Monday, August 29, 2011

review: snapped by laura griffin

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When a book starts with a shooting rampage on a college campus, it seems odd to call it a slow starter, but Snapped kind of was. The fourth book in Laura Griffin’s Tracers series focuses on Sophie, the receptionist for the Delphi Center, who finds herself in the middle of the shooting when she goes to enroll in classes. Since the shooter is immediately identified as the man who killed himself, it didn’t seem like there was anywhere to go with the plot despite the fact that more than half the book remained. Eventually (and it took way too long), Sophie realizes that she saw the shooter’s vehicle only minutes before the shooting started. Sophie theorizes that there was an accomplice driving the car, but the police (one of whom is Sophie’s love interest) dismiss her. And that’s where the book gets interesting because yes, there is an accomplice and now Sophie’s life is in danger. Once the story picked up, I really enjoyed Snapped.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Pocket Star Books.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

giveaway: wildflower hill

Thanks to Simon and Schuster, two lucky people will win a copy of Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman.

I thought the book was excellent, but also check out the publisher description:
"Spanning three generations and half the world, Wildflower Hill is a sweeping, romantic, and compelling story of two women who share a legacy of secrets, heartbreak, courage, and love.

Emma, a prima ballerina in London, is at a crossroads after an injured knee ruins her career. Forced to rest and take stock of her life, she finds that she’s mistaken fame and achievement for love and fulfillment. Returning home to Australia, she learns of her grandmother Beattie’s death and a strange inheritance: a sheep station in isolated rural Australia. Certain she has been saddled with an irritating burden, Emma prepares to leave for Wildflower Hill to sell the estate.

Beattie also found herself at a crossroads as a young woman, but she was pregnant and unwed. She eventually found success—but only after following an unconventional path that was often dangerous and heartbreaking. Beattie knew the lessons she learned in life would be important to Emma one day, and she wanted to make sure Emma’s heart remained open to love, no matter what life brought. She knew the magic of the Australian wilderness would show Emma the way.

Wildflower Hill is a compelling, atmospheric, and romantic novel about taking risks, starting again, and believing in yourself. It’s about finding out what you really want and discovering that the answer might be not at all what you’d expect."

The rules: Enter by leaving a comment to this post with your email (if I can't contact you, you can't win). You can gain additional entries by leaving separate comments letting me know that you're a follower (one extra each for the blog and Twitter) or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on September 10. Winners will be selected at random. Since this is from Simon and Schuster the winners must have mailing addresses in the US.

author interview: kimberley freeman

This post contains affiliate links.

Kimberley Freeman, the author of the amazing Wildflower Hill, was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions.

Wildflower Hill is set in both the 1920s and 2009. What research did you do to create the 1920s setting?

Historical research is one of the things I really enjoy about my job. I have learned so much about different time periods for the novels I've written, and the 1920s and 1930s were such interesting eras to write about.

Authors have so much at their fingertips now with the internet as a tool for research. I actually started with images of the clothes. It was really important for me to be able to see the character: not just her face and hair, but her body, how she wore her clothes. The wonderful thing about this period, especially the 1920s, is that the fashions were so wonderful. I would have loved to wear a flapper dress!

Another great way to do historical research is to read first-hand accounts of the time. I found a wonderful published version of a young woman's diary of the time, and so I was able to find all those little details of what people called things, and what their concerns were especially during the Great Depression. The most horrifying revelation for me was that some people were so poor that they made soup from grass. Not only did it give me a bone-achingly clear idea of how desperate times were, it gave me a wonderful image to work within the story.

You’ve published a number of books as Kim Wilkins. What made you decide to write Wildflower Hill as Kimberley Freeman?

Kim Wilkins (which is my birth name) writes fantasy fiction, and some of it quite dark. I wanted to explore this other side of myself, where stories could be uplifting and set in the real world, but I knew if I published them as Kim Wilkins (at least in the Australian market where I am known) they wouldn't meet the right audience. Freeman is my grandmother's maiden name, but Kim Freeman sounded like it might be a man's name. So I changed it to "Kimberley" because it was much more feminine. Something about writing under the other name really inspired me to write in a different way. I really love going into my office and changing into Kimberley Freeman: she's a fun girl!

You list a number of music-related top tens on your website. What music inspires your writing?

