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.
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.
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 run 7.5 hours.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket Books.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

review: missing man by barry meier

In Missing Man: The American Spy Who Vanished in Iran, Barry Meier details the life of Robert Levinson from his days as an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to how he came to disappear in Iran in 2007. Unfortunately some of those details are still not known as Levinson remains missing. Without some sort of revelation as to Levinson’s status now, Missing Man felt unfinished but Meier does an excellent job of pulling together multiple sources to reveal Levinson’s likely role as a contractor with the Central Intelligence Agency. Meier writes that Levinson was not on an officially sanctioned mission, but was in Iran to gather intelligence (the specifics of which are unclear, but Levinson’s cover story of investigating counterfeit cigarettes is clearly false given the information Meier shares). Missing Man is a meaty book that paints a picture of the real man behind the spy headlines.

About the audiobook: There are a lot of details and names in Missing Man that make the audio format less than ideal—it would’ve been nice to be able to go back to reference previous instances of a person’s appearance in the narrative. Ray Porter narrates with a level tone that works for this journalistic accounting of events. The audio version runs 8.5 hours and was published by HighBridge in May 2016.
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox. For more information:

Monday, February 13, 2017

feaure: jen lancaster

Back in 2011 and 2012, I wrote about book signings held by Jen Lancaster (twice), Meg Cabot, and Ally Carter for a now-defunct site. Since those posts are no longer available, I'm sharing them here. Below is the second one about Jen Lancaster visiting the Seattle area. It first appeared June 2012.

When an author with the popularity of Jen Lancaster comes to town, Third Place Books just outside Seattle always moves the book signing to the larger Commons area that features a stage and plenty of seating. Even so, there were only a few empty seats as Lancaster answered questions for nearly an hour before moving on to the book signing portion of the evening.

The ever-amusing Lancaster talked about her pets (of course) and upcoming books amongst other topics like reality TV (she does enjoy Ice Loves Coco) and books by others (Fifty Shades of Grey came up, but she didn't elaborate much). Next out will be The Tao of Martha detailing her attempt to follow the edicts of Martha Stewart. Her struggles to make varied crafts and recipes sounded hilarious, especially as she related the Easter celebration that went so very wrong. Who knew Easter eggs shouldn't be hidden well before the kids arrive on a hot, sunny day! She noted that her next work of fiction will clearly be fiction (unlike If You Were Here which seemed inspired by her own house-hunting adventures) because she realized how distracting it is to read a book that might be the author's real life after reading Bethenny Frankel's Skinnydipping. The next novel should be released in early 2013 and is said to be about high school girls, time travel, and the band White Snake.

Monday, February 6, 2017

review: broken glass by v.c. andrews

After the huge backstory dump that made up The Mirror Sisters, Broken Glass finally gets to the action. Broken Glass begins where The Mirror Sisters had left off--Kaylee has been kidnapped after being set up by her identical twin, Haylee. Haylee tells their parents, the cops, and anyone else who wants to know that Kaylee willingly ran off with an older man she met online; Haylee pretends to be terribly broken up about her sister being missing. Kaylee, meanwhile, is trying to figure out how to stay alive. The man who took her is delusional and believes Kaylee is to be his bride. Kaylee wisely goes along with his delusions as best she can as she investigates her surroundings to hatch an escape plan. Haylee's part of the story consists of much the same fake wailing over Kaylee repeatedly, but Kaylee's parts actually have some action and forward-movement that make the story entertaining.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Friday, February 3, 2017

review: lethal by sandra brown

One minute Honor Gillette had a relatively simple life as a widowed mother and the next an injured man was pulling a gun on her in her front yard. So begins Sandra Brown's Lethal. Honor initially thinks it's just bad luck a man wanted for murder showed up at her home, so she offers him her car and expects he'll be on his way; Lee Coburn has other plans. Honor's husband was a cop and Coburn believes he had information—information that led to his "accidental" death—that Honor now possesses. Honor doesn't believe it possible her husband would've had anything Coburn would want, but soon the events she witnesses make her start believing Coburn is being framed by dirty cops.

