Thursday, September 13, 2018

review: when a duke loves a woman by lorraine heath

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The second book in Lorraine Heath's Sins for All Seasons series follows the quite unladylike for her time Gillie Trewlove, bar owner and sister of Mick from Beyond Scandal and Desire. Gillie's life takes a dramatic turn when she interrupts the brutal robbery of a duke outside her bar. Expecting nothing, she immediately brings him inside and nurses him to health. As one might expect, their different stations in life make their romance nearly impossible, but the attraction is undeniable. The romance of the novel is excellent, but Heath also makes this one fun by having Gillie's adoptive brothers attempt to protect and rescue a woman who can makes it very clear she can stand on her own. There's also a great scene during Gillie's first experience at a ball hosted by nobility.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Avon.

Friday, August 24, 2018

review: the secret of the irish castle by santa montefiore

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Santa Montefiore's fantastic Deverill trilogy concludes with The Secret of the Irish Castle which starts off with the twins born of Bridie and Bertie growing their relationship not knowing they are siblings. The Deverill curse is very much in play and spectacular heartache abounds for many of the main characters. As the years go on, Montefiore incorporates real world events just as she did with the previous two novels, but not to the same extent; other than JP, the characters are barely affected by World War II. This time there's also quite a bit of explaining previous events, such as how Bridie came to own the Deverill castle and why Kitty hates Michael. That backstory incorporation felt a little clunky as it slowed down some of the dramatic moments. In all though, the final book provides a satisfying conclusion with most of the characters getting a happy ending even if it's not quite the one readers may have expected.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, William Morrow.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

review: crux by jean guerrero

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With her father as the framework, journalist Jean Guerrero explores the dynamics of her family in a memoir called Crux. It is clear that Guerrero considers her father, Marco, the crux as he disappears from her life only to return with rampant drug abuse and outrageous claims. Everyone says he has schizophrenia (and Guerrero worries about genetics), but Marco claims he's the victim of a CIA experiment. Being a journalist, Guerrero investigates the claim, but the CIA and other federal agencies refuse her Freedom of Information Act requests. That combined with her research on MKUltra causes Guerrero to wonder if there isn't some merit to the wild story about being stopped by a soldier while other men planted something in Marco's vehicle. But Crux isn't all paranoia and conspiracy theories. Guerrero relates her father's past which begins with the tragedy around his birth and abusive early years that don't get any better when a violent stepfather comes into the picture. The stories are powerful and haunting, especially as Guerrero also shares her own story of growing up as a "gringa" at a Catholic school in San Diego despite her Puerto Rican/Mexican heritage.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, One World.

Friday, August 3, 2018

review: bring me back by b.a. paris

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Twelve years ago Finn's girlfriend disappeared after they had a fight. She was never found, but he was cleared of suspicion. Now Finn is set to marry the sister of that girlfriend. Life was good until Russian dolls started appearing at the house Finn and Ellen share. The dolls are significant because each sister had a set and Ellen had accused Layla of taking the smallest from her set when they were kids. It's also the only thing Layla left behind when she disappeared from the rest stop. It's a great premise, but the plot of Bring Me Back moves quite slowly. The big twist was also obvious early on. When that "twist" is finally revealed it comes with a big information dump to explain everything that happened in the last decade.
2/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, St. Martin's Press.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

review: from the corner of the oval by beck dorey-stein

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Trying to make ends meet with five part-time jobs, Beck Dorey-Stein starts dreaming of a full-time job with benefits. That's how she ends up applying for a stenographer job on Craigslist which turns out not to be at a law firm like she thought, but at the White House. In From the Corner of the Oval, Dorey-Stein shares her experiences as a stenographer for the Obama administration from 2012 onward. It's not all politics though as Dorey-Stein fails to heed a colleague's advice of "stay with your boyfriend" to have a fling with one of the others who travels with the president. With the White House (and Air Force One) serving as a backdrop, Dorey-Stein's memoir is an entertaining look at the mistakes one makes in her (or his) twenties when everything still seems possible, but nights of too much drinking get in the way. While some may find it off-putting that she includes compliments of her writing (when a staffer leaves, she gifts the person with a personal essay), those incorporations serve as a explanation that this memoir was a work that hadn't really been meant to be shared when Dorey-Stein was journaling such personal details (plus, she really is a great writer).
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Spiegel & Grau.

Friday, July 20, 2018

review: the cheerleaders by kara thomas

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Five years ago five cheerleaders died in three separate incidents within a month. Monica's sister was one of those cheerleaders. Now Monica is attending the same high school where a memorial is being organized. That reminder combined with other issues Monica's dealing with set her on a path to uncover if her sister's death really was a suicide. The Cheerleaders delves into some heavy subjects, but Kara Thomas handles it with a realism not always seen in a young adult mystery novel. It's difficult to state what makes The Cheerleaders great without getting into spoilers, but there are some excellent twists that tie together a few plot points.
5/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

