Archive for the 'Book Review' Category

Review: The Abomination by Jonathan Holt

Thursday, April 17th, 2014

the-abomination-coverEverything is a trilogy these days! I’m serious – I cannot begin to tell you how many review copies come to me that are Book One is some trilogy or other. Most of the time, as I may have said before, I’m unimpressed. Often it means that the writer can’t seem to figure out how to wrap up the story in a single book. I think it’s great if a book is so good and so well-received that it inspires a sequel, but just like movies, every book these days has to come with a sequel.

In The Abomination by Jonathan Holt, I can actually see the need for a sequel. The plot is so complex, with so many threads to follow, that you could never wrap it up in one book. A few of the plotlines you’ll need to keep straight:

- Captain Kat Tapo of the Carabinieri is investigating her first murder case: a woman found in the canal, shot in the head, wearing the robes of a Catholic priest.

-  Colonel Aldo Piola, a seasoned investigator, is supervising Tapo on this case. There’s chemistry between the two of them and Piola has a reputation…

- Second Lieutenant Holly Boland is thrilled to be back in Italy, even if the assignment – a sort of community liaison officer – doesn’t sound terribly exciting. However, Boland’s first official task – look for some documents related to a Freedom of Information Act request – may be very exciting. And Dangerous.

- Daniel Barbo, a computer genius with a tragic past, has designed the ultimate virtual reality space for Italians – Carnivia.com, a detailed and eerily accurate rendition of Venice. Like the city itself, Carnivia contains many secrets – some that might be worth killing for.

There are actually a couple of other interesting plotlines, but if that doesn’t pique your interest, you may be unpiquable. Holt does an excellent job of moving the story forward, keeping the plotlines interwoven but not tangled, and keeping you turning the pages. It’s a great mix of characters, an amazing and exotic setting, with plenty of action and intrigue. The plot takes off in completely unexpected directions, and by the end of the book, you feel as though you have wandered into a totally different story. It was an excellent read and I am actually looking forward to the sequel, The Abduction, coming out in May.

My copy of The Abomination was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge by the good folks at HarperCollins Publishers.

Review: Slow Cooking for Two: Basics, Techniques, Recipes by Cynthia Graubart

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Slow-Cooking-Front-Cover-266x300I know a lot of people think of a crockpot as a winter thing – full of chili or pot roast or beef stew. Fact is, a crockpot is great for cooking in the summer. You don’t heat up the house, there’s not standing over a hot stove, but you still get a hot meal at the end of the day. And you are certainly not limited to stews and chili; you can make seafood, vegetables, lasagna, even bake a cake in your crockpot. I have been having some fun, testing out new recipes for the coming months.

Slow Cooking for Two: Basics, Techniques, Recipes is a very handy resource for single folks and small families, especially if they are new to slow cooking. There are excellent sections on tips for using a crockpot, cooking times, and equipment. The recipes really run the gamut – everything from Spiced Mixed Nuts (page 136) and Banana Bread (page 126) to Cornish Hen Dijon (page 54) and Mushroom Risotto (page 106). There is a great section of desserts – Vanilla Custard, Lemon Cake and Apple Crisp – as well as a good section on some recipe basics. I never thought of roasting garlic in the crockpot, but you would really get that low-and-slow taste with this method.

In my house, my crockpot is a stock machine – I make chicken stock, beef stock, vegetable stock, all in the crockpot. My favorite method is to throw all the ingredients in, pour boiling water over them, turn the crockpot on low and then go to bed; I wake up in the morning to a house that smells like heavenly and I’m ready to make a terrific soup or stew.

Probably the most interesting section for me was the chapter on “Double Dinners” – basically, take a big chuck roast or pork tenderloin, cut it in half, then make two dinners at once in the same crockpot. Of course, the secret is using those crockpot liners (terrific for sticky, messy dishes). you simply put half the meat in each bag, add the other ingredients, and place the closed bags next to each other in your big crockpot. It’s perfect if you don’t like eating the same leftovers day after day until they’re gone. This way, you’ve got two entirely different meals.

All in all, a good reference with some great recipes. I like the Potato Gratin, the Pork Tenderloin with Cabbage, and I am looking forward to trying to Spinach Lasagna. My copy of Slow Cooking for Two: Basics, Techniques, Recipes came from my personal library.

