Thursday, July 27, 2017

author guest post: amy s. foster

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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

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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.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Harper Voyager.

review: with vics you get eggroll by diane vallere

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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.
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

review: home safe by elizabeth berg

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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

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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

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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.
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

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

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College professor Heather Sellers sometimes affectionately greets men who aren’t her fiancĂ© (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 fiancĂ© 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

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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.