review: the devil's half mile by paddy hirsch

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In 1799, Justice "Justy" Flanagan returns to New York after studying law in Europe. He plans to use his newly acquired knowledge and skills to avenge his father's death. Justy believes his father didn't kill himself, but was murdered by a man who bilked people out of money during the Panic of 1792. Justy's vengeance tale should've been filled with intrigue as he uncovers the details of the scam his father fell in with, but Paddy Hirsch crafts a convoluted plot with The Devil's Half Mile. The scam has multiple players and a number of layers making it far too complicated. Plus, Justy can't help but insert himself into the lives of others, such as a childhood friend now surviving any way she can. All that combined with extensive use of the Irish slang of the era (there's a glossary in the back, but I didn't find that until I'd reached the end) makes The Devil's Half Mile a sluggish read.
2/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Forge.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

review: providence by caroline kepnes

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A bit of a social misfit, Jon always cuts through the woods on his way to middle school in order to avoid a bully. It should've kept him safe, but instead he's kidnapped by a substitute teacher. Four years later, the man allows Jon to awaken from a medically-induced coma leaving him with only the slightest hint as to the experiments that were conducted--the H.P. Lovecraft book The Dunwich Horror. This is where Providence gets confusing for someone not familiar with Lovecraft's work. Apparently there are parallels between Jon and the main character of The Dunwich Horror. Fortunately, Caroline Kepnes provides a plot that's enjoyable even without Lovecraft knowledge. Jon's struggle with his new power to kill without even touching a person is real and painful as he isolates himself. Kepnes also provides a satisfying conclusion to a story that has a great deal of sadness.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Lenny.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

review: ain't she a peach? by molly harper

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After Margot moved to Georgia in Sweet Tea and Sympathy, she discovered her extended family is full of colorful characters. One of the most interesting was cousin Frankie, whose story is told in the second book of the Southern Eclectic series from Molly Harper. Frankie is the county coroner, but she's also quite childish continuing to live with her parents and engaging in an ongoing feud with a high school boy. Frankie was both awesome and aggravating as she sought to prove the teen was responsible for vandalism at the McCready funeral home. Fortunately, Frankie grows up a lot over the course of Ain't She a Peach? as she stands up to her parents, whose unwillingness to let her grow up stemmed from their fear of losing her (she had cancer as a child). Although the feud plot was annoying at times, the quirky McCready family is a treasure.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

review: i'm kind of a big deal by stefanie wilder-taylor

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Much of I'm Kind of a Big Deal is Stefanie Wilder-Taylor's purportedly wild times as a 20-something in Hollywood in the late-80s to early-90s. At one point though, it changes without warning. Suddenly it is 15 years later and Wilder-Taylor is dealing with serious issues regarding her dad. Then just as suddenly, Wilder-Taylor is a mom writing letters to Angelina Jolie to commiserate. It made the narrative jarring. Some of the early chapters were mildly funny (she tracks down a dating show contestant she decided was "the one" only to discover she didn't find him as attractive in person), but there was also a lot of Wilder-Taylor getting into awkward situations due to a lack of self-awareness or by simply not looking around (like for no parking signs).
2/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Friday, June 1, 2018

review: shelter in place by nora roberts

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Shelter in Place begins with a shock--three teenage boys are shooting random victims at the mall. Simone is saved when the large Fanta she drank causes her to leave her friends for a bathroom break. One of those friends is gravely injured while the other is killed. Numerous others suffer the same fate. Simone, as the first 911 caller, is credited with preventing the shooters from killing more people with her quick alert to the police. There are other heroes that night too--a fact that doesn't sit well with one person, who will continue the horror years later.

The latest from Nora Roberts is a romantic suspense that's light on both the romance and suspense as it focuses more on what life is like for Simone and Reed (also at the mall during the shooting) in the years that follow. After the initial distressing scenes, the pace slows. Simone struggles through college while Reed becomes a police officer. It isn't until a few years later that anyone realizes someone else was involved in the mall shooting. Although the middle drags some, the action scenes are gripping and the opening triggers a lot of emotions.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, St. Martin's Press.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

review: how hard can it be? by allison pearson

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Seven years ago Kate left her high-powered job to stay home with her kids, but now her husband is out of work and spends all his time cycling; it's time for Kate to get a job. As she's about to turn 50, Kate decides it'll be easier to get a job if she reinvents herself as a 42 year old. Although she does get the job, Kate realizes the lie is hard to keep up--she must change the ages of her kids and her résumé could give her away with a reference to taking O levels (Kate is British). Allison Pearson tries very hard to make How Hard Can It Be? funny, but falls flat. The running joke of "Roy" as Kate's assistant for her perimenopause-addled brain grows old while the so-called disasters are either ridiculous or should've been easy to solve. The writing is choppy with little sense of any character other than Kate which makes it hard to rationalize some of her decisions.
1/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, St. Martin's Press.