 

Review: Starers by Nathan Robinson

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

Starers_Nathan_RobinsonThis one is from my personal library, recommended by someone on my Bookapalooza thread, and let me tell you: Starers by Nathan Robinson is one seriously creepy book! A little horror, a little family drama, maybe a little religion – and a lot of creepy suspense. This was a great one-sitting read.

Dylan Keene is heading home from a night at the pub, his deadbeat brother in tow. Standing at the bus stop across the street from the house is an old man. Dylan doesn’t give him much thought – but he’s still there the following morning. Even more disturbing is the fact that he’s not alone, there are other people out there, staring at the Keene household.

And it doesn’t stop. As the day wears on, more and more people gather to stare at them, leaving Dylan, his wife, Kirsty, his daughter, Lucy, and his brother, Lennon. The Starers don’t react to anything. They are in various stages of dress (and undress). There are accidents, but they don’t move. They don’t eat, they don’t sit down, they don’t even blink – they just stare at the Keene’s house…and every time they look outside, there are more of them.

Creepy enough for you? Honestly, the thought of being locked in the house with my family is bad enough, but creepy staring people on the lawn? No thanks!

There are a few issues with this one. It could use a bit of editing, I think – I found some of the phrasing awkward and grammar issues make me grit my teeth. Still, I had great fun with it, trying to guess what the ending would be. One of the best things about getting books for my Kindle is that for very little money, I can pick up some really cool books – this is definitely one of them.

My copy of Starersis from my personal library.

Review: Vintage by Susan Gloss

Monday, March 17th, 2014

VintageHC-C-1-e1386603710842I don’t generally review a lot of women’s lit, but the story behind Vintage  by Susan Gloss really spoke to me. I love the idea that items in a thrift store all have stories behind them! Someone wore the dress you’re trying on, the shoes, the wedding gown; someone sat at the table or read the books. Were those happy times? Did a beloved grandchild play with that teddy bear? I find it infinitely fascinating. In Vintage we meet some of the people behind those stories.

There are three women at the heart of the story. Violet Turner owns Hourglass Vintage in Madison, Wisconsin. Violet has always been a little out of step with her peers;  even in high school she had a retro style. She’s built this business – the perfect location, carefully selected vintage items, a growing clientele – and now she may lose it.

April is 18, an orphan, and pregnant. She bought a wedding dress at Hourglass — and returned it almost immediately. Amithi is still reeling from a terrible betrayal when she brings Violet a stack of beautiful Indian garments. While Violet navigates the turbulent waters of a new romance, the three women hatch a plan to save Hourglass, and maybe themselves along with it.

Okay, it’s definitely chick lit, but I don’t say that as a bad thing. It’s about women, about women on their own, making their own way without a man. Yes, there’s some romance, but it is really about three women who are (or are becoming) self-reliant. They can’t deal with the men in the story until they have their own lives under control – that was a theme that definitely appealed to me. Although I was a little disappointed in one big decision in the book, for the most part these women dig in their heels and refuse to be pushed around.

I really enjoyed Vintage, and I think it will make a great summer read. Telling the story with the items in the shop was a clever way to tie old stories in with new ones, and it really played to my love of thrift store finds and their imagined histories. My copy of Vintage was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge. Sadly, it has disappeared from my Kindle (those blasted self-deleting ARCs!), but you can pre-order yours on Amazon, or pick it up at your favorite bookstore on March 25th.

For more on Susan Gloss and her work, visit her website. For more on other new releases from William Morrow, check out their website.

Review: Game by Anders de la Motte

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

game coverHave you noticed that everything is a trilogy these days? I always thought that the way things worked was that you published a book and if it did well, maybe your publisher wanted another. Maybe you could turn it into a series. That seems passé these days – now, everything is a series right out of the box.

That’s not always a good thing — sometimes, I think it’s just lazy writing. Instead of having to create a self-contained story, something that could be wrapped up in a single volume, writers can let their story meander all over the place. Instead of coming to a denouement, wrapping up the story and tidying loose ends, it’s much easier to write a cliffhanger.

Now, after all that, you might think that I was disappointed to find out that Game by Anders de la Motte was a trilgoy. In the beginning, I was skeptical, but I found that I was really enjoying the story and look forward to what de la Motte would do in the next volume.