It depends on what I'm writing. I like music that has drama and scope in it. At the moment I'm really enjoying Zoe Keating, a fabulous cellist. I also love music that creates a mood, and for that reason I love Hammock. I find it very hard to write with singing on, so it always has to be instrumental.

What book (your own or someone else’s) has had the most impact on your life?

When I was a little girl, I read a book that affected me profoundly. It was Gladys Malvern’s The Dancing Star, first published in 1944, an account of the life of Anna Pavlova, written for children. Like many little girls, I dreamed of being a ballet dancer but it wasn’t the stuff about ballet that affected me so deeply, it was the stuff about work.

According to the book, Anna Pavlova was obsessed with dancing. She practised all the time. She did it until her toes bled and she just. kept. going. This notion, that one could work so hard and push through barriers of extreme discomfort, really took hold of my imagination. From that moment on, I understood the incredible romance of work: diligent hours spent on something that mattered to make an outcome appear in the world. Art is not a divine bolt from above, but the sweet, constant labour of real human beings manifesting things with their feet in the soil. And there is no idea about art more pleasing to me than that.

What’s up next for you?

I am working on a novel, provisionally titled "Isabella's Gift", about a woman who survives a shipwreck off the coast of Australia in 1901. She has many reasons for wanting to run away from her old life, but has trouble making a new life for herself, especially when somebody from the old life comes after her. The historical plot is mirrored in a contemporary plot about a woman who comes to the same small seaside town in 2011, and has to make some difficult decisions of her own in order to reconcile with her estranged sister. I am having such a wonderful time writing it. I should be done in about a month, so very close to the end now.

review: wildflower hill by kimberley freeman

This post contains affiliate links.

Wildflower Hill tells the gripping story of the Blaxland women who ended up a wealthy Australian family after much struggle by Beattie, the matriarch. The focus is on Beattie and her granddaughter, Emma. The two characters seemed very much alive as both had lives filled with romance, heartache, and drama, especially on Beattie’s part. Beattie proved to be an incredibly strong woman after discovering she was pregnant at nineteen by her married boyfriend and then being disowned by her parents. She was the one who made the family fortune. Emma didn’t start out as strong given how quickly she fell apart when she was dumped by her boyfriend on the grounds of being too career-focused and then almost immediately suffered a career-ending injury, but she did eventually get there. The story kept my interest with each page as I tried to figure out what man from Beattie’s life was Emma’s grandfather and what Emma would discover next as she searched through the artifacts of Beattie’s former home.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

giveaway winner: sunset bridge

Congratulations to Beth(bookaholicmom) who has won a copy of Sunset Bridge!

Friday, August 19, 2011

review: no rest for the dead edited by andrew f. gulli and lamia j. gulli

As No Rest for the Dead begins, Rosemary Thomas is about to be executed for the murder of her husband. For reason not made clear, Rosemary has decided not to fight her wrongful conviction. She does have a dying wish though: she wants a memorial in 10 years. And 10 years later that memorial is about to happen; it also creates the perfect opportunity for the real killer to be discovered.

No Rest for the Dead brings 26 well-known authors together to concoct a murder mystery with almost as many suspects as the book has authors. With so many authors, the plot could have continuity issues, but the editors bring it all together and insert a few transitional paragraphs between chapters when necessary. There are some shifts in perspective (third-person versus first-person) as the authors change, but those weren’t terribly jarring. The biggest drawback is that most of the action of the plot has already taken place. The murder, the investigation, and the trial have already taken place with only the horrific execution taking place on the page. After that it isn’t until the book is almost over before more action happens at the memorial.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

review: hot, shot, and bothered by nora mcfarland

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With years of her own TV news experience, Nora McFarland accurately depicts the world of Bakersfield chief photographer Lilly Hawkins. In the second in the series, a deadly fire rages as the body of a woman from Lilly’s past is pulled from the lake. The woman is presumed to have accidentally drowned in a drunken stupor until Lilly starts raising questions based on her knowledge of the woman. Soon Lilly is chasing leads on two stories and putting her life in danger as she uncovers a career-making conspiracy.