Friday, May 18, 2018

review: if i die tonight by alison gaylin

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When a has-been pop star reports a high school football standout was killed in the course of her being carjacked on an isolated road, there are plenty of rumors and suspicions in the small town of Havenkill. Amy, with a history of addiction, is suspected of making up the carjacking story, but others in the town think Wade, an outcast at the high school, could've been the carjacker. Alison Gaylin shifts perspectives between a number of characters which keeps the reader guessing what really happened in this outstanding mystery. The different perspectives could've made the narration confusing, but Gaylin gave each person a unique enough voice that it was easy to follow along. The subplots develop the characters and are woven in expertly so that nothing seems extraneous.
5/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Friday, May 11, 2018

review: the drafter by kim harrison

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With the world building not coming until chapter 5, The Drafter gets off to a confusing start. Set in the not too distant future, there are people known as drafters who can rewrite the past. These drafters require anchors, who as the name indicates, anchor the drafters to reality. It takes trust because the anchor could mislead the drafter. The plot has potential, but the poor character development combined with very little world building make for a tedious, uninteresting story.
1/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket Books.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

review: the myth of perpetual summer by susan crandall

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Tallulah James had a childhood filled with "hurricanes"--that's the word Tallulah and her siblings used to describe the unpredictable behavior of their father (clearly suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness). Their mother, who preferred to be called Margo, frequently ran off to volunteer for a cause like civil rights. So when things really fell apart for the James family in the 1960s, Tallulah took the opportunity to flee Mississippi for California. It's not long though before another family tragedy brings her home.

With the narrative shifting between Tallulah's teenage years and her later return to Mississippi, not enough attention was given to the catalyst for Tallulah's return or the revelation about a murder that happens because of it. In fact, all of it is wrapped up in a few paragraphs. The journey there is excellent though with Susan Crandall creating a vivid depiction of life for the James family in 1960s Mississippi.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Friday, May 4, 2018

review: the high season by judy blundell

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Every summer, Ruthie gives up her home to vacationers. It's the only she and her ex-husband (who inherited the home) can afford to keep it the rest of the year. They don't want to move entirely because their daughter is in high school, but the situation is far from ideal. This summer it's even worse. The renter is the elegant widow of Ruthie's former boss. For reasons not quite explained, Adeline's attractive 23 year old stepson is tagging along. Almost instantly Adeline is dating Ruthie's ex and the stepson is far too flirtatious with teenage Jem. And it doesn't stop there for Ruthie as some members of the board for the museum she's director of are actively working to get rid of her.

The High Season is well-written with a plot that immediately sucks the reader in, but it comes a bit off track with the additional perspective of Doe (who works at the museum and also becomes involved with Adeline's stepson). Doe's perspective almost becomes important, but then Judy Blundell inserts a last minute save for Ruthie. Although an entertaining book, The High Season had the potential to be a fantastic scandalous romp with a huge scam being pulled; unfortunately, Blundell chose to neatly wrap it up instead.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Random House.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

review: my dear hamilton by stephanie dray & laura kamoie

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Based on facts, My Dear Hamilton is a fictional account of the lives of American revolutionaries. Making use of historical documents and biographies such as Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton, Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie imagine the life of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton. The authors cover not only the part that might be familiar from history class or the musical, but also her life prior to marrying as well as her tremendous accomplishments (she cofounded New York City's first private orphanage) after her husband's death for, as stated in the open of the first chapter, "[She] was someone before [she] met Alexander Hamilton." Dray and Kamoie have crafted a vivid and detailed depiction of an amazing time in American history. My Dear Hamilton is a must read for anyone wanting to know more than what can be learned in a 2 hour and 45 minute musical.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, William Morrow.

Monday, April 16, 2018

review: lorna versus laura by cynthia hilston

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Set during World War II (although one would only know that from a few references made by the characters) in Cleveland, Lorna (who changed her name from Laura after the death of her parents at the hands of a drunk driver) lives a fairly solitary life as an elementary school teacher. With her parents deceased and her brother fighting in Europe, the only adult Lorna interacts with is her long-time best friend who encourages Lorna to get out more. Eventually Lorna connects with her neighbor, an attractive but aloof man with a secret.

Lorna Versus Laura is written passively, but it works well because of how passive Lorna is. The story, which focuses on Lorna's grief and struggle with her faith while also including a bit of a romance, is entertaining though it does include a few far-fetched plot points (like Lorna's "friendship" with a fellow teacher). There's an interesting development regarding the romance that seemed like it should've come earlier in the book so that Lorna could've had more of a struggle with that aspect of her life as well.
4/5
Review copy provided by the author.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

review: after anna by lisa scottoline

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After being institutionalized for post-partum psychosis, Maggie's husband divorced her and took their infant daughter to France. Although Maggie tried to get custody of Anna upon regaining her health, her only contact was unanswered letters and a few glimpses on social media until one Easter when Maggie gets a phone call. It's an amazing setup for a plot, but After Anna is filled with implausibility. One small example is Noah renting a house immediately after Maggie tells him to leave their home. It's necessary for the plot, but doesn't make sense in reality. The book concludes with an unbelievable development that would never happen given the way the legal system works. There are other details that are strange too like the adults being obsessed with Anna using a Maine driver's license to drive in Pennsylvania. Furthermore, there's a lot of repetition with long courtroom testimony and the Before/After chapters going over the same details just from different perspectives.
2/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, St. Martin's Press.

Monday, April 9, 2018

review: lucky score by deborah coonts

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With a new NFL team coming to town, there's even more money than usual floating around Las Vegas in Lucky Score which finds the Babylon front and center in another murder mystery. Lucky knows the murder of a local politician is going to attract all the wrong kinds of attention. High-stakes illegal gambling and the opioid epidemic create even more complications, especially when the Babylon's trusted head of security accidentally touches some fentanyl (don't worry, he survives, but is unable to work during the course of the murder investigation).