Henrik “HP” Pettersson is a pretty typical slacker – under-employed, lacking much motivation, but with a pretty high opinion of himself (mostly unfounded). His life is going nowhere. Then one day he finds a cell phone on the train — a very snazzy, high-end cellphone that he figures he can sell for enough to keep him in beer and cigarettes for a while. That is until the phone gets a text: DO YOU WANT TO PLAY A GAME?

At first, he ignores texts, assuming they are for the rightful owner. But when the texts start to refer to him by name — WANNA PLAY A GAME, HENRIK PETTERSSON? – he’s intrigued.

He finds himself in the world of The Game. He is assigned tasks, which could be anything from stealing an umbrella to hacking the power grid. He films himself performing these bits of vandalism, and the results are posted online. Suddenly, he’s got cash, he’s got a fan base, and he is in way over his head. The tasks get more and more dangerous, until it becomes clear that the people running The Game have more power than he could possibly imagine…

It’s a pretty decent thriller! There are lots of plot twists and turns. The Game itself is so big, so involved, that it teeters right on the fine edge between Don’t Be Ridiculous and Maybe-Just Maybe. There’s a good storyline and while you can see some of the curve balls coming, there were a few that came right out of left field. Game also does a nice job of both tidying up loose ends and giving you a good cliffhanger. The ending had me literally thumbing back through the last chapter, trying to figure out whether I had missed something, it was that much of a shock. It really left me wondering about where the next book will go. For a change, I don’t have to wait to find out — the rest of the trilogy (Buzz and Bubble) is available on Amazon.

My copy of Game is an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Nanette’s Review: Delilah’s Daughters by Angela Benson

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

delilahsdaughters_v4_s260x420When I was a kid, my mom used to curl up under a lamp and read romances until bedtime. If work had been particularly bad that day, she’d head for her book right after supper. When I got a copy of Delilah’s Daughters, I followed my mom’s example and curled up on my side of the bed, turned the night table lamp on and read, and read. This book is that kind of read. I found it absorbing precisely because it didn’t take me too far from home; the relationships, conflicts and values were familiar enough to make me nod my head in recognition, and I think a lot of readers will do the same.

“Delilah’s Daughters” is a trio of singing sisters that has reached the finals of an “American Idol” –like t.v. show. They should win—but they don’t. (You know how this goes, right? The best acts always seem to come in second.) The television show has brought them exposure that will ultimately divide them. Their mother, Delilah wants them to continue in the group that their dead father founded and managed. No one part should be greater than the other, she insists. And there’s a recording contract with a small, local company that will let them do just that. But daughter Veronica has been offered a solo contract with a major recording studio. Veronica loves the spotlight—how can she refuse? And Alicia—well, she’s never liked the spotlight anyway, and the demise of the group leaves her free to pursue her dreams of becoming a songwriter. Meanwhile, Roxanne, a cruise ship singer who is technically the best singer of the group, is seeing a married man. And then, there’s mom and manager Delilah herself: she’s trying to hold the family together, but the secret she’s harbouring could potentially tear it apart for good.

The conflicts between the characters are familiar. Can loyalty to a family or group hold a person back? Is breaking free and getting the dream all it’s cracked up to be? How many of your core values are you ready to give up to pursue your dream? And what do you do when the mistakes of the past threaten to overwhelm the present? Values are a central part of the book, but there are no tub thumping homilies here. Instead, you get people who are just struggling to do the right thing. They’re human, and they make bad decisions. They fight. They get jealous. And, although there aren’t any sexually explicit scenes, sex exists. These are real women, after all.

Angela Benson’s work represents something of an alternative to some kinds of urban fiction. As another African American author pointed out, “not everybody’s into pimpin’, druggin’ and ‘hoin’.” This is about educated, reasonably successful but still ordinary folks that you don’t see on the news unless they’re anchoring it. But real folks have their own dramas—dramas that are all the more compelling because they are ones that everyone shares.

My copy of Delilah’s Daughters was an Advance Review Copy, provided free of charge.

For more on Angela Benson’s work, check out her website.