Hot, Shot, and Bothered won immediate points with me by depicting KJAY-TV realistically. Unlike so many books/movies/TV shows, this one didn’t glamorize the industry or have characters pulling off miraculous “gets” (and speaking of “gets,” the characters are callously accurate in how they play a game about who the better get is). Instead KJAY has only two microwave trucks and is forced to make a deal with the LA station also covering the fire in order to get use of their satellite truck for live shots. Beyond nailing the TV news portion (which is hugely important to the plot), McFarland also creates compelling characters and an intriguing murder conspiracy with a satisfying conclusion.
Review copy provided by the publisher, Touchstone.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

review: wanna get lucky? by deborah coonts

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The first in a series about plucky 30-something woman who heads up Customer Relations at a ritzy Las Vegas hotel, Wanna Get Lucky? starts right off with a big problem for Lucky--an ex-hooker plunged to her death from the hotel's helicopter. But before Lucky can start dealing with Lyda Sue's death that just might be murder, Lucky's immediately confronted with yet another potential PR nightmare as a guest is found passed out naked in the stairwell. All this in just the first few pages!

Wanna Get Lucky? is a murder mystery, but it's a comedy too with Lucky having some great lines like, "Being a porn star is like being a writer--only one talent is needed and nobody cares what you look like." I loved Lucky instantly. Also working in the book's favor is that the numerous subplots (and there are a few) come together nicely and each is well done. Furthermore, each major character is well-developed so there's no "who was that again?" when someone reappears after being absent for a few chapters.
Review copy provided by FSB Associates

Friday, August 12, 2011

review: the memory palace by mira bartók

Mira Bartók and her older sister grew up in chaos with a schizophrenic mother; their alcoholic father left early on and stopped sending child support a few years after that. The family was soon on welfare and Bartók’s mother was in and out of the hospital. Bartók’s grandparents were unfortunately not much help either— Bartók paints a picture of an abusive grandfather and weak grandmother in The Memory Palace. Given all this, I knew the subject matter would be heavy going into the book; I was utterly exhausted by the time I finished reading. I suppose that speaks to what Bartók and her sister went through as they grew up and broke away from their mother who essentially stalked them to the point that they changed their names and set up PO Boxes so she wouldn’t know where they lived. But The Memory Palace lacked cohesiveness as Bartók jumped around in the story of her life. There were also a number of tangents (such as being involved with art fraud) that were just unnecessary to a story that should have focused on the central subject. At times Bartók tended toward the political with comments about what the country was doing regarding the care of the mentally ill, but she never pushed it any further or even really said just how those changes affected her family.
Review copy provided by the publisher, FreePress.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

giveaway winners: how to seduce a scoundrel

The winners of How to Seduce a Scoundrel are...holdenj and heatherc8!

Friday, August 5, 2011

giveaway: sunset bridge

Want to check out the last book in the Happiness Key series from Emilie Richards? One person will win a copy of Sunset Bridge thanks to Planned Television Arts.

Check out my review here. The publisher description is below:
"Former socialite Tracy Deloche has nothing to her name but five ramshackle beach cottages and the unlikely friendships she's formed with her tenants. Wanda, wise waitress turned popular pie-shop owner. Janya, the young Indian wife whose arranged marriage surprises her every day. Alice, a widow raising her complex tween-age granddaughter. And Maggie, Wanda's daughter, a former Miami cop with a love life as complicated as Tracy's own.

The new man in Tracy's life hasn't mentioned love or commitment— and Tracy has just discovered she's pregnant. Janya longs to be a mother—and suddenly has two young siblings in her care. Maggie helps out at Wanda's Wonderful Pies…but is the kitchen big enough for both Gray women? And Alice may lose her beloved granddaughter to someone no one expected….

As a tropical storm brews, the wind carries surprises and secrets over the bridge to Happiness Key. Now, more than ever, five friends will discover just how much they need one another."

The rules: Enter by leaving a comment to this post with your email (if I can't contact you, you can't win). You can gain additional entries by leaving separate comments letting me know that you're a follower (one extra each for the blog and Twitter) or have posted a link to the giveaway on your site. The deadline to enter is 11:59pm Pacific on August 20. Winners will be selected at random. Since this is from Planned Television Arts the winners must have mailing addresses in the US or Canada.

author interview: emilie richards

Emilie Richards, the author of the Happiness Key series, was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions!