Lethal provides multiple thrills and plenty of action as the conspiracy unfolds. The layers of the conspiracy come apart some though when the big reveal is finally made. Honor and Coburn have a nice rapport and the evolution of their relationship feels authentic, but the shifting perspectives (Lethal is told through a number of narrators) interrupted that development too much at times.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Grand Central Publishing.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

feature: ally carter

Back in 2011 and 2012, I wrote about book signings held by Jen Lancaster (twice), Meg Cabot, and Ally Carter for a now-defunct site. Since those posts are no longer available, I'm sharing them here. Below is the one about Ally Carter visiting the Seattle area. It first appeared March 2012.

An overflow crowd turned out this week at Third Place Books just outside of Seattle, WA for Ally Carter's book tour promoting the latest Gallagher Girls book Out of Sight, Out of Time. During the hour-long question and answer session that came before the book signing, Carter answered questions about the Gallagher Girls and Heist Society series and gave some writing advice.

In explaining how she got the idea for Gallagher Girls, Carter revealed that it was all because of her misunderstanding about a plot point from the TV show Alias. Carter thought Sydney's sister went to spy school. When she found out that wasn't the case, Carter decided she had to write that story. To make the series as authentic as she could, Carter did plenty of research about the CIA. Carter said she approaches the Gallagher Academy as if it's real and has the classes the girls take involve real training exercises used by the CIA. The audience was thrilled to find out a sixth book that takes Cammie through graduation or death--"whichever comes first!"--is in the works. She also told the captivated group the series will not end without the truth about Cammie's father being revealed. But right now, Carter's working on the third Heist Society book. When creating a new story, she uses a notebook to plot it out. That notebook goes just about everywhere with her; Carter's not even taking a break for the tour though she did leave it at the hotel during the appearance.

In regards to writing advice, Carter said you must give yourself permission to write badly and that she did plenty of it in her early teens. Carter also told would-be authors to write and read as much as possible while not worrying about publication. She said you should read everything, not just the genre you're interested in, in order to learn how words work. When asked what she reads, Carter said The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton was one of her earliest inspirations and she now primarily reads young adult books including those by E. Lockhart and Holly Black.

Carter's tour for Out of Sight, Out of Time wrapped up today in Wichita, KS.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

review: elvis and the underdogs by jenny lee

Following a seizure at school, 10 year old elementary school outcast Benji is told he’s going to have to wear a helmet to protect his head from potential falls unless his parents agree to get him a service dog. Benji’s mom (who is the ultimate helicopter mom and incredibly annoying) immediately says no to the dog citing Benji’s allergies and her white rug. But after the helmet results in a(nother) bullying incident, Benji’s mom relents. Elvis arrives shortly thereafter, but Elvis is no regular service dog—he’s actually intended for the president to thwart attacks and Elvis is able to speak in English to Benji. Although Elvis is disappointed not to be at The White House, the pair soon bond and Benji makes a few friends at school.

Elvis and the Underdogs is a very cute, entertaining story although it sometimes reads more like a script than a novel which is likely due to author Jenny Lee’s employment as a writer for the Disney Channel. Lee also makes a few mistakes that young readers are unlikely to pick up on, but could be important for them to know the difference about. For example, she uses “therapy dog” and “service dog” interchangeably and fails to have the children follow Epi-Pen protocol (understandable that the children wouldn’t know, but the nurse they had on the phone should’ve instructed them to call 911 and go to the hospital following the injection).
Review copy provided by the publisher, Balzer + Bray.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

review: the lesser bohemians by eimear mcbride

Written with a non-standard, disjointed sentence structure, I found The Lesser Bohemians by Eimear McBride to be nearly incomprehensible. Had it not been for the description provided by the publisher, it’s unlikely I ever would’ve figured out the main character is 18 and attending drama school. Here’s an example:
Empty flat, only for us. Loll at the windows studying buses, guessing what ages Blustons has seen. Hang those dresses for a hundred years. On the sofa, he flicks through the flatmate’s Stage that’s been circled, re-circled for telemarketing jobs but peace in the bright, bright sun.
Such writing works for the sex scenes (and that’s what the novel is primarily about—the relationship with a much older man rather than the actual goings-on of the drama school), but the choppiness makes it difficult to muddle through all the rest. It felt like the author was trying be literary and poetic, but it came off as pretentious.
Review copy provided by Blogging for Books.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