Review: This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

THIS_DARK_ROAD_jacket_2_revised_8-1_(1)-210Easter Quillby makes a fine narrator, even though she is only 12 years old – maybe especially because she’s only 12. In This Dark Road to Mercy, author Wiley Cash does a great job of capturing the voice of a young girl who is already older than she should have to be. Easter doesn’t trust easily because life hasn’t given her a reason to. Her father ran off when she was 9, her mother died of an overdose, and she and her younger sister, Ruby, are in foster care. She thought the courts would decide their fate, probably sending them to Alaska to live with relatives, but then their father, Wade, shows up at her school and their lives go off the rails.

Wade is a washed up minor league baseball player who was never much of a father. He gave up his girls to their mother but he never forgot them. With their mother gone and money in his pocket, he comes back for Easter and Ruby. Now, the girls’ court-appointed guardian, Brady Weller, is looking for him and what he’s finding has him worried – Wade may be connected to an armored car heist, and Brady might not be only person looking for him.

This was a pretty fast read, but one I enjoyed. I think Cash, as I said, does a terrific job with Easter and Ruby. Easter has clearly been taking care of her sister for a while now, probably for her mother as well. She has a “wise beyond her years” quality to her, but she’s still a little girl. Her feelings are hurt when  some kids at a carnival make fun of her and her sister, and she worries about the almost-boyfriend she left back home. She knows this thing with her father can’t last, that eventually, they’ll need to find a place to live and go to school and this road trip will come to a bad end. Sometimes, I got the feeling she was the only adult in the group.

Brady Weller is an interesting character, although not quite as believable to me. He’s a man on a mission, looking for these girls, even though he doesn’t seem to have any legal standing. But her clearly cares about them and knows that no one else is going to be looking very hard for a few foster care orphans who’ve gone missing.

It’s an old story with a few twists. You want Wade to do the right thing, you want Brady to find the girls, you want the cops to do more than pay lip-service to helping him, but you don’t think any of that will happen. The pages flew by, because I got caught up in the story and in these little girls and their hapless father, and I always love a book the sucks me right in. In this case, I found the ending more satisfying than I expected.

My copy of This Dark Road to Mercy is an Advanced Review Copy, provided free of charge by the good folks at William Morrow.

For more information on Wiley Cash, check out his website and his list of upcoming book signings. Maybe he’s coming to your neighborhood.

Christine’s Review: Confessions of a Casting Director by Jen Rudin

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

ConfessionsOfACastingDirector-pb-c-600wideDue to my background in Equity-eligible shows and a little movie work, I was keen to learn about auditioning from a casting director’s point of view. So often, performers are left in the dark about those tips for success that go beyond mere etiquette. Could Jen Rudin provide the resources to ace your next audition?  As a former casting director for Disney, Ms. Rudin does not disappoint.  Her sense of mentorship is displayed through an invitation to share her life on both sides of the casting table.  To supplement her experiences, working actors provide testimonials and anecdotes throughout the book.

Confessions of a Casting Director: Help Actors Land Any Role with Secrets from Inside the Audition Room is information dense, but easy to read.  The book is an excellent primer or refresher for anyone wanting to get into the business.  Essential information on auditions and etiquette are helpful enough that even a veteran performer could obtain a few new tips.  Rudin’s commentary spans Broadway to film, pilot season to voice-overs.  Notably, there’s also an entire chapter on how to be a good stage mother. Rudin’s advice doesn’t stop with getting your foot in the door. She provides information on living conditions to look for in New York and LA along with having good work habits on the job. Bonus materials throughout include a section on headshots and resumes, “Dos and Don’ts” by industry, and useful websites.  Web resources are also correlated in a separate appendix.

The one problem I had with the text was that the anecdotes often seemed to turn into testimonials for Rudin.  I felt like this interfered with her warm, honest tone and hinted at shilling.  I would love to see a portion of them added to her casting website to enjoy in an appropriate context.

Overall, Confessions of a Casting Director would be an excellent choice for any actor’s library.  With paper and eBook versions available, you can review Rudin’s recommendations from your phone while waiting for your audition slot.  Her advice also applies to vocalists, Broadway babies, and classical singers.  If you want a glimpse into the real world of movies and TV, this is a superb starting point.

My copy of Confessions of a Casting Director was an advanced reader copy, provided free of charge.

