holiday; unfortunately, Teri Wilson’s take is not quite as fun. In this version, an American named Julia meets a prince while working as a tour guide. Julia has been emotionally hurt by men before—most notably her father—so she’s leery of the handsome man who went on her tour of Rome then had no money to pay. As Julia and the prince predictably fall for each other, Wilson asks the reader to overlook a few issues. First off, the tour transportation is Julia’s scooter, which would be unreasonable for a tour of more than one person (Julia immediately asks Prince Nico if someone else will join them which would create an issue with the transportation. The scooter's clearly jammed in to match the movie even if it doesn’t quite make sense.). Then when Julia receives word from her employer that the man she’s with likely isn’t the one who booked the tour, she simply shrugs off the loss of her job and the scam the man just pulled and declares he must remain with her until he can make payment. This includes sleeping at her apartment. A more reasonable reaction might be to alert the police and try to get her job back, especially given Julia’s established wariness of men. Sure it all works out because he’s royalty, but it was all too contrived.
2/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket Star Books.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

review: gentlemen of the shade by jen sookfong lee

Jen Sookfong Lee was 15 when she and a friend skipped school to see My Own Private Idaho in the theater. She'd just purchased her first pair of Doc Martens and was immersing herself in alternative music; this was basically my life in the early 90s as well, so I found her assessments highly relatable. Throughout Gentlemen of the Shade, Lee explores the culture of the time, the reaction to My Own Private Idaho, the life of the actors and director, and how the movie affected her as well as the movie's role now two decades later. Lee writes, "There was an abundance of hypocrisy in the world around us. Before My Own Private Idaho, I was only dimly aware that this was true and was still, at least partially, a believer in the prettiness of the culture I had grown up in. After My Own Private Idaho? That was a whole different story." Her examination is thought-provoking and the analysis of the period is excellent.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, ECW Press.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

review: lucky catch by deborah coonts

A stolen truffle might not seem like much, but in Lucky Catch by Deborah Coonts, it's a very sought after, expensive truffle and people are turning up dead. As always, Lucky finds herself at the center, but she cares even more this time as her new sort-of boyfriend disappears at the same time that someone is found dead at his restaurant. Coonts really ups the stakes for Lucky in this fifth book of the series both in terms of the crime and her love life (Lucky's former love is back and wants Lucky back). When all is revealed, Lucky's skill at thinking on her feet proves vital as she once again faces danger.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, Kate Tilton.

Friday, March 24, 2017

review: mangrove lightning by randy wayne white

Doc Ford and his friend Tomlinson are mixed up in another bizarre case in Mangrove Lightning, the 24th book in Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford series. This one involves a family curse and the horrific abuse of a kidnapped young woman. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t read the books that came before this one, but Mangrove Lightning felt disjointed with pieces of the narrative seemingly missing, especially regarding the family curse aspect. The most interesting part came in when a connection was made to crimes of the past, but there was little development there.
3/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, FSB Associates.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

review: follow me down by sherri smith

Follow Me Down marks Sherri Smith’s debut as a thriller novelist (she previously wrote historical fiction)—it is a novel that the word “amazing” does not due justice. A pharmacist with a pill problem, Mia Haas must return to her small North Dakota hometown when her twin brother disappears after being accused of murdering one of his high school students. Mia believes Lucas is innocent and feels the police aren’t investigating other possibilities, so she takes it upon herself to do so with the assistance of Adderall and other drugs. The small town politics (the murdered girl is from a wealthy family while the Haas twins grew up poor not knowing the identity of their father) combined with high school gossip and family secrets make this a murder mystery with high stakes and plenty of twists.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Forge.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

review: never let you go by chevy stevens

In this stunning thriller with an unexpected ending, Chevy Stevens uses time-shifting to create the highly plausible scenario in which Lindsey Nash fell in love with and then escaped an abusive man only to have to worry about him again after his release from prison and reconnection with the daughter Lindsey tried to shelter from the abuse. Although she rebuilt her life, Lindsey is completely shaken by her ex-husband's contact, especially when he creepily leaves a CD of songs from their wedding on her car. And it's not just little things like that--someone breaks into the house and even poisons the dog. Lindsey fought for her life once, but now it seems she'll need to do it all over again. Never Let You Go is a rollercoaster of emotions where the twists never stop.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, St. Martin's Press.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

review: revenge of the evil librarian by michelle knudsen

To save her friends, Cyn had to make a deal with a demon in The Evil Librarian. In the thrilling Revenge of the Evil Librarian, one part of that deal gets called in as Cyn encounters more demons while at theatre camp with her boyfriend, Ryan. But it’s not just demons that Cyn must battle this time because a female friend of Ryan’s is at camp and she seems to be moving in on Ryan. There’s plenty of drama in this sequel, but Cyn comes across as less confident and a lot more whiny which detracts from her awesomeness as a demon-fighter.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Candlewick.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

review: seeking mr. wrong by natalie charles

Part comedy and part romance, Seeking Mr. Wrong by Natalie Charles is downright fabulous. Kindergarten teacher Lettie has a great side career going as a picture book author—at least she did; her publisher has been sold to a publisher of erotica and Lettie’s contract specifies another book! (That part seemed a little far-fetched—surely she’d be let out of the contract under such circumstances.) Lettie decides to give erotica a try, which means lots of research including some of the hands-on variety. Lettie doesn’t have a boyfriend having been dumped by her fiancé, so she sets about finding a man to get some experiences for her new novel. Through a set of fun circumstances that man winds up being the new vice principal at her school. But what if Lettie develops actual feelings for her Mr. Wrong? With plenty of witty dialogue and brilliant scenes, Seeking Mr. Wrong is oh so very right.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket Books.