review: lucky bastard by deborah coonts

After a major breakup in So Damn Lucky, Lucky Bastard finds Lucky getting back in the saddle; of course, she has to deal with a murder too. This time it’s death by Jimmy Choo. The unlucky victim is found stabbed with a stiletto inside a Ferrari dealership that should’ve been impossible for her to gain entry to… unless she had the code from the owner. While the cops run their investigation, Lucky does some interrogating of her own as she happens to have connections to many of the people potentially involved in the crime.

Lucky may have lost her way a little bit in the third novel in the series, but she is back on her snarky game in the fourth. Deborah Coonts builds on all the well-known characters which prevents them from feeling stale now that they’ve become so familiar. The conspiracy that surrounds what becomes multiple murders keeps the reader guessing while also heightening the stakes for Lucky, who can’t seem to help herself from always getting involved.
Review copy provided by the publicist, Kate Tilton.

Monday, January 23, 2017

review: a fatal twist by tracy weber

Yoga instructor Kate has once again found herself at the center of a murder mystery—only this time the suspect seems all too clearly to be the dead man’s wife who Kate witnessed fleeing the scene. Kate refuses to believe the woman, one of her yoga students, killed her husband. Kate’s boyfriend is adamant she stay out of the investigation, so she enlists her onetime nemesis Tiffany. In a tale with more than a few twists and red herrings, Tracy Weber does an excellent job of weaving the subplots into the main plot. It was also great to see Tiffany in a larger role where she had to work with Kate rather than against her even as Weber kept up some of the established contentiousness. The fourth book in the series builds nicely upon previous plot points (Kate’s now studying to be a doula in preparation for her best friend giving birth), but is self-contained enough to work as a standalone.
Review copy provided by the publicist, MM Book Publicity.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

review: untethered by julie lawson timmer

Untethered ripped out my heart. With her second novel, Julie Lawson Timmer created a remarkably touching story about family. College professor Char Hawthron had a pretty great life with her husband and teenage stepdaughter, who was never really a “step,” but a true daughter. Unfortunately, that “step” becomes very important when Char’s husband dies and Allie’s mother decides to move her across the country. Allie doesn’t want to move and not just because she likes living with Char; Allie is a tutor/mentor to a young girl named Morgan who was adopted out of foster care and still struggles with abandonment issues. The writing was passionate and the plotting was spot-on with some unexpected twists that illustrate how familial bonds can be made without a blood relation.
Review copy provided by the publicist, Book Sparks PR.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

review: at close range by laura griffin

The 11th book in the Tracers series kicks off with a double homicide that brings the San Marcos Police and Delphi Center together once again. This time the stakes are very high for one Delphi Center employee—the recovered weapon has his fingerprints all over it. Fortunately for Scott (who first appeared in Unforgivable), the lead detective on the case doesn’t believe he’s guilty, especially when new evidence turns up that points to a conspiracy. Soon Dani and Scott are teaming up (despite Dani’s protests) in more ways than one as the body count continues to rise.

At Close Range is fast-paced with a number of twists before the conspiracy unfolds. As the pieces come together, the plot becomes even more riveting. As usual, Laura Griffin does the romance part of the romantic suspense just as well as the suspense—Dani and Scott are hot together and make for a fairly evenly matched pair although Dani is a little insecure regarding Scott’s past liaisons.
Review copy provided by the author.

Monday, January 16, 2017

feature: meg cabot

Back in 2011 and 2012, I wrote about book signings held by Jen Lancaster (twice), Meg Cabot, and Ally Carter for a now-defunct site. Since those posts are no longer available, I'm sharing them here. Below is the one about Meg Cabot visiting the Seattle area. It first appeared July 2011.