 

~Christine Linial (from Austinista.net)

Christine’s Review: Paris Letters by Janice McLeod

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

I hope you tweeted your special travel photo in the Paris Letters photo contest. If you haven’t, you’ve still got time and to inspire you, today we’ve got Christine’s review of Paris Letters:

 

Paris-Letter-Front-Cover-Advance-Copy-194x300Ah, Paris.  While memoirist Janice MacLeod is a seasoned traveler, she’s still enchanted by The City of Light.  Paris Letters is her love affair documented through pen and paint.  Janice falls in love with freedom, herself, and gains romantic love as a result.  This book takes you on her journey.

It’s not all love affairs and macarons, which is one reason I relished the memoir. You’re not given a sanitized version of events under the guise of Janice magically having “good luck.” Instead, you accompany her on a journey of sacrifice and self discovery. In this pilgrimage, Janice successfully learns how to save $100 per day for a full year ($36,000). This process changed her major relationships and fostered her rediscovery of painting.  (A list of 100 strategies to save $100 per day is listed in an appendix.  It’s an incredible read.)

I also enjoyed the parallels between Janice’s maturing artist’s life and love life.  In the initial weeks of her sojourn, she’s scared to use her Canadian French to even say hello to the man she admires (Christophe). By the end, she’s found a way to support herself creatively in a city of art.  She discovers a passion for watercolor letters in tandem with her growing love for Christophe (her eventual husband).  By overcoming her fears in one realm, she builds mastery in both.

Overall,  Paris Letters is filled with joy, art, and personal growth.  The watercolor letters are excellent, but can take extra time to load in the eBook edition.  It’s worth being patient as an exquisite, jewel-like glimpse into Parisian daily life is the result. In short, a delight.  Some readers might be discouraged by the memoir’s broad scope.   In defense, the writing is intimate, yet focused throughout. If you find yourself intrigued after reading this short review, you won’t be able to put the book down.

My copy of Paris Letters was an advanced reader copy, provided free of charge.

~Christine Linial (from Austinista.net)

Review: Labor Day by Joyce Maynard

Monday, February 10th, 2014

labor daySometimes, I read a book and I think, “this would make a great movie!” Sometimes, I don’t want to see the movie, because I know that film and CGI will never match the story in my head. In the case of Labor Day by Joyce Maynard, I’m not sure I want to see the movie, because I don’t think Hollywood will get it right.

Labor Day is not a love story – at least, it didn’t read that way to me. It’s a story about a boy, barely a teenager with a lot more on his plate than any kid should have to handle. One long, hot holiday weekend, everything in his life is going to change, for better or worse, and it all depends on Henry.

You’ve seen the movie ads by now, and I hope to heaven that if an escaped convict ever shows up at my door, he looks like Josh Brolin. Frank has escaped from prison, where he was held for a particularly brutal crime, and everyone is looking for him. But at the end of the country road where Henry lives with his mother, Adele, there is a drama playing out quietly, behind lace curtains, that has nothing to do with the violence in Frank’s life.

Frank is a quiet man, a man who can bake a peach pie, a man who can teach an uncoordinated boy to throw a baseball. You can’t imagine him as an inmate, accused of murder, staging his escape. He is polite to Adele and Henry, making sure that they cannot be held responsible if he is found. Henry is drawn to him, lacking a real father figure in his life, but the attraction between Adele and Frank is powerful and immediate. They are two people who can’t leave the house – Adele held captive by her fears and her broken heart, Frank both captor and captive – and, as the ads say, they make a world for themselves within its walls.

Henry has no idea how to process all of this. He has a desperate loyalty to his mother – he knows that she’s not right, that she doesn’t react like other mothers and they don’t live like other families – and she depends on him. This is a side of her that he has never seen, and like any child who sees his parent drawn to another adult, he is afraid of being left out, left behind. As the temperature rises and the weekend draws to a close, he will have a choice to make and that choice will change the lives of everyone he loves. The story is really about Henry and what goes on in the mind of a thirteen year old boy who is watching his mother fall in love.

I really, really enjoyed this book – devoured it on one flight and a late evening in my hotel – but it may have spoiled the movie for me. I’ve read that Maynard had a lot of input into the film, but as much as I was touched by the blossoming love between these two damaged people, I don’t want to see it turned into a typical Hollywood love story. This is Henry’s story, and I hope he’s able to tell it.

My advice? Read the book. Then decide about the movie.

My copy of Labor Day was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.

Labor Day, the movie