Lucky Score begins at break-neck speed, but slows considerably as a number of interrelated subplots are woven together. It's still entertaining, but a little confusing at times as the reader (just like Lucky) isn't sure who to trust. The ninth novel of the series brings up all sorts of doubts for Lucky who struggles with the idea that a friend may not be who she thinks he is as well as some uncertainty about her love life. As such, Lucky isolates herself a bit in this book and some of the fun that comes with the secondary characters is lost as a result.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, Kate Tilton.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

review: the stranger in my home by adele parks

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After a pretty rough childhood, Alison is now living the good life with her partner Jeff and their teenage daughter who excels at academics and sports. But then comes the opening of the book: "The doorbell rings." A man named Tom drops the bombshell that his daughter and Alison's daughter were switched at birth. The story that unfolds is absolutely incredible with the two families trying to navigate the new dynamics, but then Adele Parks upends everything. For the baby switch isn't the only shock here. The Stranger in My Home eventually becomes a suspense-filled novel regarding the type of darkness a person can sink to and the powerful way someone can persevere.
5/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

review: death by chocolate cherry cheesecake by sarah graves

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When Jake opens up The Chocolate Moose on a sunny summer morning, the last thing she expected to find was a man’s body. So begins a new cozy mystery series. Although Death by Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake is said to be the first book in a series, it is actually a continuation of another series from Sarah Graves. As a result, the reader is plunged into the life of bakery owner Jacobia “Jake” Tiptree with little introduction. There are a number of details Graves assumes the reader already knows (like the relationships between the characters) which causes a lingering feeling of something being missing.

The balance between baking and mystery was off here with there being too much emphasis on the large cheesecake order that Jake made all the larger by foolishly agreeing to bake even more for the 4th of July celebration despite not having the appropriate supplies or access to the bakery which has become a crime scene. The murder becomes an afterthought, though it is at least reasonably if not convolutedly explained. Knowing that this is actually a spinoff series makes the numerous subplots more reasonable but they are overwhelming for what is ostensibly the start of a new series.
1/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

review: death al fresco by leslie karst

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After her last murder mystery experience, Sally Solari is focusing on her restaurant and trying her hand at hand at painting (the restaurant is named for a painter). But Death al Fresco wouldn't be a Sally Solari mystery if she didn't happen upon a body. This time it's a man who was a regular at her father's restaurant. At first it appears Gino fell into the water and drowned because he was drunk--possibly overserved at Solari's. That's enough to prompt Sally to look into his death which she finds suspicious because she's sure Gino wasn't overserved. There's a good suspect list and enough going on to get the plot moving at a good pace, but the killer's motive is a bit weak once it's all revealed. And although Sally wisely handles the protestors (her father didn't listen when she warned against a Columbus Day celebration), she doesn't seem to have learned from her previous investigations how to have a soft touch with people she's trying to get information from.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, MM Book Publicity.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

review: a lady's guide to selling out by sally franson

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A Lady's Guide to Selling Out is about a young woman who majored in English because of her love for books, but took a job in public relations because she wanted expensive clothing. Unfortunately, said young woman is vapid and the author tries far too hard to make her witty. But it's not just an unlikable lead (a number of authors expertly write an unlikable main character) that Sally Franson fails at, she also summarizes important scenes rather than letting them play out on the page. For example, Franson gives a brief description of what Casey says to her mother, then has the mother begin to cry and declare that Casey sounds just like her much-loathed father. It would be helpful for the reader to know just what Casey said to trigger such a response. With Casey's work on a sponsored social media campaign for authors and her open letter (which the reader never gets to read) on plagiarism and patriarchy, it seems Franson wanted a social commentary for her debut novel but Casey Pendergast was not the right character for the task.
1/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

review: a deadly affair by tom henderson

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After returning home from a trip to the shooting range, Michael Fletcher dialed 911 to report his wife was dead of a gunshot wound. He said she’d shot herself, but one of the first officers on the scene immediately suspected Fletcher. The officer had just watched a program on the assassination of John F. Kennedy and was struck by the lack of blood on Fletcher’s clothing versus how much had been on Jackie Kennedy’s. Leann’s mother jumped to that conclusion too. Soon Fletcher would be on trial for murder and the secrets he’d been keeping became public knowledge.

A Deadly Affair by Tom Henderson recounts the details of Fletcher’s trial with monotonous transcription of the testimony that often repeats information found elsewhere in the book. Although a lot of research was clearly done, Henderson seems not to know what to edit out as the narrative of A Deadly Affair is frequently derailed by long tangents such as information about Dr. Kevorkian’s trial and racial profiling in the Detroit metro area (despite both the victim and the suspect being white). Furthermore, A Deadly Affair is not what one would call unbiased; Henderson attempts to present both sides, but the complimentary words for the defense reveal the agenda behind the book. And just in case one hadn’t caught on, the afterword, which includes Fletcher’s answers to questions Henderson sent him after the conviction, leaves no doubt that Henderson believes the fairly implausible accidental shooting scenario put forth by the defense.