After a signing event at the University Village Barnes and Noble in promotion of her new paranormal romance for adults, Overbite, Meg Cabot had a second full day in Seattle. She first appeared on New Day Northwest, a daytime talk show airing on the local NBC affiliate, before heading to the gorgeous Woodmark Hotel for their Words @ The Woodmark author series. While waiting for Cabot in the Great Room of the Woodmark, we enjoyed complimentary hors d'oeuvres while taking in the view of Lake Washington.
Before the event officially got underway, Cabot sat down in the audience and started chatting; she commented that the food was a great touch as none of her other signings had food. She asked a few people questions about things like what grade they would start in the fall and if Seattle is always so cold in the summer (especially when most of the rest of the country is having a heat wave). Then it was time for Cabot to take the microphone to talk about her books, the inspiration behind many of them, and a bit about her personal life. As it turns out, things from her personal life frequently inspire her books whether it be working in a dorm after college (the Heather Wells series) or moving in the 4th grade (the Ally Finkle series).
Given how funny books like the Queen of Babble ones are, it was little surprise that the stories Cabot shared were beyond hysterical—she even cracked herself up, such as when she talked about her brother, the 6’8” bald police officer with tribal tattoos! But probably the best moment came when a man suddenly appeared at the window just as Cabot spoke of the Interview with the Vampire craze that occurred during her tenure as an assistant residence hall director at New York University. As Cabot interrupted herself to interact with the man at the window (who she invited into the room), she joked about his timing (could he be a vampire?) and commented that of course he’s stop to check out a room full of ladies. At the end, Cabot answered everyone’s questions, signed copies of her books, and posed for pictures.

When asked which of her books was her favorite, Cabot responded that she feels the book one is currently working on has to be the favorite otherwise it’d never get finished. She’s currently writing the sequel to Abandon, which will be called Underworld and released next year. Then Cabot shared that she once went to an author signing where the author shared her favorite book, which was one Cabot didn’t like. So Cabot said she would lie to all of us so we didn’t think her stupid for liking a book we hated.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

review: history is all you left me by adam silvera

A high school student with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Griffin Jennings continues to “talk” to his ex-boyfriend who tragically drowned while attending college across the country. As the chapters alternate between the present and two years ago when Theo was still alive and still Griffin’s boyfriend, Adam Silvera crafts an incredibly moving story of young love and the grief that follows the unexpected death of a loved one. The rawness of the emotion cuts deep. Each character is expertly fleshed out and the coming of age story is beautifully plotted, especially as it brings in issues many other novels don’t deal with. It’s risky to say in January, but History Is All You Left Me might be the best young adult book of 2017.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

review: bullet in the chamber by john dedakis

On the first day of her new job as White House Correspondent for The Associated Press, Lark Chadwick finds herself being evacuated from The White House only moments before an explosion decimates the briefing room where all the reporters and the president had been. It’s a thrilling start to Bullet in the Chamber, the fourth Lark Chadwick book (which works fairly well as a standalone). John DeDakis uses his experience as a White House Correspondent during the Reagan administration to create a realistic portrayal of life as a reporter, including some of the jealousies that occur among coworkers.

DeDakis also incorporates his experiences as the father of a young man who went missing and was later found to have overdosed on heroin to shape the experiences Lark has with her boyfriend who turned to heroin as a cheap alternative to the painkillers he became addicted to after losing part of his leg in a bombing in Iraq. Having not read the first three books, it’s possible that Doug’s addiction was previously hinted at, but it seemed to have been dropped in out of nowhere. Once Doug goes missing, Lark’s attention is divided between searching for him and working to discover who was behind the bombing at The White House as well as yet another story involving the president’s wife. DeDakis handles all three elements with skill, but it seemed a bit much for Lark to have to deal with.
Review copy provided by the publicist, MM Book Publicity.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

feature: jen lancaster

Back in 2011 and 2012, I wrote about book signings held by Jen Lancaster (twice), Meg Cabot, and Ally Carter for a now-defunct site. Since those posts are no longer available, I'm sharing them here. Below is the first one about Jen Lancaster visiting the Seattle area. It first appeared May 2011.

On the last day of the tour for If You Were Here, I had the opportunity to attend Jen Lancaster's reading/signing at Third Place Books just outside of Seattle. Not that it was any surprise, but it turns out Jen Lancaster is just as funny in person as she is on paper.