Happiness Key was originally intended as a standalone, yet here's the third in the series, Sunset Bridge. What prompted you to continue to the story?

While the first book did what I intended, which was to establish how possible friendship can be for women with nothing in common--at least on the surface--it also set up characters I wanted to explore even further. So my publisher and I decided three books were in order. The number felt right to me. I could continue threads I'd introduced in Happiness Key, and tie them up by Sunset Bridge.

Some of your books have been turned into films for German television. What's it like to see your characters on the screen? Any plans for English-language versions to be made?

It's a kick, to be honest. They've chosen some of my very first books along with later ones, and it's so much fun to see how the stories are cast, and how the plots are rewritten for the screen. Some are very true to my stories, and some are so different that I almost don't recognize them. But the producers and screenwriters are good at what they do, and nice people to boot. I've had the opportunity to go to New Zealand, where they're all being filmed, to spend time on set, and to Germany to do promotion, so I've gotten to know and appreciate the talent of everyone connected. As for English language versions? One can always hope.

What was your favorite book as a child?

I was a fan of the Oz books, which I read and re-read. But later Little Women and Jane Eyre were huge for me, as well.

What book (your own or someone else's) has had the most impact on your life?

No one book springs to mind. But I've taken some of this and some of that from so many books, including my own. When you're writing a book, you do so much thinking about your story and your characters' growth, that you can't help but be changed.

What's up next for you?

I'm working on a new series for Mira Books, entitled Goddesses Anonymous. It's women's fiction, like Happiness Key, and it stories are interrelated, but each book focuses on only a few characters at a time. It has a different "feel" than the Happiness Key series, but shares a lot with it, too. The series is set in the North Carolina mountains.

review: sunset bridge by emilie richards

Sunset Bridge begins with what seems like the end of Tracy and Marsh’s relationship—she’s not enjoying their camping trip and he’s being condescending. As it turns out Tracy’s upset stomach isn’t about the raw oyster Marsh made her eat, but is an early pregnancy symptom which means she’s sticking it out with him. However, Marsh figures out the pregnancy news before Tracy works up the courage to tell him which creates more tension. Although other plots and characters come in, the focus remains on Tracy’s drama. I found that storyline a bit ho-hum (it’s nothing that hasn’t been done many times before and the end was always clear), but was pulled in by a visiting Indian family’s tragedy and the mystery surrounding that. I liked the way that part of the story pulled in other characters who are important to the Happiness Key series.
Review copy provided by Planned Television Arts.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

review: never have i ever by sara shepard

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The story of Emma looking for her twin’s murderer continues in Never Have I Ever. This time Emma thinks she knows who killed Sutton (I was pretty convinced too), but Sara Shepard keeps the twists coming. Never Have I Ever takes place immediately after the party for Emma as Sutton that ended The Lying Game. Emma keeps trying to goad the other members of The Lying Game in the hopes that someone will reveal herself as Sutton’s killer, but no one’s giving up any information; however, someone sends Emma a charm in the shape of a train which puts her on a path she hopes will lead to the killer. The second book in a series that will soon be a TV show on ABC Family is a page-turner that entertained from start to finish.
Review copy provided by the publisher, HarperTeen.

review: judgment day by wanda l. dyson

Suzanne Kidwell is a Nancy Grace-esque TV anchor. As such, much of Judgment Day revolves around a TV station. The portrayal of TV news/cable shows is incredibly inaccurate, which constantly distracted me from the other part of the plot—the kidnappings and murders Suzanne has somehow become involved with. Shortly after Suzanne’s wealthy fiancé dies while driving her car (later discovered to have been tampered with), Suzanne is framed for the murder of yet another man. She knows she’s innocent, but the only way to clear her name seems to lie with a private investigator she betrayed while they were engaged back in college.

The basic premise is interesting, but there’s a problem that keeps the intriguing element of Suzanne fighting for her freedom from redeeming Judgment Day in any way. There is a gaping plot hole regarding motivation. Suzanne had no idea why teens were disappearing—she even publicly accused the wrong man—until they started going after her. So why go after Suzanne at all? Dues ex machina.

Another issue I had with Judgment Day was the awkward insert of Christianity which seemed only to have been done to get published by WaterBrook. It otherwise had no bearing on the plot.
Review copy provided by the publisher, WaterBrook Press.