About the audiobook: A Deadly Affair is read by Paul Michael Garcia. Garcia’s narration made the repetition of information not so excruciating, but his attempts at accents were unbearable. The audio version was published December 2017 by Blackstone Audio. It runs 15 hours.
2/5
Review copy provided Audiobook Jukebox.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

review: relative strangers by paula garner

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Relative Strangers ripped my heart out. It all starts with Jules needing a picture to use for the yearbook's senior baby photo spread. Her mom keeps stalling, so Jules goes digging on her own and discovers she spent those early years in foster care due to her mom's alcoholism. It rocks her world. With a little online sleuthing, Jules finds her former foster brother who is just a few years older and whose family has missed Jules terribly. Paula Garner's wonderfully crafted plot goes from uplifting to gut-wrenching as Jules immerses herself into life with her former foster family and develops a crush on the young man who thinks of her as a sister. The emotional twists of Relative Strangers are expertly executed and feel incredibly real.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Candlewick.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

review: white fur by justine libaire

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Justine Libaire’s White Fur is a 1980s take on a Romeo and Juliet style story. Jamey is a Yale student from a well-known, wealthy family when he meets Elise who lives next door to the off-campus home Jamey and his best friend rent. Elise never finished high school and was homeless until Jamey’s neighbor took pity on her. Their attraction is primal and the relationship is fraught with issues, especially once Jamey’s family learns of Elise.

White Fur is told in snippets of Jamey and Elise’s life together. Some parts are the mundanity of living while others are life-altering bombshells. While the plotting is stellar, Libaire relies a little too much on stereotypes. It also seemed Elise’s white fur coat (that she got from a drug addicted woman in exchange for potato chips) was supposed to be a contrast of privilege, but it doesn’t really go anywhere. For as frequently as it’s brought up (and given that it’s where the title comes from), it seemed Libaire wanted the coat to have more significance than her storytelling gave it. Despite those faults, the novel is a great read. In the final chapters White Fur really comes into its own with a number of shocking developments that give Jamey and Elise their own tragic ending.
4/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

review: unnatural causes by dawn eastman

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As the new doctor in town, Katie LeClair is still learning the quirks of the town and her patients (including a hilarious pair of best friends who signed HIPAA waivers because both insist on being seen when only one is sick) in this first book in a series from Dawn Eastman. So when one of her patients overdoses in what's deemed a suicide, Katie worries she hasn't gotten to know her patients as well as she'd hoped. But Katie's instincts are good and alarm bells go off when she discovers the dead woman was found with a pill bottle with Katie's name as the prescribing doctor. A search of the records shows that neither Katie or the staff wrote that prescription. And with the woman's daughter insisting her mother wouldn't have killed herself, Katie starts to wonder what secrets the town holds.

The first book in a series sometimes suffers from having to introduce so many characters, but Eastman handles it expertly. Each character stands out as an individual and it's easy to keep track of relationships because Katie is also learning how people are connected. The plot is absolutely captivating as Katie uncovers red herring secrets and the suspect list grows.

About the audiobook: Unnatural Causes by Dawn Eastman is read by Amanda Dolan. Dolan's performance is perfect for this one. It's easy to distinguish between the characters and her inflections are spot on. The audio version was released December 2017 by Blackstone Audio. It runs just over 7 hours.
5/5
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Monday, March 5, 2018

review: lucky flash by deborah coonts

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The secondary characters in the Lucky O'Toole series are all pretty memorable, but the aptly named Flash really stands out. In Lucky Flash, Flash gets to alternate narration with Lucky; it works well for the novella and reveals a lot more about Lucky's best friend. As an investigative reporter, Flash becomes interested in a theft ring that's replacing legit music memorabilia with phonies in order to cover up the crime. Lucky has a vested interest in the case because the prime piece is the ring Liberace gifted her father. This novella is a fun thrill-ride which easily incorporates Lucky's past love (Teddie) into the plot.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, Kate Tilton.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

review: sophie someone by hayley long

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When Sophie's school asks for a birth certificate and her parents can't readily produce one, Sophie becomes suspicious. Her distrust turns out to be justified. After stumbling upon a Facebook profile for someone who is clearly her grandmother, Sophie learns the shocking secret her parents have been keeping.

It's a fantastic plot, but Sophie Someone is told using what the publisher calls a "memorable language all its own." In actuality it's confusing. While most of the words (or "worms" in the case of this book's language) can be discerned from the context, there were other times when I wasn't sure if the word used was the same as in English, a typo, or the memorable language word. The use of this confusing language seems to be done to cause the reader to be as confused as Sophie, but there are two issues with that. First off, it's enough of a turn off for a reader to put the book down before ever getting to the point of the story. Second, Sophie is never really confused. She's shocked to learn about the lie, but the revelation doesn't cause her any real difficulty (although surely it will with whatever will unfold after the book's conclusion).
3/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Candlewick.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

review: the great alone by kristin hannah

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Leni has spent her life moving from one place to another as her dad struggles to hold it together, but her family has always been in the northwest until her dad's contacted by the father of one his deceased war buddies. It seems Bo, who died in Vietnam, wanted his friend to inherit his land in Alaska. Ernt immediately moves the family to the remote Alaska town. They are wholly unprepared. And not just for the living off the land aspect. For in the winter when the hours of darkness stretch on, Ernt's demons come on with a vengeance.