After reading a hilarious excerpt from If You Were Here, Lancaster took questions from the audience, which was packed in around the stage. She answered every question with the candor one would expect after reading her memoirs. One of the questions was, of course, about how closely Mia and Mac resemble Jen and Fletch. Lancaster stated that one writes a novel when writing a memoir will lead to divorce. But that doesn't mean there won't be any more memoirs; there's at least one more planned (though she's scrapped the plan to write about charity work) as well as two additional novels. The novels will feature the same characters, but in new adventures. As to whether a new novel or memoir will be released next, Lancaster said it all depends on what she's most inspired to write. She said she might even write some YA since she's been enjoying reading that so much, particularly the Blue Bloods series. Lancaster also shared numerous stories from her life such as her obsession with eBay; her cats recently broke all the vases in the china cabinet, so Lancaster declared that more eBay shopping is in order.

After the extensive Q&A, it was time for the signing. We were divided into four groups of people who purchased If You Were Here at Third Place plus a group who bought the book elsewhere. The wait was fairly long for those not in the first group (I was in the third), but well worth it as Lancaster took the time interact briefly with each fan.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

review: the year we turned forty by liz fenton & lisa steinke

What if you got to go back to change some of the decisions you’d made in life? That’s what three friends are faced with in The Year We Turned Forty. Jessie, Claire, and Gabriela are long-time friends who always celebrate their birthdays in one big bash. The year they turn 50, they decide to do so in Las Vegas. All three feel like something is wrong with their lives, so they readily agree to go back a decade when a famous magician performing in Las Vegas reveals he has the power to send them back in time. The trio believes they’ll make things better using the knowledge of the last 10 years, but they fail to realize that their new choices will have consequences too and things won’t necessarily turn out as expected.

The balance of the stories is lopsided with much of the focus on Jessie (who has the biggest other lives-affecting decision to make given that it concerns whether or not she tells her husband the true paternity of her son) and Gabriela’s story feeling a bit weak (she missed the window for having biological children), but Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke’s third cowritten novel is thought-provoking. Fenton and Steinke do an excellent job of bringing in elements from the original life into the do-over life (the magician’s reappearance is fantastic) and create so true dilemmas when Jessie, Claire, and Gabriela are faced with the decision to stay or go back at the end of one year.

About the audiobook: Lisa Larsen beautifully narrates The Year We Turned Forty using a distinctive style for each character. Dreamscape Media published the audio version, which runs 11 hours, in April 2016.
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Friday, January 6, 2017

review: inherit the dead edited by jonathan santlofer

Inherit the Dead tells the tale of a disgraced cop turned private investigator looking into the disappearance of a young woman who stands to inherit a significant sum of money. The case is strange from the start—Angelina’s mother would be the prime suspect in her disappearance (the mother gets the money if Angelina can’t inherit), but the mother is the one who hired Perry. As Perry digs into the details, he learns that little is as it seems. With 20 different authors (each writes a chapter), Inherit the Dead could have felt incredibly disjointed, but the plot came together excellently and the differences in writing styles didn’t detract from the story (wisely there were shifts in perspective that made the different writing styles work). The authors of Inherit the Dead make use of some clichés (socialite slumming by dating a man of a lower class, disgraced cop, and the revelation about the villain), but the essential elements of a mystery are all there to make it a pleasurable read.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Proceeds from Inherit the Dead benefit Safe Horizon.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

review: not working by lisa owens

Not Working by Lisa Owens is told in vignettes of varying length—some read more like chapters while others are no more than a sentence or two—which made the novel initially difficult to become engrossed in, but the style eventually begins to work and feels appropriate for the scattered nature of Claire’s life. Claire is a main character who definitely suffers from first world problems (she quit her job because she wasn’t feeling passionate about it, but now is adrift still unsure of what to do with her life), but she’s surprisingly likable (and funny) as she seeks to create a fulfilling life and tries to spend time with her cantankerous grandma while also feuding with her mom over a misunderstood comment. Not Working feels quite representative of those like Claire and the “problems” they create for themselves.
Review copy from Amazon Vine.