Sunday, January 29, 2017

review: elvis and the underdogs by jenny lee

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 clich├ęs (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

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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.