With its vivid descriptions, The Great Alone pulls the reader in all directions. It is the tragedy of undiagnosed PTSD from years as a POW, it is the story of community and a family trying to make it against all odds, and it is a coming of age with a sweet high school romance. Above all, it is how Leni becomes the strong young woman she needs to be when astonishing circumstances force her to face a life she never would've imagined. The characters are excellently fleshed out with a richness that makes their stories all the more heartbreaking.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, St. Martin's Press.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

review: watch me by jody gehrman

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Get ready to be creeped out with Jody Gehrman's engrossing Watch Me. It opens with the words, "After five years waiting for this moment, watching you for the first time still catches me off guard." That's right, Sam worked hard for five years so he could enroll in his favorite author's creative writing workshop. Sam's obsession is Kate, a professor who's struggling a bit at the moment. She's newly divorced and stressed about her writing as well as the looming decision about whether or not she'll get tenure. Gehrman alternates chapters between Sam and Kate which works particularly well when the scene continues (such as when Sam meets with Kate and her agent), but the perspective changes. Sam's character is brilliantly fleshed out which makes Watch Me all the more chilling. The ending is quite the shock too.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, MM Book Publicity.

Monday, February 19, 2018

review: lucky now and then by deborah coonts

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Lucky Now and Then picks up where Lucky Bang left off with more details coming out about Lucky's father's past (including flashbacks to 1982). In this novella, Lucky must defend her father against potential murder charges when a skeleton is found at the site of his first hotel. As Lucky investigates (and questions if he might be guilty), she learns more about what really happened the night in 1982 she found dynamite in a club bathroom. Lucky Now and Then provides some interesting insights into Lucky's relationship with her father.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publicist, Kate Tilton.

Friday, February 16, 2018

review: apart in the dark by ania ahlborn

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Apart in the Dark contains two novellas previously released by Ania Ahlborn. The first is The Pretty Ones which takes place in New York City at the height of the Son of Sam killings. The women Nell works with are bleaching and cutting their hair in order to not fit the victim profile, but Nell is more concerned with things like paying rent and avoiding the bullying of some of her "mean girl" coworkers. When those coworkers start being murdered, it's initially assumed they're Son of Sam victims, but Nell knows they were targeted because of her. With this one, Ahlborn crafts an excellent story of revenge.

The second novella, I Call Upon Thee, is truly terrifying though it doesn't start that way. At first it seems to be the sad story of a family struck with a number of tragic deaths. But then Ahlborn incorporates some of Maggie's backstory. As children, Maggie and her sister Brynn (whose funeral Maggie is back home to attend) played in a cemetery and used a Ouija board to try to summon Kurt Cobain. Maggie knows they didn't talk to Kurt that night, but believes a dead child from the cemetery now haunts the house. This creepy tale will keep you up at night.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery Books.

Friday, February 9, 2018

review: surprise me by sophie kinsella

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I once saw an interview with a soap opera actress who said one reason the couples on the show always divorced was that happy couples were boring; that sentiment applies to Sylvie and Dan from Surprise Me. Sylvie and Dan have been together for ten years (married seven) and have twin daughters. They are blissfully happy until a doctor flippantly mentions they likely have another 68 years together. Rattled by this news, Sylvie decides they should spice things up by planning surprises for each other. It immediately goes wrong (which often provides some comedy), but they're still a near perfect couple until Sylvie becomes suspicious Dan and her mother have a secret and that Dan is also having an affair. That’s when the story finally starts to get going. A significant amount of the preceding chapters could’ve been cut in order to get to the news that rocks Sylvie’s core. Hinting at the storyline in the prologue saved the early boring chapters. The plot does pay off, but those early chapters drag; fortunately, Sophie Kinsella’s trademark humor shines throughout Surprise Me.
3/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

review: the book that made me edited by judith ridge

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The Book That Made Me is a collection of essays from primarily Australian authors on the subject of the book (or comic or magazine) that turned them into a reader or a writer. Series fiction like Sweet Valley High and "forbidden" novels like Flowers in the Attic are featured, but others have more poignant stories such as Emily Maguire who writes of the passage in Grand Days by Frank Moorhouse that changed her outlook. As with most anthologies, some of the works are stronger than others, but all provide some insight into what shaped the author.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Candlewick.

Monday, February 5, 2018

review: delia's crossing by v.c. andrews

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At 15, Delia loses both parents in a car accident and is sent from her small Mexico village to Palm Springs, CA to live with her wealthy aunt. This being a V.C. Andrews book, the aunt expects her to earn her keep as a servant and sets her up with a lecherous English tutor. But Delia is strong and reveals her identity to one of her cousins, who turns out to be a true friend.

