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 fiancĂ©e. 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.