The plot of Delia's Crossing moves swiftly and there's a good balance between the torment inflicted upon Delia and her working hard to be successful in her new circumstances. The author (these books have been ghostwritten for decades since the passing of Andrews) unfortunately tries to show how Mexican Delia is by constantly peppering in Spanish words like casa and abuela. There are also times when English conversations take place around Delia that move the plot forward in a way that doesn't really work given the first person narration and thus, Delia's lack of knowledge about what was said. Despite those issues, Delia's Crossing is a good read that touches on the very relevant matter of immigration.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket Books.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

review: treasure me by robyn dehart

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Treasure Me, the final installment in the Legend Hunters trilogy, is full of intrigue as The Raven (the villain of the series) seeks the artifacts that legend holds will make him king. Graeme, one of the Legend Hunters, intends to stop him, but gets distracted from his quest when he inadvertently marries a woman who fled her cheating fiancé. The accidental marriage sets up the romance of Treasure Me, but the rapidness of the relationship felt a bit out of character for the pair especially since each had other priorities. Even so, the romance is hot and the two are well-matched. In addition to the romance, the intensity of the hunt for The Kingmaker stones and the danger that awaits Graeme and Vanessa make for an exciting plot.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Forever.

Monday, January 29, 2018

review: i know my name by c.j. cooke

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C.J. Cooke's debut is a stunner. I Know My Name opens with a woman waking up after washing ashore on a remote island near Crete. A few pages later, a man receives a phone call from his neighbor who has discovered his two young children have been left alone. Lochlan rushes home where he finds his wife has indeed vanished with only her old Swiss passport missing. There are a number of directions Cooke could've gone with I Know My Name, but the reveal was quite unexpected. This tightly crafted psychological thriller delves into dark subject matter, but Cooke handles it brilliantly.
5/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

review: sweet tea and sympathy by molly harper

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Molly Harper's new series kicks off with a hilarious scene involving shrimp, flamingos, and the trampling of rare orchids. It's a big enough disaster to cause Margot Cary to be fired from her job and not be able to get another suitable position. Making matters worse, she didn't renew her lease because she was buying a condo, which is out of the question now. So even though she hasn't had any contact with her father's family since her mom left him when Margot was a toddler, Margot agrees to her Great Aunt Tootie's job offer. The adjustment to life in small town Georgia after living in Chicago makes for more hilarity.

Sweet Tea and Sympathy is a sweet story of family. And does Margot have quite the family! They are a colorful bunch to say the least. This first in a series is filled with the hijinks of a close family and all sorts of small town gossip and rivalries. There's also a Hallmark movie-style romance between Margot and the widowed elementary school principal.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Gallery.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

review: beyond scandal and desire by lorraine heath

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Mick Trewlove is a self-made man with a vendetta. He was given up to a baby farmer by the Duke of Hedley, whose legitimate son has a gambling problem. Mick's plan for revenge is two-fold--he'll win the Duke's property through the son's poor gambling decisions and also gain the affection of the son's betrothed, who happens to be Hedley's ward. But Mick didn't count on actually falling for the kind-hearted Lady Aslyn.

The first in a new series, Beyond Scandal and Desire has a fantastic plot and tremendously enjoyable characters. The secondary characters (who in some cases will be main characters in future books) were just as multi-dimensional as the main characters. Despite taking place in 1871, Aslyn is a headstrong young woman. In keeping with the time, she's been sheltered, but Lorraine Heath makes sure she has agency when it comes to the romance. There's also an excellent twist that causes Mick to rethink everything.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Avon.

Monday, January 22, 2018

review: hit so hard by patty schemel

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The child of two recovering alcoholics, Patty Schemel (best known as the drummer for Hole) experienced AA meetings in her living room, but also a significant amount of underage drinking (starting at age 12) and pot smoking with her siblings. Schemel also found a love for music and playing the drums. As someone who loved the grunge scene, I found the details of playing shows and recording particularly interesting. Unfortunately some of the details have been lost to a heroin haze. She doesn't shy away from revealing the lows she sank to while struggling with her addiction to heroin and later, crack as well.

Schemel (alongside Erin Hosier) is an excellent storyteller with a narrative style that's a bit like a friend sharing her story. Her descriptions of the horrors of heroin, the fast times with Hole, and the failed times in rehab make the all too familiar tale of an addicted rock star into an engrossing memoir.
5/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

review: hiding out by tina alexis allen

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Tina Alexis Allen had quite the childhood. The youngest of 13, she grew up with an alcoholic father who was abusive to her mother. In an incredibly candid memoir, Allen reveals she began drinking at a young age and alleges two of her brothers sexually abused her. And although Allen doesn't characterize her first sexual relationship as abuse, it was with one her middle school teachers while Allen was that teacher's student. Allen says this is her "younger self's truth" which seems to explain why she doesn't outright say that her teacher's actions were a crime and that her nights of partying with her father were inappropriate. The Allen of today may know all this, but the Allen of the time seemed to just be happy to be out as a lesbian to someone in her family. She and her father bonded not only over drinking, but regarding their sexuality. Despite a long marriage to a woman and 13 children, Allen's father was gay. And it would turn out that wasn't her father's only secret--he also had a clandestine job that Allen still hasn't completely uncovered. Hiding Out is a shocking, but powerful read.
5/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Dey Street.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

review: little monsters by kara thomas

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After moving to Broken Falls to live with the dad she never knew, Kacey is quickly befriended by two girls who have been best friends for years. Sometimes they're a bit distant though, like the night they don't pick up Kacey for the party. That might not have been a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it ends up being the night Bailey goes missing. As the cops investigate, it starts to look like Kacey, the outsider, knows more than she's sharing.

This young adult thriller was amazing! It reminded me a lot of a recent headline-grabbing news story (link is to the story which will spoil the plot), but Kara Thomas puts her own spin on it to make the story even more shocking. The writing is superb as the mystery unfolds. There are plenty of good suspects to keep the reader guessing, but not so many as to overwhelm. The inclusion of some of Bailey's diary entries is a nice touch that allows the reader to get to know Bailey while also letting Thomas reveal some important plot details.
5/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Monday, January 15, 2018

review: the sisters of glass ferry by kim michele richardson

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In Kentucky in 1952 twins Patsy and Flannery are high school students. Flannery is quite serious while Patsy is more adventuresome and excited about an upcoming school dance. By 1972 (The Sisters of Glass Ferry is told in alternating timelines), Patsy has been missing for 20 years and Flannery is visiting her hometown when what happened to Patsy and her boyfriend is finally revealed. There is a lot of set up with nothing much happening until the end of the seventh chapter. It takes a few more chapters for the reader to find out what happened to Patsy and even more for Flannery to learn the truth.

While some stories lend themselves well to the alternating timeline form, all it did for The Sisters of Glass Ferry was make a potentially thrilling story boring. The Sisters of Glass Ferry suffers from a lot of backstory as well as unnecessary information about Flannery's life 20 years after her twin's disappearance. Furthermore, Kim Michele Richardson extends the story well beyond what was needed by time-jumping to 2012 with a new revelation that harkened back to a previous plot point hardly developed at all. It all seems to be done to make the female characters experience one huge tragedy after another.

About the audiobook: Marguerite Gavin is the narrator for The Sisters of Glass Ferry by Kim Michele Richardson. She does a good job with the content she was given placing the right emphasis on words and using appropriate inflections. She changed tone to show that Patsy was more carefree than Flannery. The audio version was published November 2017 by Blackstone Audio. It runs 8 hours.
2/5
Review copy provided by Audiobook Jukebox.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

a christmas to remember by lisa kleypas, et al.

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A Christmas to Remember features four historical romance novellas that are tangentially Christmas stories. The first, I Will by Lisa Kleypas, didn't feel like a Christmas story at all. Rather than centering on Christmas events, I Will is about a man manipulating a woman into pretending to be his significant other only to have the pair fall for each other. This one, like the second novella (Deck the Halls with Love) in this collection, is part of a series; that I'm unfamiliar with either of the series these first two novellas belong to could have contributed to my not liking them. Although it seemed like these should work as standalone stories, I had a feeling that some background would've made them more interesting. Deck the Halls with Love is about a couple who wants to be together, but aren't because he first proposed to someone else causing her accept another man's proposal. The fourth novella was also pretty ho-hum, in my opinion. The Duke's Christmas Wish features a man of science confused by the concept of love. Megan Frampton's No Groom at the Inn, the third story in the collection, is the gem in this group. Here a woman left destitute after her father's death accepts a deal to be paid (quite handsomely) by a man who must attend a lengthy holiday gathering and wishes to have a woman at his side to prevent interference from his mother. I appreciated the agency given to the female character. Frampton also injects a lot of humor which makes the story a fun read.
2/5
(4/5 for No Groom at the Inn)
Review copy provided by the publisher, Avon.

Friday, January 5, 2018

review: a line in the dark by malinda lo

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High school students Jess and Angie are best friends, but their relationship becomes strained when Angie begins dating Margot, who is wealthy and attends a private boarding school. Jess and Margot do not like each other with Jess saying that Margot's a bad person (Jess saw her shoplift and also knows someone Margot bullied) and Margot saying Jess is jealous (which she definitely is). There's typical high school drama until Jess discovers a secret while on the boarding school campus for her special art class. The plot intensifies when Jess gets drunk at a party and reveals the secret. Angie hurries Jess away from the party, but the fallout is huge--the girl Jess fought with is found dead. Soon the police are questioning everyone from the party and the drama heats up as the twists and turns play out.

The ending of A Line in the Dark was quite surprising. Part of it being surprising is that the actions of one of the teens felt out of character. It would've worked better if Malinda Lo had developed her character more to make it easier to believe she would do what she did. The build up to the ending was great though with the girls being just like so many I knew in high school.
4/5
Review copy from Amazon Vine.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

review: royally wed by teri wilson

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Loosely based on the movie Royal Wedding, Teri Wilson's Royally Wed finds a heartbroken musician called in as a last minute replacement to perform at Princess Amelia's wedding. Although Asher doesn't know it, the princess is being forced to marry her best friend's father in order to preserve the royal lineage. Circumstances (namely a dog named Willow) repeatedly bring Asher and Amelia together until the pair becomes romantically entangled.

Wilson's Royally Wed deviates enough from the movie's plot that the story is truly her own. Though a bit far-fetched, the cuteness of Asher and Amelia's relationship allowed me to become wholly caught up in their romance. Using Willow to bring the pair together worked well and added some fun comedy to the romance.
4/5
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket Star.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

top ten tuesday: new-to-me authors in 2017

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Every Tuesday the site has a new top ten list with this week's being Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2017. All the links below are to my reviews.

Ania Ahlborn
Jillian Cantor
Natalie Charles
Amy S. Foster
Hollie Overton
Kristin Rockaway
Joanna Schaffhausen
Adam Silvera
Sherri Smith
Julie Lawson Timmer